THE FIRST SUNDAY AFTER THE EPIPHANY,
"Let no man beguile you of your reward in a voluntary humility, and worshipping of angels, intruding into those things which he hath not seen, vainly puffeth up by his fleshly mind, and not holding the Head, from which all the body, by joints and bands having nourishment ministered, and knit together, increaseth with the increase of God.--Colossians ii., 18,19.
Every Priest or Presbyter of our Church, at his ordination, was asked, "Will you be ready with all faithful diligence, to banish and drive away from the Church all erroneous and strange doctrines contrary to God's Word?" and every one answered, "I will, the Lord being my helper." This very necessary task is to be discharged, not by force or fraud, even if that were possible, but by argument and persuasion, public and private, and, if need be, by rebuke, denunciation of the error, and exclusion from the Lord's Table. Every Bishop has given at his consecration the same promise a second time, in almost the same words. Those who have placed themselves under these most sacred obligations cannot doubt their general duty, to expose the falsehood of any doctrine by which any of their charge may be liable to be at all endangered, and to warn them against the snare all the more, if they do not perceive it to be a snare.
But it is at this very point where real danger begins, that some plausible maxims are encountered, which have not been without their weight in the minds even of Christians, who loved both the truth [3/4] and peace. It is thus said that an opinion, true or false, only gains strength and spreads the more, when it is openly opposed. Be silent, it is said, and it will either die away or cease to extend itself beyond its present limits. It is perfectly plain, however, that reasoning like this is exactly that which may be employed in the case of any disease which has increased till it became alarming or fatal. Did you employ medical treatment? You may be told that the treatment caused the mischief. Bid you employ no medical treatment? You may certainly be told, with a much greater appearance of justice, that the mischief proceeded from your neglect. I suppose, however, that no father, solicitous for the threatened life of a sick child, would be as much disturbed by the fear that, through timely attention to the complaint, he might have unintentionally pushed it on, as by the dread that he might have neglected it too long. In the same manner when an error grows up and lives on, it is easy to say, either that it is because it was opposed, or because it was not opposed, by the clergy. They who merely reason from the result are always liable to mistake the way of duty. There cannot be the smallest doubt that it is right to guard those whom we love, those for whom we are in any degree responsible, against every serious danger which we can foresee; and this duty is not at all affected by the result. The natural, obvious, and divinely appointed way of checking the progress of error, is, to detect, expose and refute it by scriptural argument and warning. It at any time it should spread in defiance of such efforts, we may be sure that without them it [4/5] would have spread more rapidly and more disastrously.
There is another objection which comes home to our kindlier feelings. While the error was at a distance, to contend earnestly against it was inoffensive, but was also quite useless. To argue against the Mormon doctrine wounds no one, but is of no profit. But when the error approaches and sits down amongst us, it necessarily happens that those on whom it lays its grasp are our friends and neighbors. We love them, we respect them; we wish to live in union and concord; we are not blind to their various merits; and we are all bound together by mutual kindnesses. It is not possible seriously to assail the opinions of any without danger of giving pain; and certainly it is not expedient to condemn them, except when it is to be done with great seriousness. Whatever mode may be adopted, reproof and censure can never be made pleasing. Are we then to forbear? Woe to us if we prove faithless to our duty for such a cause; if we permit those whom we love to pass unwarned into danger and delusion!
I am about, therefore, to speak of the delusion which derives its name and origin from the writings of Swedenborg; and to speak of it for the very reason that it is hero; that it has a foothold in our community; and that whatever powers of persuasion it may possess, are exercised to beguile the uninstructed and the unstable. For the personal character of several of those by whom this doctrine is professed, I entertain a very high degree of respect; there is none of them, so far as I know, from whom I ever received [5/6] any unkindness; and I could wish not to inflict the smallest pain by any words which the truth may require to be uttered. At the same time, there is no room in subjects like these for any great influence of personal considerations. If that which is termed, but never ought to be termed, "the New Church," if the Church of Swedenborg be right, the old Church, the Holy Catholic Church, the Church of Christ is grossly wrong. The whole Church of Christ, in all its branches and denominations, is constantly assailed by those who believe in the doctrines of Swedenborg, as if it were holy in darkness, blind to the truth, and engaged in teaching mighty and mischievous corruptions. We are not called to retaliate, except as, from the nature of things, that which thus opposes the Church must be opposite to the truth, and necessarily worthy of condemnation. But it is not the province of Christianity to defend its own cause so much as to attack and overthrow, by the arms of truth, all which is hostile to the declared will of God our Saviour. We must refuse to stand on the defensive; we must push error back upon its own ground; breakdown its fastnesses, if it has any; expose its hiding places; disclose it as it is; and if it be possible, leave it no disguise through which an honest heart can be deceived. We would destroy the error that we may rescue the erring. I offer no apology, then, for doing that which is my duty; for attempting to show what Swedenborgianism attempts to be; what delusions it embraces; and, beyond these delusions, how it contradicts the Word of God. Let us only pray that all may be done with that temper which the Holy Ghost sheds [6/7] abroad in the heart, and that we all may be enlightened by the truth as it is in Jesus!
