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The Word of the Lord
accentby the Rev. Dr. William R. Woofenden
Editor of Studia Swedenborgiana
the scholarly journal of the
Swedenborg School of Religion

In the June, 2000 Issue of
Our Daily Bread
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By the Word of the Lord were the heavens made, their starry host by the breath of His mouth (Psalm 33:6)

Swedenborg tells us a lot about the Word of God. Given as a guide to external life, it is something greater and nobler than the literal writings that we call the holy scriptures. Its inmost meaning is divine wisdom; not several theologies, as many as there are books in the Bible, but a unity - one divine Word. It is the eternal and loving thought of God, the wise and all-embracing intensions of His love toward all humankind.

In the heavens, this inmost Word is clothed with spiritual language, and is the divine Word for the angels. The declaration of the Psalmist, "Your word, O Lord, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens" (Psalm 119L89) takes on new meaning for us. It is the same Word which we have, but clothed in heavenly language.

To bring this wisdom of God down to the level of earthly human comprehension, it had to be clothed in earthly language. That literal clothing of history, prophecy, myth, legend, poetry, and Gospel is what we read as the Bible. In this new perspective, the Bible loses nothing of the power people have attributed to it. It is still the guide to eternal life; it still shines for everyone, a lamp to guide our footsteps in the heavenly path, glorious good news of the love of God. But its power comes from the divine and spiritual elements enshrined within it. Literal infallibility is unnecessary. It is the spirit that give it life, for it is the book of life.

The one great unifying factory that molds the Word into a magnificent oneness is the presence of the Lord. This most precious strand lies deep within the literal sense, and is called the inmost, supreme, or celestial sense. This sense reveals to us the life of the Lord in its fullness. It "fills in" the Lord's life as recorded in the Gospels. It enables us to understand the true nature of our God. And this fuller understanding cannot help by increase our feeling of gratitude to the Lord, and make us more humbly aware of our dependence on Him. It enables us to realize more fully what a tremendous thing the Lord did in His work of redemption and salvation, and what it accomplishes now in us and in the world. The more we understand this sense, the more our minds are enlightened. It brings us nearer to the Lord It shows the necessity of dedicating our lives to Him. All this the Lord in His mercy has given to us by revealing in His second coming the knowledge of correspondences, the key to the internal sense of the Word.

Probably the way we could learn the most about the inner life of our Lord while He lived in the world would be through a study of a group of Biblical personages who are called in Swedenborg's writings "representative men" - people such as Abraham, Moses, Joshua, and kings Saul, David, and Solomon. Through a knowledge of correspondences we find that each of these great personalities typifies a different aspect of the Lord's nature.

David is perhaps most clearly the type of the Lord in His divine humanity. In a prophecy spoken long after David was dead, it is still promised, "I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them" (Ezekiel 34:23). Plainly it is not David the man who is meant here, but he whom David represents: the Lord Jesus Christ. David was a king and a warrior. The Lord, too, was a warrior. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword," He once said (Matthew 10:34). His battles and victories were over the power of the hells; the evils in people's hearts.

As to the question of whether the Lord is a king, we think of the time when Pilate asked the Lord, "Are you a king, then?" Jesus answered, "You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth" (John 18:37). These words teach us that it is by means of His truth that the Lord conquers and is king. Thus, it is divine truth that David represents. In studying the life of David we should be aware that he is portraying symbolically the way the Lord used His divine wisdom as He walked as a man here on earth. Throughout the whole Bible, the celestial sense unfolds, bringing us ever closer to our God.

But this is not all. There are other strands of meaning that reveal to us the states and stages of our own lives, and of the spiritual history of humanity as a whole. These are called, respectively, the spiritual, relative, or middle sense, and the internal history sense. Let us content ourselves by looking at just the first of these.

The spiritual or middle sense of the Word is what I like to refer to as a psychology of human beings written with the wisdom of God. It gives us an intimate knowledge of both the orderly and disorderly states through which we pass, warning us of their temptations, and showing us how to guard against these temptations and, if necessary, how to overcome them. Here, where we learn about ourselves, we see most clearly the essential character of the letter, or literal sense, of the Word. We see it as divine truth brought down into concrete terms in which divine wisdom can be contained. This sense gives us a truly spiritual view of life.

For example, if we can think of the history of the Hebrew nation that is recorded in the Word as a series of parables, we are then able to see how the Bible outlines our own individual spiritual development. The creation account, which if taken literally, runs head-on into geological discoveries, becomes significant if we see it as an orderly account of the conception, birth, and early spiritual development of every human being.

