DOCTRINAL  CLASS                                         Philadelphia Society       

by Rev. J. Hugh Odhner                                        May 1, 2003




The Leading Theses Propounded in “De Hemelsche Leer”




Prayer: “Give ear, O my people, to my law; incline your ears to the words of my mouth.   I  will open my mouth in a parable.”  (Ps. 78:1,2)


This is the second in a series of doctrinal classes on the Leading Theses Propounded in “De Hemelsche Leer.” The motivation for these classes arose out of the conviction that we, as a Church, need to renew our commitment to our Doctrinal Principles --- those Principles which resulted in the founding of this Church.


    The three leading theses set forth in “De Hemelsche Leer” are as follows:


      1. The Writings of Emanuel Swedenborg are the Third Testament of the Word of the Lord. The Doctrine of the New Jerusalem concerning the Sacred Scripture must be applied to the three Testaments alike.


      2. The Latin Word without Doctrine is as a candlestick without light, and those who read the Latin Word without Doctrine, or who do not acquire for themselves a Doctrine from the Latin Word, are in darkness as to all truth. (cf. SS 50-61)


      3. The genuine Doctrine of the Church is spiritual out of celestial origin, but not out of rational origin. The Lord is that Doctrine itself. (cf. AC 2496, 2497, 2510,2516,2533, 2859, AE 19)


 In the first class in this series the first part of the first thesis was discussed, that is, that “The Writings of Emanuel Swedenborg are the Third Testament of the Word of the Lord.” As it has been nearly two years since that class was given, let us first review some of the main points of that class before taking up the second part of the first thesis.


 Why do some accept what Swedenborg wrote as the Divinely inspired Word and others do not? The answer may have less to do with whether a person is internally good or bad and more to do with the nature of enlightenment and what the Lord sees as necessary for a person’s regeneration. To come to see that the Writings of Emanuel Swedenborg are the Word involves several things:


First: that a person is seeking or open to the reception of truth. It seems obvious that one who is not seeking spiritual truth and not open to its reception would have great difficulty in accepting any new spiritual truth.


    Second: that the person who receives new truth is able to be held in it so as not to fall into profanation. This is according to the laws of Divine Providence where it is taught, “that man is not admitted interiorly into the truths of wisdom and into the goods of love except so far as he can be kept in them even to the end of life….” “If a man first acknowledges  truths of faith and lives according to them, and afterwards recedes and denies them,” he then profanes holy things. As this profanation destroys all that is truly human with man the Lord provides that no one is admitted interiorly into such truths unless he or she can be held in them. (cf. DP 221-226, 232-233)


      Arcana Coelestia 1 states that the Word of the Old Testament contains Arcana of Heaven and that everything within that part of the Word both in general and in particular has reference to the Lord, to Heaven, to the Church, and to all things of faith. In the beginning states of the New Church with man, as also in the early days of the New Church, before it is clearly seen that the “Writings” written by Swedenborg are the Word, this statement is taken very literally, for in the early states of the Church the sense of the letter of the Third Testament is thought to be the Doctrine of the Church and also the internal sense of the Old and New Testa­ments. So, when the Third Testament says that the Old and the New Testaments treat in­ternally of the Lord, Heaven, and the Church, it is thought that what is said applies literally to those two Testaments but not to itself. The state of the New Church in man overall is not yet ready to see and believe that what is said concerning the Sacred Scripture applies also to the “Writings” by Swedenborg, although a few people here and there did perceive this in the early years of the New Church


It was in the early Academy that the term the Third Testament was first used in regard to the Writings. However, the time was not yet ready for the general acknowledgment and use of that term. Although the Academy de­clared the truth that the Writings are the Word, it still was not clearly seen how they were the Word. While the Writings were regarded as the Word, they were also thought of as being the Doctrine of the Church and as the in­ternal sense of the Old and New Testaments. Thus Bishop W. F. Pendleton said in the “Principles of the Academy,” “the Lord must be seen where He is, where He appears, ... that is to say, He must be seen in His Word, as laid open by Himself in the Heavenly Doctrine of the New Jerusalem. In that doctrine man enters inter­iorly into the Word, and sees the Lord in His second coming.” (Principles of the Academy, no. 1; page 9.)