Swedenborgianism is the name which should be carefully given to the doctrinal and ecclesiastical system of the followers of Swedenborg. There is but one Church of Christ; it embraces all who have received Christian baptism and hold the Christian faith; there can be no "New Church" in the sense in which that designation is claimed; as if the ancient and only Church of Christ had been superseded. The title of "the Church of the New Jerusalem," it would be blasphemous to give, if we did it deliberately, to a body which we believe to be of mere human institution, and to be founded in the wildest perversions of the Scriptures. If any man can suppose the Swedenborgian sect to be the New Jerusalem of the Revelation, he, of course, can give them that name with a good conscience; but with the holiest, heavenliest words, the rest of mankind should not dare to trifle.
Swedenborgianism is simply tire system of belief and practice taught by Emmanuel Swedenborg. He was a Swedish nobleman, a man of scientific knowledge, and a voluminous writer, much engaged in speculations on the nature of the soul. When he was fifty-seven years old, which was in the year 1845, he conceived that he had intercourse with the world of spirits; and the various thoughts on certain subjects which thenceforth arose in his mind (and he was a prodigious dreamer), he seems honestly to have taken for revelations. He lived till the age of eighty-four, and continued, in his eccentric way, to write on till his books were twenty-seven heavy and exceedingly [7/8] tedious volumes, in striking contrast with the variety, sublimity, and beauty of the Holy Scriptures. He did not attempt to found a sect, or to make many proselytes; he did not pretend to work miracles, nor to prophesy, beyond a few slight instances of supposed disclosures of things which he could not know through the senses; instances, which, if true, were similar to clairvoyance, and to which he attached little importance. Such was the man, grave, moral, learned; not eminently wise or gifted, or, so far as we know, eminently devout and holy; a speculative enthusiast, a monomaniac, a man whom his contemporaries regarded as of doubtful sanity. A few persons believed his revelations while he lived; a few have embraced them since; and although at first it seems to have been no part of their design, they have been compelled by consistency to separate themselves from the Christian Church, and form a new communion. It is very small; embracing at the end of a century from the time of Swedenborg, in the United States only thirty ministers and about three thousand members: and in Great Britain perhaps as many more.
Whatever parts of Christian truth may be maintained by this communion just as by all Christians, cannot, of course be considered as bearing the name of Swedenborgianism. Whatever just thoughts or correct views may be entertained by them, which it needed no prophet to discover, are the common property of all men. They stand as a sect or communion, through their adherence to Swedenborg as the medium of divine revelations. Here lies, my brethren, a peculiar danger of that system; one which may make [8/9] us contemplate it with more pain and dread than some which contain less of truth, or which teach doctrines more remote from the gospel. All sects which name themselves Christians, and nothing more, appeal only to the Scriptures, to human reason, and to the belief of the Church from the beginning; none of them claim any new inspiration. A person may misinterpret the Scriptures, and may be brought to a more correct interpretation. A person may reason wrong, and may learn to reason right. A person may mistake the tradition of the Church, or he may attribute to it less or more authority than it deserves; he may even submit to such a control as that of the Papacy, and yet may shake this off, and come to the simple truth through the mere force of that truth as drawn from the Scriptures, or from right reason, or from the Church of primitive times; for his very submission to the Papacy was sustained by arguments from those sources, however erroneously applied. But the Swedenborgian errs, not because he reads the Scriptures otherwise than rightly; not because he reasons ill; not because he has any regard for the authority of the Church; but because he sets Scripture, reason and the Church all aside, and yields up his whole soul submissively to the authority of one blind man. I do not think that I go too far in saying that, as a teacher and an authority, Swedenborg is placed above all the apostles and prophets, and even above our blessed Saviour. He professes to reveal much, more than our Saviour revealed. He claims to make the words of our Saviour mean what they do not obviously mean, what they obviously do not mean, and what no [9/10] man before him ever dreamed to be their meaning, he says that our Saviour did not mean what our Saviour knew every human being, from the very constitution of his nature, must understand Him to mean. He substitutes a new Church for that which our Saviour established. I do not at all design to say that either Swedenborg or his followers ever intended to lower the reverence of men for the Redeemer, or to compare Him with any mortal. But so far as our Lord is a guide and a law-giver, they do certainly place the word of Swedenborg in the place of the word of Christ.
