« PreviousContinue »
LETTER TO A SWEDENBORGIAN.
I FEAR YET THIS IRON YOKE OF OUTWARD CONFORMITY, HATH LEFT A SLAVISH PRINT UPON OUR NECKS; THE GHOST OF
A LINEN DECENCY YET HAUNTS US.- John MILTON.
A LETTER, &c.
MY DEAR SIR:
WERE I to speak in the manner of the old times, I should pronounce your ecclesiastical movement a schism. I should be clear in doing this, because in introducing as you have done a new baptism, you have by necessary implication introduced a new faith. But the old times have passed away. There is no specific authority now on the earth to adjudge heresy and schism. The inevitable admission of the right of private judgment, resolved all such authority thenceforth into the universal sentiment of the race. If every man may doubtless read the Scriptures for himself, there can be no need of an authorized teaching class. Admit the right of private judgment in things sacred, and you leave no place for a clergy, in the proper sense of that institution, as the authoritative expounders of the sacred text, and consequently give carte blanche to all manner of heresy and schism. We indeed still claim our Reverends, and right-Reverends, who are individually a very estimable body of men, but who nevertheless in no sense of the word are a true clergy. Their use is simply to conduct congregational worship, and to act as the advocates and champions of a particular creed, exalting it above all its rivals. They are appointed by the various sects, each to maintain the tenets of his sect unimpaired, and unimproved. Not one of them would be recognized by the whole titular church, as a capable expounder of divine truth. Hence they have none of them authority to ådjudge heresy and schism absolutely, or for the whole body
SWEDENBORG'S IDEA OF THE CHURCH.
of the church, but only for their own particular faction. In truth I see not how any consistent adherent of the old times, that is to say, any one whose idea of the church necessarily involves that of a congregation and a clergy, can slight the perfectly logical claim which Rome makes upon him.
Accordingly I shall not affect the phrase of the old times, and pronounce your movement schismatical. I shall speak to you in the manner exclusively of the new times, and prove it utterly incongruous with the idea of the new, or universal, church.
Your movement is based upon an inadequate conception of the nature of the church. You do not view it as existing for distinctively human, that is, universal, ends. You regard it as its own end. “ The church,” says Swedenborg, “is a MAN”; and it involves therefore every rightful element of human life. Thus it is a most real and universal existence, coextensive with the experience of human nature. You on the contrary make it a purely factitious, or artificial, existence, having no relation to man as man, but simply as Christian man,
or Pagan man, Jewish man or Gentile man. It stands, say you, in the variable intellect, not in the common life, of the race.
But the difference between you will appear as we proceed.
No reader of Swedenborg needs be told, that the phrase “old church”, as applied to any, or all, of the sects of his day, and the phrase "new church”, as applied to any rival corporation either in esse or in posse, never once occur throughout his writings. He could not have so applied them, without manifest self-contradiction. For the new church, being, according to his representation, a spiritual or universal economy, (embracing all men throughout the earth of whatever color or creed, who, through the cordial rejection of evils from the life, are in the internal acknowledgment of the Divine Humanity,) must, by his own shewing, forever disavow every visible or literal limitation. He does not hesitate to declare indeed with all plainness, that the church descended from the Apostles had come to an end by its total immersion in evils and falsities, and yet in the same breath he declares that “very few” of its mem
SWEDENBORG'S IDEA OF THE CHURCH.
bers were partakers of its corruptions, intimating that they prevailed chiefly with the leaders or rulers of the church.
Evidently then you and Swedenborg entertain very different ideas of the church, for with your notion these statements of his would be wholly unintelligible. In order to comprehend his views we shall find it necessary to enlarge our conception of the church somewhat to the measure of his own. And yet so remarkable a change has come over Christendom since his time, that it must be admitted to be rather difficult to do this. However let us try.
At Swedenborg's day it might still be said with truth that the Christian church embraced all Christendom. Although many of the larger sects were flourishing, and others were constantly steaming into notice, yet the whole of Christendom managed to get toleration in one quarter or another, and the observance of the christian ordinances of worship, and the possession of the christian name were denied to no man.
Every nation had its religious establishment, of which all its citizens were members by virtue of their birth, and Christendom and the Church of Christ were accordingly still one and the same idea. The church was still a civil institution, intimately blended with the political life of the nations, and by no means, as now, the mere nursery of a self-involved pietism. This latter development had got an occasional glimpse of the day, in the case of the Lollards, the Quakers, the Puritans, &c., but it had never become general or reputable. The last of its forms had quietly subsided into Independency, Presbyterianism, and other influences, whose aims and aspirations were eminently political. Thus notwithstanding the conflict which each of the sects waged against the others, they all alike struggled for political vitality and influence, all alike laid their grasp upon the civil society. EVANGELICAL RELIGION, as it is termed, (quasi lucus a non lucendo,) had not then risen with its tests of “inward experience,” to divide Christendom into the church” and “ the world;" and the mass of the people apparently still believed that to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly before God, were the sum of the Christian life.
It is evident then that Swedenborg's theory of the Church