Notice the distinction made between the Word and the Heavenly Doctrine which opens the Word. It is because of this distinction that the phrase “the Word and the Writings” is commonly used in other bodies of the New Church. The use of this phrase reflects a distinction that is made between the Old and New Testaments, which are thought of  as being the Word, and the Writings, which are thought of as being the Doctrine, commonly called the Heavenly Doctrine, and it tends to reinforce that distinction.


It was not until it is seen that the Doctrine of the Church does not mean the letter of the Writings that it can be seen that the Word is of one essen­tial quality and not of two qualities, and that the Doctrine concerning the Sacred Scripture applies to the Writings as well as to the Old and New Testaments.


Here I would like to note that words mean things. Words are both the containants of ideas and the means by which we communicate and express ideas. It is my belief that the use of the term, “the Writings” draws the mind away from the idea that they are fully the Word of the Lord and tends to emphasize and perhaps even reinforce the thought that they are the works of an enlightened man and not a Divine Revelation as are the Old and New Testaments.


When we use the term, “the Word”, we mean all three Testaments, not just the first two, and prefer the term, “Third Testament”, as being more appropriate because such a term emphasizes the quality of the Third Testament, that it is a Divine Revelation from the Lord, and also affirms the essential oneness of the Word.


 The second part of the first thesis states that “the Doctrine of the New Jerusalem concerning the Sacred Scripture must be applied to all three Testaments alike.” It is the belief in this truth that truly distinguishes The Lord’s New Church from all others. This belief was also the cause of controversy within the General Church in the 1930’s, due in part to its unequivocal proclamation and defense and also to some of the language chosen to express it.


 “De Hemelsche Leer” begins with these words: “From the beginning of the New Church her true members could be distinguished from her false members, in that the former accept the Writings of Emanuel Swedenborg as the Word of God, while the latter deny this fundamental truth ... The crowning thesis of this belief is that the Doctrine of the Sacred Scripture must also be applied to these Writings.”


It has sometimes been said that if it were not for such harsh judgmental statements as this and some personality conflicts at the time of the controversy in the 1930’s, the separation of the Churches would not have taken place. In Providence it was necessary that a separation did take place. Just as it was necessary for the Academy movement to separate from the General Convention in order to develop fully its uses in accord with its principles, so also was it necessary that those who are committed to the Doctrine and Principles set forth in “De Hemelsche Leer” should separate from the General Church in order to fully develop a life and uses according to its Doctrine.


 Church history shows repeatedly that when a separation takes place it is accompanied with discord and controversy. The reasons for this have to do with spiritual causes, not merely natural causes. Several teachings in the Word treat of this.


The first concerns what is said concerning spiritual fermentations. Keeping in mind that what is said about the individual man of the Church in particular has application to the Church as a whole, it is taught in Divine Providence 25 that:


 “Spiritual fermentations take place in many ways, in the heavens as well as on earth; but in the world it is not known what they are and how they are effected. For there are evils together with falses, which, when introduced into societies, act just in like manner as ferments put into meal ... to cause fermentation, by which heterogeneous things are separated and homogenous things conjoined, and purity and clarity are the result.” (DP 25)


    Those strong words of years past may have served a use as a fermenting agent to bring about a separation so that purity of doctrinal belief and clarity of purpose would result.


    The second teaching that applies is found in the treatment of Joseph and Laban in the Arcana Coelestia, chapters 30 and 31.  In the Word we read:


    “... it is manifest that former things are always left behind when a new state of life is put on .... delights are means, and ... these are left behind when man enters into the new state following next; ... and he is led to it, not in any natural manner, but by the Lord in a supernatural manner; nor does anyone arrive at this state except by means of regeneration ... and thus by the mediate good....” (AC 4063)


    “If now instead of the good signified by Laban, such a society of spirits and angels as are in such good is thought of, it is manifest how the case stands. The societies do not easily recede from him with whom they have been; but when he  with whom they are recedes, they are indignant, and behave themselves in like manner as did Laban here towards Jacob; nay, if they perceive that any good has come to the man through their means, they say that it came to him from them; for in their indignation they speak from evil. The case is similar with every man who is being regenerated, namely, that societies are applied to him by the Lord which serve for introducing genuine goods and truths, not from themselves, but by their means; and when he who is being regenerated is transferred to other societies, those who had previously been with him are indignant.” (AC 4077)


Notice that it is speaking here of societies of angels and spirits who in their indignation speak from evil. How much more may this apply to those in the Church?


