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PRACTICAL CONSIDERATIONS ARISING FROM THE AUTHORITY OF SWEDENBORG IN THE NEW CHURCH.
NO. II. THE SACRAMENTS-BAPTISM.
God's Word : 4 among us, the suns speaking of the
In resuming this question, it is scarcely necessary to remind the readers of the Repository, that, whilst speaking of the authority of Swedenborg as held among us, the supreme authority and final appeal is God's Word ; that of Swedenborg rests on his having been specially raised up by the Lord, to expound its genuine doctrines, and unfold the arcana of its spiritual sense. Here again his authority is not personal or arbitrary ; the Law and the Testimony are still the final reference. It is because his teachings harmonize the apparent discrepancies of the Bible, reconcile its seeming contradictions, and open up new spiritual beauties in its pages, which have hitherto lain hid, that we recognise in him an instrument raised up to aid us, under the divine providence, in more clearly understanding, and more justly estimating the sacred volume.
The sacraments are no exception. Their sanctions and importance do not rest on human authority, but on divine. They were instituted by the Lord, and are enforced by His words. It was on His reappearance to His disciples after His resurrection that He gave the command to teach and baptize all nations, basing His injunction on His own divine omnipotence and connecting with it the promise of His continual presence. “All power is given unto Me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach * all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Fäther, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things, whatsoever I have commanded you : and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen” (Matt. xxviii. 18-26).
The institution of the Holy Supper was under circumstances equally impressive. Whilst partaking of the last passover with His disciples immediately prior to His final passion, “He took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is My body. And He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; for this is My blood of the New
* The marginal reading of the A. V. is, “make disciples of,” which is nearer the original. To give the full force of the original would necessitate the employ. ing of the term “ disciple,” were it allowable in our language, as a verb—“Go ye, and disciple all nations,” &c.
Testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins” (Matt. xxvi. 26-28).
The circumstance which gives the peculiar value to the testimony of Swedenborg on these subjects, is his having rationally explained the uses of the sacraments, and that which gives them their efficacy and force. We have no desire to undervalue the benefits they have conferred on those who have received the Holy Supper on the ground of its having been ordained, and its observance having been commanded by the Lord, without understanding its nature : doubtless, when thus received in a loving faith and confidence, that although ignorant of its specific uses, it was nevertheless enjoined by divine wisdom for infinitely wise purposes, its benefits were largely experienced; but it cannot be denied that an intelligent appreciation of its uses confers a greater advantage: there moreover exists a numerous class of minds which demand a reason for the duties they are required to observe, and who consequently are inclined to doubt, unless their difficulties can be removed.' Hence the importance of an intelligible explanation of the grounds on which the sacraments rest. As truly remarked by Swedenborg, without such explanation the natural mind would be but too inclined to such reasonings as—“What is baptism but the pouring of water on the head of an infant; and what has this to do with salvation? Also, what is the Holy Supper but the taking of bread and wine, and what again has this to do with salvation ? Besides, where is the sanctity of these institutions, except what arises from the circumstance of their being received and enjoined by Church authority as holy and divine, while in themselves they are mere ceremonies, of which the churches say, that during the approach of God's Word to these elements, they become sacraments ?” (T. C. R. 667.) There are others, again who profanely argue, “What is the Holy Supper but a mere form and ceremony, which has acquired a sanctity from the authority of the clergy? For what is there to be received but common bread and wine ? And what a strange fiction is it to suppose that the body of Christ which hung upon the cross, and His blood which was then shed, are distributed along with the bread and wine to the communicants ? Not to mention other scandalons suggestions.” (T. C. R. 699.)
That the above are no imaginary cases, must be evident to every one who reflects on the vague conceptions which are current on the subject. It may possibly be a question with some, whether the profane reasonings mentioned in the last extract are worthy of serious attention ; and it is quite true that persons disposed to reject divine things can invent
plausible reasons for their infidelity ; it is nevertheless equally true, that to supply satisfactory reasons for religious observances greatly strengthens those who are in an affirmative disposition of mind, who otherwise might be distracted with doubts and difficulties raised by those destitute of such a disposition.
The force of Swedenborg's remarks is however further evident from the vague and in some respects contradictory views which have received the sanction of various religious bodies. Some, for instance hold that regeneration is conferred by baptism. Others have carried this idea to the extent of maintaining that those who die unbaptized are lost. But it does not enter into my purpose to reproduce here the controversies that have occurred on the various phases the subject has assumed in successive ages of the church's history, since few persons are ignorant of the disputes which have obtained on the respective merits of infant and adult baptism, with the issues that have arisen out of them. Sufficient has been said to show the importance of a clear and consistent view of the subject.
The same remarks apply to the Holy Supper, on which the church is divided between those who contend for what is termed “the real presence,” that is either the transmutation of the bread and wine into real divine substance, or the incorporation of the divine substance, in some mysterious manner, with the sacramental elements, and those who resolve it into eating and drinking the Lord's body and blood by faith, a position not very definite or intelligible. Neither, however, is it necessary to pursue these points.
