Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Rev. Burgess on Swedenborgian Delusion in 1870

Excerpts from an excellent sermon on Swedenborgianism.

A.D. 1858,

...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  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.
...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  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 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 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.
...The painful task which I 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 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.
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 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 "

Thank you to the preacher.  Well said and cogent.

The last verse in the ESV is Colossians 2:18

 Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind.

I think besides showing how the Bible is completely set aside and Swedenborg put into place as an authority in its place, we can see why, even though everything seems inane and preposterous, it holds an attraction for some.  -- It is easy.

Easy--is what I said to someone the other day about Relativism.  It's easy.  You can think and say whatever you want.  It's all good.  A key to explain away any doctrine.  A way to call yourself good and better than others without having and demands placed on yourself. -- "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 pass to the state which you have chosen."

And still we have those with us who want to have just a little religion in their lives who indulge themselves with so-called "Christian Romance", calling it deep spiritual insight.  No need to worship.  No need to pray.  No need to go to and support a church and a community.  No need to understand and defend doctrines, no need to adhere to a moral code or repent and ask for forgiveness.   Instead, one can even sit on the high horse and sneer at those scandalized fundamentalists and bigots with their morbid, medieval religion.

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