Letters to Jewett -- Contents
THE PROFESSOR'S LETTERS
BOSTON, ROBERTS BROTHERS
BY ROBERTS BROTHERS.
JOHN WILSON AND SON, CAMBRIDGE, U.S.A.
Site editor's note
The letters in this book were not addressed to Sarah Orne Jewett. The letters we have from Parsons to Jewett show that they were somewhat more personal than the set of letters printed here. However, this set probably indicates the ways in which Parsons presented New Church doctrine to Jewett and the particular doctrines he is likely to have presented.
A FEW words only are needed to introduce this little book. If it has any quality of helpfulness, it will speak for itself better than any preface could do, and if it is found to be without that essential quality, it would be vain to bolster it with words. The book is rightly entitled "THE PROFESSOR'S LETTERS," but as there is a little work in them by another hand, it is right that it should be acknowledged. The letters were written many years ago to a young girl, solely for her benefit and instruction, and without any thought of publication. But after a time, the recipient of the letters thought they contained so many wise and useful thoughts that it seemed selfish not to share them with others, and she asked Professor Parsons if extracts from them could not be published. To this he gave his consent with a condition which at first seemed to spoil the plan. He said that his young friend must prepare them for publication herself, re-writing and adding whatever thoughts were suggested during this work.
All who knew Professor Parsons well, are aware of his constant kindness and zeal in carrying on this sort of education; that is, drawing out all that was possible from the young people about him, by leading them to give expression to their faintly struggling thoughts. People were not inclined to disobey him; they would generally try to do what was suggested, and so it was in this case. The letters, therefore, are still in substance the Professor's letters, wearing only a slightly different garment from the original ones, and with the addition of a few pages which though not written by the Professor, were certainly inspired by him.
THE PROFESSOR'S LETTERS
IT seemed to me when I last saw you, my dear friend, that I could read in your eyes even before you told me with your lips, that you were at last ready to welcome gladly the truths which I so gladly share with you. Yes, now I can believe that our Father has made you ready. Your heart was like a rich meadow at which I often gaze from my window. Thick emerald grass and wild daisies grew there already; but the owner meant to make it into a garden; and last spring it was all ploughed up, and in that way prepared for the reception of the young trees and plants from which another year we may have sweet blossoms. I felt a momentary pang when the ploughshare began cutting long ridges in the soft green carpet which I loved, and which had often served to soothe my wearied eyes. At first it seemed almost cruel to turn the fresh grass underneath to die, till I remembered that its very death would help the new plant to a richer life. The simile which I have used is a trite one, but none the less apt, and you, who have now felt the effect of this preparation in your own heart, you at least will not find fault with it.
When I was with you a week ago we had no opportunity for much talk together, but you told me how strong was your desire to learn more of the doctrines of our Church, and I will endeavor to tell you what I can by letters, since I may not come again to ---- for a long time, and I could hardly expect you to come where I am.
I speak of doctrines; yet it is not my purpose to unfold them to you in any regular system; but rather to suggest for your own earnest thinking whatever you may seem to need at any particular time. And this need I shall endeavor to find out from your letters.
Permit me to recur for a moment to the time, now long ago, when we first began to speak of these things. Like many another you hungered and thirsted for happiness; for relief in some shape from the troubles which assailed you from your uncongenial surroundings; for a removal of the pressure which weighed upon you, you knew not why. I remember you could not enjoy the delicious outpouring of song that interrupted our talk one day in the woods, because the first thought that came was, "Why cannot I be as happy as that bird? Every note which he utters seems pure joy, and I, a human being with an organization so much higher, with a capacity of joy so much larger than this thrush, am yet so unsatisfied." But at this time you had not suffered enough to find out the secret of true happiness, paradoxical as this may sound. I am convinced that many natures learn it only in this way.
I will pass over the events of a few years -- the hard lessons, by which I am sure you have already profited much. I cannot but think that you are now able to perceive that the greatest human happiness must be an active and loving coöperation with our Father. Because His love is infinite, He gives blessings to all -- to the infant, and to the most immature or feeble. But He must desire to give the highest happiness He can, and that He may do this, He gives to men the power of active and voluntary working with Him, that they may share, in their finite way, the infinite happiness He finds in His infinite work. And now I will ask you to consider whether it must not be true that they who can receive this best of Divine gifts, because they can meet His efforts with their own, must be unable to receive it unless they join their efforts with His?
I know that I lay a burden upon you in asking you to think all this out. Not at once, nor yet at many times. But I beg you to try, and persist in trying; for great will be your reward. It will come, not at once, possibly not soon, but it will come in the knowledge and invigoration of your own power, in the conscious elevation of thought and of your whole being. More than this, in the clearer perception of your Father, and in ever growing trust and gratitude, and ever clearer recognition of His presence in His word and in His works, in all the circumstances of being, in all the events of your own life.
I would not deceive you. All this cannot come unless you pay the price; and this may be painful effort, suffering, and grief. But may you live to know how --
"From grief comes glory
As the rainbow from the cloud."
I HASTEN to answer your last letter which interested me much, for I find that you have been not only reading the book which I suggested on Heaven and Hell, but have been thinking as well as reading. Swedenborg says things about Heaven which you find it difficult to accept. But what are they? This is just what I want you to tell me, just what I want you to tell distinctly to yourself. One trouble I think I know -- you cannot believe the fact that Heaven does not contain all who die. You wish all to be in Heaven. "God must wish it more than I do; but He is omnipotent. If then, He wishes this more than I can, why does He not exert His omnipotence to effect it?" I will not now argue this with you, but leave it for you to consider. Does not your trouble about this matter recall most vividly my own when first called upon to forsake the vague but pleasing faith in which I had always indulged -- that somehow all would become good and happy in exchanging this world for a higher one, although it might be after a longer or shorter period of trial and purification?
An explanation of this difficulty would involve an inquiry into the origin and nature of evil. Let me postpone anything like a discussion of this question to a future time. One reason for this delay is, that however willing you might be to believe certain truths, your intellect would necessarily reject them if offered prematurely. And rejected truth closes a door closes - not fastens, but closes at least for a time. But in the mean time think about it.
On reading over what I have written I become aware what a burden I have laid on your unpractised strength. It must seem to you nothing less than the solution of the whole problem of being -- the reconciliation of any and all human suffering with perfect and omnipotent love. For a little thought will convince you that the difficulty is much the same as to this world and to the other. The only difference is that here you know there is misery and the problem is to account for it. There, you do not know that it exists and you deny it because you cannot account for it.
If you had died at birth and grown up in heaven, and the comers from this earth had told you of the sin and suffering and degradation which prevail here, it would have been still more difficult for you to believe that such things can be in the universe of God, than it is now for you to believe their existence in the spiritual world.
This problem has vexed the most thoughtful minds and saddened the tenderest hearts in all ages. Heretofore all that could be done was to compel the acquiescence of the intellect and silence its denials, by proving from the analogy of all known existence, that a mingled thread of good and evil, of order and disorder, of joy and sorrow runs through all being. This was hard enough, but, thanks be to our Father, the truth has come which is the key to all these problems.
This key, in a feeble and untrained hand as mine is, and yours still more, will not so unlock them as to leave no mystery behind. This I do not pretend to do, and may almost say I do not desire. I have no wish to lose the pleasure of progress in thought, while I can see surely and certainly that I am treading a pathway towards the Truth. "Evening and morning" belong always to every day of creation; evening first, for it is the doubt, the uncertainty, the question, the sense of darkness and want which must come first; and the light follows for then it is sought. If there were no night there could be no morning.
This key is in that great truth, unknown on earth until Swedenborg told it. The truth, that human life is God's own life, given to man to be his own, incessantly given to be absolutely his own, his selfhood, himself. God gives this life to man because there can be no other life; because if cut off from constant and continued effluence from God it would be what light is when we cut it off from its source and shut it up -- and that is, nothing. And if it is given us to be our own and make each man himself, then man is not an imperfect fragment of God, but has his own personal individuality, and can forever cowork with God in building up his own happiness, and work so of himself, of himself but from God, in freedom and in power and consciousness of self-existing power -- not self-derived power, but self-existing by God's gift. And this must be the greatest blessing Infinite Love can give to a creature, and therefore that which that Love must desire to give. Then I see clearly that all this necessarily involves power, duty, and responsibility; and then I have the key to all the vexed problems of the existence of evil. For if evil could not be, then the highest good could not be; because all the highest good springs from or rather is the choice -- the actual choice in actual and not illusory freedom -- of good rather than evil.
HOW well I understand, my dear young friend, what you say of your feelings about the Bible. You do not know that you have only your share of what is becoming the universal feeling of Christendom. Everywhere, among all who have any sentiment of religion, with any freedom of thought, or any capacity of thinking about their thoughts, there is a prevalent sense of unrest and discomfort about the Bible. No two feel it just alike, for its aspects are innumerable. What does it all mean? what is its cause? what is to be its effect?
A hundred years ago, Swedenborg saw in the spiritual world a magnificent Temple, wherein lay the Word, opened, and girded with light, and over the gate of the Temple, was an inscription which grew into form as he looked, and he read "NUNC LICET," "Now it is permitted." He inquired what this meant. He was told that an age was drawing near when it would be permitted to inquire with perfect freedom into the Word; into its origin, its character, its authority, its meaning; and to investigate with the same freedom all questions of religious doctrines.
In the long ages which have passed this was not permitted. Men were protected from it, because the results must have been disastrous. Therefore the Word was enveloped in its awful sanctity as in impenetrable armor. Its mysterious holiness silenced all inquiry but that of the scorner. All that state or condition of thought has passed or is passing away. The age has come which Swedenborg saw in vision. The word "Free-thinker" was once, and not long since, synonymous with "Infidel;" and now the most religious minds are asking the questions and urging the difficulties which formerly only to name was an act of irreligion.
Why is all this now permitted? Because now an answer can be given to all these questions; a solution for all these difficulties.
But this work must be gradual and slow. Why -- you may ask -- why has He not written His truth legibly on the sky, and painted it with sunlight on the clouds, and made every flower and every leaf His page, and let the winds whisper His lessons? Dear friend all this is so. The sky and cloud, the flower and leaf are His written page, and the winds utter His voice. But we have not learned the language in which they speak to us. You describe a beautiful cloud which seemed to you like a "very glimpse into heaven." You did not know that in fact and in truth it was just that. You did not know, that simple, exact, and rigorous truth, scientific truth, if it were but the truth now attainable in the science of religion, would have made that cloud as significant as it was beautiful; would have taught you to look through all its splendor and glory to the glory beyond -- to the sun within that material sun which painted the dark cloud with the flame you saw. So may that inner Sun, so will that inner Sun one day, make the clouds of your mind resplendent with light. Many may be the days and nights of your pilgrimage; but let us pray that every night may be bounded by the beauty of evening and the promise of dawn.
To return to your Bible difficulty. You say that you are quite ready to believe in a spiritual meaning, and indeed see no other road out of the infinite perplexities and apparent incongruities which beset you on every hand. But if the science of correspondences is to be the key which will open the door into this blessed region of light, how are you to apply it? Does it seem a hard answer to say that patient and prayerful study and a simple belief that the Bible is God's own Word, will help you in this? I verily believe that nothing more than these are wanted to help us at least to all that we need from the Divine Word. The simple, loving heart, will find truth soonest.
You ask if the passages in the Word which now contain in the literal sense beautiful and heart reaching truths, still contain other, higher, more beautiful, and more searching truth. I can easily make the general answer, They do. But I would say more. The literal sense hides the spiritual meaning far more completely in some parts than in others. In many texts there is a spiritual meaning distinctly expressed in the letter. It comes to the surface and is one with the letter. Swedenborg compares these passages to the human face, which is not clothed, but reveals and expresses the inmost thoughts and feelings of the man.
You have been troubled with a difficulty which besets and of necessity must beset all who begin this work of searching for the inner truth of the Word. You hear an explanation of some passage which is utterly meaningless in the literal sense, so far as relates to any religious truth. And in the light of this explanation it is full of the most beautiful, most useful instruction. The first impression is one of delight that a truth is presented to you so full of charm and power. But then comes the thought, How can I know that this is the spiritual sense? What can assure me that another mind of equal ingenuity may not extract from this passage another meaning wholly different but of equal power and beauty?
The first answer is one of which you can learn the full force only slowly and gradually. It is that our interpretation of the Scripture is founded upon exact and definite principles, which can be accurately learned; or rather upon laws of interpretation which justify the use of the phrase, "Science of Correspondence."
Another answer, however, is one which I am anxious to bring before you intelligibly. Let me then say that the phrase, the spiritual meaning of any passage of Scripture, is not so good as a spiritual meaning. Try to remember that this little earth on which we live is the foundation on which all the heavens, consisting of all good men who ever lived here, rest. It is the last and lowest ultimate towards which converge and in which end all the creative and causative influences from all those heavens. Hence, innumerable and inconceivable influences of life come down into and centre in any one thing that is here, and that thing is a fitting basis to receive them all, and to be what it is because it receives them all.
It is just so with the literal sense of the Word. For there is no passage there which is not the clothing and expression of innumerable higher senses. It is the lowest step of the ladder which rests upon the ground, but which goes up higher than the heavens, and on which the angels of God are forever descending and ascending -- descending to find man in his lowest possible condition, and present their truth in a form adapted to him, and ascending to bear upwards all who are willing to go up with them.
The next thing I would have you observe is, that while there is but one literal sense, no two persons who discern a higher and interior sense would see it in precisely the same way; for to every one it presents itself, in its aspect and in its application, as that which suits their character and wants. Nor would they use precisely the same words to express it. And these diversities might be so great that there might seem to be almost inconsistency between them. But there would be none in fact.
My purpose in saying all this is to give you freedom and hope. Begin where you will. This beginning, like that of all good progress, will have its difficulty, but will I think give you pleasure. And as you go on you will find the difficulty less, and the enjoyment more. Apply to any passages the simple laws of interpretation which you know now. You may not succeed in the first effort, or the second; but of this be sure, that when you do succeed in finding an interpretation which, while it accords with the principles of correspondence, gives to any passage new meaning and new life, that is a spiritual meaning for you.
You speak of the twelfth chapter of Romans. It is indeed a most instructive and a most spiritual chapter. But it will perhaps surprise you to hear that the Canon of the New Testament, the true Canon, consists only of the Gospels and the Revelation. The epistles were written by men of sense, men wise in spiritual or religious truth, and of profound piety. But they were not inspired. Their letters to the churches or in a few cases to individuals have been, by the permission of Divine Providence, received from early ages as authorized Sacred Writings, and bound up with the inspired books, because of their immense utility from the stores of religious wisdom they contain. And they have been all the more needed and all the more useful, because the ignorance that there was any spiritual sense in the Gospels made so much of them, and especially so much of their mere narrative, of comparatively little use for religious instruction. Eminently useful the epistles indeed are; and Swedenborg often refers to them, for illustration of the spiritual sense of the WORD, properly so called.
The great difference is here. The Gospels and the Revelation were written by inspiration, and contain in all their words infinite stores of wisdom which were unknown to those who were employed as the subjects of inspiration to write them. The epistles are wise and good only because the writers were so, and only as far as they were so.
Take for example the twentieth verse of the twelfth chapter of Romans: "Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head." The first clauses contain and express with great force truth which cannot be too deeply rooted in every heart. But the reason given for feeding a hungry enemy is St. Paul's own reason. There is very little of spiritual character about it, nor is there any spiritual meaning in it. It elevates the feeling of hostility, but does not extinguish it. It says, return good for evil, because you will inflict upon the enemy whom you relieve the pain and anguish of remorse. It is far better to return good for evil even for this reason, than to return evil for evil; but then it is not a spiritual reason. For all that, let the epistles minister to you all the good they can. There is in them much religious truth of the greatest value; much that may well open the mind to far higher truth than they can impart.
THIS morning a text of Scripture fell under my eye and fastened itself upon me, and I have been thinking of it, at times, through the day. Shall I tell you why? I cannot without writing you a sermonette upon the text.
"The axe is laid unto the root of the tree." What is the axe? It represents truth in its destruction of error, when it seems hard and sharp and pitiless, for so it must seem while it is doing this work. How easy it is to recognize the beauty of truth, to accept it even with the purpose of obeying it, to let it prune away many exuberances of thought and feeling, perhaps cut off some things which were as a very pleasant fruit to us; and then to stop, then to think the work done which is only begun. For that work is not done till "the axe is laid unto the root of the tree."
You read your Bible, and read it reverently; and yet has the lesson been often before your mind which it is always teaching -- the absolute opposition between all that we are naturally, and that which we should become; the lesson taught in such words as those which commend us to hate our own life -- to lose our life that we may save it!
Who is there nowadays that reads such things without the feeling that they are rhetorical and extravagant expressions, which no one can suppose intended to be taken as true in their full extent and breadth, and in their plain and direct meaning? And yet this is just what is intended. These are God's words, said to you, yourself, just as much as if He whispered them in your ear, and you alone of all the earth heard them.
And then you will ask me, How can I obey this command? How can I at once, by any effort of my will, change the whole nature of that will, and hate what I have always loved, and love with my whole heart and soul what I certainly have never loved in that way?
Of course you cannot. There can be no greater impossibilities. What then is the true question? It is, Is this end distinctly before you as one which your Father invites you to approach and will help you to approach; one that you yourself must constantly and steadfastly strive to reach, as nearly as may be, and by all the means which every day and hour offer to you. Anything less than this would be, at the very least, weakness. You know that no night when you sleep finds you just where you were when you rose. That day offered you the means of advancement; some means, either by learning new truth, obeying something you had learned, doing something, no matter what, to cast off the influence of worldliness and the habit of frivolity, to build yourself into the stature of an earnest and resolute woman, who, instead of floating on the current of circumstances, makes use of them for her eternal good.
Some one says, "Unless above himself he can erect himself, how poor a thing is man!" A grand thought and well to be remembered, if we remember also that this self, above which we must rise, is that poor creature which man has made himself, in the abuse of our God-given freedom; a far different creature from that regenerated self, the Divine image, which we were intended to be.
LET me try to give you some thoughts which I have been full of lately. They relate to a text of Scripture to which, I suppose, before the Science of Correspondence was revealed, it was impossible for any one to ascribe a spiritual meaning. You remember Pilate said to the Jews, "Whom will ye that I should release unto you, Barabbas or Jesus?" But the chief priests and elders persuaded the multitude that they should ask for Barabbas, and destroy Jesus. "Now Barabbas was a robber." He had "made an insurrection," and "had committed murder in the insurrection."
The worst and last robbery is robbery from God, which steals away from Him the faith and the affections which should be His, and robs Him of our love, our obedience, and our trust. The same feeling and falsity which does this, "makes an insurrection" against Him, seeks to dethrone Him, deny His sovereignty, and His right to our constant worship, obedience, and love, and even His personal existence, if it cannot otherwise deny this sovereignty. In this insurrection it commits "a murder," the murder of the very soul -- of all that constitutes true life within us. And all this is Barabbas. And Barabbas and Jesus cannot both live within us. One must die. Yes, every emotion of selfishness or worldliness in every soul plays the part of Barabbas. Good influences may have prevailed for a time, and they, or perhaps motives of worldly regard, may have put Barabbas in prison, and under some restraint; but the decisive, the fatal question remains, Shall he die? Yes, he or Jesus. The powers of evil ruling in us, our priests and elders, come to his rescue, because they hate and fear the influence of Jesus. They persuade the multitude of thoughts and feelings which take the side of worldliness to liberate and save him. They do save him, and Jesus dies!
Nor is it only on great occasions and in fearful crises that this question comes to us. Every hour, every moment, when we resist what we must know to be the influence of our Lord, and, casting that aside, give the victory, under whatever pretence or name, to that which is indeed our own Barabbas, we then do all that we are able to do to crucify our Lord anew.
Every emotion which tempts us to refuse obedience to Him, "to make insurrection," to suppress and overcome whatever sense of right conscience gives -- is not that the robber, rebel, murderer, Barabbas? We may have indeed imprisoned him, we may have resolved that he should die -- shall we now release him from restraint, and let him go free? If we do, we know now what must happen -- we know between what alternatives we choose.
And who proposes the question to us? Pilate, who said to our Lord, "Knowest thou that I have power to crucify thee, and have power to release thee?" And Jesus did not deny this, but said, "Thou couldest have no power against me, except it were given thee from above." You know that the first chapter of Genesis tells us that God gave man dominion over all fish, fowl, cattle (or beasts), and creeping things. This means more than that man, aiding his hands by his intellect, is stronger than they are, and can kill a whale, tame an elephant, and cage a lion -- it means much more. All animals, like all other things in nature, represent and symbolize things of the spirit. Each animal lives because he is the impersonation of some of the intellectual or affectional elements of human nature. Sometimes this element in a man acquires such ascendancy that it characterizes him, and we call him a fox, a serpent, a bear, or a wolf, as he seems to be dominated by the element of life which that animal represents. Over all these, as they are in himself, that is to say, over himself and all that constitutes his selfhood, dominion is given him. He is his own master, and becomes whatever by the exercise of this power he makes himself to be. Pilate here represents this power of self-determination which is "given to us from above," with all its fearful responsiblities; because if it were not given, nothing else could be given. It constitutes our freedom. Without it we could not receive, by our own choice, by our own coöperation with our Father, and into our own love, His gifts of life; and because we can so receive them, we can also refuse them. Which shall we do?
I have left my letter open, and to-day so many thoughts press upon me which I would gladly impart to you, that it is with more difficulty than usual that I give expression to them -- for the throng push and jostle each other, and will not proceed in orderly fashion. I think it was writing to you of Pilate, yesterday, that gave me the text for my thoughts of today. I am going to write to you about worldliness.
The common idea of this is a devotion to wealth and distinction, or to low pursuits. This is well enough as far as it goes; but it is as nothing to the whole truth. What is the world? It is our home in this beginning of our being; and that it may be our home, it is exactly adapted to our needs, our senses, our enjoyment. The world, in this sense, is all that is outside of us, all that is not a part of our ME. And "the love of the world" is the love of this world.
There have been many in all ages who thought so, and who therefore renounced the world, and denied themselves the pleasures of sense and society, more or less completely. Was this good? It may have been so for them -- it may have been the only way in which they could escape from a great danger. "If thy right eye offend (endanger) thee, pluck it out and cast it from thee." But was it in itself right, in itself the best thing? Certainly not. Certainly this is not the best way to escape from social and sensuous worldliness. The only place in which we can really overcome a wrongful love of the world is in the world.
Society -- is it a good or a bad thing? It is in itself more than good. It is indispensable to man. To be sure of this one needs only to remember that the man who is entirely alone is entirely useless; and usefulness is the one condition of the happiness of heaven, and therefore of all true happiness -- for that can exist on earth only when it comes down from heaven. Let us remember, too, the kindly affections which demand some social relations for their birth and growth. Then, is all love of society good? Certainly not. For here we must apply the universal rule. Neither this love, nor any natural love, is of itself good or evil. Whether it be one or the other, is determined by something other than itself. Social pleasure, for example, is good and elevating, or bad and degrading, according to the end it has in view, the place it holds in the mind, the reasons for which it is sought, and the principles by which it is governed.
If one enjoys social pleasures with no desire to give enjoyment to others -- if, in giving them enjoyment, the thing which delights us most is the homage paid to our own attractions, the favor we win, the delight of knowing that our beauty, or grace, or conversation are admired -- if all these are the ruling elements of our social pleasures, then, be our success what it may, and whatever charms of refinement or elegance we may present in our social relations, there is social worldliness; and it is a poor, bad thing, and an inevitably degrading thing.
So, too, social pleasure is social worldliness when it is sought and loved for its own sake alone, merely as amusement -- merely to fill up the vacancies of an unemployed life, and only because it banishes ennui for a moment.
Why do I say all this to you? You have not been prone to seek or enjoy society because it gratified your vanity, nor to seek in it your own enjoyment regardless of the happiness of others. Nor do I know that you love it too well. Why, then, do I speak of it to you? Because, my dear young friend, I would have society hold a very different place in your regard. I do not wish you to love it less, except so far as that may come from loving some better thing more; and of this I will speak presently, after first considering another form of worldliness.