Thus, my dear brethren, you perceive that Swedenborgianism attempts to be, not a form of Christianity, but an addition to Christianity, and a substitution for Christianity. The Bible, interpreted by common sense, by reason, by the Church, or by individual conscience, is not its rule; but a certain part of the Bible, interpreted by Swedenborg, and interpreted in a manner so utterly his own, so wild, so destitute of all support, that no person can for a moment credit the interpretation, except because he looks on the interpreter as far more enlightened than any apostle. It assumes to be, to this extent, a new religion, having a new author.
Such being the work undertaken by Swedenborgianism, we will next allude to the delusions, which, on such authority, it holds and promulgates as truth divine. Under this head I do not mention that which is directly contradictory to the word of God, but only that which the judgment of all mankind, except those who believe it, pronounces to be as little credible as [10/11] the dreams of insanity. Of this order are the following statements, all taken from the writings of Swedenborg, where they are given as the account or the results of his own visits to the invisible world, or of his conferences with higher spirits. That he was admitted into heaven and hell. That all the angels and devils were originally men, of the human race. That those have who deviated from the Swedenborgian view of the Trinity, to either side, cannot be admitted into heaven. That those in the church who have denied the Lord, and acknowledged only the Father, are in the other world "deprived of the faculty of thinking what is true," "become dumb or speak foolishly," "miss their way," and "their arms hang down and dangle about as if destitute of strength in the joints." That Unitarians or Socinians are there "carried forward a little towards the right," and sent down into the deep. That heaven corresponds in form and divisions with one enormous man. That the Lord appears in heaven as a sun and as a moon. That "in heaven it is never permitted to any one to stand behind another and look at the back of his head." That different orders of angels wear garments more or less shining, "but the angels of the inmost heaven are naked." That there are in heaven houses, gardens, temples, and pulpits; and "if any one stand behind the pulpit, the preacher is confused." That there being two classes of angels, the celestial and the spiritual, "the speech of the former sounds much from the vowels o and u, that of the latter from e and i." That the influx of the Lord himself into man is into his forehead and face; that of the [11/12] celestial angels into one part of the brain, that of the spiritual angels into another. That anxiety and melancholy in man are caused by certain spirits who take their place in the region of the stomach, "and love things undigested and malignant, such as unwholesome food." That "the heathen conic into heaven more easily than Christians at this day." That infants, as soon as they die, are delivered to "angels of the female sex," and taught to speak. That from that world of spirits into which, immediately after death, men go, and which is between heaven and hell, there are holes or caverns leading down to the abyss, and from these "are exhaled nauseous stenches," which the wicked seek with delight. That "some who die, when they lie upon the bier, think even in their cold body." That Swedenborg himself, while in this life, had experienced the whole passage from this life into another, that he might fully know how it is when men die. That the process of revival in another life begins with the act of angels, who "seem as it were to roll off the coat of the left eye" toward the nose, that the eye may see. That after death, men who have loved falsehood, repair to such places as clefts of rocks; conspirators to dark rooms and corners; men proud of science to sandy places; men who studied doctrines, but did not live by them, to heaps of stones; avaricious persons to cells where "swinish filth" is found; voluptuaries to places full of uncleanness; adulterers to brothels; and revengeful persons to places full of dead corpses. That all these choose such abodes, and have there their gratification. That [12/13] Swedenborg saw the great Luther in the world of spirits, not yet admitted to heaven; informed him of the end of the old Church, and the substitution of the new; and led him over, by degrees, to this belief, though at first "he became very indignant and stormed." That he saw the pious Melancthon in a cold, filthy stone chamber, wrapped up in a bear-skin. That he attempted in vain to convert the pious Calvin, who finally went to a cavern under ground, with other predestinarians, "where they are forced to work for their food, and are all enemies to one another." That the pious and zealous Moravians could not abide in heaven, but cast themselves out headlong. That the planet Saturn is the most distant from the sun. That men before the fall did not breathe with their lungs. That various diseases with which Swedenborg was afflicted, even such as the toothache, proceeded not from natural causes, but from the influx of evil spirits. That in hell there are such punishments as bruising a sinner in a mortar, or grinding him in a mill, his fellow sinners being the executioners. That in heaven the plays of boys and little children are a part of the celestial festivities; and that all things earthly are repeated there; houses, chambers, gardens, libraries, books, papers, colleges, museums, all mechanic arts, feasts, food, and wine. That in hell Swedenborg saw two of the Popes, one holding his feet in a basket full of serpents, and the other sitting upon an ass which was on fire, with red serpents creeping at its sides. That he saw David, the man after God's own heart, amongst wicked spirits, himself engaged in most horrid and shocking conduct. That the [13/14] inhabitants of the planet Mercury are intellectual, but haughty and excessively loquacious, and choose rather the form of crystalline globes than that of men; that those of Jupiter live in low wooden houses, sit cross-legged, are devoted to the doctrines of the Swedenborgian Church, and have been sometimes vexed with popish emissaries; that those of Mars have yellow foreheads and black chins, and wear clothes made of bark; that those of Saturn do not bury their dead, but cover them with boughs of trees. That some of the inhabitants of Venus are giants, while those of the moon are as small as children, and speak, not from the lungs, but from the abdomen, with a voice like thunder.