The third teaching that applies involves what is said in the Word concerning the uses of variety in the Lord’s Kingdom. In Arcana Coelestia 1285 we read:


“In heaven there are innumerable societies, and all different, and yet they are a one, for they are all led as a one by the Lord … That these can thus act as a one, comes from the fact that in heaven there is one single influx, which is received by every individual in accordance with his own genius; and which influx is an influx of affections from the Lord, from His mercy, and from His life; and notwithstanding that there is only one single influx, yet all things obey and follow as a one. This is the result of the mutual love in which are they who are in heaven. The doctrine is one when all are in mutual love, or in charity. Mutual love and charity cause them all to be a one, although they are diverse, for they make a one out of the varieties. All men how many soever they may be, even myriads of myriads, if they are in charity or mutual love, have one end, namely, the common good, the Lord's kingdom, and the Lord Himself. Varieties in matters of doctrine and of worship are like the varieties of the senses and of the viscera in man, as has been said, which contribute to the perfection of the whole. For then, through charity, the Lord inflows and works in diverse ways, in accordance with the genius of each one; and thus, both in general and in particular, disposes all into order, on earth as in heaven. And then the will of the Lord is done, as He Himself teaches, as in the heavens, so also upon the earth.”


And in Heaven and Hell 56 it is said:


“Variety in worship of the Lord resulting from the variety of good in one society and another is not harmful but beneficial, for the perfection of heaven is therefrom. It can scarcely be made clear to the comprehension that the perfection of heaven is the result of variety, without employing terms in common use in the learned world and by them showing how unity, to be perfect, is formed from various parts.”


Further from Apocalypse Revealed 66 we read concerning the New Church:


“And the seven lampstands which thou sawest are the seven churches, signifies the New Church upon earth, which is the New Jerusalem descending from the Lord out of the New Heaven. That "the lampstands" are the church, may be seen above (n. 43); and because "seven" signifies all (n. 10), by "the seven lampstands" are not meant seven churches, but the church in the aggregate, which in itself is one, but various according to reception. Those varieties may be compared to the various jewels in the crown of a king; and they may also be compared to the various members and organs in a perfect body, which yet make one. The perfection of every form exists from various things being suitably arranged in their order. Hence it is, that the whole New Church is described as to its varieties by "the seven churches…."



    From these teachings concerning spiritual fermentation, the indignation that occurs when a former state is left behind, and the perfection of the Lord’s Kingdom that results from variety in worship and doctrine, we can see that the causes of controversy at the appearance of “De Hemelsche Leer” in the 1930’s were more spiritual than anything natural. Also that when viewed from these teachings, we can see that a process was taking place that every man experiences when he leaves a former state of good and truth and enters a new state. Thus in the apparent controversy Providence was at work to bring about a separation according to a Divine Order that is revealed to us in the Word. This working of Divine Providence, to bring about a separation, was necessary in order that the Church be able to enter upon the new state that would result when it was seen and declared that the Doctrine concerning  the Sacred Scripture applied without reservation to the Third Testament.


The second part of the first thesis states that “the Doctrine of the New Jerusalem concerning the Sacred Scripture must be applied to all three Testaments alike.”