It may seem very strange to hear me speak of your love of music and of the beautiful in nature or art, as having any relation to worldliness, and yet it is most certain that these things lie outside of us. They belong to the world that is made for us, and adapted to our senses; and the love of them is the love of a part of that world.
Consider the love of the beautiful. Not long ago we were speaking of the great happiness which may be derived from this faculty; and you will ask if I am not now about to censure the exercise of the same faculty. Far, far from it. Yet I think I told you then that there were many ways of loving the beautiful. Look only at a few principles which relate not merely to this but to all supersensuous truths.
Your life is from God. It is His life, limited and finited for you, and adapted to you, and given you to be your life, that He might have beings whom He might bless eternally with ever-growing happiness. He made man "in His own image and likeness." The meaning and the effect of this is, that whatever there is in God's life infinitely, may enter into man's life finitely. So much of the divine life as does in fact enter man's life in this world, is so inexpressibly small in comparison with what man might have, that it seems to be almost nothing. Nor do precisely the same elements of Divine Life enter into any two persons, or in precisely the same degree.
Now let me apply this to the love of the beautiful. God loves beauty infinitely, loves to make it, and loves to perceive it. Think of the wild loveliness of a South American forest, where no human foot ventures, where there is no human eye to gaze with delight on all the exquisite details; or of a richly colored sunset over a lonely sea -- what exquisite beauty is here. We should, however, think, in our poor way, that the beauty was wasted. But it is seen by God's eye, seen and delighted in with that delight of which our own, when we too see it, is but so small a part, so dim an image.
If one has no love of the beautiful, it is because he or she does not receive and make their own that element of the Divine life; for if it were not an element of Divine life, it could not be an element of human life; as there is not one particle of human life that originates in man himself, or is any other thing than the Divine life which is within him, and is his because it is constantly given to him.
But then comes in the universal, the inevitable, and inexorable law, that God's own life is given to man to be man's own life, to cause him to be himself -- to be that, and only that, which he makes himself by his own choice to be; and, therefore, this must be just that life in him, in general and in every particular, which he makes it to be, and loves that it should be.
And now let me apply this law, also, to the love of the beautiful. Is it not plain that our love of this may lift our eyes heavenward, or turn them downward? It may be mere sensuousness, however seemingly refined, graceful, and charming; or it may be sensuousness filled and elevated by something higher than sense.
The world is extremely beautiful -- it is brimful of beauty -- of more beauty a thousand-fold than the keenest sense has ever yet discovered. How dim and poor the love of the beautiful is in most minds; in how many is it almost wholly wanting. How apt one is who sees and loves so much that is beautiful, to suppose he sees it all. And yet it is certain that the clearest and keenest perception of the beautiful might become as much larger, wider, and clearer than it now is, as itself now is more than the dimmest perception of the beautiful in those who have least of it. But is it not better to have little of it, or none, than to permit it to fasten our eyes, and our thoughts, and our enjoyments to this earth; to make us love it for itself, and be content with it; to dim our thoughts, and weaken our desires and aspirations after a higher happiness than can ever come through the senses? For this is "the lust of the eye." And when is this enjoyment of the beautiful the happiness of the eye, and not its lust? The answer will occur to you. It is when you cannot see the beautiful and delight in it, without recognizing it as His work, His gift, and as the expression of His own perfect order and perfect love.
And if this habitual recognition comes only gradually, may we not be sure that every effort after it will help to bring it; that as it comes it will open our eyes to the beauty of the beautiful; that it will open our minds to its lessons, its significance -- I might say, to that soul of the beautiful which clothes itself in beauty, and seeks to express itself in its form and aspect.
And then, again, remember that when our Father gives us this love of the beautiful, and through this love this power, He can do no more. The rest is for us to do. Without our willingness, without our effort, this end cannot be reached, this purpose cannot be accomplished. But what efforts can we make which will not be immeasurably repaid?
And now let me offer you the general lesson for which all that I have said was preparatory. What is the true antagonist of worldliness? What is worldliness? For if we see that, we can see its opposite. But we have seen that worldliness, in its widest and most general sense, is the undue love of the world without us. Does it not follow that this must be checked and controlled by awakening a profounder interest for the world within? by holding in the mind an earnest and a constant love for the enjoyments which rightfully belong to the world within? They are the love for truth, the delight in growing wise, the delight in your very effort to grow wise, the happiness to be derived from the consciousness that you have given yourself to God; that it is the very business of your life to cultivate every faculty you have (the highest most, and most in the highest directions), in the belief that He has given them to you that you may become His instrument for usefulness; and that He asks this of you because, if you grant it, you enable Him to give you more of his own happiness than you can otherwise receive, and far more than you can imagine.
You are not wholly safe against worldliness until this way of thinking and feeling becomes the constant habit of your life. Whatever is less than this is not enough.
If you felt yourself called upon to go into a convent, or to dress and live as a sister of charity, I know very well it would not be a heavier task. Then, with one great effort you would be pledged, committed, and much more than half the work would be done. But now you are asked to change your whole nature by a constant, unremitted effort; to make it the primary object of your life; to become the child of God in a sense you never thought of. It is your Father who asks this of you -- your Father, Who took upon Him your nature that He might suffer for you, that He might open a way to Himself which you might follow -- Who entreats you to let Him give you His life. Oh! to love Him with all the heart, and soul, and strength, is not a rhapsodical fantasy, but a reality, to strive for, to win, to accept even from His own hands; and, in accepting, to find peace and happiness. And while He is beckoning you to come to His side, to His arms -- while He is showing you, even by my poor words, the place which He asks you to come to Him and fill -- you will remember that what you are through eternity, how near to Him, or how far away, and the character and the nature of your happiness -- all depend on what you do, with His help, and the strength He gives, but of yourself and for yourself in this life.
Again you may say to me, give me something practical, some test I can lay my hand on and make use of. I will do so. Would you know when you love society, or art, or nature, or music, too much, look into yourself and see which you love best -- them, or a higher self-culture. In which direction lie your thoughts: where is your greater interest? Count the hours of the day -- are those which you may well deem a reasonable gift of time, and thought, and care to those higher interests, given to them? Do you love, or are you even striving to love, the growing in the wisdom of heaven as you now love the lower pleasures? On which side lies earnestness, enjoyment, ready and grateful reception, and a prompt use of every opportunity? It should be for you to answer these questions; and when you have answered them, it shall be for you to learn from your own answers.
MAX MULLER, speaking of the fact that all philologists notice, namely, that all words in all languages which have a moral and intellectual meaning, have primarily a sensuous meaning (right, meaning originally only a straight line -- rule, a stick with a straight edge by which to make a straight line, etc.), says that the earliest men, far beyond all history, among whom language began, must have had a marvellous power of recognizing the analogies between things of the mind and things of sense, which is now comparatively lost. I quote from memory only. This struck me, because Swedenborg says, on totally different grounds, that the earliest races perceived the symbolism of nature, and founded all their systems of thought upon those correspondences. The old mythologies have no other foundation; and it is that which has given to their fragments such a hold upon human thought.
Now, why have I begun my letter in this fashion today? Simply because I was just reading over your last letter, and came upon this sentence: "B ____ is as strong as Ajax, or rather Achilles, for he had a weak spot." And the thought occurred to me whether you knew how right you were. You remember, because you allude to, the myth of Achilles. Well, he represented beauty, strength, valor, all invincible and invulnerable, except at his heel. Now what is the heel? That part of us by which we do and must come in contact with the earth when we walk in its ways; and the earth is all our external nature, relations, and interests. How many of us are always most vulnerable in this spot! But the myth goes on. Achilles, after conquering all whom he encountered, perished because a subtle enemy smote him with a poisoned arrow in the heel, while he was worshipping in a temple. Since mankind began, no man or woman has ever taken a distinct step forward without finding the external opposed to and endangering the internal. There must be assaults, and perils, and wounds, and often when we seek to worship in God's temple, the enemy finds us out, and will, if he can, bring up external cares, and interests, and thoughts, to distract us from the higher thoughts which we had begun to cherish. Yet, while God is on our side, what need we fear; and if we only turn our helpless look to Him, He is there, at our side, strong to sustain.
You give me one of your dreams, a very charming one, and it has set me thinking, for the hundredth time, what are dreams? In some respects they are certainly like the scenes of life in another world. In the first place, time and space, when and where, disappear. Or, rather, while we see things in our dreams as if in measured space or place, and there is that succession of facts and occurrences which is all we mean by time, yet place and time, or duration and succession, have not that fixity or determination which belong to them in our waking life, because in this life they are ultimated or fixed in unyielding matter.
In this respect our dreams are undoubtedly like spiritual life. Are we then to look upon the acts, relations, and forms of spiritual life as dreamy, unsubstantial, and unreal? Far, very far from it; for dreams are unlike spiritualities in this important respect. All power of self-determination is suspended and absent in dreams. Things go on, and we go on with them, at their own will. What they are, and through what course of events they lead to their results depends upon conditions of body, or mind, and influences which act through them, and are their only causes or directors; and with them we do not interfere by our personal wills. Just the opposite of this is spiritual life. There, the personality and the power of self-determination are far more distinct and positive than here. There, as in our dreams, what is outside of us is but the outbirth of what is active within us. But that activity is subject to our own conscious control; and this power, definitely exerted there, and not weakly and confusedly as it is here even in our waking hours, gives to the outside world and outside events an order, regularity, and permanence far greater than they have here.
I suppose that when we are first in that world, and perhaps while we remain in the world of spirits, there may be sudden and great changes in the appearance of the external world. These changes can occur, because there the mind uses and moulds space and time, but is not controlled by them. And these changes may occur for purposes of discipline and instruction. But they who go up from that world to their abiding home, carry with them defined and settled character and purposes. All their qualities may be developed continually forever, but never violently altered by paroxysmal changes within, or corresponding changes without. And all changes are as gradual, and successive, and peaceful as the growth in blossoming and beauty of the garden in the days of spring; and thus give the idea, not of fleeting transientness, but of permanence and endurance, amid the changes of growing life.
The absolute suspension of self-determination in dreams is as perfect in the mind as in the muscles; and this gives to dreams one possible utility. It enables us to see ourselves as we are; or, more accurately, to see a part of what is in us. We may do base and sinful things in dreams, which we should mistake in regarding as true pictures of ourselves; because this self-control and choice of good against temptation to do evil, is a part of ourselves, and a most important part. But it is all absent in dreams. Hence foul things escape from the darkness and inactivity in which we keep them, and always shall, while we are awake and self-controlling. We hide them there, and do not always know that they are there. But these ghastly shapes could not appear in our dreams if they were not already within us. They may then teach us what we should become, if we were not withheld by the strength He gives us, and guarded by His constant and merciful Providence.
I DO not remember just when my last letter was dated, but have an impression that I have allowed a longer interval than usual to elapse between yours and my answer. There are moods when even in this world it is hard to measure time by the ordinary rules of sunsettings and sunrisings, and perhaps one of these moods has been mine. But let me go to other topics, and try to tell you certain thoughts that have been busy with me lately.
Something led me to notice what is always so obvious, the mingling of good and evil which exists in everything in this world. I was more than ever impressed with its universality, and remembering the common statement of Swedenborg, that this world and all things belonging to it are intermediate between heaven and hell, and the reason that he gives, that this equilibrium may be universal, and man always in freedom to turn whither he will, I went further to another conclusion I do not remember thinking of before.
This mingling of opposites is indeed universal.
In all things of external nature, good and evil, the kind and sweet and lovely, meet and mingle with the harsh and painful and repulsive; the life-giving with the life-destroying; and things which make life pleasant with those which make it a pain and burden. They are so in externals because they are so in internals; they are so in that which is the mirror of all that is within, because that mirror is truthful. We might, then, learn from it, if we did not know before, that these same opposites meet in every person, in all character, in every event, in every act, feeling, or thought. Now for my inference. What is Heaven? Just all these elements of the good, of the beautiful, and the pleasant, liberated from all admixture with evil. They are all from heaven, they are in some form or measure in all things here; and freed from all that opposes or weakens them here, they constitute the all of heaven. Seldom in exact equilibrium at any time here, the more of either quality at one time balances the more of the opposing quality of another time, and so on the whole there comes that equalizing of two elements from which arises our capacity of obeying the command, "Choose ye this day whom ye will serve." We cannot but obey -- but if we choose aright, then comes the result for which we live; we go where this equalizing of opposites no longer is needed, and no longer exists.
If heaven, as a whole, is constituted by all the elements of good which ever descend from it, so the heaven of each person may consist of all the elements of good, of true happiness, of justified hope, of pure enjoyment ever known in the faint and dim way we know them here, but cleansed from all stains, and liberated from fear or doubt; beginning, even there, it may be feebly, but with the peaceful certainty of unchecked growth, of uninterrupted continuance. I have half a doubt whether any entirely new elements of happiness come after death to those who live on earth into adult life. Is it not enough if all we knew here are freed and perfected, and ever growing with constant development? And thus each one's heaven is his own, and is the outgrowth and fruit of his life here.
Nor when I say that each one's heaven is his own, do I mean to convey any idea of isolation, except in so far as it is essential to the preservation of our distinct individuality, which is something that can never be taken from us. Rather would I give you, if possible, the comfort of my own profound assurance, that the spiritual loneliness which all of us must at times feel so intensely here, will be in a great measure done away with there, and that the giving and receiving of a sympathy more perfect than ever was dreamed of in any earthly friendship, will be a great part of the joy of heavenly life. Adaptation is the one secret of genuine enjoyment of human intercourse. In this world we scarcely seek it, and if we do we seldom find it. But in the other world it is the law of life; for there, by the very necessity of their natures, they are nearer each other who can be and do more for each other, and they are nearest who can do most.
In one view life is a kind of commerce, in which we supply each other's needs, nearly all of it by that compulsion of want which keeps the world agoing. But this very want and compulsion are permitted, that the habit of mutual assistance may grow up to be, as far as possible, a preparation for that life where the merchandise exchanged is of the heart and soul.
Our Father seems to prepare us for His heaven in two ways. Some He leads to thirst for His truth, to receive it, to live upon it here, and taste the peace it gives. In some He only kindles a passionate and earnest longing for the truth, and a sense of desolation in the midnight of its absence, and so prepares them to receive of it in His "kingdom of light," as the panting hart drinks of the water brooks. He knows which way is best for us; He knows what is possible for us; He knows what obstructions inheritance or education have planted; and He knows how to prepare us for truth, and to delay its coming until the hour when delay is no longer necessary -- and to do this so as to save us from the misery of rejecting offered truth.
A neighbor of mine has a severe affliction in the loss of all use of his eyes. In reading with him this evening, a new view came to me of a passage I have read a hundred times; and as I return to my desk and find this unfinished sheet lying here, I think you must let me tell you my thoughts on the text, even though they may strike you at first as not quite in harmony with the rest of my letter. The words were these -- "I will make all things new." I have always regarded this as a prophecy of a new heaven and a new earth, of a sun which will shine in heaven with tenfold splendor, because the love which reigns there will be poured forth as never before, and will be in the hearts of the angels purer and warmer than ever before, and the wisdom will grow as the love grows; and of a new earth, where the influence of the new heaven will bring new order, and peace, and happiness. But I see in this prophecy a promise -- an individual and personal promise; and what hope it might bring to the sin-laden soul -- sin-laden, but repentant! He will make all things new. If we can but carry into the other world, not only a consciousness of how evil we have been and are, but an earnest desire to escape from this evil, and that a new heart may be given us, then we may hope for just this help -- this change. If we feel that over all our thoughts, and affections, and motives, the trail of the serpent has left its stains, and look at these things till the whole head is faint and the whole heart sick, we may still remember the promise that He will make all things new. And yet in one sense, not all. The very condition of this total change, without which it cannot take place, is that there shall be within us a germ of goodness, which, received from our Father, we have rooted in repentant sorrow for evil done. If this, however weak and poor, be still a living germ, from it the new growth may come. Then, whatever of goodness or truth there may be in us will not perish -- for nothing good can perish -- but will be saved, and cleansed, and strengthened, and all conflicting tendencies will gradually be suppressed. And yet even this good, which is thus preserved, will in a still higher sense be "made new." "Sown in corruption, it will be raised in incorruption." It will be cleansed from the clinging defilement of a belief that this good is from ourselves, originating in ourselves, and proving our own excellence; and with the increasing clearness of our perception that whatever is good within us came from our Father, will grow our grateful joy that He has given us this good to be our own.
"Out of the depths" -- even out of the depths of conscious sinfulness, we may look up with hope, that while it trembles is still hope, if we can be sure that we have learned, even in those depths, a repentance as profound as the sins which it makes us hate, and hate ourselves for.
CHRISTMAS. -- All Christendom is now celebrating the day when, nearly two thousand years ago, Jesus Christ was born.
When Jesus Christ was born! What words are these! Of the myriad topics which they suggest, I select but one; and that I will endeavor to set forth as simply as possible.
First, then, is it not certain that if God were utterly alien and foreign to man, and wholly other than man, it would be simply impossible for us to have any idea of Him, and therefore impossible for us to have any love or gratitude towards or any recognition of Him? But all this we can have; and is not this possible to us, because our life is His life in us? Is ours, then, Divine? No; because it is given us to be our own, and so made human. In its origin Divine, it is given us to be our own, and therefore to be whatever we choose to make it. The new system of faith concerning the relations between God and man, finds one of its chief foundations in the truth that man is free because his life is given to him to be his own; and because our life is His life in us, we are able to form some conception of Him, and this, however dim and feeble in its beginning, may grow as we draw nearer to Him; and whatever are the essential qualities, or powers, or laws of our life, they must also belong to His life; or, in other words, our life, if perfectly free from perversion, would be, on a finite scale, what His is infinitely.
Now one of the most certain of the laws of life is, that love demands return; that it cannot be in its freedom, and its fulness, and its entire happiness, unless it be returned. Even in the low condition of human nature, every one who has loved knows this. All the best happiness of human life rests upon mutuality of love, and the best happiness of heaven can have no other foundation.
But if this be the law of His life in us, discernible even through our perversions, it must be the law of His life in Himself -- only then it must be infinite.
What follows? That He must desire infinitely, from the necessity of His divine nature, that we should love Him -- that on this foundation our highest happiness might rest. How can it be otherwise if He is Love, perfect Love, and only Love? If this seems to put a narrow limit to His happiness, we have but to remember that He has Infinity and Eternity in His constant view; that He sees the whole -- the end. What the future is to Him we cannot see, because we think in the fetters of time; but we may see this, that the future is not to Him what it is to us. He sees the end in the beginning, and towards this end all things in His view converge. And this end is an immeasurable Heaven of those who love Him as He desires, and whose love for Him He sees growing through eternity -- and to whom He is able to impart of His own happiness, because they love Him.
And how does He provide for such an end? First by creating men -- immortals -- and giving them the power of loving, and then the command to love Him with all our strength, and all our mind, and all our soul, and giving them all the help they can receive to comply with this command. But is not love more disinterested which, however it may lament its own disappointment, yet loves on without return? Is not the love which asks so urgently for a return selfish? Yes, it may be very selfish, and whether it be so or not, we have a certain test which eve find even here on earth. He who loves fervently is always tempted, sometimes sorely tempted to insist, and, if he can, compel a return. But this temptation is always from selfishness. Whoever has any goodness or wisdom, even here, resists this temptation. He feels that such love would not be love -- that it could not be one with his, in unity of happiness.
What then will he do? All that the tenderest affection, the most unwearied kindness, all that any service within human power can do, to win for him that voluntary love which is his heart's desire. But there he stops. From the next step he shrinks, for he knows that compulsion would prevent the love he seeks.
So he feels and acts if he be good and wise, or, in other words, if God's life in him be in any degree unperverted. Because so God in His perfect wisdom knows, and so in His perfect love He acts, infinitely. All that Omnipotence can do, with all heaven and earth for its instruments, He does to lead us for our own good to love Him. But there He, too, stops. He knows, as we cannot, that love and force are antagonists, which not even Omnipotence can reconcile. Gladly he accepts any measure of voluntary love which we are willing to offer. More than this cannot be -- for our Father who alone is wholly free from selfishness, has no desire to insist or compel.
It is in working for this end that the whole of His providence has worked, and is ever working on the largest scale by successive dispensations, as the increasing preparedness of mankind permits higher truths and stronger motives to be offered. On the smaller scale, to each individual he offers only what he or she may accept, if only willing to work with Him and His angels in overcoming those evils which oppose the reception of the gift.
To us all He gives eternity for our love to grow in. And He gives us this beginning of eternity, this life on earth wherein we may begin the work -- and then -- this beginning determines the end.
If it were otherwise, why do we live here? why are we called to suffer through all the conflicts of this life?
The beginning determines the end. It cannot determine whether God will love us all infinitely, or give us all the happiness which we can enjoy, for this He cannot but do eternally; but it determines whether His love shall act upon our will and against it, or in and through it. For this we must choose -- this every man does choose.
And then how is it with all those who choose the better way, and suffer Him to make their will an instrument of His, their love a return to Him of His own love? That it might be so, that it might come back to Him as their love, He gave it to them to be their very own, and they have this blessed consciousness.
Still for them also, and for each one of them, the beginning determines the end.
Now, let me ask two or three questions -- Can you believe that all persons at death stand on precisely the same plane, and whether they be good or bad, acquire at once the very same characters, and hold them forever? This I would have you ask yourself thoughtfully, for there is indeed too much thoughtlessness on this subject. I think you will answer, perhaps, after a little pause, No.
Then can you believe that after a certain interval in the other world, all men, whatever they were here, acquire precisely the same characters, and hold them to eternity? Again I think you will say, No. The conclusion is then inevitable, that in some way the beginning determines the end. The only question now possible is, in what way? To answer this, we must look back to the laws of human nature, as we can discern them, and get from them whatever instruction they can yield, and then bring our conclusion to the test of the Word of God.
Then let me ask, Is anything more certain than that we see different persons in this world stand upon different planes of life, if I may so express it? That is, some persons recognize truths of a distinctly higher character than others do, or yield themselves to the influence of distinctly higher motives. Or, to shape the question differently, Is not the kind of goodness of some persons distinctly higher than that of some others? Separate this question in your mind from that which refers to the quantity or measure of goodness, such as it is. For example, do you not know people who, on a low or limited plane of life, or of thought and affection, are very kind, pure, and good? And then do you not see others whose goodness is far less complete, who struggle with worse evil tendencies, and sometimes yield to them, and whose goodness and intelligence are therefore more broken and imperfect -- but whose goodness, such as it is, is of a far higher kind?
Then remember that the Bible tells us that our works do follow with us, and that its whole instruction tends to the conclusion that "as the tree falleth (or in whatever direction), so it lies." Then ask yourself, Is not that doctrine of our church probable and reasonable, which tells us that every one who lives to mature age in this world, opens here some plane of his life; that the Lord constantly helps all to rise from plane to plane, but that the need, the nature, and the use of this life, spring from the possibility of rising while here, through conflict with sin and self, from plane to plane; but that after we go to the other life, we have left this possibility behind us? What then remains? For our Father, with infinite love and infinite wisdom, to provide continually throughout eternity, with no exception whatever, alike for the good and bad of all degrees, all means and methods by which each one may be enabled to have and may have all the completeness and all the happiness possible, on his or her self-determined plane of life, and this more and more forever -- this always, but never more than this.
Remember, I am now appealing to your reason. I am asking you to do justice to your reason and to yourself. Our Father will offer us no other means or methods than those which it lies within our capacity, in our self-determined freedom, to accept and to use; and I cannot but hold the belief, to me most precious, that if we do accept these means and use them, He will be the happier for us through eternity, and that even in our hands is placed what may be a portion of His happiness!
The disciples were told to give up father, and mother, and brother, and sister, and lands for His sake, and they should have an hundred fold more even in this life, with persecutions. They understood this literally, and obeyed it literally, and many suffered martyrdom. But even in this life they had their hundred fold. To us, to you, these things are said, but in an inner, an infinitely higher sense. You must obey them, if at all, in the way pointed out by that sense; and if you strive to renounce for His sake what these things here represent and signify, you will have inner persecutions -- persecutions from influences within you which seek to hold you back -- doubts, fears, struggles, darkness, fainting hopes, and restless fears, which may be your martyrdom; but even in this life you will have your hundred fold, and in the world to come "Eternal Life," -- and what life?
