“And I heard, but I understood not: then said I, O my Lord, what shall be the end of these things?
“And he said, Go thy way, Daniel: for the words are closed up and sealed till the time of the end.” – Daniel 12:8, 9
January 29th of this week is the 271st anniversary of the birth of Emanuel Swedenborg. He is becoming recognized more and more as one of the greatest scientists of the age, yet his scientific achievements were merely part of his preparation for his call to be the instrument of the Lord’s Second Coming.
When the Lord first came, He was seen in outward human form. He lived a life as concrete and visible as that of any man. Many things that He said and did are recorded, and are a plain matter of history. He came as a man among men. But His Second Coming was not in person. It was a new revelation of Himself in His Word. It was a coming to the minds of men – not to their bodily senses. It was an opening of the Scriptures, and a bringing to view of truths hitherto unperceived and unknown. This body of new truths is meant by the New Jerusalem in Revelation descending from God out of heaven. Those who receive these truths constitute the Church of the New Jerusalem on earth, a new Christian Church, distinguished from the former Christian Church by its new teachings about the Lord and His Word based upon the new knowledge of the spiritual sense of the Word, and not merely on its letter.
A church is not a mere body of doctrine; it is also a body of recipient human life, organized, enlightened, and directed by the doctrine. Yet the world at large takes little note of the New Church. It lacks reality to men because it is spiritual, and not natural. We are so immersed in external things that we are all more or less blind to the spiritual. As we read in Daniel, we “sleep in the dust of the earth.” There is no valid reason why the Lord’s Second Coming should not seem as real as the First. The trouble, whatever it may be, is in ourselves.
If our Bible were taken away and blotted out of the memory of mankind, all knowledge of God would be lost. There is no way of knowing the Lord except by means of the Word. Even when the Lord was on earth, when men saw Him and heard His voice, He was nothing to them unless they came into spiritual touch with Him. Those who knew Him as their Master and called themselves His disciples were very few in number, while the great mass of those who saw Him were totally ignorant that they were in the presence of the Lord. Indeed they thought of Him as an impostor and put Him to death. Those who did not establish some kind of spiritual connection with Him established none at all. So it always has been; so it must always be. No relation other than a spiritual one can have reality or lasting value. The Lord comes to us in His Word, and to it we must go to meet Him. So we are commanded, “Search the Scriptures, for… they are they which testify of me.”
The teachings which constitute the Second Coming of the Lord are above all things practical. They form the basis of a constant living relationship with God our Savior. The opened Word in which He is to be seen as in the clouds of heaven should be to us the means of His presence, the constant source of light and inspiration. The Psalmist writes, “Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” The opening of the Word did not do away with its letter, for that is the form in which it was given us on earth. We must go to the Word in its letter. But we must go to it with understanding. So the Psalmist also writes, “Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law.” The letter is made luminous from the higher senses within.
As we go to the Word in this new understanding of it, we come to see the Lord. We do not behold His outward person, yet our relation to Him is none the less absolutely personal. To recognize the Lord as present in His Word is to open the way to every kind of communication with Him. We gain a feeling of His nearness and helpfulness at all times. We are given fresh strength and courage as we seek to have Him lead us by His truth and teach us. There is no happiness worth possessing that is not revealed to us in the Word. Even though we understand very little of it, we can learn from it the things for which we should ask. Through learning and keeping its precepts we find what we need to live by and to keep us in the stream of the Divine providence.
Inmostly the Word teaches us about the Lord, and in its lower senses it is about the spiritual life of men. In the opened Word we see the Lord Jesus Christ as our Heavenly Father who came into the world to be its Redeemer and Savior. Outside of or apart from Him there is no God. All power is given unto Him in heaven and on earth. He is the one true object of love and worship for men and angels. There is no confusion here. He has not hidden Himself beyond our reach, but is He who came down to the plane of our earthly experience, that we may know Him surely. He who was the Alpha has become also the Omega. He who was the first has become the last. He is forever present with us, forever standing in the midst of us, our living Lord and Savior.
To know Him in this way is the first step toward a genuine dependence upon Him. We do not have to believe in Him merely for the sake of things which He did centuries ago, but can say, “Because He is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.” Today many churches still look forward to the Second Advent of the Lord. The manner in which He will come is variously interpreted, from very literal ideas of a terrible judgment day to the suggestion that the Second Coming is merely the gradual enlightenment and advance of human thought.
But in the New Church we have definite knowledge concerning the Second Advent as well as the First. There were conditions which necessitated the First Coming of the Lord. Through perversion and tradition the Old Testament had been so weakened and impaired as a means of the Lord’s approach to men that He had to come in person in the flesh to restore it. Then later the Gospels were so darkened by the naturalism and rationalism of the human mind that the Lord had to come again in a new way and establish a new medium of approach by opening the spiritual sense of the Word. The First and Second Comings are both specific events, to meet specific conditions brought about by the acts of men in cutting off the Lord’s approach to them. Unless these conditions had come into being, there would have been no need for either the First or the Second Coming.
We should think of the Lord as being present and operative with all men alike through all the ages, but men change, and their needs change. In His First Coming the Lord provided a new means of approach to men by coming in the flesh so that He could be perceived by men in their natural, sensuous states. In His Second Coming He provided a new approach through the understanding of His Word and of Himself through the Word. As a result of His First Coming the Lord is immediately present with all men. His Humanity was assumed and glorified for that purpose. The Lord’s Second Coming is likewise for all men, and through it He is present in the spiritual light and spiritual power of His opened Word with all men of all religions to the extent that this spiritual light and power are received.
Today our church is too much inclined to turn aside to irrelevant matters, to subordinate and external issues. Now more earnestly than ever before, as the ambitions and consequent thinking of men become more and more materialistic and self-centered, we ought to turn to the vital principles of our religion and study and proclaim them, for they are the source of any strength that we may have not only in overcoming our own evils but in meeting and ministering to the needs of our modern world. It was to meet these new needs that the Lord opened the Word. The Lord gave us the new revelation because we need it and the world needs it. Only as we individually and collectively seek to advance constantly in our knowledge and understanding of it and make use of it in our personal lives and in all our dealings with others do we really cooperate with the Lord in the building of His kingdom.