There are numerous places in the Third Testament that give the appearance that it is the spiritual sense of the Word that is being directly revealed. But often a careful reading of these passages will show that what is being presented to us is the sense of the letter and not the spiritual sense directly. For example: in TCR 780 we read:


In order that the Lord might be constantly present He has revealed to me the spiritual sense of His Word, in which is Divine Truth in its own light; and in this light He is continually present. For the Lord’s presence in the Word is only by means of the spiritual sense, through the light of which He passes into the shade in which is the sense of the Letter; and then it is as when the sun’s light in day­time passes through an intervening cloud. It has been shown above that the sense of the Letter of the Word is like a cloud, while the spiritual sense is the glory; and that the Lord Himself is the Sun from which the light proceeds, and, therefore, that the Lord is the Word.” TCR 780.


The Lord is present the Third Testament by means of its Spiritual Sense and His light passes into the shade of its sense of the letter. The sense of the letter of the Third Testament is as a cloud compared to the Light and Glory of its spiritual sense. A definition of the “Spiritual Sense” is given in Doctrine concerning the Sacred Scripture 5 (also TCR 194):


What the spiritual sense is. The spiritual sense is not that sense which shines forth from the sense of the letter of the Word while one is exploring and expounding the Word for the confirmation of some tenet of the church. This is the literal sense of the Word. The spiritual sense does not appear in the sense of the letter; it is within it as the soul in the body, as thought in the eyes, and as affection in the face, which act as one, like cause and effect. It is that sense especially which renders the Word spiritual, not for men only, but also for angels; and therefore by means of that sense the Word gives connection with Heavens.” SS 4


It has sometimes been said that because the Lord’s New Church believes that the Third Testament has an internal sense that the literal sense is of little importance. But in fact, because of the teaching that “the Doctrine of the New Jerusalem concerning the Sacred Scripture must be applied to all three Testaments alike,” the letter of the Third testament takes on a greater importance. It is taught in the Word that, “The sense of the Letter of the Word is the basis, the containant, and the support of the spiritual and celestial senses.” (S.S. 27) And also that: “The celestial, the spiritual and the natural proceed from the Lord in successive order, and in the ultimate or last form they are in simultaneous order; thus, then, the celestial and the spiritual senses of the Word are simultaneously in its natural sense. When this is understood it may be seen how the natural sense of the word, which is the sense of the Letter, is the basis, the containant, and the support of its spiritual and celestial senses; and also how the Divine Good and the Divine Truth are, in the sense of the Letter of the Word, in their fullness, their holiness, and their power.” (S.S. 38)


These two passages of Scripture stress that the sense of the letter of the Third Testament is the basis, containant, and support of its spiritual and celestial senses. However, we may fall into the appearance, which it is easy to do, that these interior senses are in the letter of the Third Testament outside of us. If I were to place a copy of the Third Testament on a table, or even a hundred or a thousand copies, there would not be any internal presence of the spiritual or the celestial in any of those books. They would just be books on the table. What begins to make them the basis, the containant, and the support of the spiritual and celestial senses is when we read or hear those books and begin to have some understanding of them. When we read or hear them, then the letter of the Third Testament becomes a vessel in our minds and it is this vessel, within our minds that is the basis, containant, and support of the spiritual and celestial senses. Despite the appearance, we need to remember the Lord’s words in Luke: “For behold, the kingdom of God is within you.”(Lk.17:21)


In the March 1937 issue of De Hemelsche Leer magazine, Rev. Albert Bjorck wrote:


“The Word in its outmosts or lasts or ultimates is its literal sense. By means of this sense men living in the natural world can learn to know something concerning spiritual truth and life. They can learn through, or by means of, the literal or natural sense of the Word, and only by means of that sense, because it can be read or listened to by man, and what is said there can come to his memory and natural understanding.

By means of the truths revealed in the natural or outmost form of the Word, man’s thoughts can be raised from the natural to the spiritual. If he lives according to the truths he gets knowledge of there, his mind can be reformed and become a receptacle for the good and truth flowing in from the Divine Human of the Lord.

In (Arcana Coelestia) n. 9596 and other numbers, we are told that all truth belongs to the intellectual, and all good to the voluntary. The intellectual is the container, and the truth belongs to it, and those two make one. Regeneration is the same as the formation of a new intellectual, and in it a new voluntary and thus the formation of a new man.

