Regeneration the Process
Light: Swedenborg Explores the Spiritual Dimension
by Brian Kingslake
Available through the Swedenborg
people think that Jesus came on earth and died on the cross
"to save us from our sins." But, if that was what He
came to do, He did not succeed very well, as our sins are still
with us! In fact, He came to redeem us; and redemption and
salvation are quite different things. He "redeemed us"
by clearing the evil spirits from the intermediate region of the
spiritual world alongside this earth, and so restored free will to
humanity, freedom to sin or not to sin, freedom to go to Heaven or
hell. Because of the redemption, we can be saved if we wish to be;
the responsibility lies with us.
Lord achieved the redemption in His own power. He did it for all
men, for all time. Whether in Europe, Asia, Africa, America or
Australia; whether then, nor, or in a thousand-years' time,
everybody has benefited by the spiritual freedom won for us by the
redemption. But, whether you or I are saved is quite a different
did not destroy the evil spirits when He released humanity from
bondage to them. (They are His children, and He loves them just as
deeply as He loves the angels in Heaven.) What He did was to drive
them out of the intermediate region alongside this earth, so that
they could no longer dominate this world. They are all now down in
hell. But still some of the malignant power can reach us; and this
the Lord permits, for our own good. He does not want us to grow up
like hot house plants, never exposed to cold winds or any adverse
influences; He wants us to be tough and strong. Good parents do
not protect their children against every possible danger, not
allowing them to play with other children in case they might catch
some infection or be led into naughty ways. Treated like this,
children would grow up very soft and weak; in fact, they would
hardly grow up at all, but would remain immature all their lives.
For the same reason the Lord allows some influence from hell to
reach us all, but at the same time He allows influences from
Heaven to reach us also; and He so arranges things that there is
an exact "equilibrium" between the two forces, like
equal weights on the two pans on a pair of scales. Because we are
held by the Lord in equilibrium between Heaven and Hell, we can
tip the scales either towards hell or towards Heaven. Therein lies
our free will. And it was because this equilibrium was in danger
of being upset, in the days of the Roman Empire, that our Lord
came into the world. By resisting temptations in His own inform
humanity, He reduced the power of hell and increased the power of
Heaven, thus restoring the proper balance. This is what is meant
you been redeemed? Yes. Have you been saved? Not yet. Have you
been converted? Hopeful, yes! The word "conversion"
means "turning around" - turning and facing another direction.
Most of us start our adult lives facing hell. By nature we are
self-seeking, materialistic, lustful, greedy and cruel. We inherit
evil tendencies of every kind, from the sins of our parents,
grandparents and distant ancestors. We are not responsible for
these hereditary evils, and they are not held against us, unless
we deliberately choose to make them our own. We are completely
free in the matter, though we feel a much greater pleasure in
tipping the scales towards hell than towards Heaven! We want to be
important; we enjoy running people down because it makes us feel
superior; we are easily hurt, and feel vengeful if we do not get
our "rights," we are pleased if we can win an advantage
over someone by slightly twisting the truth; and so on. Even Jesus
had all these evils in the human nature he inherited from his
mother Mary. He was "tempted in all points like we are"
- but, of course, without sin. If we followed our own
inclinations, we should all end up in hell. There must be a
deliberate check and a turning in the other direction. That
turning is "conversion." Suppose a car is headed towards
the top of a cliff. The driver suddenly realizes the danger; he
brakes violently, and either goes into reverse, maneuvering the
car so as to face the opposite direction, or swings the
steering-wheel around. In any case, the car is
"converted." Conversion is not the same as salvation,
but you must first be converted if you are to be saved.
may be sudden or gradual. It may take a few seconds, perhaps
during a sermon, or as a result of some great shock or disaster;
or it may take many years of slow change, here a little, there a
little - first in one area, then in another. Some people have to
be converted over and over again; for others, once is sufficient.
But, converted we must be, if we are to stop desiring evil and
begin desiring good.
the old will is inevitably corrupt, it must be destroyed and a new
will must be allowed to grow in its place. This process is called
"rebirth," or, in Latin language,
"regeneration." We destroy the old corrupt will by
resisting its promptings, saying "no!" to it, or as
Jesus said, "Get thee behind me, Satan!" In Swedenborg's
terms, we must "shun evils as sins against God." That is
to say, we must shun evils because yielding to them would be
acting in opposition to the purpose of God. It is useless, from
the point of view of our regeneration, to shun evils merely
because they are bad for our health, or because they might get us
into trouble, or lower people's opinion of us; for then the
motivation would be selfish. We should sun them because they
separate us from God. Gradually then, the old will shrivels up,
and the Lord removes it from us, and replaces it with a new will
from Himself, which desires only the things of Heaven. We are
"born again" as His children, growing up in His image
rebirth usually takes a very long time, perhaps a whole lifetime.