Swedenborg explains that the use and meaning of the sacraments can only be understood when the spiritual sense of the Word, or the correspondence which exists between natural and spiritual things are known. (T. C. R. 667, 698.) More, however, is implied in this statement than at first appears. The Divine Word is the universal medium which conjoins heaven with man, and is so constituted that, whilst the latter read and understand it in the letter, the angelic ministrations associated with him, translate, so to speak, his natural ideas into their angelic perceptions, the spiritual angels into spiritual, and the celestial into celestial : in other words, whilst man understands it after a natural manner, angels read his thoughts after a spiritual mode. There is thus a correspondence between the sense in which the Word is respectively understood by angels and men, whereby, notwithstanding their states not being identical but entirely distinct, they can hold an interior communion by means of the Word, as the common ground where they meet.
So it is with the sacraments. Having been instituted by the Lord, the divine wisdom has appointed such forms as are in perfect accord or correspondence with the divine and angelic realities they are intended to express. Hence too, a divine and heavenly influence accompanies their administration : in the case of the Holy Supper, however, this depends on the state of the worshipper being in correspondence with that of the angelic life.
Many instances occur in the Old Testament Scriptures illustrative of this characteristic of correspondences. Thus, by virtue of the ark being, like the tabernacle in all its details, made in all respects after the pattern of heavenly things showed to Moses in the mount, was the instrument of a power inconceivable at this day. At its presence the waters of Jordan ceased to flow; the walls of Jericho were laid prostrate; the Philistines were smitten with emerods, their land overrun with mice, and Dagon their god thrown from his seat, and his head and hands severed from his trunk. Samson also, by virtue of his having been divinly appointed a Nazarite from his birth, possessed in consequence a superhuman strength, which forsook him when shorn of his locks, and returned when his hair began to grow. Many other instances might be cited which occurred under the Jewish economy, but the foregoing will suffice. The effects then produced were, it is true, of a physical character. This arose from their belonging to an admittedly typical dispensation, and designed to foreshadow the spiritual realities pertaining to the future spiritual dispensation, introduced at the coming of the Lord. Indeed the main peculiarities of the Jewish history arose from the circumstances of all their ordinances being based on the great law of correspondence. When they observed these, they enjoyed peace and prosperity; but when they neglected, or departed from them, they suffered physical evils correspondent with the nature of their disobedience. These ordinances may be ranged under two heads, one class consisting of washings, atonements, and legal cleansings, including the inaugural rite of circumcision, referring to the purification of the soul, and the other, including the Paschal Supper, to man's spiritual sustenance. The Lord when in the flesh superseded these carnal ordinances, and instituted in their place the two sacraments, in which are concentrated all the spiritual references, spread over the multifarious observances of the previous dispensation, and the spiritual influences these could convey.
The circumstance of what some are disposed to regard as their materialistic character, is what imparts to them their peculiar efficacy. It is the actual use of water, the appointed symbol of purification, in conjunction with the divine formula, that gives to baptism its proper fulness, and supplies the last link in the series of correspondences on which it rests, and the actual partaking of the elements in the Holy Supper, as an act of worship, gives a completeness to the ordinance which otherwise would be wanting. Bread is used as the symbol of the bread of life or the “divine good of the divine love" on which the spiritual life of man is fed ; whilst the wine symbolizes the “divine truth of the divine wisdom.” It is to be noted that the term employed by the Saviour, is “cup,” being more comprehensive in its signification, since the term wine would limit the symbol to spiritual truth, but the cup embraces all truth of every degree supplied by the Lord's hand. * The correspondence under its practical aspect consists in this, that when the outward ordinance is observed according to the conditions ordained by the Lord, the spiritual result corresponding to it follows, and this because being of divine institution, there is, notwithstanding the seeming simplicity of their form, an infinite fulness on the correspondence they bear, both in their signification and results, to the spiritual realities conveyed through their instrumentality.
To particularize these features more distinctly, baptism, according to Swedenborg, is both a sign and a memorial,—"a sign," he states, “perceived in heaven, that the person baptized belongs to the Lord's Church.” Considered in its outward form it is in a sense a guarantee that the person who undergoes the rite will be brought up under general Christian influences, and be instructed in the Christian religion. It is the introductory rite to the Christian Church and its surroundings, as circumcision was to the Israelitish ; and whilst the subject is thus received into the Christian community on earth, his spirit, as a correspondent result, is inserted among Christians in the spiritual world, and thus kept within the sphere of influences in accordance with the religious principles into which he has been baptized.
The subject of the varied character of the religious influx from the other world opens a large question—too large, indeed, to be entered on in this paper; nor is it necessary, these remarks being addressed to those who from investigation accept the authority of Swedenborg. Suffice it therefore to remark, that every one being in spiritual associa
* Many passages illustrative of the use of the term cup occur in the Scriptures, as where the Psalmist declares that the Lord is the portion of his cup (Psa. xvi. 5); that his cup runneth over (xxiii. 5); that he will take the cup of salvation, &c. (cxvi. 13).