“Thus saith the Lord, The heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool.” – Isaiah 66:1
The great gap in the world’s knowledge is that of knowledge of the Lord. This is in part due to a lack of understanding of the Word. By the majority of Christians the Word is thought to be the work of fallible men. But when it is understood in the light of the revelation given to the New Church, it is seen to be the source and repository of knowledge of spiritual things.
Our text sets forth in very few words the three fundamental facts that lie back of the explanation of all things, namely, the Lord, the heavens, and the earth. Translated into more abstract terms it refers to the Divine life, the substantial spiritual world, and this ultimate realm of physical matter. This is the great trine into which the universe is resolvable, it being the expression in its broadest reach of the primal law of end, cause, and effect which, because it reflects the inseparable union of love, wisdom, and use in the one God, lies at the base of all unity and being.
Let us note how this is embodied in the language of Scripture. “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool.” The Lord is here pictured as a sovereign or ruler sitting upon a throne with His feet resting upon the earth. The Divine is the first great cause of all things. All the purposes, all the powers of creation and preservation reside in God, Whom since His incarnation we call the Lord. “The heavens are thine,” writes the Psalmist, “the earth is also thine.” The vast realms of the spiritual and natural worlds were put forth by the Lord from Himself by His own power as successive and distinct planes of being, and are subject to His instant preservation and control for the sake of providing a theater for the expression of His love and wisdom. Love cannot subsist upon itself, it must have objects; and the sum of the Divine purpose in the creation of the two worlds was to fashion eventually the spiritual and physical organism we call man, to impart something of His own life to it, and to gift it with the capacity rationally to understand the Divine purpose and to reciprocate the Divine affection. In this man would find his happiness, God the satisfaction of His love, and the created universe the reason for its being.
The Word of the Lord is the authority for the truth, so often stated in the writings of the church, that the Divine is the first cause of all things, that in the spiritual world are mediate and efficient causes, and that in the natural world are the uses and effects wherein the Divine creative and governing forces terminate and subsist. The starting point therefore of all true philosophy is that which is contained in the opening words of the book of Genesis: “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.”
It is not so much to the general theme, however, but to the position which the spiritual world holds that we would direct our attention this morning. The spiritual world is God’s throne, the seat of His power, the world of causation, the only connection between God and nature. The spiritual world transmits the Divine influx to the material world, and is the origin of nature’s laws and forces. Out of the elements of that world the spirit or dominant part of man is fashioned, and in the spiritual world every man finds his eternal home. Knowledge of the spiritual world is therefore the key to the knowledge of the natural world, and only in the light of knowledge of the spiritual world can natural conditions and phenomena and facts be rightly seen.
The profound ignorance of the great majority in Christendom concerning the spiritual world and their unreasoning incredulity in the face of most authentic disclosures of it constitute the great gap in the world’s knowledge. In spite of the vast amount of information that the sciences have amassed during the past century, which is still piling up every hour, practically nothing is known, or at least acknowledged, concerning the destiny of life, the spiritual world. Few even think of it except when they bury their dead. The labors of Societies for Psychical Research have added nothing substantial as to knowledge of life after death. Yet such knowledge is essential to the world’s intellectual and spiritual progress.
The development of Swedenborg’s knowledge illustrates this. The opening of his spiritual sight caused radical changes in his views. He often saw how impossible of attainment were some of the things for which he had intellectually striven previously without the added light of the spiritual world. He acknowledged that his attempts to conceive of creation were futile until he saw the sun of the spiritual world wherein is the Lord, and how the objects in that world came spontaneously into being in spiritual forms and needed but to be infilled with matter through the cooperation of the natural sun to be rendered fixed as they are on earth.
Swedenborg was not specifically commissioned to reveal facts concerning the spiritual world; his mission was to unfold the internal or spiritual sense of the Word. But the Word cannot be understood unless one knows how things are circumstanced in the spiritual world. We ourselves are hardly sensible of the extent to which we draw upon the facts of the spiritual world for the illustration and confirmation of what we believe.
One of the persistent problems of the world is how to correlate God and nature. Efforts to do this have had various results. With some they have led to materialism, which is the elimination of God from nature. With others they have led to pantheism, which is the identification of God with nature. Then there are the various forms of idealism which identify nature with the mind or with God.
To the Newchurchman, however, the immortality of the soul, the reality of heaven and hell, and their eternal duration are no longer mere theories but demonstrated facts. This is to them no longer debatable ground. Knowledge has supplanted theory and speculation.
Every man is called and fitted for a special work. Swedenborg’s revelation can be tested by reason and Scripture and by universal experience. All other systems fail because they are built on falsities. Mental activity was never so great as it is today. The accumulated material fills our libraries to repletion. Science has made vast strides, but comprehensive and enduring philosophy lags. Theories put forth today crumble tomorrow.
In the Apocalypse Revealed number 153 there is mention of certain ones who on their entry into the spiritual world were seized with a desire to build. Being given the materials, they proceeded to place one upon another seemingly to themselves in the most orderly manner and with the strongest mortar, but in reality without order or coherence, so that what was built by day fell down in the night, and this until from weariness they ceased to build. This happened to them because it imaged their religious and philosophic systems of thought which, composed of the falsities of the consummated church embraced by them as truths, were without rationality. To this some present states of knowledge seem akin. Some in perplexity have grown weary with building. To them all things are about equally true, because they believe that it is not possible to arrive at anything stable. Irrational as this is and unsatisfying as it must ultimately become, it is largely due to the fact that through the world’s failure to appreciate the commanding position and to utilize the revealed facts of the spiritual world no design of magnitude and grandeur sufficient to lift this vast mass of science out of the dust where it lies and key it into one universal temple of enduring wisdom has yet been apprehended.
The Lord said to His disciples as they gazed on Jerusalem, “See ye not all these things? verily I say unto you, There shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down.” That prophetic day is at hand. The temple of religious thought is in ruins, because it was built of falsities.
But a new temple is being built. The prophecy is being fulfilled, “But in the last days it shall come to pass, that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established in the top of the mountains, and it shall be exalted above the hills; and people shall flow into it. And many nations shall come, and say, Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, and to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for the law shall go forth of Zion, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.”
The task is too great for men. So it is written:
“Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it: except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain.”