To this end, that we may have this life, all His providences are active; and most of all, that which closed and consummated the whole preceding series -- when Jesus Christ was born. And from this Providence, forward through all eternity, will radiate all the mercies of Infinite Mercy. All, however seemingly distant or different, converge in this -- that we may accept Him who thus comes down to us; that we may accept Him as God who thus comes down to be Immanuel, God with us; who thus came down that He might ever stand before us, a personal God, an object of personal thought, obedience, trust, and worship; one whom we may learn to love with the heart and soul, and whom we shall so love in the degree in which our eyes are opened to see His goodness, to see Him as He is, to see Him in His own revelation of Himself.
THE delicate beauty of a winter landscape is something of which I can never grow weary. This afternoon is certainly not one which could be selected as remarkable in any way. It is a little too early for sunset glories, and I doubt if when that time comes there will be any brilliant color; for, though the day has been a fine one, the sky for the last hour has been gradually overcast by a soft veil of that beautiful steel blue which harmonizes so perfectly with a snowy landscape, and only in the southwest can one see a few clouds faintly blushing. But in some moods we take especial delight in trying to find the hidden beauties of the common and the insignificant. They are then more precious to us than those strikingly beautiful scenes which compel admiration from all. So in this upper world of steel blue, the lower one of white, with the fringes of black forest between, I find today a profound pleasure. I believe this little bit of egotism escaped me because I have been re-reading your last letter -- and from the way in which you speak of a beautiful sunrise and sunset, I think you sympathize readily with nature in her various phases, and, having a keen eye for these, may get some idea of that which I have so faintly described.
There is a difference in the tints of coloring at the sun's rising and setting which is not easily explained. I never saw what I should call a radiant dawn -- not one like many of those sunsets which bring to the lips the word "glorious." In the morning the eye and mind are waiting for the sunburst, and the sudden flood of light almost effaces from the thought the earlier beauty of the clouds; but the moment when the sun sinks out of sight, it has no such overpowering splendor. I have looked at the evening clouds of one of our golden sunsets, until it seemed to me that all over the sky -- they most which were nearest to the sinking sun -- they were greedily gathering all of his splendor that they could hold, to keep it while they could, giving it up slowly and reluctantly, clinging to the last pale tints, and finally yielding them up so sadly!
Much of the symbolism of all this is obvious. The turning of the earth to the sun always, through day and night, represents what should be the constant turning of every human mind towards the Lord. The earth seems to turn away from the sun that sinks, but it is to meet him in his coming; and that should be our work in all our nights -- for "the night cometh" to every man. For every spot of earth, it is day when it is turned to the sun, and night when it has turned away; and this is precisely the same with the spiritual night and day of every soul. In the darkness we may sleep, for there need be no distress, but acquiescence and rest and hope; for "He giveth His beloved sleep," that they may be strengthened to do His work when the light of his countenance shines on them again, as assuredly it will.
The clouds represent certain thoughts or states of mind; and these, however cold and dark at night, when the morning is coming they catch the light of the yet distant sun, and we read in their beauty the promise of day. At first it mingles with the darkness of a night not yet gone; but at every moment it grows brighter with growing hope. And no wonder that when the whole day has run its course and night draws near, these clouds gather into their bosom all the radiance and glory of the day that they can hold, and cling to them while they can. I think we do, or should do, just the same thing.
The love of nature is a gift for which those who possess it cannot be too grateful. How many a lonely hour does it fill with richest delights! But I think you will understand me when I say that the love of the external of nature alone, is only a part of what I mean; though many who have never had glimpses of the inner beauty would undoubtedly deny this, and are quite contented with the sensuous delight which the perfume and color of roses or the sweet voices of birds afford them. Let us think for a moment who tinted the rose, who created those lovely musical instruments. The very thought of Him, the loving and grateful thought of Him, will open the spiritual eye and ear. If we believe that He really created all from Himself, we are irresistibly led to the conclusion, that within this lovely outer vesture of things there must be a something higher and more spiritual -- something flowing out from the Divine nature itself. This love of the beautiful, then, may become the seed of far higher happiness -- the recipient vessel, the form, into which may be poured the abiding joy of seeing and knowing all the spiritual beauty of which the outspread magnificence all about us is but the garment. Do you remember those lines of Faust in the invocation to nature, which opens the poem?
"And ever on the resounding loom of time,
Thou weavest the Godhead's living garment."
Perhaps, because I have quoted this poetry, you will accept what I have said before as poetry also, -- mere poetical fancy! And you are, at least in part, right. It is poetry; it is taught us by our imagination; but would that I could tell you what Poetry is, what Imagination does.
Did it never seem to you strange, that when Imagination is the only human faculty which even they who desire most to brutalize man have never even conjectured that they found in the slightest degree or under any guise in animals, that this purely human faculty should be given by his Creator to man alone, if its only function be to deceive, and its only work to fill our minds with fantasies and illusions? It is not so. Poetry works with and it speaks to the imagination. And we owe it to the provident mercy of God, that in all ages poetry has been able to tell us through the imagination great and elevating truths, which our reason, our reason as we have made it to be, would utterly reject. It is for this that poetry is given. Even in this dead age it insinuates into the mind, and into the affections, beautiful truths, which reason, while it scorns, is willing to admit, provided we call them imaginations; and on no other terms would this reason, in its present condition, allow them any existence.
Look into your own mind, and tell me if this is not true? The beautiful suggestions of poetry are profound realities; standing to the facts and knowledges of which reason and science are so proud, in the relation of soul to body. There is abundance of false poetry in the world, as there is of everything else that is false. I speak only of true poetry. It is the misery of our times that reason is utterly ignorant of its greatest power and highest work, and that science does not know that it has a soul.
The time will come -- and there are moments when the light flashing all around me, and beginning to illuminate the dark corners of what is called science and philosophy, lets me hope that it may come soon -- when reason will call on imagination to do for truth what only imagination can; and when imagination will gladly come to reason for guidance, for rectification, for confirmation. Then, only then, will terminate this unhappy divorce between these two great human powers -- human and finite in us, but divine and infinite in Him from whom they come to us -- coming always as we can become willing to receive from Him the gift of His own elements of life.
IN one of my letters I alluded to my neighbor with the weak eyes. This man has a genius for making the best of everything that really has a best in it, which is truly admirable. A medicine was prescribed for him lately, which he applied, and for one day experienced much relief; but ever since has been so much worse, that one would think the temporary benefit would have been quite forgotten in the suffering afterwards. By no means; he clings to the memory of that one day with a beautiful persistency, and will not be condoled with much on his present condition, without reverting to the "ray of brightness that the Lord did send him, before He let down the dark curtain again."
There is a saying which must be as old as human experience, repeated ever since there were words to express it, and by everybody that ever lived, the truism of truisms, and yet almost powerless. It is, that putting positive pain and want aside, our happiness is dependent, not on external circumstances, but on internal condition, Why can we not remember this? There is in one of Miss Evans's novels, -- Adam Bede, I think -- a beautiful paragraph on the habit of everybody, of wishing eagerly, passionately, for some boon, some change of circumstance, which he must know, if all experience and observation are able to teach him anything, would, if it were granted, be inevitably followed by a new want, a new disappointment. Shall we, then, wish, hope for nothing passionately? If this is what wisdom tells us, then it is the part of wisdom to destroy our best happiness -- for does not that rest on hope? Wisdom tells us something very different. It tells us we cannot wish too eagerly, strive too earnestly, hope too passionately for that good thing which will change our inward condition. That change which will enlarge our capacity for abiding happiness, fill out and complete our life, strengthen our weakness, feed us with all good, satisfy the heart, not with quietude and rest, but with energy and strength for all usefulness, and so for all happiness -- surely wisdom itself will tell us that we may wish for this with all our capacity of desire, and live in the joy of hope, if that be granted! Live in this hope, and in the joy of this hope, let what will befall us.
You know Church history is one of my favorite studies. In the early ages of Christianity I often find instances of this. There were martyrs upon whom ingenious cruelty did its worst. But their hope, their bounding and exulting hope, acted upon them with anæsthetic power -- I do not believe they felt the flame or the rack.
Martyrdom of that sort is at an end; but martyrdom of another sort is still the law of Christian life. The ecstasy of joy in the midst of suffering has gone, too. But our martyrdom -- the pains and stings of every day -- may be borne with better patience, if such a wish and hope as I have above described be given us.
THE only work I have to do for you is to help you to do your own work. Nor should I be deterred from doing what I can by the consciousness that all the assistance I can give you is so poor and imperfect, for it may possibly be the best that is now within your reach. Sometimes the earth seems to me like a great garden; not the "garden of nature" that men talk of, but a garden where our good and evil tendencies are growing side by side. If, in the little patch of ground which is assigned to each, that plant called "Love of God" should be found, let it be most carefully nourished and watered; let everything be done to help it to grow; its flowers will be so much more beautiful than all the others that they will fully repay the gardener for his pains. There are not wanting instructions in this spiritual floriculture for those who will read them; but often the Lord lets us help each other; and if it be only a cup of cold water, or a bit of trellis for our precious plant to climb upon, coming at the right moment, it may preserve it from drought and death.
Not long after my last letter I sent you a Life of Swedenborg. I selected this because, besides the mere narrative part which would interest you, the writer speaks of Swedenborg's books, and, partly by extracts, partly by his own comments, endeavors to exhibit the leading doctrines.
This is done abruptly, without the aid of the mutual illustration they give each other, and sometimes inaccurately; but I thought, in spite of these defects, you could from this book gain a general view of the whole, which might afterwards be both rectified and enlarged by study of the details. Let me beg you to remember two or three things. First, that you study these things to become more free, not to be bound; to be taught and led, not to be commanded and coerced. Remember, too, Swedenborg has none of the character or authority of inspiration. Nothing would he have disclaimed more. Again, what he teaches is a new and universal system of thought. There are two reasons why this must present many and great difficulties. The first is its absolute novelty. It presents to the mind a new way of believing and thinking about everything. Nor is this all; for if it be received in any degree, in that degree it must change our mode of thought. And you will see that this implies not merely the reception of the new, but, to make that reception possible, the casting away of the old. And this is sometimes a cause of great pain. The second cause of difficulty is the boundless extent and measureless magnitude of many of the truths he tells. The effect of this is that, to some minds, many of these seem at first utterly incomprehensible. Yet the prevention of difficulty or embarrassment from either or both of these causes is easy and effectual.
Determine resolutely not to be embarrassed by them. How, you may ask, shall you accomplish this? Very easily. Cultivate a due respect for Swedenborg's marvellous ability, and for his most extraordinary means of knowledge. Acknowledge and reverence the ends for which he was so taught. But, if you do not understand what you read, remember that the truth which may be there is not truth for you at that time. Keep your mind free and open, and there is always abundance to understand and rejoice in. Let this be your habit, and you will be surprised to find how this freedom and ease of mind will often make things quite clear, will often give you at least beautiful glimpses and dawnings of truth, when, if the mind were disturbed or oppressed, everything would be dark and confused.
LAST Sunday I wrote to guard you from embarrassment at finding, in the course of reading you have undertaken, things which you cannot now understand. Let me now speak of what may sometimes happen. You will understand a paragraph, or think that you do, and be wholly unable to receive it. What are you to do then? I answer as before, Be tranquil; let it alone; do not come too hastily to the conclusion that your author is mistaken, for at a later time you might perhaps discover that you did not understand him aright, or that you did understand him and were yourself mistaken.
Swedenborg is peculiarly open to misconstruction, not so much about doctrines, as in his relations of what he saw in the spiritual world, from this cause, namely, that there the appearance of things is greatly affected and almost determined by the character of the observer. Something of this is true even here. Perhaps nothing appears as precisely the same thing to one person that it does to another. Suppose a kingdom in this world, where there are wise laws affecting the minutest conduct of every man, admirably adapted to give to all who obey them the largest comfort and enjoyment of which they are capable, and for their own sake carried into full and constant force by observant and inexorable justice and irresistible power, so as to produce the greatest amount of quiet enjoyment with the minimum of coercion and punishment. To some people this would seem to be a very heaven upon earth. To others, the absolute absence of freedom would make it a hell.
Now this difference of aspect, according to difference of character, is carried infinitely further in the spiritual world than here.
Swedenborg often speaks of those in hell, and of their surroundings -- exactly suited to them, as are all surroundings in the spiritual world -- as they are seen in the light of truth, or as the angels see them. And the picture is horrible enough. And passages of this sort would be selected by one whose sympathies with the old notions of divine vengeance and eternal punishment led him to prefer this view of hell. But it is the constant statement of Swedenborg that those who are in hell appear to themselves, and to each other, what they would love to appear and to see -- and so it is with their surroundings. And in all his Relations, it must be remembered that all external things in the spiritual world symbolize and represent internal things, not merely in general, as on earth, but with particular adaptation to individuals. Most of his Relations refer to the world of spirits, which is a purely transitional condition, and where all things fluctuate, appear, disappear, and change almost like the scenes of a drama; while in the heavens, where character is fixed and determined, there is in the external world of the angels far more permanence and seeming reality in the substance of things than in this changeful world, while hues and forms, and light and shade, change with inexhaustible variety, to represent the changes of state in a life of constant development.
It is said to be the test of a true system of philosophy, that no part of it can be understood except in the light of all the rest. Never was this more true than of Swedenborg's philosophy of religion -- or religion of philosophy. They may be called which you will, for with him there can be no true religion which is not philosophical, no true philosophy which is not religious.
THIS afternoon I ascended a hill at no great distance from my house, which I had not visited before, and on reaching the top was amazed at the extent and loveliness of the prospect. Expecting little from so slight an ascent, it seemed as if "all the kingdoms of the world "were spread before me. It was very beautiful to see so many miles of God's fair earth all clad in the perfection of midsummer garments; and at first the pure delight of the eye banished any definite thought. But after each part of the picture had been sought out and enjoyed, the village at my feet nestled in dark green trees, the meadows dotted with haycocks and here and there a mower -- seen from my point of view only as a red spot -- the clear blue river, the sunny upland slopes and the lovely blue hills, growing softer and bluer in the distance -- then came again the thought of that mountain where Satan tempted our Lord; and if the scene had been no lovelier than this which met my eye, if the offer of absolute power had been only over the few villages which my hill-top commanded, what a temptation might not that have been!
The subject of our Lord's temptations is too sacred and mysterious to be lightly approached -- almost too sacred to be approached at all; but one passage of your last letter, as it perhaps suggested the thought I have above expressed, so it induces me to offer to you a few thoughts about it, because it seems to me that you are in an obscurity which I may be able to illuminate, though perhaps very faintly.
We are told, "He was tempted in all points as we are"; and this you must remember does not mean merely as you are tempted, or as I am tempted, for numberless germs or possibilities of evil exist in us which may never rise to assail us, and there are other people who have foes to deal with quite different from those from which we pray daily for deliverance. All the terrible and infinitely varied temptations of all men assailed Him. The German artist, Moritz Retsch, has drawn in vivid outlines the struggles of angels and demons for the mastery over a human soul; yet when the dark hour of our own conflict comes to us, the picture seems a dim and feeble presentation of our own struggles and torments. Would it not help us in that hour, if, remembering that all this, and infinitely more, was suffered by our Lord, the unspeakably consoling thought should also come -- and yet He conquered?
Then by a patient reading, and oft re-reading, of the story, may we come at last to see -- to see here very faintly, but hereafter more perfectly -- how He conquered. I will give you one of the thoughts which came to me about it today. There are three words: "It is written." Did it ever occur to you that the only answers made by the Lord, when tempted by the Devil, were "It is written" so or so. And always the answers thus found in the Word overcome the Devil.
The temptations of our Lord in the desert were symbolical, nor could they have happened literally. But they symbolize all the temptations He endured in the whole of His life on earth, and therefore all that we can endure; and His answers symbolize the means of His constant victories. Remember that temptations can be undergone only by those who are striving to be better. They are combats, and only they resist sin who would escape from sin.
The first temptation symbolizes all that vast class of feelings which, when we are worn and wearied with our efforts to attain the spiritual truth for which we so hunger, tempts us to give up the effort -- to be content with this world and what it offers, and to find in its very stones, where no life is, all the bread we want. If we yield, we have momentary comfort; if, yielding still more, we absolutely decline to make further effort for better things, we fall into naturalism and worldliness. But if we resist, it is because we remember that we can live only by the bread of God -- only by the words He has given us to lead us to Himself.
None are in this world wholly free from this temptation; but even when we are most free from this, it is then that we are assailed by a new temptation. We think we have conquered, are ascending, are strong -- that we stand on the pinnacle of the temple, and are safe; for even if we cast ourselves down, have not His angels charge to save us? Ah! sorrowful and woful condition; and our fancied strength turns to weakness now. Yet may not those most beautiful, blessed words in Revelation have been spoken to us, "To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life"? And here we can overcome if we remember that we must not tempt the Lord our God -- that we must not forget that to the highest and lowest of His children He gives His law, His truth; and that constant and humble obedience to that law, constant and humble care not to offend, is the condition on which His angels can save us.
And then will come, and it comes in myriads of forms, the last and deepest temptation. It is that we love our goodness and our wisdom for ourselves, and the greatness and superiority they give us, and the pleasant consciousness that we are not as other men are; and not that they may make us more perfectly His instruments, and the servants of His will. And here, too, we are saved, if we remember that we must worship, not ourselves, but "the Lord our God, and Him only shall we serve." "Thy will, not our will."
These are the most general forms of all temptations; and the lesson with regard to this parable which has come to me today, and which I have shared with you, is that against every temptation we may find sufficient answer, and in every danger sufficient defence, in the Word of God.
YOU say that you find it "quite impossible to live in the country and not fill your letters with gossip of woods and birds and streams," and fear that I will "be tired of it." Instead of tiring, my dear friend, it rests me -- I mean it gives me a restful feeling about you; it must be that your mind is at peace, when you can feel in harmony with God's innocent creation which we call nature.
I can quite sympathize, too, with your pleasure in telling of the impressions which you are constantly receiving from this beautiful nature. Long as I have lived in the country, I have not outlived this pleasure; and it is particularly delightful to send to some imprisoned city friend a stray leaf from this book of bright pictures painted by a Divine Hand. Pausing for a moment only, leaving myself, my cares and anxieties, I have only to glance from my window, and dark indeed must be the mood which would not be arrested, at least, by the bright midsummer picture outside. And even if one cannot look, the murmuring brook is always telling about it in its own gentle way, monotonous perhaps, but never tedious, and with an unobtrusiveness which is all the more touching when one thinks what a story it is which the brook has to tell.
But you are now in the mountains, and have begun already to learn from them as well as to enjoy them. It seems to me that mountain-tops have sometimes an effect which is a strange blending of exhilaration and tranquillization -- a simple joyousness in being, and a sense of calm gladness in being lifted so far above the mists and cares of earth. I am speaking of quite high mountain-tops, where the landscape underneath is too distant to be distracting. Does not this represent the normal state of man, expelled afterwards by the glooms and anxieties which we permit to fill our minds? Is not the only needful thing to cast these out? For then we need not seek for joy -- it would return of itself, as to its rightful home. The soul has its mountain-tops, and climbs up thither to be alone with God. "I will flee unto the hills from whence cometh my help." "His foundation is in the holy mountains." In these high solitudes the soul finds a refuge when all else has failed; and the beautiful spiritual sense of these words -- their soul -- comes to us. Yet these are not our home, nor is it in God's order to dwell apart from our fellow men. In the valleys and plains below, our work is to be done, and when we stand on a mountain-top of thought or feeling, it may be that we shall be called down by some woful disappointment, some stinging calamity -- called down to our hard work, inner or outer, there where it must be done. Ah, well! let us answer the call -- let us descend; but while we are up there let us try, by grateful and earnest recognition of our Father's love, to strengthen our trust in Him, to strengthen ourselves for the work to which disappointment or calamity may be sent to guide us! Nor is it an unkind Providence which bids us descend from our mountains. The air there is too thin to breathe; soon the solitude, at first so charming, would grow irksome. From the heights we can bring down new vigor for old duties, and recollections and lessons which will make us more useful than we could have been before.
The mountains and hills drink the "dew of the morning," and gather from the clouds their beneficent rains, and a thousand streamlets pour down their sides. Remember that water, everywhere and universally, in all its forms and functions and laws, corresponds to truth in the intellect. When we climb to mountain and hill states, then, if we are but ready for the blessing, thoughts and truths which had floated through our understanding like clouds, or were as invisible as the dew, come down to us and we may hold them. And what becomes of them, or what may become of them?
See those streamlets gliding along in their pure and stainless beauty, singing their songs of gladness. Downwards they go, and form the streams and swell the rivers which invigorate and help to make habitable the levels far below. But how often, when they get there, they are stained, and sad, and sluggish!
IN the French book I sent you the other day, did you notice how hardly the author was pressed to find eminent men whom he could cite to prove his position, that intellectual power and cultivation were not incompatible with sincere belief? Under one point of view I lament this; under another there is hope in it.
It is one of the marvellous signs of the times that all the forces of reason, logic, and science seem to be permitted to assail supernaturalism with irresistible force. This is permitted in this age for the first time in the history of man. And the reason is that now men may find a refuge there, where none was ever opened to them before. In the closest reasoning, in the severest logic, in all scientific processes, if only there be thrown on these the light of new truths -- utterly unknown to past ages -- the most exact thinkers may find evidence and certainty. I fear this will seem to you a strong assertion; but it is literally true. I do most distinctly believe that the truths now revealed concerning the nature of God and His relation to the universe, the nature of spiritual being and its relation to the material world outside of it, the nature of the soul and its relation to the body, and the methods and purposes of God in creating and sustaining man, are able to bring to a rational mind undoubting conviction and positive certainty that man begins to live in this world and never ceases to live, and never ceases to have a world about him adapted to him. But what proof have we of these truths? Their own light -- the proof we have at noon-day of the sun's existence.
The assailants of supernaturalism find in the "Word" of God their great battle-ground; and I have spoken to you before in some of my letters of these controversies, and the reason of their being permitted in these days as never before, because the freedom of thought which must once have been utterly disastrous, may now, in the new light which our Father has given through His servant, Swedenborg, lead to the most beautiful results.
When we first know that there is a spiritual sense to the Word, to every part of it, and that our Church reveals this sense, we look for it perhaps hungrily, and are disappointed when we find so little that we can clearly discern; nor is it impossible that we may be too persistent in our search, and make an effort which not only disappoints but retards us. Yet, after awhile, we learn to see a few things distinctly, and many more things dimly, yet gladly -- I say dimly, but I rather mean generally. And as our knowledge grows we learn that the spiritual sense is not a new language into which the old words are to be translated, but new light, new significance, new precision, and appropriateness to our own wants. We feel that this is infinite and inexhaustible; and that, as we go upwards, we shall see forever more clearly that it is the Word of God, and what that Word says to us.
Without losing our enjoyment of what we see, we lose the painful feeling that we see nothing because we see so little. We receive and recognize without effort and without struggle what comes to us, and it is all the more welcome. The sermons we hear, the books we read, tell us the meaning of these or those texts, and gradually accumulating a stock of such meanings, we shall be sure to find other texts coming within the light we have thus obtained.
We cannot doubt that our Father has countless ways of speaking to His children. Through all the voices of nature He speaks; there is not the faintest whirr of insect-life in which we should not hear the Divine accents, if we would only listen for them. He speaks to us through the eye still more powerfully; and not the smallest event of every-day life but may be to us a lesson, an exhortation from the Father of Light. Yet the Holy Scriptures are none the less emphatically His Word -- a word worth infinitely more than all human words ever uttered; and though this Divine Word must yet come down to us through human means, though much in this way may have been darkened and obscured, we have an assured faith that the truth itself not only remains forever secured to us -- a precious heritage -- but a faith, too, that God has now sent us that illumination which will drive away the thick clouds and darkness.