The period of the patriarchs, leading to the establishment of a nation, parallels the period from infancy to the early stages of a burgeoning personality. The journey down to Egypt - the granary of the ancient world - represents the period of childhood in which we live on the natural plane, storing up worldly knowledge. But like the ancient Hebrews, if we are to realize our destiny we cannot remain here too long, but must be awakened to a desire to move on to a fuller life, symbolized by the promised land.

The road to that land - the path to regeneration - is long and tortuous, embracing the wilderness wanderings, the battles of Joshua, which signify youthful battles against temptations, and the indecisive period of the young adult years, pictured by the time of the Judges. The rest of the narrative could be similarly traced on into maturity and old age, comprising the remaining history of the Old Testament, the Gospels, and the victorious book of Revelation.

The book of Revelation is really the sequel to the Gospels. The Gospels give the promise; it is left to the Revelation to expand the promise into fulfillment. This is found in the description of the descent of the holy city New Jerusalem, which has been called the charter of the New Church [Swedenborgian]. It tells us that the divine purpose has already been accomplished in heaven, and that the same forces are moving toward accomplishment on earth.

It is all there for us to read in the book of Revelation, and in the explanatory writings of the New Church; what our part must be, what battles must be fought, and how we must cooperate with the Lord and with heaven to make possible the fulfillment of God's purposes. Who could ask for a more challenging charter?

It is no coincidence that Swedenborg lived and wrote as the servant of the Lord at a time in history when people were on the verge of rejecting the Bible entirely. The science of the day was rapidly breaking down the superstitious and irrational teachings that were about all that remained of the Christian message. But it did not offer any logical religious teachings to take their place. The greatest need of the world was a reasonable religion.

For many people today, it is still a great need - the difference being that today the needed reasonable religion is available to those who truly seek it. This religion, distinguished from others by its ability to satisfy human reason, offers to the world an entirely new understanding of the Bible. Through this, it also offers a satisfying knowledge of the nature and person of God - especially of what were formerly called the mysteries of the incarnation and of our redemption and salvation.

This new revelation was given at just the right time to meet the needs of the unfolding intellectual and spiritual life of the world. It seems highly reasonable to believe that the Lord would not permit a time to come when people did not have available to them an adequate source of divine wisdom. We who belong to the Church of the New Jerusalem [Swedenborgian Church] believe that a great new source of divine wisdom was given to the world some two centuries ago. It purpose, as I have mentioned, is to reveal to the inquiring mind of today a deeper understanding of the true nature of God, of His Word, and of the life He would have us lead. This revelation finds its basis in the Sacred Scriptures.

In speaking of his mission as a revelator, Swedenborg wrote in The Doctrine of the Sacred Scriptures #4:

To remove all doubt about the character of the Word, the Lord has revealed to me its internal sense. This sense is spiritual in essence. Its relationship to the external, natural sense is like that of a soul to a body. This sense is the spirit that gives life to the letter. It can therefore bear witness to the divinity and holiness of the Word, and convince even the natural-minded person, if that person is willing to be convinced.

Amen.

Scripture:

Your word, O Lord, is eternal;
     It stands firm in the heavens.
Your faithfulness continues through all generations;
     You established the earth, and it endures.
Your laws endure to this day.
     For all things serve you.
If you law had not been my delight,
     I would have perished in my affliction
I will never forget your precepts,
     For by them you have preserved my life.

Psalm 119:89-93

Reading from Swedenborg:

Since the Bible is a divine revelation, every single part of it is divine. Anything that comes from the divine could be no other way. Everything that comes from the divine goes down through the heavens all the way to people on earth. In heaven it is adapted to the wisdom of the angels, and on earth to the understanding of people. So the Bible has an inner, spiritual meaning for angels and an outer, material-level meaning for people on earth. That is why our connection to heaven happens through the Bible.

The Bible's real meaning can be understood only by people who are enlightened. And only people who love and believe in the Lord are enlightened, since their deeper parts are lifted up into heaven's light by the Lord. We can understand the Bible's literal meaning only if we have a religious philosophy that an enlightened person has obtained from the Bible. The literal meaning is adapted to people's understanding - even the understanding of simple-minded people. So we need a religious philosophy from the Bible to give us light.

The Heavenly City #252-54

Prayer

Thank you, Lord Jesus Christ, for revealing yourself to us in your Word. And thank you for opening up to us, through your servant Emanuel Swedenborg, the deeper meanings that had lain hidden within your Word for so long. Give us, we pray, a deeper appreciation and a clearer vision of the divine depths within the Bible. Show us the profound sacredness of the message with which you continually bless us through its pages. And bless that message in each one of us as we put it to use in our daily lives. Amen.


Music: Pachebel and Me
1999 Bruce DeBoer

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