The good that flows in from the Lord’s Divine Human to man’s will, must be united to the truth that enters his understanding from the literal sense of the Word. Other­wise the truths of the Word are only in the memory as something a man knows and may have a natural under­standing of. This does not lift his mind to a real or spiritual understanding of the truth that has entered his memory.”


The truths of the letter of the Word, form vessels in the mind that may contain the two interior senses. But what those vessels contain will vary from person to person. This is why the same passages and terms from the Word will be understood and interpreted differently. It may be that the external letter of the Word is the same, but the internal that fills them and shapes them will vary. And what is wonderful is that as a person is being regenerated, the internal contents of those vessels in his mind will change. As this happens, so will the understanding of those things said in the letter of the Word.


Spiritual life has its beginnings on the basis of those truths seen in the natural sense of the Word. In the very beginning of regeneration what is seen is comparatively very little. Arcana Coelestia 20, treating of the first state of regeneration, puts it this way: The first state is when the man begins to know that the good and the true are something higher. Men who are altogether external do not even know what good and truth are; for they fancy all things to be good that belong to the love of self and the love of the world; and all things to be true that favor these loves; not being aware that such goods are evils, and such truths falsities. But when man is conceived anew, he then begins for the first time to know that his goods are not goods, and also, as he comes more into the light, that the Lord is, and that He is good and truth itself.”


In the Principles and Plan of Order for the Government of the Lord’s New Church it is said:


“… that whereas the end of the Church is to enter and receive in mind and heart the spiritual and celestial things of the Internal Sense of the Word, the basis of the Church, the basis for its entry into those things, is ever in the Sense of the Letter of the Word. The Internal Sense of the Word cannot be entered by man genuinely except on the basis of a life changed and purified by the true things of life seen in the Sense of the Letter of the Word. And if on such a basis of the natural life there has been an entrance into some things of the Internal Sense, yet these interior true things cannot remain genuine in the Church, nor can the Church be given anything further of the Internal Sense, except insofar as those interior true things already seen again descend and are as it were given flesh by being given a natural quality through the calling forth of new truths of life in the Sense of the Letter of the Word which lead to further repentance of life on the part of the men of the Church, to further change and purifica­tion of the natural mind of man. In this way the things of the Internal Sense of the Word gradually attain their own plane in the natural mind of man, and that mind is also further prepared for entrance into the Internal Sense of the Word.”


Note here the Church’s declaration that “The Internal Sense of the Word cannot be entered by man genuinely except on the basis of a life changed and purified by the true things of life seen in the Sense of the Letter of the Word.”


There is much more to that can be said, but suffice it to say that the Lord’s New Church believes strongly that all the doctrine and understanding of the Church has its basis in the sense of the letter of the Word. Also the spiritual life of man begins on the basis of those truths seen in the natural sense of the Word.


Let us note also the words of Bishop Philip N. Odhner in his treatment of S.S. 76, “That the Church is out of the Word, and that it is such as is its understanding of the Word.”


“The understanding of the Word which makes the Church is that understanding which results from the influx of the Lord through the soul being received in the vessels formed in the mind from the things of the written Word taken up from without. This then is not a man’s understanding, but the understanding of the Word given to him by the Lord.

The forming of the vessels in the mind of a man which can receive the Divine True inflowing from the Lord from within is not just a matter of understanding, although it takes place in the understanding. The order whereby those vessels are formed involves the whole life of a man. A man must learn the trues of the Word; he must live according to them; he must shun evils forbidden in the Word as sins against the Lord, sins against all reception of the influx of the Lord; the influence of his love of self and the world upon his understanding must be recognized and shunned. He must become a rational man, a rational man from the Lord. And his rational must be purified and changed through the fires of temptation, by which the grasp of his proprium on his understanding is broken. Then he can receive the influx of the Word from within in the Word from without. Then he is in the understanding of the Word that makes a noble Church.” (Reflections on the Book “The Doctrine of Nova Hierosolyma concerning the Sacred Scripture.” by Philip N. Odhner, 1987)




    Closing Prayer: “And now to the One Only God, Jesus Christ, our Lord,  be Glory and  Dominion, forever and ever.” Amen