I am sure you see plainly that infinite wisdom could be communicated to finite intellects only by some method of accommodation. This is only another way of saying that the Divine energy can make a tree grow and pass through its circle of life only by means of organs perfectly adapted to this purpose, the soft coverings which infold the germ, the drinking and breathing apparatus of rootlets and leaves. So only could it give to animals their life; so only can it give life to man, or, better, so only can it be in man, human life. And that man may be man, he has a physical organization which includes the vegetable and the animal, and then an affectional and intellectual organization into which Divine love and wisdom may flow, becoming human affection and human reason -- while through this whole scale of being, from the absolute divinity at the summit, down to the fixed matter of our earth, the energy is always the same, the laws of its action are always the same, and its effects on one plane of being correspond to those on other planes of being.
You remember Jacob's dream: "Jacob was in Beth-el (the House of God) and he dreamed; and behold a ladder set up on the earth; and the top of it reached to heaven; and behold the angels of God ascending and descending upon it. And behold the Lord stood above it." This ladder is the Word. In all ages, among the Jews as among the Christians, there have been those who were too deeply penetrated with the belief of its sanctity and divinity to rest contented with supposing it to have no other meaning than that which rests on the ground. Oh, how they have labored to find the ascending steps of the ladder! But they have been able to see it only as a dream; only as Jacob saw it. Now, however, we are permitted (and if we will, we may be instructed) to see it with our waking reason; to see it, not as a mere dream fabric, but as a reality, resting on a foundation solid as earth itself, and ascending by steps built of the very substance of truth, and arranged in their places by the laws of infinite wisdom. What multitudes have stood on the lower rounds, seeing no more, but with eye and soul looking and longing for more. When they pass into the next world will not such mount up, and ever upwards?
The angels of God ascend and descend perpetually upon it. You know that "angels" means "messengers," and all good influences come down to us along its steps and arise with us if we will only go up with them. How unspeakably grateful should they be who are now permitted to see, not its whole extent, but many of its steps, and to be sure that its foundation cannot fail, and that its summit is in Heaven.
I READ and re-read all that you told me about your two Sunday sermons, and I thought I could see plainly why you were so much more at home in the afternoon. There was some religion there. Never have I felt so strongly, never seen so clearly as of late, that the difference between forms or modes of religion is not so important and so vital as the difference between any true, heartfelt religion, and none; and in feeling this, we lose care for the difference in forms, or even in faiths, except as one is better able than another to feed whatever hunger for religion we may have, and to give us the bread of life as nothing else could. What is religion, but to know, to worship, and to love God -- for from a true love to Him springs all love of goodness, and therefore all happiness. But we must know and love Him as our Father; and what can be more plain than that we can have no such love except for a person? And where, but in the truths which He has now given us, can we find that knowledge of Him, of His nature, of His work, of His own inconceivable love for us, which makes our faith unwavering, our thoughts distinct, and, if worldliness or selfishness do not paralyze our hearts, fills them full -- full of love for Him who loves us so.
Do not think, however, that by this last sentence I would confine all religion to those who accept the same truths which I accept; or, in other words, that in dividing all men into two classes, I put those who belong to the New Church in one, and all the rest of humanity in the other. There is a marked line of division, an almost indefinable yet never absent distinction between New-Church and Old-Church people, which I will not here enlarge upon; but most certainly I would be the last one to say that this distinction existed because on one side they were religious and the others were not. Not in the least. Many of them have much religion, more than either you or I have; but their religion suits them; and because it would not suit or help us, our Father has given us our own. There is, however, a deeper view to be taken of this subject. All truth known to man is but as a few drops from an exhaustless fountain, or rather from an infinite ocean; for it is an effluence from Infinite Wisdom. This Wisdom, you know, is one with Infinite Love, and He in whom it is, desires to give it to us as largely and as freely as possible. But it can come only gradually, only in its own order, step by step. Then what follows? Every truth given us is given for two purposes -- one, that it may pour its light upon the mind, and bring our thoughts into the order and clearness belonging to that truth, and kindle our affection for the truth itself and for the good of which it is the instrument, and make this affection warm and permanent. And the second purpose it accomplishes by doing just this first work; for this second purpose is, to open our minds to higher truths. Hence two things -- first, to every age, and nation, and individual, that truth is given which is best for him or her, in that state; and the other thing is, that only by holding fast, by loving and living that truth, do we make ourselves receptive of more and higher truth. This we can do, and unless we do it, it cannot be done.
A man may live in a dungeon and not know that it is dark, because he neither knows nor cares to know what light is. Many live so. Or he may live in a broken or diffused light, and be content therewith, because he does not know that there is a sun, nor wish to know it. And upon him the sunshine is never permitted to fall, because it would blind him with excess of light. But if he was once sure that there was a sun, and that its glory was all around him and everything, seeking to enter at every crevice, now perhaps he would try to open the shutters of his mind and let the sunshine in. He might seek to do this, and strive and moan because he could not. For whether he could or not would depend entirely upon what he desired the sunshine for; and what he would do with it when he got it; for it might be to him a curse! Here seems to me to be the key to the whole providence of God in the divine dispensation of truth to the world in every age, and always to every individual.
The other day I was reading a most eloquent account of the marvellous display of Divine Wisdom in so perfectly adjusting the eye to light, as it comes to earth and exists here with infinite differences as to place, and season, and hour; and so adjusting the sun, the source of all light, to the eye, that a healthy human eye and sunlight are exactly made for each other. When -- I thought as I read this -- when will it be as well known, and as readily admitted as a part of familiar knowledge, that this outside adjustment, exquisite as it is, is but the effect, presentation, and symbol of the inner adjustment between the mind's eye and the mind's light. Often have I found it a most startling thing to say, that the spiritual eye is an organ perfectly clothed by the material eye, filling exactly every part of it, giving life to it, and in that way giving sight to that natural organ, which without it can no more see than a stone, or than it can when death has taken away this spiritual organ. Oh! that either you or I could put the millionth part of its true value on the truth -- the light -- given to us!
When I think of the truths themselves, when I see them offering the solution of the problems which vex the human mind, giving to the wandering feet some guidance, and to the sad heart hope and faith and joy, I wonder that the whole world does not welcome them. But when I think of existing character as I suppose it to be in others and know it to be in myself, then am I astonished that they have made any impression on mankind.
To return for a moment to my man in a dungeon: it is not desire, not even intense desire for truth that brings it -- but a desire of such kind, and on such grounds, as to indicate that if it be received it will be so loved and used as to make it well that it should be received. Do you remember the words, "Verily I say unto you, that many prophets and righteous men have desired to see those things which ye see and have not seen them and to hear those things which ye hear and have not heard them"? They were prophets and righteous men. They longed for truth. Why was it not given them? You will see, I think, that if we push this inquiry to its legitimate extent, it becomes the question why man at the beginning of his existence is not taught by Infinite Love all of the Infinite Wisdom that he is willing to ask for and to hear. And you see at once that now you ask why man is not made just what man is not. The universal answer is, every living person is always within reach of all the truth he needs -- all which he can receive without wasting it, idling with it, subjecting it to his own self-intelligence, or so perverting it that it becomes a mischief and not a blessing. All this wrong we may do with what is given us to be our own, but it would not have been given to us unless we might have done better.
NOT long ago, I wrote you a letter about worldliness; but you must not imagine that the subject is exhausted. No, even in my comparative seclusion, I feel continually its influence; and again and yet again it forces itself upon me as a painful subject of consideration. The immediate reason for my writing about it today is, perhaps, because I have just been reading a letter from Mr. ____, an old friend, who after a faithful service of many years has just resigned an important office in the ministry. Several motives led him to this resignation; but the strongest seems to have been an overpowering sadness at the condition of the society into which he was necessarily thrown. He writes: "It is not that I see everywhere a worldliness that is positive and offensive, but I do find a worldliness which is utterly >without God in the world.' Men, old and young, are for the most part good men, doing their duty satisfactorily, and meeting me with kindness; but seldom, very seldom, do I detect a motive, a thought, or feeling, or hear an expression which indicates that this life is valued chiefly for its relation to another. It is not good to live always in such an atmosphere."
When the thought flashes upon us (for it comes, and alas! it is gone, like summer lightning), that in a short time we shall begin a life which will not end, and that the whole of its character and condition must depend on the preparation for that life which we make in this world, what grievous calamity should we dread so much as that worldliness which puts upon our very souls the seal of death. A day or two since, in "The Imitation of Christ," I met with this line: "Vanitas, omne est vanitas, præter amare Deum." "Vanity, all is vanity, but to love God." It is the common saying of all ascetic writings; but, as they understood it, it involved a great mistake -- for they thought that this world stood, not merely with worldly men, but necessarily, and of its own nature, in absolute antagonism to heaven. Formerly I regarded the maxim, I suppose, only in its ascetic meaning, and therefore as only partially true; yet now it seems to me the truest thing that can be said -- perfectly and absolutely true. For in this very world, God dwells. He so governs and shapes all the circumstances of life, that if we use them aright we may draw near to Him here, and prepare to be near Him in the Forever after. He longs for our love -- our love, which is so feeble and faint, and yet so precious in His sight when we give it to Him freely. And why does He so desire it? Ah! I have told you many times before, and yet we cannot too often remember it, that it is because, if we love Him, He can make us supremely happy. All that belongs to us or occurs to us in this life, is so ordered that we may find in it the means of putting far from us those obstructions of evil which prevent us from seeing Him as He is, and as He has revealed Himself to us; for if we did but so see Him, how could we fail to love Him with the whole heart and soul? All is vanity but to love God. But when we understand Him and His Providence, we shall love Him in all the activities and duties of life, and in all innocent enjoyments which we gratefully accept as His gifts.
Swedenborg says something like this: "The only place where we can overcome worldliness is in the world." Hence necessity drives almost all into it; and it calls upon us so enticingly, or so imperatively, that solitary life is almost impossible. We cannot resist this necessity; on this point we have little freedom. Our freedom begins when the question comes, What use will we make of this world? And the answer involves an awful responsibility.
YOU ask me to explain to you the early verses of the sixty-third chapter of Isaiah, about Edom. In a page or two I can only give you hints for you to work out, but I will try to do that. "Esau is Edom," as we are told in Genesis xxxvi. 1. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob represent the three degrees of life -- heavenly, spiritual, and natural. Esau, the brother of Jacob, also represents the natural. But Esau represents natural good, and the whole history of Esau is a wonderful picture of what merely natural good is and does in our poor human nature. If we read the book of Genesis simply as an historical narrative, without attaching to it any spiritual symbolism, I think we cannot always understand why the Divine approval and blessing should have been given to Jacob, and why Esau should be so condemned; in fact, our sympathies are often with Esau. Because the good that was in him was natural good, for that very reason we can understand and admire it more readily as good; for it is like our own. How often do we form similar judgments of the friends and acquaintances who are about us!
Esau took possession of Mount Seir, and when his descendants possessed the whole range of mountains running south from near the Dead Sea to the head of the Red Sea (the Gulf of Akaba), they gave to the whole country Esau's name of "Edom." In the Word, this always represents natural good under one or other of its aspects; and, as this when only natural and selfish is bad as bad can be, the denunciations against Edom in the prophets are terrible. But there often occur passages in which are intimations that it may be redeemed and delivered -- as in Amos ix., 11th and 12th verses: "In that day will I raise up the tabernacle of David that is fallen, and close up the breaches thereof; and I will raise up his ruins, and I will build it as in the days of old; That they may possess the remnant of Edom, and of all the heathen which are called by my name, saith the Lord that doeth this." Also in Psalm cviii. 10: "Who will bring me into the strong city, who will lead me into Edom?" Sometimes Edom is mentioned with direct reference to our Lord; and then it always means His human nature -- as in the passage you refer to. "He cometh from Edom mighty to save." He cometh and worketh for us in His assumed humanity to be our Saviour, as was in no other way possible. Garments dyed (literally dyed red), are truths warm and bright with love. "Glorious in His apparel" is, glorious in the truth He reveals. When you read the third and fourth verses, remember that the vengeance, wrath, and fury of the Lord are only the aspects His love bears to those who stand in utter hostility to Him. He cannot be anything but the eternally loving and merciful Father; but we, alas! wrapped in the dark clouds of our own evil passions, see not beyond them. We do not go out of ourselves, and this poor, distorted image of self is reflected everywhere, till the Father's smile becomes to us a frown of wrath!
"There was none to uphold, therefore mine own arm brought salvation." There was nothing, nothing in the human nature He came to regenerate, that could help him. So it is with the Edom which belongs to us -- to you and to me. But you may ask, How then can it be true that we may coöperate with Him in every step? And more than that, even He cannot lead us forward one step, unless we do cooperate [cooperate]. Is not this one of the distinguishing doctrines of our Church? Most certainly. Evil as we are, He can open our hearts to His influence, and does in childhood and infancy as well as youth and age, in myriads of ways, and then He can offer to our acceptance His own strength. He does all that may be done to induce us to accept it; all that is consistent with our perfect freedom to reject it. If we do receive this strength from God and use it to work with Him, then indeed we take a step forward, and by this we acquire the possibility of receiving more strength, in which we may advance another step -- and this forever and ever.
YOU are much grieved and perplexed at the trials and consequent depression into which your excellent young friend L____ has fallen. I am grieved, too, to hear of her depression (and yet that may, perhaps, soon be mended), but not to hear of the trials -- although this may sound to you cold and unsympathetic to the last degree. But, remember who sends these troubles. Your friend was full of natural goodness -- that goodness of which I spoke to you in a recent letter; she was kind and amiable, generous and patient, and yet lacked one essential. She did not look to the Lord, nor acknowledge in Him the constant Giver of all her pleasant possessions; among others of her sweet and equable temper, which endeared her so much to those about her. With an appearance of humility which was deceptive even to herself, she in fact prided herself much on her Christian graces; more especially when they were applauded by those about her -- for she was exquisitely sensitive to human opinion. So much faith had she in those poor, short-sighted, human judgments, that a harsh sentence, even from one whom she might know to be utterly incompetent to form any just opinion whatever, would be a sudden blight; yet soon the praises of others would reinstate her in the happy condition of self-satisfaction.
Yet as gleams of truth come to us all sometimes athwart the clouds in which we wrap ourselves, so L ____ exclaimed to me one day, in what seemed like a prophecy of that which has now come: "Some calamity must one day befall me! Nothing short of this will ever bring me to God. I believe I really hardly care for Him at all. I do love my fellow-men, and I care so much more for the praise of men than the praise of God."
How much of that which we deem benevolence or philanthropy, is so mixed with selfishness that hardly any virtue is left in it. We love our equals and dear friends because they give us love and sympathy, even if for no baser motive; and if these gifts were withdrawn should we still love? Our kindly feelings towards the poor and dependent are too often sustained and kept alive by the flattery which we receive from them.
Nothing is more difficult than to look upon trials and persecutions as blessings; and though some would confess it to be true with a partial belief, others might altogether laugh at such a paradox. When we ourselves are the "victims," as we call it, it is harder than ever to accept the chastisement as a token of love; but when others are afflicted, we are sometimes able to see the great benefit accruing to them from their afflictions. This selfish clearness of vision could not be yours with regard to your friend, whom you loved too dearly to see her sufferings unmoved. Nor would I ask you to be unmoved, but only to be filled with a perfect assurance of God's love for her, and also to believe in the complete and exquisite adaptation of every permitted joy or sorrow to our need at the moment.
You know the persecutions of the early Christians. But all historians acknowledge that this was a most potent influence in the growth of Christianity. You must have met with the old and common saying, "The blood of the martyrs was the seed of the church." But the church consisted of the men and women who composed it. And it must have been good for them, if it was good for the church. Some of them knew it was, and rejoiced in it then. They all know it now, and are grateful for what grieved them. But if it was good and necessary for them -- had it not been necessary it would not have been permitted -- is it not certain that analogous causes make it good for us also to pass through pain and suffering?
I WANT a new English word, -- one that shall translate the common French word "orienter." This name means, primarily, to know where the East is, and thence the other points of one's compass, and thence how to guide one's self. A French critic, speaking of Hegel's confused and cloudy metaphysics, says: "I cannot understand him. I am unable >m'orienter,' and do not know in what direction he seeks to lead me." But this is only one of the ways in which this metaphor may be used. There is scarcely anything to which it does not apply. Happy are they who, in the whole course of life, are always able "s'orienter," and know where their East is that East to which, Swedenborg tells us, the angels always look. Miserable are they who are not thus able! Shall I give you a figure which seems to me to illustrate this? Suppose a man to be travelling on one of our boundless prairies, -- clouds chase each other across the sky; all nature, as it seems to him, has a lowering aspect; he is quite discouraged, for he seeks his home and there is no sun to guide him. He must go on, for it is death to stand still. He knows not whether he goes forward or backward, or what is forward or backward. With eyes fastened to the ground he moves on, but with the sluggishness of despair. See! from that little rift in the clouds the sun peeps out; but our traveller no longer glances upward with his earth-bound eyes, and that heavenly guidance he loses sight of. He still moves on in his random course, but night approaches. Whose footsteps are these? No other than his own, -- he has been walking in a circle.
Another man in the same wilderness, under as dark a sky, as weary and as far from refuge, knows that behind those clouds there must be a sun to tell him how to walk on earth. It is for him first to believe and hope, and then to look up, and, if he may, find it. Let his way be miry and difficult, suppose him faint with hunger and his lips parched with thirst, and let a sense of loneliness make his heart almost sink -- yet if he looks above, and looks trustingly, he will find his guide. Yes, there is a beautiful bright gleam! He presses on, and if every step is one labor more, it is also one hope more, for he is certain that he is so much nearer rest. He knows the end he seeks -- he knows that he shall reach it. In time? Perhaps not. But he will reach it.
It seems to me that under one or the other of these descriptions all the lives I know of may be ranked -- in different ways or degrees, however. But then it is always certain that the best and happiest life is that in which a definite purpose is always in view, and always approached.
I was much moved by your allusion to John the Baptist. As he represents Repentance, so his whole history in its least details is a perfect history of the birth, growth, nature, and working of repentance. John said: "I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness." Has it ever struck you what perfect humility was there -- what humility there must be about all true repentance? He claimed nothing for himself -- rather would he turn away all attention from his own personality; he prefers to call himself only a Voice -- to be known of men simply as the instrument and the forerunner of the Lord. And yet this was the great teacher of whom our Lord Himself said: "Among them that are born of women there hath not arisen a greater than John the Baptist." There can be no deep and sincere repentance without a profound and very painful consciousness of sinfulness; yet in this very darkest spot of the deep valley of the shadow of death, the Lord is seen to draw near, and Repentance cries,"Behold the Lamb of God which taketh away the sins of the world." In the fifty-first Psalm -- which expresses as no other words ever did the last intensity of humiliation and repentance -- occur these words: "Purge me with hyssop and I shall be clean." What the plant intended by the Hebrew word translated "hyssop" actually was, is not certainly known. But it was used as a means of purification, and it was bitter. It is a prayer to be cleansed by bitterness -- by sorrow and suffering. It welcomes, it asks for sorrow and suffering, if only they will cleanse. Why can we not all so pray? Why at least when the cup of bitterness is held to our lips, can we not so drink as to help it do the work for which it is given?
ONE of the fashions of the day is a little book propounding a list of questions as to various likes and dislikes, to which answers are to be written. It is called "Mental Photograph Book," because the answers are supposed to give a picture of the writer's mind, even if jestingly given. Among the questions was this: "What is your ideal of profound misery?" The answers interested me. One was, "To live with people who constantly and entirely misunderstand you." This seemed to me more rational than most of the other answers to the same question. To one of a sensitive nature, what can be more trying? It is a long time before one brings himself -- or herself -- to acknowledge as a fact this sad state of things; he is constantly trying, in new directions, to meet with that response which he so longs for, like a plant in an uncongenial soil, which sends out vainly its rootlets, seeking for its proper nutriment. But repeated failures in the end bring the conviction to him that he is spiritually alone; and unless he can feel that he is alone with God, how great is that loneliness!
And yet just this burden of living with uncongenial people is one of our Father's means of leading His unwilling children to His arms. For we must have love and sympathy; and seeking first human love, perhaps vainly, we are brought to see that to which we had been before quite blind -- the Divine love, the perfect sympathy, which are really enfolding us all the time.
Yes, it seems at times as if an uncongenial atmosphere was the profoundest of miseries; but if we investigate this misery, is not selfishness lurking at the root? Do we ever meet with a simple, disinterested, loving person, one who constantly goes out of himself -- or herself -- to help others, and who would yet be very wretched, even if thrown into utterly uncongenial society, and surrounded by circumstances the most adverse? Such a person would find something even then to love; nor be utterly cast down because the return did not come directly.
When, however, in spite of all the kindly feeling and outside friendship we may attain to, we are yet sadly conscious that our real life and thought are not in common with those about us, we need not look far to find a thousand tender alleviations and sweet solaces which our Father has provided on every hand. Nature is full of them. Who that has lived in the country has not felt the comfort which the glad songs of birds and brooks, the sweet welcome of green fields, can give? And to the dwellers in cities the greatest of all Nature's comforts remains -- that tender sky bending over all, with its cloudland so wonderfully varied as to reflect and correspond to every human mood; with its stars, which, piercing one by one the darkness of night, seem such clear symbols of the hope and faith which can illumine our gloom and trouble.
And I would speak of one more point. If our lot is plainly cast among those who misapprehend us, and we feel the burden heavy, it will make things far easier, and will actually make the burden much lighter, if we will look up with trust and faith, and say, "This is my burden." But understand me here -- of course it is my burden, but the question is, "What do we mean when we say this? Is it only because it has fallen on me? Then this is not saying much -- perhaps no more than this: "Here it is, and all I can do is to bear it as patiently as I may." But this is no more than the merest man of the world might say, if experience had taught him that fretting under a load only makes it heavier. I mean a great deal more by "this is my burden." I try at least to mean what I know to be true -- that it is mine, because it is exactly the burden I need, and that it is this which makes it mine. None of us, I think, believe that misfortunes, obstacles, and troubles float about, and fall, this on this one, that on that one, as may happen, none escaping their share; but few remember, or believe, with sufficient positiveness of belief, that every burden is called to the very man on whom it falls, and at the moment when it falls, by his own needs and requirements. It is an interesting discovery of modern science that all the impelling force of the universe is one. We know also what mere natural science does not know, that the impelling force of this force is love -- that this force itself, and all forces, are but forms, clothing, instruments of love. Nothing can happen as the effect of any other primal force, because there is no such other. Some effect of some of these forces has brought to us what seems a calamity, but it has come on an errand of love. It makes us unhappy, but it has come to enlarge, in some way, our capacity for happiness.
All this is as demonstrable from the "science of religion," as any problem in Euclid is demonstrable from the science of geometry. But the difficulty is, that the science of religion has within its province the affections as well as the thoughts, the will as well as the understanding. And the affections are so difficult to guide, the will is so rebellious.
THE writings of the celebrated Blaise Pascal are very interesting, but, to me, his biography is still more so. He was indeed a wonderful man, not to be fathomed easily. I feel almost sure, however, that he had in him possibilities of great goodness, and also proclivities to an intensity of evil which could be suppressed so as to allow the element of good to be developed, only by a life of awful suffering. He died, after winning imperishable fame as one of the greatest of thinkers and writers, when, in years, he should have been in the meridian of his strength; and he died worn out with misery, suffering in all ways. Among other things he endured this -- some dozen or more years before his death, as he was crossing a bridge, the horses took fright, cast themselves into the stream far below, and left the carriage hanging over the edge. From that hour till his death he saw, with more distinctness sometimes than at others, an open abyss at his side. Call this what we will, was it not at least a symbol? And how is it with us? May it not be that we differ from him only in not seeing what is our abiding companion, even as it was his.
