« AnteriorContinuar »
character which are not so revealed. We cannot, for instance, say they, maintain the benevolence of the Deity in the way in which we understand the word benevolence, nor have we any evidence that He is just in the way in which we understand the word justice. It is well known that the late John Stuart Mill would have regarded the claims of Christianity with more favour had its character been more Manichæan, that is to say, had the spirit of evil been allowed a position more nearly equal to that of the spirit of good in the government of the universe.
42. Let us here pause to indicate two points of similarity between this scientific school and the system of Christianity. Both, we conceive, maintain in some sense the supremacy of law or the invariability of the procedure adopted by the Deity in the government of the universe (Art. 36); both maintain likewise that the outer works of the visible universe are insufficient to manifest certain attributes of the Deity. Here, however, the likeness ends; this scientific school conceive they have no information beyond the visible universe, while the Christian system asserts the existence of an invisible order of things, and the fact of communications having taken place between the two for the double purpose of revealing God to man, and of raising man towards God.
43. Leaving now.the views of those who may be said to constitute the extreme left, let us shortly consider the various opinions held regarding a future state by those who, though often differing widely from one another, yet rank themselves within the pale of Christianity.
Not a few who revere the sacred writings, believe nevertheless that the descriptions of the unseen world contained therein are purely allegorical. These do not believe in the existence of evil spirits exercising an influence over the mind of man. Satan is regarded by them as a personification of evil (Alaßóros, the accuser, Devil's advocate) rather than as possessing a real objective existence. The worst half of the unseen world having thus been got rid of, the other half follows in due course. Such men do not believe in the unseen presence of angels (äryyelos, messenger) ; in fine they conceive that there is nothing above man but the Deity, and that He always acts according to rigid law. It is an immediate step from this to believe in the futility of prayer, which is looked upon as necessarily devoid of any objective influence, although the practice of it may be regarded as possessing a beneficial subjective effect. A future life is believed to be conceivable, but only under conditions and in a universe about which we know and can know nothing. At this point, however, the views of what inay be called the left centre come into contact with those of the extreme left.
44. But there are others quite disposed to believe in the existence of the unseen world, who yet regard as figurative a large part of the Biblical descriptions. Some, like the Church of Rome, consider the separation of the souls of men after death into two categories, and only two, as insufficient and unsupported by the spirit of Scripture ; while others cannot admit the eternity of misery, but believe that the most reprobate will ultimately be reclaimed and elevated inte the regions of bliss.
Others again, arguing from some expressions in the
Bible, regard immortality as a boon reserved for the good alone, believing that the wicked will be annihilated, both soul and body, in hell. No doubt by an energetic nature such a fate would be regarded as even worse than endless misery:
Sad cure ! for who would lose,
Devoid of sense and motion.
45. Such are a few of the ways in which the state. ments of Christ and his Apostles regarding immortality have been interpreted by those who call themselves Christians. But amid this great diversity there is yet one principle common to all. It is imagined that something peculiar in the history of the world took place at the coming of Christ, which has not since been repeated. Communications were then made to mankind which are regarded as unique, and the truth of which it is held will only be verified in the case of each individual when he has passed into that country from which we receive no travellers' tales.
Notwithstanding this general belief, not a few have arisen pretending to have received a new and supplementary revelation. In most of these cases the scientific historian may at once come to a conclusion without any violation of his impartiality,—they are so manifestly the products of delusion if not of imposture. There is however one system which merits fuller treatment, inasmuch as it has led to a
mode of viewing the spiritual world which has many followers even at the present day.
46. Emanuel Swedenborg, the apostle of this system, was in many respects a remarkable man. Living more than a century ago, and during the time when Science was pausing for the spring she has since made, he seems to have foreshadowed, if he did not anticipate, many of the doctrines now current. We are not however now concerned with his purely physical speculations.
Swedenborg has written at great length regarding the nature and destiny of man, and the constitution of the unseen world into which he asserts he had the power of entering.
He assumes the existence of a human or semihuman race before Adam, of which he remarks that they lived as beasts. “Man,' he tells us, considered in himself, is nothing but a beast.
Man's peculiarity over animals—a peculiarity they neither have nor can have—consists in the presence of the Lord in his will and understanding. It is in consequence of this conjunction with the Lord that man lives after death; and although he should exist like a beast, caring for nothing but himself and his relations, yet the Lord's mercy is so great, being Divine and Infinite, that He never leaves him, but continually breathes into him His own life, whereby he is enabled to recognise what is good and evil and true and false.'
Regarding man's mortal nature we are told by Swedenborg that 'man at birth puts on the grosser substances of nature, his body consisting of such. These grosser substances by death he puts off, but
substances of nature, which are next to those that are spiritual. These purer substances serve thereafter as his body, the continent and expression of his mind.'1
'A man at death,' he tells us again, escapes from his material body as from a rent or worn-out vesture, carrying with him every member, faculty, and function complete, with not one wanting, yet the corpse is as heavy as when he dwelt therein.'
Regarding the spiritual world, he tells us that the whole natural world corresponds to the spiritual world collectively and in every part; for the natural world exists and subsists from the spiritual world, just as an effect does from its cause.' He also tells us 'that if in the spiritual world two desire intensely to see each other, that desire at once brings about a meeting. When any angel goes from one place to another, whether it is in his own city, or in the courts, or the gardens, or to others out of his own city, he arrives sooner or later, just as he is ardent or indifferent, the way itself being shortened or lengthened in proportion.
Change of place being only change of state, it is evident that approximations in the spiritual world arise from similitudes of mind and removals from dissimilitudes; and thus spaces are merely signs of inner differences.
From that cause alone the hells are altogether separated from the heavens.'
Of God he says: 'The Divine is incomprehensible even by the angels, for there is no ratio between the finite and the infinite. 'No man or angel can ever approach the Father
"Life and Writings of Swedenborg hy William White.