Why do we repeat these preposterous tales? Only that the true character of the delusion may appear, which must be received by any who admit the revelations of Swedenborg. You may possibly be told, however, that there is no obligation to receive them; that he sometimes erred; that the system does not rest on his authority, but commends itself by its own harmony and beauty. On that supposition, it stands on the same level with all speculations; and this is a day in which many speculations are sent forth more inviting than these; and we must be free to say that neither the system nor its author displays any such superior wisdom as should entitle it to a preference above speculations which our own minds are quite competent to originate in our idlest moments. But no; when the notion that Swedenborg saw heaven and hell is removed, the whole fabric sinks into dust and confusion; and whoever believes that he did see [14/15] heaven and hell, must receive his statements of all which he saw there, down to the most grotesque and enormous of his reveries. If there be any who, taking the name of a "New Church," would arrange its doctrines and its practice without even the guidance of Swedenborg, simply by their own judgment and fancy, and in entire freedom from the authority of the old Church and the Bible, wherein is that better than simple Deism?
But now let us advance to a higher charge than that of delusion, however vast. The doctrines of Swedenborg are not only absurd, but directly contradictory to the Word of God. They are so, in the broadest mode, by asserting that the language of the Scriptures has not its plain, natural, and obvious meaning, but a hidden sense which no one but Swedenborg ever could interpret, a sense which may put upon them any meaning at his pleasure, however foreign to their import; a sense which often is directly in the face of their very language. Our Lord, for example, has said that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God; and rich men, from the time when our Lord spake, have remembered His words with more or less of profit; but Swedenborg says that "by a camel is signified the principle of knowledge and of science in general, and by the eye of a needle, spiritual truth;" that "by the rich are meant those who are in the knowledges of truth and good, and by riches the knowledges themselves;" and after this, I had almost said lucid explanation, that "the rich come into heaven as easily as the poor." Our Saviour [15/16] says that in heaven they neither marry nor are given in marriage; but Swedenborg says that "there are marriages in heaven as well as on earth," and describes their whole character and arrangements. With such a key as his, with that pretended inward meaning, he may contradict any other words of Scripture as readily as these; for the supposition of such a key is fatal to the supreme authority of the whole.
He contradicts the word of God, by denying the divine authority of the books of the Old Testament, and of all the New except the; four Gospels and the Revelation. We have to choose between Swedenborg and Paul; for Swedenborg denies both the doctrine of Paul aiid his inspiration. After this, it becomes a question of comparatively little importance whether he may chance on any subject to agree with that Bible of which he gives so much to the winds. The ground of agreement, where he does agree, is not submission to the Bible.
He contradicts it by denying the distinction of the three Divine Persons, asserting a Trinity in one Person, and that Person at once Christ and the Father; so that all the words of our Lord respecting the Father and the Son are rendered less than unmeaning, and all prayer is to be offered, not through Christ to the Father, but to Christ as the Father; by declaring that the human nature of our Lord was "full of impure and unhallowed principles" like ours; by denying entirely the atonement and propitiation through the blood of the Lamb of God; by denying entirely the intercession of our Lord as our great High Priest, and the duty and propriety of offering our prayers in [16/17] His name; by denying entirely the great truth, so urged by St. Paul, of justification through faith in the Son of God, which he calls a heresy; by denying the resurrection of the body, in direct opposition to the words of our Saviour; and by denying, as directly, the second coming of Christ to judge the world, the last judgment having, as he says, taken place one hundred years ago. It is not my present duty to prove these doctrines of the Scriptures. You all know perfectly that they are written there, as plainly as the numbers of the chapters and verses. You all, I trust, believe the Scriptures; and if the Scriptures, in these respects, are true, Swedenborgianism, in these respects, is false; and such falsehood must be perilous to the soul which makes it its support.