Swedenborg says somewhere what amounts to this: That if men knew the dangers from which they are constantly withheld by our Father's watchful mercy, they would be faint at once with terror and with gratitude. At all times we are under God's protecting love. It is difficult perhaps to accept the fact, and yet we cannot, if we think soberly for a moment, doubt that the father's protecting arms are just as much about the soldier struggling in mortal combat with his enemy, defending himself, we should say, with consummate skill, and straining every nerve in the contest, but at last defeated and dying, as about the same man in the perfect helplessness of a profound sleep. And spiritually, from what are we not protected? Not from evils alone, but from truths, if they are untimely, and such as we are not yet able to receive. And the Lord stands by us in the conflicts which new spiritual truth must bring. At times that truth shines upon us so fully that we rejoice in its light and warmth. But night must follow day. Our perceptions grow dim, and doubts assail us, and we ask why we are not contented to believe as others do. The winds rise, the clouds gather, within or without, and we shrink from the storm. But let us be patient if we can, and as trustful as we can, and we shall hear the voice which says to the tempest, "Peace, be still."
THERE never was an age when the internal mind, which looks only at things within, above and beyond matter, things which the inexorable chains of space and time do not fetter, was so inert, dormant, incapable of effort, and almost unconscious of being, as it is now. Of course there are, and must be in every age, those who live most in the internal, and care most for spiritual things; but I speak of the prevailing and characterizing qualities of man's work and activity in these days.
All this culminates in the "Positive Philosophy" of Comte and Lewes and Miss Martineau. It finds in this its boldest, most logical, and inevitable result. This famous and influential system rests on one single postulate, which it is devoted to maintain, and to draw due inferences therefrom. This postulate is, that we have senses, and can learn and know whatever they teach, and all that can be logically inferred from the facts which the senses disclose. So much as this can be positively known; and the system of thought which brings the whole of this together, gives it harmony, and embraces it all under one view, or rather which seeks to do this, is the "Positive Philosophy." Outside of this, nothing can be known with any certainty, or inferred with a sufficient probability to satisfy a truly rational mind. Hence everything not embraced in this system is mere conjecture and fantasy. Jealous chiefly for scientific truth, the positivists assert that these fantasies and illusions have sought to obtain support from science, which they would then misguide and distort. And sometimes, in the uneasy consciousness that true science was the inexorable enemy of their illusions, they have succeeded in obstructing her advance, or imposing upon her silence.
Always, from the very nature and necessity of things, this Positive Philosophy (under other names) has been loved and cultivated by some who were strong thinkers, and by some who have made real gains in knowledge of an external kind; and this Philosophy has now reached a point in its gradual growth and development at which it is beginning to do the most important and useful distinctive work that such truth can do, namely, dissipate the superstitions of earlier ages, by showing that they rest on no foundation, and exist only because Fear, the fear of death and the afterwards, has found in fancy and in folly these delusive consolations. Such is the Positive Philosophy. It is no part of the work of this Positive Philosophy to construct any system of spiritual truth, or the elements or foundations of any such system. It can only destroy; and we may believe that one reason why it has been permitted to reach its present power is that there is among men so much spiritual falsity which is ready for destruction. To substitute truth for the falsities thus removed, will be the work of a very different philosophy.
The principles of Positive Philosophy now seem to prevail in the great majority of thinking men who concern themselves about these matters. But what a very small proportion of mankind are thinking men; I mean reflective, philosophizing men. This is well; for were it otherwise, in these dark ages, error would have a still wider diffusion and greater strength. But the mercy of our Father slumbers not. Is there not clear evidence that some of the best thinkers of Europe and this country, who cannot give up God and immortality, and who can find no flaw in the impenetrable armor of Positivism when it is met on its own ground -- or rather when it is assailed only by weapons formed from the same material as its armor -- are asking, Is there not a better way? Does not Positivism deny or ignore a whole world of thought, feeling, being, and consciousness, of which we have just as good a right to be certain as of this outer world? Are there not intellectual faculties suited to this inner and higher world, and belonging to it, which we should exercise, to learn the truths that are above those which alone are acknowledged by the Positive Philosophy? Presently these questions will be asked more generally and more urgently, and some, at least, of the inquirers will be led to the truths which can give a prompt and perfect answer. And I think it is because such an answer is now accessible, that this infidelity has been permitted to have, in the present age, a development, completeness, and force, which it never had before. Therefore let us rejoice in the wonderful progress which is shown in the science of the external. For the time will come when it will all be utilized in the service of spiritual truth; for all of it, to its minutest details, will be found to be only the embodiment and expression of that truth.
I WENT the other day to see the famous picture by S ____, which is now on exhibition in the town nearest us. I could see little that was attractive in it, though I had gone expecting to admire, and tried to do so. Perhaps if S ____ heard me say this, he would answer as Turner answered his critic, "Don't you wish you could," -- and perhaps he would be in the right. Must we then form no opinions about matters which lie outside of our peculiar range of thought or skill? Yes, form opinions, but be not too sure of them. Here, as occurs constantly in the questions which life presents to us, there is no sharp dividing line, with certainty on either side of it. We may all form opinions on all things; but when we would know the value of our opinions, let us measure that by the means we have for forming just opinions, as for example our knowledge, skill, and habits of thought. I suppose if there is one thing which is always wrong, it is a contemptuous denial of anything which has no immoral taint. And if there is a thing always foolish, it is to be sure that we know better, and must know better at a glance, than they do who offer us some proposition, or some work, which has been with them the subject of long, patient, and earnest study. And so, to return to the picture in question, it was perhaps rather weak to express or to have any definite opinion about it, which was quite valueless, from my ignorance of such things. I have been reading something about beauty which interested me very much, and set me thinking on that and kindred topics. It is sometimes overwhelming to think of the beauty that God showers upon us in a single day. Nor do I mean an extraordinary day, when the sight of some rarely beautiful woman, or a troop of lovely children, or a peep into a friend's rose-garden, or a gorgeous sunset has been vouchsafed to us; not one of those days we call white, but one of the plain, neutral-tinted days --for even in one of these what a wealth of loveliness does our Father create for us! Nor is the beautiful only what one can see or touch. Is it not quite as much an attribute of what we can feel or hear for instance of a poetical thought, or of a strain of melody?
Beauty resides, it is true, in the form of things, but not necessarily must the form have shape also; for that is only one appearance of form. I see that my subject is leading me into the land of metaphysics, which I did not intend; but I will ask you to accompany me there for the brief remaining space of this letter. Form is the correlative of essence. Everything that exists has that which makes it what it is -- and this is its essence; while how it is, is its form. We make a mistake sometimes in undervaluing form. For by its form everything acts and manifests itself; and unless the form is adequate to the essence, no matter what that is, it cannot produce the effect which belongs to it. This is true of art in all its forms, and of all things of science. It is in this sense only that beauty belongs to form and not to essence. Now there is such a thing as exclusive devotion to form, and such another thing as exclusive devotion to essence. Perhaps both are equally wrong. If one is wholly occupied with the essence of things, and finds no pleasure except in constant analysis, and asks of everything the reason for its being, it is not only true that he can have no perception and enjoyment of the beautiful, but it is also true that he can never understand completely the very thing he studies. But it is also obvious enough that one who looks only at the beautiful, and is alive to nothing else, will find it impossible to understand anything fully. And it is just as true that if there be no comprehension of the distinctive form, no seeing that with the clearness and keenness of vision which a real enjoyment of the beautiful necessarily implies, the essence itself can be only imperfectly comprehended.
I HAVE sometimes thought that a strong argument in favor of the belief that life is under providential government might be drawn from the marvellous equality, on the whole, of good and evil among men. Were it chance which determined this distribution, calamities would gather about some with no relief or compensation, while others would be wholly free from them. But the more closely I study human conditions, the more certain I am that there is far less difference than there seems to be among men, when the balance is struck between external good and evil. There seems to be no good without its cloud, no evil without its compensations. And then we may go further, if we will, and see not only that all this is governed, but we may discern the end for which it is controlled and directed. We may learn the lesson, and we cannot learn it too well, that we do not live here to be happy, but to become capable of happiness.
Our Father has many ways of helping us, all resolvable into two -- one, through our coöperation; and because this way is given us, it is also given us to see and understand it, that we may the better work with Him. The other way is, in and upon us, and apparently against us, without our having any voluntary share in the work -- and this it is not necessary for us to understand at all, and perhaps if we did we should interfere with it.
Certain I am that He does a work in straightening our obliquities and removing our obstructions, in a way which brings upon us great suffering, or bids us see suffering in others, and all the light we can get must radiate from a simple trust in Him.
WE meet often, in our reading of New-Church books, with the word "use," and it bears in these writings a rather peculiar meaning. It includes all activity for a good result. A man's employment is his "use," that is, his way of being useful. The word often means much the same as good works, and our doctrine of use may be regarded as our doctrine of good works.
Let us, for a moment, compare the teachings of the New Church with those of other churches or religions concerning this subject.
They all inculcate good works -- but in what way, and upon what grounds? The Catholic and Greek Churches hold firmly to the necessity of good works, regarding them as commanded by God, and made by Him the condition of salvation. But they regard this latter as the promised wages of good works. And the Catholic Church holds that her saints having performed many more good works than were needed for their own salvation, the surplus, or "works of supererogation," go into the treasury of the church, and may be thence imparted to those who need them. The divine standard which Christ held up for His disciples, "Be ye therefore perfect, as your Father in heaven is perfect," must have been terribly degraded before men could have believed such a monstrous error. Protestantism thought so, and reacted violently, going to the opposite extreme -- to salvation by faith alone. Calvin, Luther, Melancthon, and other Protestant leaders all stood on this ground, though Calvin worked out the doctrine most elaborately into the system which bears his name, and is sometimes called orthodoxy. Our Puritan fathers held this doctrine in its extremist severity, and New-England Liberalism is only the reaction against it; for history has no more certain lesson than that extremes are always followed by opposite extremes. The sterner views of orthodoxy have been much mitigated, and the old doctrine is now modified by the farther doctrine that no faith is a saving faith which does not lead to, and, as far as possible, is manifested and proved by, good works. But this, so far as I have been able to learn, is the best, and indeed all, that orthodoxy has to say about good works.
But New-England Liberalism, which has now great power through the country, is the reaction against Puritanism, or against salvation by faith alone. It is zealous, very zealous for good works, and it is a common expression, and probably a more common sentiment, that he is the good man, whatever he may believe or deny, whose life is full of good works.
"For modes of faith let graceless bigots fight;
He can't be wrong whose life is in the right."
There is most important truth in this -- and does not our Lord say, "By their works ye shall know them"? But it is obvious and certain that something more should be looked at than mere external actions -- must there not be some reference to motives? Everybody would admit that it is possible for the most selfish man to abound in beneficent actions and wear the disguise of fervent benevolence, from mere selfishness, or merely to win thereby applause, position, influence, and power, and other good things. The greatest scoundrel in English social history, by name Chartres, said he would give ten thousand pounds for a good reputation. When asked what he wanted that for, he answered: "Because I could make fifty thousand by it." No one who was known to have such views and motives would be called a good man, let his conduct be what it might. It seems to me that the motives of most of those whom I know, or know about, who are busy in doing good and urging and helping others to do good, are good motives, even if not the highest, or love of our Lord and love of our neighbor. If the motives are not positively bad, the good deeds, in themselves, will be a training and preparation for higher activity and consequent happiness in another life. For I believe that such persons will go, when they die, where they will learn -- what they cannot, in the decay of religious truth all around them, so well learn here -- what good is. They will learn that while their Father alone is good in Himself, He gives His goodness, His life, Himself, to them; and the happiness of a life animated by this truth will be theirs, so far as they have left their hearts open to receive it. But I fear there are some who have rejected all religious truth because they have too much pride in self "to walk humbly with their God" -- who are not preparing for heaven by any amount of external good which they may do. If they reject not this or that form of religion, but the substance of all religion, and are content with declarations which satisfy the requirements of society and good manners, and call on them for no renunciation of their own self-complacency, how are they on the way to heaven, where God is All in All, and self is forgotten? If our good deeds give us pleasure because they nourish our self-contentment, and justify and soothe our self-love, and prove that such men as we have no need of religion or of God, unless my theory of heaven is utterly wrong, we are building up a character which is the exact antagonist of heaven and its happiness.
WE are told by the prophet Micah: "What doth God require of thee, but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?"
Sometimes our Lord's precepts amaze us by their simplicity. Is this all, is this the whole requirement of God? There are what purport to be many others; does this embrace and include them all? Is it the end for which all the others are given, and is it of itself sufficient? In other words, is it indeed just what it is said to be -- all that God requires of us?
At all events, this seems to be said emphatically. If we search among religions, both past and present, I think we shall find that there never has been a religion which did not declare, with whatever variety of phrase, that it was man's duty to be just and merciful, and look up to God with humility and reverence. At least it is certain that no religion has ever ceased to require these things, until it had fallen by its corruption into such falsity and degradation that it could no longer be called a religion.
If this be so, the question almost necessarily occurs: Why, then, is one system of religious belief better than another? Why not be a Mahommedan or a Buddhist? Why has Providence permitted such an immense variety of religions in different regions of the earth? or why the long succession of them in successive ages?
Or to ask the same question in a more specific form: Why did Christianity come to build a new church on the foundations of Judaism, if in the Jewish Scriptures the one essential of all truth is announced with perfect clearness? and why has a new revelation now been made to develop and complete Christianity?
The answer to these questions may be this -- The text under consideration does state in the fewest words, and with the clearness of crystal, the essential of all religion and the end for which it exists upon earth. But one religion, one church differs from another in the instruction which it gives concerning this central truth, the assistance it offers towards our understanding its meaning, its ground, and its effect, and the motives it offers for obeying and revering this law.
If we examine carefully the religions of the past and those of the present, to see what they tell us -- we will except the New Church just now from our consideration -- would they say more than this: that we should be just and merciful because God commands it, and any intelligent reflection assures us that we should, individually, be better and happier if we were so; and that all mankind would be in a happier condition if this law prevailed in human actions. Hence we should infer that the divine command suits human character and human life, and is adapted to them in such wise that we are more truly human and better and higher beings the more we obey it. As to the last clause, "walk humbly with thy God," what are we told? Humility is the most unobtrusive of all virtues, but it is the sweetest flower of all, and whether much practised in the present age or not, excites, when it is seen, a genuine love and admiration, and is emphatically enjoined upon the disciples of all religions whatsoever. But let us condense the teachings of these various religions into a paragraph; and is it not the substance of them all, that both duty and reason call on us to look up to the Almighty Being, who made and governs the world, with unfailing reverence? with that reverence which is due to the infinite superiority of His nature and His power, and to the love and wisdom we discern in His works, and the relation between Him and us as the children of His creation and care? These ideas may be amplified and illustrated to any extent, and in such various ways as the various minds of men may prompt.
But nothing more can be said unless we speak from the instruction of the New Church.
And what can we say of this law if we attempt to say what the New Church has taught? Much more asks to be said than I could put in this letter or in many letters, but I will confine myself to general statements.
And again, I ask you, my dear friend, not to be weary of the often reiterated method which must be adopted in our search after truth. I mean that of first recurring to central doctrines, before endeavoring to explain this law or any of the laws of life. It may be asked, Must we forever repeat the same journey? Not quite that; but we must not forget the foundation on which rests the whole system of faith which we have accepted, and always comparing any new truth which comes to us with these fundamental truths, reject what does not harmonize with the latter.
A central truth in the New Church tells us that our life is in its origin divine; that our Father gives it to us at every instant, and makes it our own; and this because He desires to give us just as much of His happiness as we can possibly receive. He has made us such, that we may receive of His wisdom flowing into our understanding, there to become our thought, knowledge, and truth; and of His love into our will, there to become all the love or affection that is in us.
We must advert to this, for if we would say why we should strive to be just, we must say that it is because God is perfectly just. Justice is truth in act, and a just action is one in accordance with all the truths which belong to the facts concerned in it; one that perfectly obeys all which that truth dictates; one that perfectly conforms to all which that truth declares to be right. But that which is truth to us is but a ray from the Infinite Wisdom that is in Him; a drop from the Infinite ocean of His truth. Our Father is perfect justice. And, therefore, if our happiness is measured by our reception of His divine life, when He commands us to "do justly" He is only pointing out the way in which we may receive as much of the perfect happiness springing from His own perfect justice as it is possible for a finite and created being to receive. Then we are also commanded to love mercy. And now we have only to speak of love instead of wisdom, of affection instead of thought, of will instead of understanding, and just what has been said of truth and law and justice must now be said of affection and love and mercy.
But then this is to be added. In Him, Love is infinite and perfect, and Wisdom is infinite and perfect, and because both are perfect both are one.
For it is impossible that perfect Love should include any love which perfect Wisdom did not sanction, for a love which offended wisdom would be most imperfect. And it is impossible for perfect Wisdom to regard anything as wise which stood in opposition to pure Love. And as Love and Wisdom are one in the Lord, so would He have them one in ourselves. We can see this but very dimly in this life. We can see however that justice which knew not mercy would be hard, severe, and implacable; and that mercy which quite refused to listen to justice, would be mistaken and blind, and most mischievous. We can see then that justice is most nearly perfect and most beneficial when it remembers mercy, and that mercy is most useful and safe when it is most just. Many good and sensible people would say that we are trying to reconcile opposites, or indeed antagonists; that it is the very work of justice to think only of truth and law, and not be misled by the claims of mercy; while mercy ceases to be mercy in the exact degree in which it is restrained and guided by justice.
This fearful fallacy is at once the effect and the proof of our wide departure from that true order of love, and thought, and life, which we were created to make the order of our own life, and to be happy only in the measure in which we did this. When shall we see that justice and mercy, children of wisdom and love, are in our Father perfectly united, and see too why He has wished and commanded that they should be in us and one in us?
And now I have reached the last clause of the text: "Walk humbly with thy God." But a consideration of this must be deferred to another letter, and then I shall hope to show that the other requirements of the text begin from this and end in this, and are included within it.
IN a previous letter I spoke briefly of the views of other churches; and what has the New Church to say to all of these, to all everywhere who desire to know what good works are, or what works really are good?
For one answer: Every work is good upon which we can and do heartily ask God's blessing; and without this petition there is no goodness there at all -- it is salt without savor. Of course I do not mean by this that we are in any prescribed form of words to invoke the Divine blessing before every action, nor do I forget the sad list of evil deeds that have been done immediately after such invocation, and professedly in God's name. I said, "heartily ask God's blessing;" that is, with the whole heart, and in all sincerity. Then, even though the judgment might be greatly in fault, the spirit which could thus look to God in humility, and love, and patience, could not look long without having its vision cleared of much infirmity; and the work done with such preparation, however poor it might appear to human eyes, I think would be, in the sight of our Lord, a better one than the grandest work ever conceived and achieved by the human mind, if it was based upon human self-ascription and pride.
Remember the parable of the many rich men, and the widow who cast her mite, her all, into the treasury of the temple. A beautiful and touching picture this has always been. We can see the poor woman timidly approaching the treasury, among the crowd of rich men, so unknown to them, and they so far above her, as she supposed, and who, if they noticed her at all, would quite despise her miserable offering. But ONE was there who saw and did not despise, and from the poor widow's gift drew a lesson not only for His disciples but for all men and all ages. Let us look at the inner meaning of the parable, as the New Church teaches us, for it is there still more beautiful.
Women representing the affectional and men the intellectual part of our nature, a widow would therefore represent one of either sex who has good affections, but has not knowledge or truth concerning them, and feels and deplores the want. But one thing this widow can do, and does. She casts her mite, all the good she has, into the treasury of God, and she does this by calling it all His -- His gift to her, and so returned to Him. This is indeed much; more than all the gifts of the earth if these left the giver dearer to himself, prouder of himself, and further from God. What gifts can have any value to God except so far as they enable Him to return more blessing to the giver?
It is a remarkable characteristic of our age and country that reforms of all kinds are urged with great earnestness, and enlist multitudes in their favor. Meetings are held, associations are formed, projects of all kinds are offered for consideration. The poet, the orator, and the writer are all busy in the work. And this work is an effort to reform and improve society, to make the condition of women more comfortable and prosperous, to suppress intemperance and vice in every form, to help the criminal to amend his life, to provide employment for all who seek it, and give to all employment adequate compensation. Is not all this right? Is not the purpose, at all events, a good one? Most certainly. But there is one fact connected with this effort for the reformation of society and of human conduct which is most significant. It is the entire absence of all reference to another life. Few seem to notice this fact; but in watching carefully the common and public proceedings on all these points, I have looked vainly for one argument, from poet, orator, writer, or from platforms, constitutions, or resolutions, one argument in favor of these reforms, resting on the ground that they will make this life a better preparation for another. Would you suggest that all this is assumed and implied in what is said? In return, I ask a question -- Would such a thought underlie a mass of varied and most earnest expressions, and yet itself never be expressed? This is not human nature; even with the strongest motives and efforts for reticence, any real conviction will sooner or later show itself. There is not often in these reform movements a denial of immortality, but an entire postponement of the question -- an entire want of a vital belief. Would you suggest that these reformers are unwilling to bring religious views or feelings into discussions of this kind, because it is not their province, because it would obstruct or imperil the reform itself? This, alas! is only another proof that much of the common life of today is separated from religion.
Sometimes a thought of this kind has occurred to me. This life has two values -- one for itself, one in reference to another life. Which of these is the predominant value in any age or race? There may be many tests of this, many topics worthy of consideration in a discussion of the question. I will write of only one, and that, I confess beforehand, leads me to a conclusion which all the consideration I am able to give to the subject confirms. It is, that never before since the beginning of mankind was there an age in which the value of this life for itself so preponderated over its value in reference to another life.
The only test I will refer to is a simple one. In all ages, men work hardest for that which they value most; and the labor and money expended for a certain good are a reasonably fair measure of the value set upon it. In all ages, temples, cathedrals, and churches are among the things upon which men bestow their labor and their gold; but these are the instruments of religion, and the expressions of the religious sentiment; and while they sometimes illustrate the character of this sentiment, they generally afford some measure of its force. Now go back to distant ages. Look in India at the wonders of the old religious architecture, now, for the most part, abandoned and in ruin. Look at the recent discovery in Cambodia, of an enormous temple, of which the ruins attest the unrivalled extent and magnificence, while not even a tradition exists in its neighborhood as to its founders or its age. Go to Egypt; the temple at Karnak covered more than forty acres; its circumference is more than a mile and a half. In one of its many halls were more than a hundred and fifty vast pillars of stone, some of which stand nearly unharmed, and others, prostrate and shattered, are now almost covered with the sand which has been heaped upon them by the winds of the desert through many centuries; and there has been no desire, no thought of even an attempt to preserve what far distant ages built. Then come to later ages, and think of the numerous and magnificent European cathedrals. One of the most beautiful and costly, the cathedral of Cologne, was not quite finished when the piety that began it began to fail. For more than a hundred years there have been attempts, frequently repeated, to acquire and apply the means of completing it as an exquisite work of art; but it remains unfinished.
On coming home to our own country what do we find? Forty thousand miles of railroad! A skilful engineer has recently shown, by some careful statistics, that the labor employed on the new road which spans this continent would have built any of those Egyptian fabrics which have been the wonder of the world. Would these pyramids, temples, and cathedrals ever have been built, had not the universal belief and the profound feeling of the relation of this world to the other given impulse and support to the builders of them? For the worship of a Being higher than ourselves, and the idea of another world than this, where this Supreme Being dwells, and where we hope to go when we die, are too closely intertwined in our souls ever to be sundered in anything which deserves the name of religion. Morality may dispense with the idea of immortality, but morality alone never built churches. Remember, I am not saying a word about the comparative truth or error of religion in one age or another, but only about its force and vitality. And how much more could be said in proof of my conclusion, that in this age religion is decaying; not dead, that it cannot be, for there is abundant evidence that it has yet much vitality; neither, if it were wholly dead, could mankind survive. But it has decayed, and is decaying and in peril of death, if its decay were not arrested.
Is it not then, time for God to speak again? If there be a God, and a heaven, and life is eternal, and the real and abiding value of this present existence consists in the possibilities which it offers for preparation for a future life, and if God has created us for this end, is it not time that He should speak again? Not that He should utter a new Word, for that is not needed; but that He should so speak that the veil should be lifted from His Word, and its light beam forth for the salvation of mankind. It is precisely this which He has done.