Conversion, as we have seen, may be instantaneous. A person might
be able to say, quite truly, "I was converted on such and
such an occasion, or at such and such a time," but nobody can
give a date for his regeneration. We cannot even say how far we
have gotten with it. Only the Lord knows.
note that rebirth is the Lord's work only. No person can regenerate
himself. All we can do is to say "no" to our egoistic
cravings; we have the power of veto. Then, as the new will begins
to grow in us, we can say "yes" to its unselfish
promptings. We thus open ourselves to the Lord, and His life
floods into us, and we become new creatures.
regeneration is for the will, reformation is for the
understanding. It implies a total renewal of one's outlook.
Sometimes it precedes regeneration, the new will being implanted
in the new understanding; sometimes it comes after regeneration -
the new will eagerly imbibing new truths. Regeneration must begin
in this world; it cannot take place in the future life unless it
has been started here on earth. Reformation can take place either
in this life or next.
is the finished product, the goal towards which everything has
been directed. To be saved, in fact, is to become an angel in
Heaven. Nobody is really "safe" or "saved"
until the whole process is complete, which must be after the death
of the body. However high a person may rise in this world of
change, they may conceivably misuese their free-will and drop back
again, even ending up in a hellish state. Only when he ruling love
is fixed by death can it be seen whether they are saved or not.
Lord Our Savior
one can be saved except with their own approval and consent, their
willing cooperation. Yet it is true to say that the actual work of
salvation is performed for each person by the Lord Himself. The
Lord is the only savior. "There is no God else beside Him, a
just God and a Savior. Look unto Him and be saved, all the ends of
the earth." The name "Jesus" means: "Jehovah
Saves," or, "God in His capacity as savior."
God who created us also redeemed us; and if we look to Him, He
will surely save us. He is our creator, redeemer and savior.
Charity, and Good Works
is another trinity, like the trinities mentioned in the previous
article, Is Jesus God or Man:
|(1) Faith -
to see what is true, and believe it.
- to love what is good.
Works - to do what is useful.
is in the head; charity is in the heart; good works are in the
people think that if they have the correct faith or belief they
will automatically be saved. The Pharisees of our Lord's day
possessed the Word of God and knew very well how they ought to
live, yet they had no charity and performed very few good works.
There is a grave danger of "faith alone" in all
establishes religious institutions whose members are encouraged to
suppose that, because they subscribe to certain dogmas, they are
among the spiritually elite and have a passport-visa to Heaven.
There is a particular temptation towards this in churches like the
New Church (Swedenborgian) which have a powerful theology and lay
great emphasis on correct teachings.
said of the Pharisees that they were "white sepulchers full
of dead men's bones." Faith separated from charity is dead,
and any church that makes more of faith than of charity is dead.
In fact, "faith alone" is, and always has been, the
great killer of churches.
is a strong tendency today to go to the other extreme, and
maintain that one's faith does not matter at all, and that charity
is all that is required to get you to Heaven. There is some truth
in this position, for indeed, if you have true charity, you will
eventually arrive safely. But it may be a long and painful
journey; for without the guidance of faith you will probably land
up in many a mire and pitfall. This has been the case with some of
the strange cults and "-isms" in the world today. It is
also the case with those outside the Christian church, who know
nothing of the Lord and the Word. They may be charitable at heart,
but are easily led into evils. Charity alone is not dead, like
faith alone, it is alive, but it is sick and halt and lame and
blind, covered with sores. Such is the spiritual state of many
people today in our materialistic culture, who try to live good
lives, but are without any firm belief in God, or any true
knowledge of what life is intended to be. If this world is to
become like Heaven, its inhabitants must live by the heavenly
bossy person who goes around putting everybody right is a familiar
character in modern plays and novels, so that to be called a
"do-gooder" is no longer a compliment! Fussiness,
egotism, a desire to feel superior, even a desire to shine in
God's eyes, can motivate all sorts of "good" actions,
and destroy their inner spiritual quality. Evil people perform
good works as well as good people. Good works alone never saved
Three Must Make One
with all trinities, faith, charity and good works must make one if
they are to be effective. Faith must have charity within it.
Charity must be guided by faith. Good works must be motivated by
charity and by faith. Without good works, faith and charity are
mere abstractions. Without faith and charity, good works have no
spiritual quality whatsoever.
who like mechanical analogies, can think of the engine, the
steering wheel, and the wheels of a car. Charity is the engine,
faith the steering mechanism, and good works are the four wheels.)
daily employment takes up most of our time, so it is the main
field in which our regeneration must be worked out. Church
attendance is not enough. "All religion has relation to
life," says Swedenborg, "and the life of religion is to
do good." We should perform the uses of our daily employment
conscientiously and to the best of our ability, form love to the
Lord and as a service to our fellows. It is by our daily work from
year to year that we can best prepare ourselves for our future
life in Heaven.
Jesus and God Merged into One
recommend the book Inner
Light by Brian Kingslake
Emanuel Swedenborg's True
Both are available at the Swedenborg
Fragments of My Soul
© 1999 Bruce DeBoer