The word of God is contradicted, too, by the morals which Swedenborg and Swedenborgianism have dared to inculcate. They have represented, both in theory and in practice, the road to heaven as broad and easy, and requiring little of self-denial and of taking up the cross. They have depreciated the importance of prayer; limiting it, at least formerly, in public devotion, to the use of the Lord's Prayer, and very little urging it in private. They have recommended those amusements which most tend to divert the mind from serious thoughts and habits, and to create a general frivolity of character; such as games at cards, billiards, and dice, dances, theatrical entertainments. They have taught, not only that polygamy is no sin for the Mohametan, but that he has had his concubines as well as his wives in the lower heaven. Swedenborg himself taught that there were [17/18] causes legitimate, just, real, and sufficient, for the practice of concubinage, in certain cases, even amongst Christians; and those causes were such as are exceedingly numerous and exceedingly common. He teaches, also, and recommends, in certain cases, the practice of that very sin, of which the Apostle Paul says, "Let it not be once named among you, as becometh saints." In truth, the writings of Swedenborg linger and expatiate on subjects which we are compelled, not merely in the house of God, but in any respectable company, to pass with the faintest allusion. I do not doubt that those who otherwise follow him, blush at those pages; and to many of them they are probably unknown.
The painful task which 1 proposed is now performed. I have shown what Swedenborgianism attempts to be; then, what is the extent of the delusions which it invokes; and then, how directly it contradicts and overthrows the word of God. That such a system should have any attractions for any minds, may seem wonderful, but admits an explanation. It promises to disclose the secrets of the life to come; and that is a knowledge which to some is so welcome that they will accept any tale of such wonders without the color of real evidence. It softens and smooths down all the more mysterious and difficult doctrines of the Scriptures, professing generally to receive them in name while it removes their substance, and offering also a key through which any doctrine may be explained away. It presents, in practice, the easiest of all religions; counselling little more than to wish well to others, and seek your own enjoyment, assured that at death you will [18/19] pass to the state which you have chosen. It embraces but a small number of persons; the smallness of their number and the peculiarity of their opinions bind them closely together. It is not a religion for the ignorant, the poor, or the penitent; but it offers sufficiently pleasant associations for those who seek, in their religion, rather to be pleased than to please God and to walk in the truth.
Its one sole difficulty, my dear brethren, is, it is not true; it is one vast, utter delusion, resting on the speculations and dreams of one, who would have been justly deemed a blasphemer, if he had not been a monomaniac. Hard as it is to speak plainly of such subjects with tenderness to feelings which we would not willingly wound, yet, as a Christian pastor and bishop, who must give an account, I must speak plainly. Those numerous volumes which Swedenborgianism would substitute for the Bible, far from indicating genius, depth, or wisdom, are superficial, absurd, and worthless. You may be told that you do not understand what you read in them, and you may suppose that there must be more there than you can understand; but only a little patience is required to see all the meaning which they have, and to see that it has no value. Let me entreat you, then, to withdraw yourselves, and to seek to withdraw all over whom you have influence, from lending any sanction to a system, which, if it could widely prevail, would be most disastrous and fatal to the interests of society and to the souls of men. There can be no compromise. If there is any thing which you love and revere in the Gospel or the Church of Christ, it is [19/20] virtually renounced and trodden under foot when that Church is exchanged for a new Church, and that Gospel for another Gospel. Remember the words which were read as the text of this discourse, and which, from first to last, are so strikingly applicable to its subject. "Let no man beguile you of your reward in a voluntary humility, and worshipping of angels, intruding into those things which he hath not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind, and not holding the Head, from which all the body, by joints and bands having nourishment ministered, and knit together, increaseth with the increase of God "
Should I address any who have given their conli-denee to the claims of this founder of a new religion, I would embrace the opportunity of pleading with them, in the name of their Redeemer. He died for your salvation; "there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby ye must be saved." Forsake Him not for the dreams of a false Christ or false prophet. I say it respectfully, but earnestly, solemnly, entreatingly, for Jesus' sake. You know not what you do. Much of Christianity you have carried with you into the Swedenborgian school; enough to make some bright examples of benevolence and of patience. The Christian part is excellent; and for it those individuals shall have our respect, our honor, our esteem, our affection. The Swedenborgian partis all error, delusion, and danger. Return to the cross of your Saviour, on which Sweden borgianism refuses to rely. Return to the Church of the living God, which Swedenborgianism would fain supplant and overthrow. Return to the holy [20/21] and blessed word of divine truth which Swedenborgianism so daringly perverts and so largely rejects. I know how much I venture in speaking as I have spoken; but there will be hours when the Spirit will touch your hearts, and tell you that dreams cannot do the work of His truth and grace; then listen, and return!