And what does the truth of the New Dispensation say to the lovers of good works? It tells them that it is impossible to set too high a value on good works, for their value is infinite. And then it tells them what constitutes this value. It bids them go forward with increased zeal in all their projects and efforts for reforming society, but it also tells them they will work feebly and with little result if they do not remember that sin is the source of all misery, and that against its fearful power neither expediency, nor the dignity of human nature, nor all the suggestions of self-interest or self-pride will prove weapons of sufficient strength. In this war nothing is strong but the profound conviction that the inmost soul of all sin against man is sin against God; as the soul of all true love for the neighbor is the love of God.
And lastly, the New Church tells us all that if we are doing what is really good, we are doing God's work, and that only so far as it is His work done by us can it prosper. If we are ready to receive gifts from Him, His love will animate, His wisdom guide, His strength invigorate all that we do. Reform animated by such motives and guided by such truths will not be mistaken in its aims or the means it employs, and cannot be resisted.
THERE are those who seem to think that New-Church doctrines may be held and believed as those of the Old Church could be, and that is with sharp-cut, exact, and defined precision. But this is utterly impossible. The very peculiarity of the new doctrines is, that now infinite truths are given in the form of doctrines. There will be no further and additional Church, because there needs to be none, inasmuch as all possible growth and advancement in religious truth will be made by gradual but eternal development from the truths now given. And this could not be, if these truths were not infinite. Thus to apply this to the doctrine of our Lord. The Christian Church knew from the beginning that God was three in one. But they wanted to define this infinite truth, so they said he was three substances, or three hypostases, or three persons, and one God. But now reflecting minds see that this is impossible. Hence many, discarding the doctrine of three persons, discard with it all thought of threefoldness in God, because it did not occur to them that this could be without three persons. Does Swedenborg say three persons? No, he utterly denies it; and yet his whole system is founded upon this threefoldness. What then does he say, or what do we say instead of persons? Nothing; nothing whatever; because we have no idea about it which could be adequately expressed in one concrete word. I think there will never be such a word. At all events, there is no such word now. Three in one is enough for us. Then Swedenborg, and we after him, try to illustrate this by the love, motive, or affection which is the inmost of our nature, by the thoughts in which this inmost essence comes forth into existence and consciousness, and the activity which comes when the love through the thought leads to and clothes itself with the actions of the man.
Or we think of the soul, the body which the soul forms and uses as its instrument, and the activity of the soul through the body. Or we find a still more universal illustration in the fact that whatever exists must have an end for which it is, a form or method of existence by which this end may be accomplished, and a use or effect in which that primal end is clothed and comes down into effect. And all this comes into the form of a spiritual or religious truth.
We know that God the Father is infinite and inconceivable love, and wisdom, and power. That He comes down in Jesus Christ, begotten by Him alone and born of a virgin, and without a human father, to be Immanuel, or God with us, no longer inconceivable and beyond all reach of thought, but our Father as a Divine Man, who may be to us an object of personal worship and love. And then we know that the Divine Spirit, the spirit of love and wisdom from the Father and the Son, is eternally employed in helping us to become happy forever.
This is a simple view, needing no metaphysics, apprehensible in its simplest terms by a child, and attended with no difficulty or obscurity, unless we try to deal with this truth as no religious truth and no truth but one of natural science can be dealt with -- unless we try to do what the angels cannot do, grasp and measure the infinite. The only essential is to believe that our Infinite Father came to us as Jesus Christ -- is even now with us, clothed in all power, and using it with unspeakable watchfulness and tenderness for our salvation. This is all. One may ask if we should not try to have some rational comprehension of this. Most certainly we should. Of the infinite help, comfort, and strength this truth gives to our love and faith, I will not try to speak, for I cannot. But it is all endangered by that self-love from which none are free, and which makes us, when an angel would veil his face and bow down, open our eyes in the belief that if any truth be, then we can see it all. Oh! how this form of self-love clouds and darkens us, and often, unconsciously, because we cannot see all quite clearly, makes us lose our hold upon what we can see and feel. One of the very reasons for which clouds and darkness rest upon His throne, is that we may humble ourselves before Him and cast out these devils of self-trust. And then, if we do this, He will make the clouds His chariot, and "come to us in the clouds."
TO walk with God! what a beautiful image is presented to the mind by these words! All the paternal tenderness of the Almighty Father, all the filial love and trust of His poor, dependent child, as they walk hand in hand, the child looking up to the Father for everything, knowing that he cannot breathe without receiving his breath, his inspiration, from the Divine One at his side, glad and willing to go on the road where He is going, and sure that it is best -- all this is obvious at first, but yet this is not all. As we must never let our trust and dependence on our Father relapse into inactivity, either of mind or body, so in thinking about this walking with God, let us not lose sight of the spiritual meaning of this word to "walk." It is to move, to live, to do; not to be lost in stagnation and unfruitful quietude, but to be active in all usefulness. I have already said something about Uses; but it is a large theme, and one may return to it often and ever without exhausting any of its aspects.
Let us look at the thing as it stands in the world about us. In the first place, every dead thing in the universe seems to be for a purpose. If a pebble does nothing else, it contributes its mite to the gravity of the earth, and to its place and movement. But it has done, in its history, far more. A drop of water, too, is another object, so small that it might perhaps be an exception to the universal law, and yet it performs a myriad of uses; even a wreath of vapor may veil the effulgence of a too bright sun, and presently fall in rains of refreshment on the earth.
Then all living things are active, each in its own way and degree doing something. Perhaps holding up the "busy bee" as the example of industry, has made us unmindful of the great activity which all show in fulfilling their God-given instincts.
And when we come to men, all are useful in some way to their fellow-beings. The most inert cannot be wholly useless; for somewhere in his life, or by something that he does or suffers, he must help the common weal, although he never thinks of it. Some men devote themselves to a life of usefulness, either by toiling for a specific good, as Howard, or by a liberal use of great means, as Peabody, and their life is a benefit and blessing to hundreds of their fellow-men. But nearly all of us are useful because we cannot help being so. Either necessity fastens on us the need of daily toil -- and this is so with the vast majority of mankind -- or, if we are beyond this necessity, the fear of it for ourselves or our children, or the love of wealth, or ambition, stimulates our industry. However this may be, the only thing common to all men, and working as if it were a law of human life, is that whatever be the motive or wish, all men are useful to others, and most men actively so.
How are we to explain this fact, a fact only less universal (if it indeed be less) than that all must die.
Here, as elsewhere, in seeking an explanation of this life-problem, we must go back to central truths. Whence comes man's life? Is it not from God? And is it not God's own life which He gives us to be our own because He has an infinite desire to give us all the happiness we are capable of receiving? His Infinite Love is infinitely active through His wisdom in the putting forth of His power. The constant putting it forth for the continued existence of the universe, is a perpetual creation by Him who knows not Time. And we may believe that the happiness of God springs from this eternal exercise of His power in Infinite Use. Heaven, we are taught, is "a kingdom of uses," and the happiness of heaven is the happiness of usefulness.
Therefore He gives to men so much of this Love, this Wisdom, and this Power, to be theirs, as they will accept, that each, in his own way and measure, may be an instrument of His Infinite Use.
In the first and lowest place, every atom of the dead universe has its use because every atom is the offspring of Love, Wisdom, and Power, all, by the necessity of their own nature, engaged in constant use; and therefore every atom must share this character and quality. Much the same thing may be said when we rise to the animal kingdom, but more emphatically, because Life is there.
And if we ascend to human life, the same thing is still true, and helps to account for the universal and inevitable necessity of usefulness. But how much more is true! For this life is, with men, a preparation for another and never-ending life, and all happiness there must rest on usefulness. So much as this God can do for nearly all men -- He can compel them to acquire this faculty and habit. But He desires, with the whole force of His great love for us, that we should love to be useful. Here, He can compel no one. No man, as to his [His] external life, is in perfect freedom. God would have him to be so, but subjects him to control in his external life, for the sake of his internal life; but this internal is left in perfect freedom.
There is a vast difference between the measure and the kind of outside freedom which one man has and that which another man has. And there is an equal difference at the different periods of each one's life. Because all this is governed and adjusted by the interests of the inner life.
The strong, bad man, by what he thinks his victory over circumstances, or because other circumstances placed him above human control, may think that he at least has freedom -- freedom to do his own will, to live only as he chooses in all things. He is in his heaven; but it is a false and imaginary, and a transitory heaven. Even this world's experience is full of lessons that he who is given up to the unchecked domination of his own will is the slave of a cruel master, who, sooner or later, brings him to misery. It was from his own sad experience that Byron learned the fearful lesson implied in his line:
"Lord of himself -- that heritage of woe!"
Very, very different is the freedom of heaven! The angel finds the freedom of his internal nature filling out an equal freedom of his external. And why is he thus free? Because he has learned to love to be only that which God desires he should be, needing no coercion or control, and having none. He is joyfully conscious of his freedom at every moment, rejoicing in it most of all because of his certainty that it is the gift of his Father. And therefore he knows that it is safe, that it is his -- his to be eternal, his to grow in fulness and blessedness while eternity rolls on.
To be useful, in whatever degree, is to walk with God. Painfully may we reflect, however, on the very small degree of usefulness most of us accomplish, and consequently what feeble and imperfect communion we have with Him compared to that which we might have. Some one has said, expressively, that "our troubles are often God dragging us;" that, as a little child, who, when walking with his father, pulls at the hand that would lead him so well, and thereby makes himself very uncomfortable, so we, children of a larger growth, but children always 8f the Eternal, because we will not try to make our wills one with His, and will not coöperate with Him, make ourselves wretched and miserable thereby.
In one sense, as I have said, all men walk with God -- they who do not wish to, as well as those who do. For how can men walk, that is, live and act, without God, when without Him there can be neither action nor life? But the text about which I am writing does more than command us to walk with God. It commands us to walk with Him humbly.
When we know, and feel, and rejoice in the feeling, that from Him is our life and every good thought and feeling -- all our usefulness, and all our love of usefulness -- and all are His before they are ours, infinite in Him but finited in us, not unto us do we then give the glory of our goodness, but unto Him. And that we may be led so to walk is the constant effort of the Lord, the constant end of every providence to the whole human race, and to every individual of that race.
And so this New Dispensation of truth teaches us that from ourselves we are nothing. But that from God we may receive and be that which transcends all imagination, and makes words meaningless, if only we clearly perceive and never forget that it is all and constantly from Him. This, it tells us, is true and spiritual humility; and thus it tells us why all His requirements are summed up in this: "Walk humbly with thy God."
HOW shall we interpret the text, "Many are called, but few are chosen?" That which is given by the so-called orthodox, makes this text one of the chief supports of their doctrine of "election." This doctrine we are taught to deny; but have we, in its stead, a satisfactory meaning of these puzzling words? Nor is this a solitary instance of the apparently negative religious training some of us have had. This may be lamented. To sweep away errors is admirable; but if truths are not put in their place, we are told most plainly in the Scriptures what will come there (Matt. xii. 43-46). "When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places seeking rest, and findeth none. Then he saith, I will return into my house from whence I came out, and when he is come, he findeth it empty, swept, and garnished. Then goeth he and taketh with himself seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter in and dwell there; and the last state of that man is worse than the first." How expressive is this, "He walketh through dry places seeking rest!" Dry, indeed, and comfortless is that negative religion, if religion it should be called.
To return to our first text: "Many are called, but few are chosen." Throughout the Scripture, the Lord and all His Divine Providence and Action are presented in the literal sense, as they seem to us. This is what is meant by the eighteenth Psalm, verses 25, 26. "With the merciful thou wilt show thyself merciful, with an upright man thou wilt show thyself upright, with the pure thou wilt show thyself pure, and with the froward thou wilt show thyself froward." Hence He is sometimes represented as angry, jealous, revengeful, and obdurate. For so He seems to the merely natural, and it is well that He should seem so to them, that they may, if possible, be led to that fear of God which is the beginning, and only the beginning, of wisdom. In other places He is represented as patient and plenteous in mercy; as Love and only Love. These and innumerable other apparent inconsistencies come from the fact that the Word is written for and addressed to all kinds of men who ever have lived, or ever shall live; and it is accommodated to all in the literal sense. Hence the literal sense is as that outer garment which was torn in pieces, and divided among men by lot, each taking the piece that suits his lot; while the inner sense is woven without seam, one throughout.
Where it is said in Matt. xxii. 14, "For many are called but few are chosen," those not chosen, or, who are rejected, are those spoken of in the preceding verse as bound, taken away, and cast into outer darkness. But why did this lot befall them? Because "they had not a wedding garment." What does this mean? Many indeed are called to the marriage supper of our Lord. All are invited there. To all are given the means, the truths, which, if they are received and obeyed, will lead them there. And because the ruling affections of a man are the essence of the man, and constitute the man, and affections clothe themselves in the truths which belong to them, he who has not a wedding garment is one who has rejected the truths which were given to lead him to that supper. He rejected those truths because he had not those affections. He loved something else, something of an opposite character. And this evil affection clothed itself with appropriate falsity. He had on another garment. It was a garment woven of the fibres which led to and favored and fostered the loves of evil which ruled within him. And it was these fibres which "bound him hand and foot," so that he could neither do the Lord's will, nor walk in the way of life; and "took him away" from the presence of the Lord; and "cast him into outer darkness," into the thick darkness which waits upon denial of truth and acceptance of falsehood.
But in Rev. xvii. 14, it is said of those who were with the Lord of lords and King of kings, that "They that are with Him are called and chosen and faithful," and here we may understand these as including all the degrees of goodness of those who are with Him. Then the "called" would mean those to whom it appears that He calls them. They listen to the call, acknowledge its authority, and obey. Higher than they are those, who, in their own freedom, choose Him, choose the right because He has made it right, and avoid the wrong because it is a sin against Him. But highest of all are they who are "faith-full;" so full of faith in Him, that there is no room in their minds or hearts for any thought or feeling that conflicts with their knowledge of Him, that dims their perception of Him, or weakens their love for Him. Of the first class are many, of the second few, of the third very, very few.
Then it is said elsewhere (John xv. 16), "Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you." And they who do indeed, in truth and life, choose the Lord, learn to see so clearly their own miserable weakness and degradation, and the appalling contrast between what they are and what He would have them be, that it seems to them as if no part of their choice of Him was their own, but all of it His work. If they carry this faith into the other world, they will there learn the truth; there only, until now, could they learn it. But now, thanks be to God for this latest blessing, they may be taught that while every element of good in the will or the understanding comes from Him, and if we are or can be made willing to receive it is given to us by His infinite love, it is given to be our own, forever our own.
The text from Romans viii. 29, 30, has no spiritual sense, and must be taken as it stands. It is one of those which compel the belief that Paul, sometimes at least, believed in election and predestination.
YOU may well say, dear friend, that the ways of Providence are mysterious. They are "past finding out" by you or me, or by any one on this earth. And yet "He walks in the light"; but our eyes are not opened to this kind of light.
Let me try to say a few words to you on this difficult topic, nevertheless, for in these days the veil seems to be at least partially lifted. Few they will be and simple, and perhaps dark, also; but I think I can see a little way on the pathway of truth, and, if I can, I may be able to make that little visible to you.
To state the whole difficulty at once and briefly, -- How shall we account for the good and evil mingled in the world, how understand that such a world was created by a Being whom we believe to be as consistent as He is good -- "The Father of Lights, with whom is no variableness nor shadow of turning"? Ever since men began to think, this must have troubled and perplexed them. For before their eyes, and in their hearts, and in all their lives, there was that which by its beauty, pleasantness, and utility indicated that Love was active in causing it; and there was also that, which, by its deformity, the pain it caused, and its obstruction or destruction of all that seemed good, indicated that something akin to hatred was equally active. How shall we explain the coexistence of these two hostile elements in the government of the world?
Many centuries ago there was a system of the universe called Manichæanism, from its supposed founder, Manes, which affirmed the coexistence of two original powers, one good, the other evil, which from the beginning, and always in all things, while inconceivably antagonistic, divided between them the government of the universe. This system only gave form and consistency to what must always have been in men's minds. Christianity succeeded in suppressing it so far that it ceased to have open advocates, or to be the avowed doctrine of any sect. But it still lives, and is very potent.
Common notions about the devil and "the Prince of this world," the sense of the inevitableness of suffering, and of the hostility of the body to the soul, and all that expresses itself by asceticism of any kind -- all these things indicate thoughts or impressions, which, when they were systematized and ripened into a constructed theory, constituted Manichæanism; for they all at least suggest to the mind that, besides God, there is some other Power which opposes and counteracts Him, and which He cannot wholly subdue or repress.
Orthodoxy explained the problem by finding these two discordant elements in God Himself. One it called His Love, the other His Justice. This it supposed to be an element of the Divine nature which demanded and would have, and did have, complete satisfaction. Orthodoxy held that all the suffering of mankind was deserved by them, and was inflicted because it was deserved.
Wherein was Orthodoxy wrong? Certainly not in asserting that Justice was an element of the Divine nature. It must be there, and be perfect and irresistible. But the error of Orthodoxy lay in supposing that Divine Justice was in antagonism to Divine Love, or in presenting its working as if it were in such antagonism.
What, then, is the explanation of this problem which the New Church offers? In the first place, while it acknowledges the mingling of good and evil in the world, it finds these two hostile elements, not in two Gods or primal powers, nor yet coexisting in one God, but one of them -- the good -- it finds in God, the other -- the evil -- in man. Therefore this Church substitutes for the original problem a new one, and it is this. God is omnipotent. He creates man and the universe, which is man's home. He governs man and the universe and all things in them with more than supreme and sovereign power. He governs them with solitary power, for there is no other -- all the forces in the world, whether spiritual, moral, or physical, being derived from Him. How, then, are we to account for the existence in God's universe of a force, or active element, which is directly opposed to Him? Always hostile to His will, if He loves His children, it sometimes even appears to gain the upper hand in this deadly conflict, and quite to subvert His will. In what way does the New Church propose to solve this problem? It cannot even attempt this without going far back and beginning with some inquiry into the nature of God.
What do we know of the nature of God, and how can we know anything of it? Many will say that it is quite useless to vex one's self with considering such a subject at all; yes, not only useless, but even wrong, for we may fall into fatal errors, and blaspheme holy things. But does not God wish us to love Him? Did He not so love us "that He gave for our salvation His Only-begotten Son"? And how can our love grow at all, or even exist, unless we have some knowledge of Him? We can put no limit to the flight of thought when it soars upward, for if it rises at all above self and the petty concerns of daily life, it must go far up, even to the Highest!
But that we may try to think rightly and not vaguely we go to the Bible; for we believe that to be His Word, His revelation of Himself to man. There we learn that God made man in His own image and likeness. Then we reasonably believe that His human creatures bear some resemblance to their Father, for this would seem to be implied in the relation of a Father to His children, of a Creator to His creatures. And finally, we cannot help having this belief. It may indeed be possible to discard from the mind all belief in a God, but it is not possible to have any conception of Him unless we draw it from ourselves.
What, then, do we find in man? Desire, purpose, feeling, or affection of some kind we must attribute to a man, or we do not think of him as alive. We call it motive, and this is well, for it is our motive-power. As a whole, we may call it the man's Love. It is his Life. It is that which, being taken wholly from a man, his life has gone from him.
Then his love, or affection, or desire becomes conscious of itself, and operative in act only by thought. For if thought were wholly absent, any feeling or affection the man might have would necessarily be unconscious and inactive. Then if there be affection and thought, the man may do something; becoming conscious of power, he puts this forth in act or operation.
It is these three essential elements of human nature that we ascribe, and cannot help ascribing, to the Divine nature, and are justified in so doing by Scripture and by reason. But with this difference: in man all these are limited and imperfect; in God these attributes are perfect Love, perfect Wisdom, perfect Power. He has these, He is these, and they constitute Him.
But again, while Love is in God, the primal cause of all causes and all effects, the source whence flows forth all power and force, it must be unlimited and infinite; for if there were any other force to limit and finite this, that other force would be another God. The unity of God implies His infinity. Then among the three essential attributes of the Divine nature, the Love is the primary and the motive-power of all the rest. This has no limit. But the Divine thought or Wisdom is itself born from the Divine Love, as our thoughts are from our affections. The Wisdom of God is only the thought which His Love excites, and through that thought the Love becomes active. Hence the Divine Wisdom, as it springs from the Divine Love, and exists for its sake, must necessarily have this limitation -- it must be in accordance with the Divine Love, instrumental to it, and therefore the instrument which it needs and can use.
Still more must the Divine power be subject to this condition: that it can do only what Love desires and Wisdom directs. In other words, it must always act in conformity with perfect order, as that is determined by the ends which God's Love seeks, and the methods which His Wisdom gives.
But the Love of God is perfect. What is that Love? what is any love? Every one knows, in a general and indeterminate way, what Love is. Only they who have tried to define it know how difficult is any definition. There have been many of these, but none on the whole so good and satisfactory as Swedenborg's. He says that Love is the desire that what is one's own should be the other's. We may, if we prefer, say that this is not so much a definition of love as a description of its effect. It certainly is this. If we love any person we desire to be with him, to exchange affections, sentiments, and opinions with him -- to give him all that we possibly can, and receive from him what he can give. Look at husband and wife. We feel how imperfect this relation is, if we see each striving to lay hold of and appropriate all it can, whether of means and possessions, or of power and dominion; and we feel how true and real is this relation when we see each wishing to be the other's, to be so wholly, with no reserve and no self-seeking.
Or look at parent and child. The father seeks to give his child all he can. If he be weak and short-sighted, he desires to gratify his present wishes without thought for the future. If he has more foresight, he may still be so unwise as to toil for "the meat that perisheth," for the wealth he would give his children, with little other thought. Most men labor to give the result of their labor to their children. And if the wise father looks forward, even to an unending future, and works to acquire the spiritual wealth of truth and goodness, that he may communicate them to his child, his love is wiser, but may not be more ardent than that of the worldling who knows not that there are any other than worldly pleasures, and toils for the money to procure these, that he may give his fortune to those to whom he has given life.
Wherever we see love we see the desire to give what one has or is to the object of the love. And we see this in God, in His love; but in Him it is pure, perfect, and infinite. His love is an earnest desire to impart Himself. Hence He made man, and placed him upon the innumerable earths of the universe, that He might have those to whom He could impart His own attributes. He gave to man a will, into which He might flow with His love, and in which His love might become man's love; an understanding into which His own wisdom might fall, and in which His wisdom might become man's thought; and an organization, bodily and mental, into which Divine power might go and become human strength. But all this finitely, not infinitely. And if the desire of God thus to impart Himself be infinite, how can this finite imparting of Himself satisfy this desire? Thus -- He places innumerable human beings upon the innumerable homes He builds for them. He gives to them that power of propagating the race, which will give forever a constant enlargement of their number. He makes each one of them immortal -- and then, most of all, He gives to each one the power of receiving from Him, more and more largely forever, His gifts of His own attributes.
To this end mankind was created and is governed. And when we see how this end or purpose required that condition of things from which the mingled good and evil of all created things has arisen, then we have solved the problem, and reconciled their existence with the Divine Love. Let me in my next letter try to help you to see this.
I NOW propose, my friend, to try and have you see why, if what has been said in the former letter be admitted as true, it follows that good and evil must be mingled in all things of this world. And especially is it to be remembered that God is Love, and that this great Love seeks constantly to give the best thing it can to the beings it has created, and that this best thing is Himself.
Then consider carefully this question: Is it not of the very essence of love to be free? In a former letter this has been adverted to, but let me now place it distinctly before you. It is the essence of love to be free. I do not insist that there can be no love that is not free. Perhaps it is so; perhaps it may be said that if love be coerced in any way or measure, so much of it as is not free is not love, and ought not to be called by that name. But it is not necessary to assert this -- all that need be said is, that the best love must be that which is perfectly free. Then as the perfect love of God cannot but desire that man's love should be the best it can be, He must desire that it should be perfectly free. From this, all the rest follows.
For if man's love be free, then man must be free to love what he will. He must be free to love the Lord his God, or to love himself better; to love his neighbor for his neighbor's sake, that is, unselfishly, or to love his neighbor for the sake of what he can derive from him in the way of selfish gain and enjoyment. He must be at liberty to choose between these two loves -- of the Lord and his neighbor, or of himself and the world for the sake of himself. If he chooses the former, he will gain all good; for the seed of all good is planted within him and is alive. If he chooses the latter, he will gain only evil; for the seed of all evil is planted and living within him.
The subject thus presented to you must suggest some difficulties. They may seem many, but they all flow from one difficulty -- that of comprehending the necessity that love should be free, and especially that the best and highest love should be most free.
Probably the darkness which clings about this truth will only disappear altogether from any of us when the light of experience is cast upon it; and we cannot rejoice in the fulness of this light until we, too, have this best and highest love, and rejoice in the consciousness that it is our own in freedom, because the Father gives it to us to be our own.
Imagine an angel -- and this means a man who has become what every man may be -- imagine an angel who has reached his place in heaven. So long as he lived on earth, more or less of earthliness clung to him. The propensity to self-love, whose assaults made this life a warfare, a continual conflict, but not a continual victory, and darkened his brightest days with sins desired, and sometimes with sins committed, and made memory painful, and sharpened the pain by the consciousness that the remembered past was ready at any moment to repeat itself and become a miserable present, all these are suppressed. He had chosen good, and it was given him. Do not try to imagine, for you cannot, the joy he feels at the certainty that he is in heaven; because, taking his Father's hand, He Himself had led him thither; and that it will be his eternal home, because that heavenly road passed, through temptations resisted and sins repented, into perfect freedom. He does not walk as one whom Omnipotence constrains to go aright, but as one to whom light is given to see the ways of peace, and strength given to walk therein. And oh, what joy! He to whom so much has been given, he can also give; and that love which came, which comes ever, from the Most High, flows gratefully back to Him from this angel heart.
This is heaven. It is the certainty of choosing good, and yet making the choice in freedom. Why might this not have been the condition of man on earth? If freedom be essential to love, why was it necessary that this freedom should be abused? The abuse was not necessary, only the possibility of either use or abuse. For freedom so guarded that it can walk only in one path, is not freedom. It is an utter misuse of words and an offence to reason, to call by the name of freedom the power to render obedience without the power to disobey. Man might have been led to, or born with, a kind of heaven and a measure of happiness, without freedom. But surely words are not needed to make visible the difference between the best heaven of this kind, and the heaven which is wholly free, and has been gained by choosing in freedom to live a heavenly life, even while on the earth.
Again, the question may recur and trouble you, if the happiness of heaven is certain, because the Lord may guide and lead one who is there in such wise that he shall be sure to choose the good, and yet choose it in freedom, why might not man have been so constructed that the same thing could have been done for him on earth? The answer, in its simplest and briefest form, is this: A man is in heaven, because he has profited by his freedom on earth, and has chosen for himself good rather than evil. This he has made his ruling characteristic. He has done this, because whatever the Lord did for him, he was called upon to do himself his part of the work. And he did this part in the strength given to him. This strength was given to him so to use aright, or to use otherwise, as he saw fit. His freedom in this respect was most real, most perfect. And by the right use of this freedom, he has enabled the Lord to build up in him angelic character. Because the Lord had given him this strength to use as he saw fit, He gave it to him to be used wrongly, if he preferred so to use it. If he could only use it aright, and could not use it wrong, or if he had been so made that he must of necessity use it aright, he would have had no freedom. That he might have freedom, he had as much power to do wrong as to do right. But he chose to do right, and the result was the formation of a character which made it certain that he would in this freedom always continue to choose good rather than evil. And this is heaven. And so it is that the possibility of heaven, and of the highest heaven, rests upon the freedom of earth. And out of the reality and completeness of that freedom spring the possibility and the actuality of all evil.
You may ask how it is with those who die as children -- are they not in heaven? Certainly, in their heaven. But, to be very brief in speaking of what lies outside of our present topic, their heaven is not the same as that of grown people. Swedenborg tells us that they have the peculiar discipline suited to their needs, and that they are taught by those angels who died in their maturity, who are in heaven because they overcame their own evil tendencies. These immature spirits are permitted to see their own evil tendencies, and are helped to contend against them and overcome them. They can do this because they have not confirmed those tendencies by the voluntary choice of evil. They are most blessed, and most grateful for the Love which guards them constantly, and yet enables them to walk in a large measure of freedom.
Spiritual liberty is the law of the universe. It was necessary, and the possibility of its abuse was necessary; but the abuse was not necessary. Nevertheless this abuse has taken place. As a fact it exists. And then the question is: In what way does our Father deal with the resulting evil? This prodigious question is nothing less than the inquiry into what are the means and methods by which Infinite Love and Wisdom make this evil as little as it can possibly be, consistent with human freedom, and make those offences which must come, themselves the instruments of good. He who does not feel his ignorance and impotence before such a question cannot understand the question. Nevertheless, there are some things which it may not be unwise presumption to attempt to say about it.
One thing is this. If we were wiser we should set a far higher value on the things of eternity, in comparison with the things of time, than we do. How very foolish we think that man who sacrifices the interests and prosperity of his whole life to a day's pleasure. Are we any wiser when we forget eternity in the passionate pursuit of pleasure for a little lifetime? But God is wise if we are not, and in all His providence constantly regards the things of eternity.
It is well that we cannot now appreciate the absolute nothingness of this life, in comparison with eternal life, for it would destroy all interest in our daily occupations. Nor would it be safe for us to remember that this life is to that which follows it, in the proportion of one to infinity, unless we were also wise enough to remember that this one determines the character of that infinity.
I have spoken to you before, I think, of the importance of learning moral perspective, learning to view things in their true proportions and acting accordingly. We are sure that before our Lord everything stands in this true perspective. Nothing is so great as to cast the little beyond his care; nothing so small as to be forgotten. It is therefore his constant effort and purpose to give us, at every moment and in every event, all the success and happiness we can have, but always only what we can have without detriment to the interests of eternity. Lives there the man who always knows and never forgets that whatsoever happens to him -- it may be exquisite joy, it may be bitter grief -- is the very thing which Wisdom that cannot mistake sees to be the best thing that can come to him, and which unfailing Love causes or permits, because it is the best?
Is it not well, then, that men should regard the sufferings which follow sin as its punishment? Exceeding well -- for in one sense it is so. There is no vindictive God, but upon sin committed consequences wait which are intended to protect the offender and others also from the mischief of repeating the wrong.
This is the true end, and (I say it reverently) the only justification of punishment. This truth has made its way into human thought, and has much influence in regulating the punishments inflicted on criminals. We should be wiser if we let this truth operate with more force upon our judgment of the Divine action. We see this guilty or erring man suffer, and we say that is right, he deserves to suffer; and so we account for it. But then we see suffering fall where we are unable to see that it is deserved or where we see that it cannot be deserved, as when it comes to the child in the cradle.
The mistake in all this is in the supposition on the one hand that any other power than God's power rules; or, on the other, that Divine power is ever put forth except in love. He never inflicts pain, and never permits those who love to inflict it to gratify their malignant desire, unless he sees that the pain caused may be the means of a blessing which cannot otherwise be given. And thus while He does not suppress even their life whose life it is to do harm, He overrules them in such wise that against their will they do good.
Often a firm conviction that whatever may be their apparent character, all things are equally under the government of perfect love, enables us to discern the good result which is intended to be the effect of suffering. Sometimes we even see this distinctly, and sometimes, alas! very dimly. Thus when we see the infant convulsed with pain, all that we can do is to remember that the poor little thing inherited a woful perversion of its inner nature, and that its Heavenly Father is even then endeavoring to cure the distortions of its soul, and remove the obstructions they offer to the reception of happiness from Him. If the baby lives, every tear that it sheds now will save it many. If it dies, it will grow up into greater happiness in heaven because of the suffering endured in its momentary sojourn on earth. How is this done? We know not. But we may understand enough of the nature of God, and the working of His providence, to be certain that it must be so, and in that certainty to find comfort.
Infinitely diversified are the means which Divine Providence uses, and the methods of its action. For how various are the wants it would supply, the weakness it would help, the blindness it would enlighten, the paths of wandering and woe from which it would lead, the sins it would cleanse by the purifying waters of repentance. And, oh, greatest of marvels! the adaptation of the work to the need of each human being is as precise and perfect as if that need were the only object of Divine mercy.
I think no one who has had anything of what we call "the experience of life," no one who has been led to notice how the Lord dealt with him, especially during the sadder parts of that experience (for in joy we are more apt to forget the dealings of Providence), can have failed to observe the wonderful manner in which strength has been given to bear some quite unexpected burden; how his bodily and mental frame becomes [become] gradually adapted to changes of circumstances; how the very friends, the very scenes, the very books, come to him when he most needs them; and how when all this tender care is bestowed upon him at every moment, myriads of others, all the rest of God's creatures in fact, are under the same perfect guardianship.
And how it can be so arranged (it is a poor word, but we have only human modes of expression for subjects quite transcendent), that the same event which brings joy to one heart and utter woe to another, should have the double capacity of bringing to each what each needed above aught else for their eternal good -- is not this a constant and ever-increasing miracle?
I remember that when, as a child, I read in the Sermon on the Mount that the Lord caused "His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and His rain to fall on the just and on the unjust," it seemed to me very beautiful, this image of a universal love that sent blessings everywhere lavishly, and was willing to have the poor sinners enjoy them, whether they deserved them or not; but how much more beautiful is this same verse to me now, when I believe that it is not a question of deserts, for none deserve anything, but because God is so wise as well as so loving that the sunbeams and rain-drops always fall in just the right spots; and that every one of these good and these evil men receive these blessings for some special reasons which we cannot always understand, but can feel sure to be all tending to that heavenly happiness which our Father has ever in view for us.
Among our dear friends we may have one whom we always regard as the dearest and the most attaching, and why? Because we never go to him with any joy or sorrow without his immediately making it his own, or without his apparently taking the deepest interest in it; because in ordinary conversation one feels, for the time being at least, that one has chosen the very subject he cares most about, and that he is entirely congenial. And yet we know that this cannot always be exactly the case; we know that it is sometimes only a pleasant appearance. We feel grateful, however, even for this appearance, for a kind motive prompts the illusion. Now having begun at this lowest step of the ladder, what think you of the considerate and adaptive love of our friend, elevated till it becomes, not the kind appearance only, but the blessed reality, of a perfectly sympathizing and strengthening love, a protecting providence for every living creature!
From the first moment of our existence, through eternity, this unsleeping mercy watches over us. If it can, it will help us "to dash their little ones of Babylon against the stones;" to dash the little ones of Babylon -- sins while yet they are only the germs of evil, only sins in thought -- against the truths which rebuke and expose, and have power to overcome them. If this cannot be, if the prodigal will take the living into his own hands and depart from his Father's house, he is permitted to do so, to waste the very substance of his life; until, when the lowest degradation has been reached, Divine mercy is able to inspire a consciousness of where and what he is, and a wish to leave the swine with whom he lives and the husks on which he feeds, and return to his Father. And then that Father meets him, "while yet a great way off," and supports his faltering footsteps until they reach his Father's house. Verily, in that house are many mansions, and to each one its own way leads. The bruised reed is never broken, the smoking flax is never quenched; and let there be in the heart one morsel, one fragment of true repentance for sin and true love toward God, and He who has personally known all that can be known of human temptations will "gather up the fragments that nothing be lost."
Infinitely diversified are the providences of our Lord; but, through them all, there is the constant preservation of our spiritual freedom. Nothing can happen to us, nothing great or small, nothing counted upon or unexpected, nothing pleasant or painful, that will lift us from where it found us, unless we will that it should. It may, and often does, without our knowledge or consent, exert a beneficial influence, so far as this: it may bring us into a condition in which it is far easier for us to give up our self-confidence and yield voluntarily to spiritual influences, than it could have been otherwise. Much of the work of Divine Providence, and much that is most painful to us, is of this kind. The strong man armed, whose goods are in peace, must be overcome by one who is stronger than he "who taketh from him all the armor in which he trusted." But while this is true, all work of this kind is only preparatory. The question still remains, whether we will profit by it. This question we answer when the time has come for us to choose whom we will serve.
In times of tribulation and oppression we are not free. The loss of health, or of wealth, or of friends, or some other sorrow, has smitten us; and we feel that we deserve it and more. We see the need of repentance; we make good resolutions; we even utter a prayer for strength to keep them -- but the prayer is little else than a cry for relief from suffering. Presently we are restored to ourselves. Our freedom which was suspended is revived. Are we now willing to profit by our past experience? We may if we will, for our bonds are broken. But will we? We cannot stand still, even if we fancy we do; unconsciously we drift back every moment that we do not go forward. Which path shall it be then? That which our Father has pointed out, or that which leads back through the old infirmities and evils, thus making vain his efforts to save us? Infinitely diversified are the ways of Providence, but they all converge upon one point. Ever and ever does our Lord seek to lead, never to compel, but always to lead us to a more full and unperverted reception of His own life in our freedom. For that is heaven. In heaven, the certainty that our freedom will never more be abused comes from the fact that the one end of all the workings of the Divine Providence has been so far attained that a character has been built up which will make this perversion and abuse impossible. Therefore, in this life, where the foundation of permanent character is built, that freedom is given with all its liability to be abused, and with the actual abuse of it which is the source of all evil. The heavens are guarded from this abuse, not because coercive Omnipotence prevents it, but because perfect love is able there to accomplish its great purpose of founding eternal happiness upon eternal freedom.
IT is often said to me: "We could pardon you for entertaining the views you do if you did not claim so much; you call your religion a consummating religion. Now, no one who has pondered, however little, on the progress of human thought in the past, can, reasoning from analogy, help predicting similar progress in the future, and in a future stretching on to eternity. How, then, can you dare to put a limit to this ever-active mind of humanity, and say, 'thus far and no farther shalt thou go?'
It would certainly be not only very daring, but very wrong, if I did say this; but, it is just because this New Church, this New Jerusalem coming down from heaven, contains in itself all possibilities of advancement toward God -- and surely we do not wish to advance in any other direction -- because it not only imposes no limits or barriers, but insists upon freedom, because its truths though great are very simple, and yet capable of an infinite expansion, that I do believe it to be "consummating."
All religions are accommodated to the state and needs and capabilities of men. At length our Lord came Himself upon earth; came by assuming the humanity which needed reformation from its very inmost, and by His work in that humanity redeemed men.
Of the doctrines of our church which tell you how that work was done, I will not write now. It is enough to say that in the system of religion founded on His coming, while enough was said and shown to win love and worship for Him who had become visibly" God with men," yet over all a veil was spread in mercy to the dim and weak eyes which too much light would have made blind. But this religion did its work, and made it possible for more. And then a last, a final religion has been given, and the veil which was spread over all nations has been taken away -- so far taken away that truths and principles are given which go to the centre of all truth. They are given to feeble men, who can receive and comprehend them only very imperfectly. And because they are capable, if fully understood, of bringing into their own light all the questions which have been or ever can be asked, this process of applying them to solve "the mystery of godliness," or, to spell the word as it once was spelt, the mystery of godlikeness, must be in the first place slow and gradual, and in the next place eternal. A slow process, for only a few desire to receive these truths, and these few are hardly able yet to make other than elementary and very general applications of them. An eternal progress, because the approach of the finite to the infinite, with the happy consciousness of this advance, may never end, although the infinite will never be reached.
AN excellent woman said to me as we came out of church this morning, with an expressive shrug of the shoulders accompanying the remark, "Oh, how dreadfully wicked the sermon today made us all feel! I don't see what people preach such sermons for!" One could hardly help smiling at the latter part of her remark, and yet it was after all the very feeling with so many people. They go to church to hear pleasant, soothing things, to have an agreeable sense of their own goodness; not to have old wounds opened afresh, and their eyes opened to their own sinfulness, their utter poverty and need of help. "Why," continued my friend, "does not good Mr. ____ continue his series of doctrinal sermons? He does that so beautifully; his style is so clear, it is really an intellectual treat; for instance the discourse he gave us last Sunday on the divinity of our Lord?" I was silent, but fell to thinking somewhat in this wise. What good does it do us to believe in the divinity of our Lord, if we do not let Him when He girds Himself with His humanity wash us clean therewith? And we do this when we so love our Father and Saviour that we hate our sins, our dirt, and are eager to have Him wash not "our feet only, but our hands and our head;" and in all our life have the thought of Him underlying every other, so that it makes us shrink with dismay when we are tempted to the wrong-doing which is all we can do to give Him pain.
The robins have been with us now for a week or two, and are such welcome guests! They bring cheer to our hearts, while they rebuke us gently, by their joyful singing, for our own complaints at the long, persistent winter, lapping over into spring, and wrapping the earth even now with such a thick mantle of snow as will require a week longer to melt. The birds sing of hope, and so does the river behind the garden which is now rushing along most joyously, working as hard as it can in the service of Spring, for it carries away on its bosom great cakes of ice, and now they come so thick and fast it is like a little fleet of boats. As I sit watching the river and the birds, I think with a sigh, after all it is no wonder they both seem so happy -- for how free they are; contrasting their condition with my own, who am kept in the house by the intolerable state of the roads. But, after all, have I not the advantage? For, even with the body tied to one spot, thought can take longer flights than the much-travelled robin ever dreamed of. And so I sit and muse, and at last the musing becomes thoughts, and so I will try to give them to you. They are on an old subject and one of which I have talked to you before, but its very name implies its boundlessness -- it is freedom, the thought which the birds and the river suggested. You sent me once a list of the difficulties you had in relation to this matter, and when I wrote about it before, not having your letter by me, I may not have responded satisfactorily.
These were your troubles. If freedom is, as you infer from some things you have read, caused by, and founded upon, equilibrium, or the equal strength of motives coming from above and from beneath, is not hell necessary to freedom? If so, how was it with man before the fall? There being no hell, there could be no equilibrium of these opposing motives -- how could he have any freedom? If he had none, how could he fall? or how could he incur guilt by falling? Then if freedom depend upon equilibrium, it cannot be perfect, unless that is perfect; and if it be perfect must not the man rest in utter inaction, because any influence which would move him in any direction is exactly counterbalanced and paralyzed by some equal and opposing influence? And if he can act because the equilibrium is not quite perfect, but one motive stronger than the other, does he not, after all, only obey the strongest motive, and where is his self-action? where his freedom?
This is a formidable list of difficulties. But you are not the only one whom they have troubled, and I think I can help you somewhat. Not a perfect solution can I give you, leaving behind it no question which can be asked, and no penumbra of doubt. That kind of solution will never come here or hereafter. I hope you will find forever, that the answers to the questions which you ask will suggest still further questions, and that the further answers may lead you forever forward in a radiant pathway, for it leads to the source of light.
Freedom is the ability to choose one thing or another thing, and to do what one chooses. It is of two kinds. Man, being both natural and spiritual, has the freedom belonging to nature and that belonging to spirit. His natural or physical freedom is confined within narrow limits, because he can always imagine and desire many things which he cannot do. But always he can turn himself whither he will, and go in what direction he would, although he may not be able to go as far as he would. Only when disease has brought him very near to death, can he wholly lose this freedom.
As the soul corresponds to the body, so spiritual liberty corresponds to physical liberty. It always exists, and within certain limits is complete. But a man can no more become an angel at once, by one volition or moral act, than he can take a step a mile forward. But he can look upwards or downwards, he can go on the right or the wrong road, so far as he goes at all, at his own freedom. And only when spiritual disease has brought him to spiritual death, can he wholly lose this freedom.
What, then, does this freedom come from -- what is its source, its primary cause? Certainly not equilibrium. This balance of the forces which, from above and from below, strike upon him and penetrate his life, is by the Divine mercy watchfully preserved, that his free agency may not be suppressed or lost, as it would be by the too great preponderance of any of the influences which form the atmosphere in which he lives. This the equilibrium between these influences does for him; but it could no more create or cause his freedom, than it could create or cause him.
To answer the question, "Whence cometh freedom? I must refer you to the origin of human life. The Lord alone is Life, and He creates man such that His own life may flow into man, His love into man's will, and His wisdom into man's understanding, and become man's life. All this you are familiar with. But I remind you of it, that you may be ready for the next step, which is, that the Divine life thus flowing into man is given him by God to be owned by man, and to make him himself.
You will tell me that I have told you this before, and you have read it elsewhere. But I want you to take into your mind the full force of the statement. Few people, I think, do. No one is independent of God, for he lives only by God's life flowing incessantly into him. But he is not a lesser, or a partial, or an imperfect God, because this life becomes his own, and so he becomes a perfectly distinct being, though at the same time an utterly dependent one. If God's will flowing into man continued to be there God's will, man could only obey. His every motive would be his Creator's, and not his. He would not be himself. And yet God's will is in his will as the only life and motive power. How, then, can man be himself? By the fact that God's will, when in man, becomes man's own will. And it is given to man for his own possession, that so it may become human and not divine.
I dwell on this truth, and present it under many aspects, because only so far as you fully apprehend it, can you see the thing I would say. It is this. Human freedom springs from a man's owning of his life. God must have infinite and perfect freedom. One who does not believe this, does not believe that God is a person, or, in other words, does not believe that there is any God. To call the universe God, is only to give to the universe another name. It means nothing. If God be a person, He must be free: for there can be nothing stronger than He is; that is, perfect freedom must be an element of His life. And when His life flows into man, this element is not severed from the others and left behind.
Perhaps we may better understand this owning of his life by every man, if we keep in mind this unquestionable purpose of God in creating man. Assuming only that He is love, then it must be certain that His motive was the desire to make a being whom He could make happy. Then it must be plain that the happiest created being is he who is most like his Creator. And he must be most like his Creator who loves as He loves, who is like Him in freedom, and, in the consciousness of a distinct personality, constantly exerts that love in the activities which it prompts. If the progress in good, in love, and therefore in the happiness of such a being, ends in absorption into his Creator, what can this be but his death, his extinction, his nothingness as a personal being? And by this extinction the work of the Creator comes to an end, His purpose is totally frustrated. But what possible end of the best life can there be, but this absorption into the infinite, unless man has and will hold forever, a self-hood which belongs to him, which is his own, and will never be lost nor taken away.
It is easy to say that evil originates in the abuse of freedom. But it is not easy to see this, or understand it, or really believe it; and on no subject have men been lost in more utter darkness. The main cause of this difficulty is an ignorance as to what life is. Men trace back all acts to their motives, and these motives to their causes, and these to theirs, and carry the chain far backward, and they come to the conclusion that but for its cause that effect could not have come, and that cause could not but produce that effect -- and so there is no real freedom, and nothing, in fact, but this inexorable and unending chain of cause and effect; that is, they come to this conclusion intellectually, all the while knowing, and constantly acting upon the knowledge that they are free agents.
Why is it that they thus deny intellectually, and as they think logically, the free agency of man? It is because they see that matter is at rest unless acted upon by some cause which operates upon it from without itself; and this cause is set going by some other cause -- and this indefinitely. It is so, it is just so, because matter is dead. But they do not see that it belongs to life to have the capacity of self-action; and that this is precisely what distinguishes between life and death. These subtle reasoners fail to see this, because they are thinking only of what is dead. And if they think of life, and find they cannot investigate its nature by methods which are right when applied to that which is not and has not life, then some among them think that life is only a form of material force not yet understood, and the wiser among the unwise say it is an unfathomable mystery.
But what is life? God is life. He alone. And He imparts His life to His universe that it may be. Down to the abyss of being, where no life seems to be, His life goes to form matter, and becomes the force which constitutes matter; and then among all the forms and particles of matter, becomes and acts as what are called chemical forces. It ascends to the vegetable world, and here man first uses the word life. In the tree it is the force which gathers from matter, using all chemical forces, its food and nutriment. It is determined in its action by the inmost nature of the tree, which it had formed for that end. And yet, even here, in the power of vegetables to accommodate themselves to circumstances, we see a semblance of self-determination. Then life ascends to the animals, who live as we do, and, as some think, just as we do; and it becomes the force which, besides the vegetable power of gathering and assimilating food, has the added power of muscular action, and the thought necessary to determine this action, and no more.
And life ascends to man; to him who is at the summit of created being, because he is in the image and likeness of God. Here, too, infinite life is finited for its recipient; but not maimed or imperfect, and not leaving behind it any of its elements, for all are there the image and likeness of what they are in Him. And therefore this life has, besides the capacity of the plant and the animal, the capacity of far higher thought and feeling, and also the consciousness of self -- this is divine life made human.
It has formative and directive energy, choice and free self-determination. It is placed in the hands of man to be dealt with as he will, to become whatever he chooses to make it to be. If dead matter has no power of its own, and vegetables can grow but cannot move, and animals can change their place, to man is given the higher, the consummating power, to change his state. To this end man has freedom.
And now let us return to the list of difficulties at the beginning of this letter, and see how I have answered the questions you proposed.
First, is hell necessary to freedom? Certainly it is, if freedom be caused by, and founded upon equilibrium; but if it be otherwise, certainly not. The first man living on earth, before there were any heaven or hell from earth, would have had ample and complete freedom because he was a living man, and had, as his human life, divine life made human with all its elements. So long as none chose evil instead of good, only a heaven would be formed from those who left this earth.
But all influences from heaven seek to give freedom, and not to take it away; to strengthen it, and not to impair it; and surely there was no need of hell to balance them. As soon as any chose evil, and carried into the other world a character formed by this choice, hell began. It could not but seek to exert an influence of evil. Then the influences from heaven were necessarily so modified and adjusted as to equilibrate the influence of hell, and preserve man's freedom. And to the question, How did man fall? the answer is, By exerting his free agency to choose evil rather than good; for this is the only way in which man ever can fall.
In answer to your third question, about a complete equilibrium necessarily producing inaction, I would say this. We can hardly suppose that the balance of motives from exterior influences is ever perfect. But if it were so, then man, by virtue of his life as man, would have a perfect free agency, and could choose easily between these influences. Seldom is this the case. Sometimes, indeed, man is permitted to be strengthened and comforted by strongly predominating heavenly influence, and then it is indeed easy to be good. But he does not appropriate this good and make it a part of himself, unless he confirms it, when in a later state he is left more to himself.
Have you not often noticed what we call the "softening influence" of illness? This is one of the providences of God that seem to me especially beautiful. While sickness is in itself an undeniable evil -- which we have brought upon ourselves, or have by inheritance -- the loving Father stands there by us, ready to turn this evil into a great blessing if we will only let him. And for a little while he takes away our freedom to do wrong, and often even to think wrong; and sets open a little wider that gate of heaven whence come all good and holy influences to us. Behold a golden opportunity! which, nevertheless, is often lost, because, when bodily strength returns, our freedom is given back to us, and then if we do not gratefully seize the good which has been held out to us, if on the other hand we deliberately choose to go back to the old ways, it is all of no avail -- the opportunity has gone.
Often, very often, the balance of forces inclines the wrong way. Evil influences which reach man through his acquired or inherited character, are very strong. It may seem to him that he is deserted, and that all good things have fled far away, leaving him to destruction.
But this is never so. They may retreat into the inner recesses of his own mind and heart, perhaps too far for consciousness to reach them; but there they give strength, there they fight for him, and with him, against his enemies. But they know that he can overcome the forces of evil only by resisting them in his own free agency, and they therefore leave him to do this work for himself. They take care that however the balance may incline towards evil, it shall never incline so far, or with so much weight, that he cannot resist it. Angels minister unto him, as they ministered unto our Lord in those temptations which included all that are possible to man. But the Lord did His own Divine work none the less because angels ministered unto him.
LET me write to you today more about freedom. Conscience certifies irresistibly to every man, in spite of all false logic, that he is a free agent. No man ever sinned without having some sense of guilt, however this may have been afterwards weakened or suppressed; and no man ever saw another man sin, without some feeling that the sinner was in fault. That there is a constant and enormous abuse of free agency through the world and the ages is certain, and that enormous evil has resulted therefrom is also certain. The difficulty is not here. It comes at the next step. If all evil springs from the abuse of freedom, and God be the Giver of freedom, is not He the cause of evil? To state this difficulty more plainly, let me suppose a devil saying to an angel: "Why am I down here and you up there? where is the justice in our different dooms?"
The angel answers: "You are there because you abused your free agency and chose evil."
"Then," says the devil, "who gave me this freedom? Was it not God, and should not He be answerable for the consequences?"
"No," answers the angel. "For you might have used your freedom differently, and so escape the consequences of your abuse of it."
"Yes," says the devil; "I might or I might not. But, because I had this freedom I had at least an equal power of abusing it to my infinite detriment. If a father gave his young child gun-powder, with many lessons to be careful of it, and the child exploded it to his own great harm, upon whom should the weight of punishment fall? upon whom would fall the weight of blame in all men's minds -- on the father, or the child?"
I believe I have presented the difficulty as plainly as I can. The conclusion the devil comes to, is that which, as the records of all philosophy and religion assure us, many men have reached in all ages. What is the answer?
Let us first establish the fact that freedom is necessarily liable to abuse -- that it is not freedom unless it is so liable. It should not be difficult to see this plainly. Can a man be said to have full freedom to go anywhere, when it is not possible for him to go in any other than one direction? Imagine a man imprisoned in a cell. No one would call him free. The door is opened, and it is said to him, "Your imprisonment is ended; go forth; you are free." Then imagine he goes only into a narrow path, bounded by walls he cannot climb, reaching onwards indefinitely. Is he free, or is that narrow path only an extension of his imprisonment? But I am trying to make plainer that which is itself the plainest and the simplest thought of which our minds are capable. For it is impossible to attach any meaning whatever to the word "freedom," without including in it all that goes to make up the meaning of the phrase that is synonymous with it -- and that is, "free agency."
But this leaves the difficulty untouched. For if freedom must inevitably include the possibility of complete abuse, with all resulting mischief, this only gives added force to the question, Why did God give to men this perilous gift?
To this question we have an answer that is conclusive and satisfactory in the measure in which we see that unless God gave man liberty He could not give him any other blessing. He bestows life and enjoyment upon the lower animals, but who calls these things blessings? And He could give nothing more to man, unless He gave him freedom.
A far deeper and far better answer remains to be given. Gather it if you will from what I have heretofore written to you. No conceivable happiness can be compared with that of the man who by his own act, not in independence of God, but in a free and voluntary coöperation with God, chooses a life which will forever and forever bring him nearer and yet nearer to the likeness of his Father.
Just now I supposed a conversation between an angel and a devil, in which the latter compared the gift of freedom from God to man, to a father's giving gunpowder to his child. Let me suggest a different comparison. A father gives food to his child, and with all the instruction he can give, and all the precaution he can take, the child will sometimes make himself sick by it. Shall the father withhold food and let the child starve to death, that he may not be ill from the abuse of food? So it is with dress, education, recreation, and whatever else a father can give his child. Every one of these is liable to abuse, and all abuse of good brings mischief. Shall he then withhold all these, or, if they are not rightly used, shall the result be ascribed to the father? It is true that he might keep his child in one room, clothe him with strong and sufficient garments suited to the weather, feed him with carefully adjusted measures of selected food, and keep him from the out-door air lest he take cold, and from the sunshine lest he be heated, and from all knowledge lest it be abused -- but would this be the work of a good parent?
What, then, is the difference between the supposition I have put into a devil's mouth, and my own? Just this. A father should not give his child gunpowder, because, while it is dangerous, it is not necessary to the child; in no way, and for no good purpose, can the child need it. The father has no reason for exposing him to this peril, and therefore the peril and the mischief resulting from it may reasonably be referred to the father, and held to indicate his want of love or of wisdom. Not so, however, with food. This a good parent must give in despite of its possible danger. And why? Because if he did not, he would, for the sake of avoiding a danger, bring upon his son the certainty of death. And freedom is as essential to spiritual life, as food is necessary to bodily life.
If the objection returns, Why is man created such that no good thing can be given him which is absolutely safe? the answer is, that man, constructed just as he is, may by means of freedom rise to the utmost happiness which a created being can possess; and to a higher, a far higher happiness than he could possess if he had no freedom. Still it may be said that all this answer to the objection that, as the author of freedom, God is also the author of evil, rests upon the supposition that, without freedom, none of the blessings which make the happiness of heaven could be given. Is this certain?
No words could make this truth visible to him who does not know by experience what it is to resist his own proclivity to wrong, and choose the right. But with every effort to do this, the mental eye grows stronger, and veil after veil is borne away. Only when the work is done, and we stand with those who are in heaven, shall we see, as clearly as we now see the sunshine at noon, what freedom is, and how by its rightful exercise we can open our hearts to our Father -- open them widely to the ever-streaming radiance of light and warmth. Let it not be supposed that the angels look upon their fall from goodness and happiness as impossible. They know on the contrary that if they were not constantly upheld by their Father, it would be certain; but in the covert of his wings they feel safety and peace.
In a former letter I spoke of those who die in infancy, and said that their heaven was a different one from that of those who had lived to be tempted, and to resist temptation. They grow up in heaven and reach the beauty and the strength of youth. They become men, but they are always childlike men. We must "receive the kingdom of heaven as a little child." None can receive it otherwise. But we must then, if years be granted us, let the life thus planted in the soil of childhood grow into the manhood of regeneration.
Their state is heavenly, but in what way, we may form some idea by comparing the innocence of childhood with the innocence of regenerated age. Angels they are, but not such angels as have borne the labor and heat of the day, and through the toils, the trials, the conflicts, and the victories which earthly life permitted, have grown into "the measure of a man, that is, of an angel."
I DO not recollect a single instance of any great difficulty in understanding any statement of Swedenborg concerning the facts or appearances of another life, which may not be traced to the diversity between time and space in this world, and time and space in that world. We are told that they both exist there, and from the idea of space and its limitations come the ideas of shape, of distance, of motion from place to place, and the like. But Swedenborg tells us that there they are only appearances. They may be called so here, for they are not entities or beings in themselves. They are products of thought. They are caused by the constitution of the human mind, and they adapt the mind to the world around it, as to its fitting home and instrument, and only by careful investigation into their origin and nature do we become aware that they are only appearances or forms of thought. But in that world they are seen and known to be only appearances. In this world space and time are fixed and vested in the indurated and unyielding substance which we call matter, and being so fixed they control us and our thoughts and actions. It is not so in that world. There they are also ultimated in substance, but it is spiritual substance. This, unlike matter, is yielding and plastic. It assists thought and action, but does not control them. On the contrary, thought and will control space and time.
I have spoken in former letters only of our permanent homes in the other world. But as all kinds of men live together here, so in almost every man there is a mingling of diverse qualities. All those which oppose his true character, or the prevailing love of his life, must be removed or suppressed before he is ready to take his place in his permanent home. This work is done in the first few years after death. While it is going on, men live in a condition which Swedenborg calls "the World of Spirits." This is to them as much a place as this world is to us. The work to be done there is analogous to the work we should do here, in so far as it is a changing of the man from what he is to what he is to be. Not quite the same, however; for it is not a change of the essential principles of his character, but a liberation of them from all discordant and opposing influences. That world also is analogous to this, but not the same; for the essential difference between spiritual laws and substance and material laws and substance is in full force there. It is obvious, however, that the greater resemblance between that world and this, must make it easier to describe for us, and easier for us to understand, the things of that world than the things of heaven. Hence the great majority of Swedenborg's descriptions refer to the world of spirits. It is well to remember this; for it is not always stated by him, though generally apparent on examination.
YOU tell me that you have been reading with much interest the Life of Swedenborg, and I am very glad. You are quite right about his apparent want of sympathy with low and poor people. It is obvious from many things; but not, I think, from the circumstance that he mentions only those who are distinguished in some way. Of such people he gives the names, to give point and force to what he says of them; but he quite often speaks of conversations and dealings with persons whom he does not name; and quite often, some instances I remember particularly, the indications are plain that they were of an humble and ignorant class, but good, truth-hearing people. I rather think that through life he had very narrow social relations; and that they were confined to the higher ranks, with whom he had for a large part of his life close business connections, and scholars. He was always very busy, loved study better than any thing else, and was a recluse by character and taste, as well as by habit. I have sometimes felt as if I could have been content if there were more in the life and personality of Swedenborg which could not be approved, because it would have guarded us better against making the church in any way dependent on his personality. But then, on the other hand, such things would have obstructed the reception of the truths he teaches; for, whatever may be our effort, it is difficult not to apply the personal test of any man's character to what he teaches. And marvellous it is, that, thrown open for inspection, attack, and misrepresentation as every hour and every act of his life has been, including even his dreams, so little of harm has been found. Lie after lie comes up, is exposed, then is silent for a while, then comes up again. In the last book written against him the old story reappears, that on the passage from Stockholm to London, the Swedish seer would have plates laid for Peter and Paul, and then paid for three passages! And it is asserted that this story must be true, for it rests on the authority of Southey. The fact being that Southey tells it as a jest, confessedly of his own making -- that is, something Swedenborg might have done if he believed what he said -- in "Espriella's Letters," a book now but little read.
YOU tell me you find much difficulty in Swedenborg's doctrine of degrees; and you ask me to write to you about it. To treat of so great a subject in a brief and imperfect way, seems worse than nothing, and I shrink from attempting anything more, fearing that these feeble efforts to throw light serve only to make the darkness visible. Yet even that is something; to walk in darkness and know it not, is saddest of all. This truth of which I would speak now, is certainly one of the greatest of the New Church; too great for us to think of grasping it in its fulness, and yet so simple that we can hardly fail to understand it in some measure. And the effort to appreciate it better, will do much for the invigoration both of intellect and character.
In this, as in so many other instances, a truth of vast magnitude and influence, which when at first presented to human thought repels by its difficulty, when we are habituated to it, and it enters into the common notions of all educated people, will become a simple, easy element of common knowledge.
For instance, astronomy, and indeed all physics, waited from the beginning of science for the theory of gravitation, and for want of it was wrong almost everywhere. Newton discovered this theory. Generations passed before it was universally received. Strong thinkers at first declared it demanded conceptions which the human mind was incapable of; and if it was true it could not be proved, nor understood, nor made use of. A century or two has elapsed, and the terror of one age has become to the next not merely a household word, but more, a familiar habit of thought. It is stated in all our books, taught in all our schools; and what bright child would now find any difficulty in understanding that all matter draws all matter, and all things as they are heavier, that is have more matter, have more attraction, and attract the more strongly the nearer they are. And yet this is the great theory of gravitation, the discovery of which by Newton changed all the laws of physical science.
It is so as to this doctrine of degrees; and I am quite hopeful that you will understand me when, confining myself to a general view of the subject, I try to make it plain.
Now, what are degrees in altitude, and what degrees in latitude: In the first place, these words which we find in the common translations of Swedenborg are mistakes. He uses altitudo and latitudo, but he uses them as meaning simply "height" and "breadth," and they should be translated by these English words which represent them perfectly. But how do degrees of height differ from degrees of breadth?
In all languages, words which have any spiritual, moral, or mental meaning, have first a physical meaning, the spiritual signification coming afterwards. "Right" originally meant only a straight line, and "rule" meant a straight stick to verify a straight line. Such instances are innumerable. The moral or spiritual meaning coming by figure of speech or symbolism, as is commonly said -- by correspondence, as it would be better to say.
Now let us take "height" in this higher or secondary sense. Here is an honest man, one who has never stolen a dollar from a human being; in the sight of all men an honest man, for he has obeyed to the minutest particular the law which forbids theft, but only from a principle of obedience -- nothing else than the expediency or necessity of obedience being in his mind. Another man is also honest; but he obeys the same law from a clear perception and recognition of the truth, and from a desire to do what the truth tells him is right.
It is quite plain that the motive of this last man is higher than the motive of the first; everybody understands me when I say so.
But still another man may think less of obedience, less of the compulsion of right, but he may love his neighbor as himself, and therefore it would be impossible for him to steal. This would be a still higher motive. And these three motives are not merely in a series as to their height, but they do not run into each other, that is, they are distinct from each other.
The first man may abstain more or less perfectly from theft, his obedience being more or less perfect; but however this may be, as long as obedience is the only motive, the man remains in point of character on the same plane or level.
He rises above this when he ascends to the principle of honesty, or the motive of right. The man who obeys, only from the fear of disgrace or imprisonment or hell, may obey perfectly. The man who avoids theft from a principle of honesty may avoid it less perfectly. Nevertheless he acts from a higher motive than the other, although the motive has less power over him. And then he who acts honestly simply because he loves his neighbor as himself, has risen to a new motive, and stands on a higher plane.
These three degrees of motive are then discrete degrees, for this word means only separated, cut apart. The degrees which stand on the same level, are continuous degrees; for these are the differences of more or less in each degree, and these are degrees of breadth. One of the degrees of breadth runs into or grows by mere increase into the other. But the degrees of height are separated. We go from one to the other not by continuity, but by a change which is an elevation. The last change, to the highest degree, is when we go up from the obligation of honesty to the freedom and joy of love.
If you have followed me thus far, you will know as much of the doctrine of degrees as the general principles above stated about gravitation give of that theory. But when those general principles were established, astronomy became busy, and has been ever since, and will for ever be so, in bringing them down into all their details, and understanding them there. Just so will it be the work of religious philosophy in all time, to apply, to comprehend, and to use the doctrine of degrees.
Shall I weary you, if I go on to hint at some of the special applications of this doctrine? One is this. We saw in the instance given that the highest of the three degrees referred to affection, the middle to thought, the lowest to act. Now this is a universal law. Do what you please you could not do it if first you had not some desire or purpose to do it; nor even then, let this desire grow never so strong, if it did not excite the thought how to do it. And then, in performing the act, thought and desire are combined. This is equally true in an action of the most violent kind requiring enormous effort, and in every step you take unconsciously in walking, which you could not take if there were not a purpose of the will to take it, and an unconscious thought how to take it, and the will and the thought produce the step and are in it. If this happens to be new to you, it may at first seem preposterous, but a very little reflection will, I think, show you its truth.
You must remember, however, that I am writing only of the normal and voluntary acts of the man, and not at all of the internal and involuntary acts within his body -- as the action of the viscera, of which we are unconscious; of the heart, which we cannot control by our will; and of breathing, which we can, when we reflect upon it, partially control. So in disease, there may be distortions and spasms over which neither thought nor will have any power. But I am treating only of what the man himself desires, thinks, and does.
All the love or will conceivable is not thought, though it produces thought. Nor is the most intense thought act, though the will through the thought afterwards causes the act, and rests in it. For love or will, thought, and act, are separated by degrees of height, or discrete degrees. One cannot pass into the other by continuity, but may produce or cause the other and be in it, as the soul is in the body.
By far the most important applications of this doctrine, making truths of infinite moment intelligible and certain, are already given to the church, and could only be so given as to be apprehensible by giving with them this great key to the science of spiritual life.
The first of these is the doctrine of Deity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. As in every step you take, in every slightest act, there is will and thought, and they are in act, so we have the same three degrees in their all-embracing wholeness, in the doctrine of the Lord: "No man can come to me unless the Father draw him." None can truly come to the word, the truth, the wisdom, unless the good within and the love for that good, draw him to that truth, that wisdom. But if he is so drawn to that truth, he will learn the truth; and his love of good will through that truth lead to and produce goodness in life; and here this last degree is the active work or operation of the Spirit.
The other doctrine which cannot be at all understood but as we know about degrees, is that which tells us that Divine love and wisdom produce the Bible that we read; and, to use Swedenborg's phraseology, are ultimated in it, and are in it in all their fulness. Infinite love causes and produces it through infinite wisdom, and in the letter which is written both are embodied as in an infinite and eternal act; for the Bible is for ever the Word, in the heavens as it is on earth.
In hinting at these great truths, of course I scarcely expect that you will do more than catch a glimpse of their meaning. "Broken lights" they certainly are, but as on this April day the soft gray cloud is suddenly pierced with a ray of bright sunshine, and then comes again gloom, and then the light breaks through in another spot, making even the gray cloud pearly and beautiful, and bringing joy to our hearts; and though we see not the sun itself, these transient gleams give us the full assurance that beyond he is shining in unclouded splendor; so we must here have faith in the perfection and entireness of truth, even though we see it but in fragments. We must expect difficulties, and be sure that we can advance only as one after another is conquered; and if we meet with no difficulty it is because we make no progress. Every problem which presents itself to us should be regarded only as offering new fruits to be gathered, sooner or later. Then shall we not only expect difficulties, but welcome them.
THERE has been much sickness and death in our neighborhood lately, and I have been too busily employed to write much. In thinking over the sufferings of these poor wounded hearts, I long so earnestly for the time, which will come, though it may be very far distant, when death, or the passing into another world, may no longer be the grievous thing which it now is. Quite without sadness it will never be, perhaps, for we must bear the consequences which this gift of love brings with it. But the removal of beloved objects may become, I am sure, a sorrow so transfused with joy and hope that there shall be in it no bitterness or sting.
Since I wrote this paragraph I have been to walk, and have seen such a beautiful dying scene that I cannot forbear speaking of it, for it was full of lessons. It was the dying day. An event that happens once in every twenty-four hours cannot, of course, always claim our attention; and often the beautiful daylight slips away, and the night comes on, and we spend not a thought upon it. We have no thought nor care that the sun should disappear and leave us in darkness, for do we not feel sure of his resurrection the neat morning? Why can we not feel just as sure of our own rising again into the morning of heaven! Most of us say that we do; but the assertion is seldom justified by our behavior. "The unknown country," "The bourne from which no traveller returns" -- we are much more apt to think of heaven as truly described by either of these expressions than by the dear word "Home," the Father's home, to which He calls His children. And though such expressions as the above are, for the most part, true, they are not what a loving and believing Christian would dwell upon. Unknown in the sense of untried, yes; but unknown in the sense of unheard of, oh, no! Perhaps the city which has "no need of the sun, neither of the moon to shine in it, for the glory of God shall lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof," is too far above the ordinary soaring of our imagination to be readily conceived. But I think, in most cases, it is from want of use that the wings of thought droop so soon, and will carry us so little way upwards. But if the description in the Apocalypse is sometimes too much for us, what endless comfort can we not always derive from those most unspeakably beautiful words of our Lord: "In my Father's house are many mansions -- I go that I may prepare a place for you."
In the sunset that I saw, there were no very gorgeous clouds, only a few delicate pencillings of crimson and gold on the pale "daffodil sky." It was clear and peaceful, and there was nothing to distract one from the simple beauty of the gradual withdrawal of the light and the coming on of darkness. Walking towards the west as long as I could, I was a little startled, on turning round, to see how far the night had advanced, and how cold and gray the valley looked beneath me. The symbolism was very close between this picture and that cold, dark place which the world seems to us when some dear friend, who made our sunshine for us, has gone from our sight. But the sadness was for the briefest moment. The spirit of peace and hope which brooded over that lovely sky did not forsake me. The dark valley seemed filled with the Father's presence, and "the waiting for the morningcould then be only blessed, and not grievous."
HOW impossible it is at times to suppress one's longing to look into the future, and know how circumstances of vital interest will turn out. Yes, how impossible to suppress this sickening desire, even when we know that it is best for us not to be certain of the future, or rather to be certain of only one thing about it, and that is, that perfect love and wisdom will order it for us. I suppose the difficulty is two-fold. One part of it, and a large part, comes from the feebleness of our faith in our Father. And then another large part comes from the fear that while all things will be ordered as is best for us, our infirmities and misdeeds have made us such that the best thing for us is not the good thing our Father would give us if He could, but only that which we have made it possible for Him to give, and this may be great pain and suffering. "Ye cannot serve God and mammon." If one insists that he will serve mammon only, how ill-grounded would be his trust in the divine goodness when he asks only that his service of mammon should be repaid with what he would call success. No, that is not the trust that cannot be disappointed. Two things go together: "Serve the Lord and trust in Him." Only as we serve Him, only as we resist our proclivities to sin, only as we repent earnestly and truly, only then can we have that trust which brings peace. We "cannot serve God and mammon;" and by mammon is here meant not merely gross and external worldliness, but all looking to the external as the source and means of happiness, rather than to the internal. So far as we can resolutely give ourselves up to the work of cultivating within ourselves, with all the help He gives us, that condition of mind which seeks only that we may become His instruments, looking only to our duty, leaving to God our happiness -- only so far can we be sure that He will give us whatsoever, through the long eternity which awaits us, will constitute those means which will best develop our minds and hearts, and give us, through all changing states, the constant joy of believing that we are becoming more and more His children.
Edited by Terry Heller, Coe College
Letters to Jewett -- Contents