The Literal Forms of the Word


Preached in Parkdale, 11th January, 1891.  Published in New Church Tidings No. 77 April 1891.

“Behold, I come to thee in the density of a cloud.” Exodus xix, 9.

Thus spake the LORD from amid the thick clouds on Mount Sinai, when He was about to proclaim the com­mandments of the Decalogue as Divine Law, to be the firsts of the Word of the Old Testament, together with the long code of laws contained in the following chapters of the Book of Exodus. These were delivered from amid the density of a cloud, because such is the correspondence of the literal forms in which the Word of the Old Testament is clothed—they are the most dense of any of the three forms in which the Word has been manifested for us. In each of those forms the same Divine Word appears in a language of the natural world, in expressions accommodated to some plane of the human mind, which, for that purpose, have been taken by the LORD from man. Because they are taken by the LORD, they are perfectly adapted to the pur­poses of accommodation for which they are intended ; but because they are taken from man, they are in themselves clouds, veiling, in the case of each of the three manifesta­tions of the Word, the infinite brightness of the Divine Itself. In each case the Word is the same ; but the clouds are different. The clouds are different, because, in each case, they are such as to give just that degree of tempering which is necessary to accommodate the Word to one of the three degrees of the human mind, the rational, the sensual or the corporeal.

In the Evangel of the LORD’S New Advent (the new church holds the view that the the revealing of the inner meaning of the Word is His New Advent.  This took place through the works of His servant Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772)) the language and expressions in which the Word is manifested, that is, the clouds in which the Word there comes to us, are, for all who in any degree have eyes to see what is spiritual, comparatively luminous clouds, being such as give that de­gree of tempering to the Infinite which the rational plane of the mind requires.

In the Word of the New Testament, the language and expressions, that is, the clouds, in which the Word there comes, are less luminous, being such as to give the greater degree of tempering which is necessary for the reception of the Word on the sensual plane of man’s mind, the LORD being there presented as visible, audible and tangible by man’s external senses.

But in the Word of the Old Testament, the language and expressions, that is, the clouds, in which the Word there comes, are for the most part so dense as to make the LORD frequently appear to be angry and vengeful, cruel and changeable. Yet no less density of cloud would sufficiently temper the Word for reception on the lowest or corporeal plane of man’s mind; no less degree of density would suffice to make firm the most ultimate foundation for all reception of the Word by man. This density of a cloud, then, is the necessary foundation for all manifestation and reception of the Word with us—it must underlie and support all that we can receive. Although each plane has also its own specific foundation, its own peculiar clouds, yet ultimately they all rest upon this, the lowest—upon the letter of the Word of the Old Testament, in which the precepts of the Decalogue “were the firsts of the Word” (True Christian Religion. 283)*. It is there­fore proximately to these literal forms, those of the Word of the Old Testament, that the LORD refers in the text— Behold I come to thee in the density of a cloud.

The LORD never comes otherwise than in clouds, lest His finite creatures should be blinded and destroyed by the untempered brightness of His glory. He comes by making a Revelation of Himself as the Divine Truth which expresses His Divine Good. In every Revelation which He makes, the cloud in which He comes is the literal sense of that Revelation ; or, more ultimately, the literal forms thereof, the very letters and expressions, by means of which it is ultimately effected. The clouds in which He comes signify the letter of the Word ; most ultimately, the letter of the Word of the Old Testament ; but, in the widest applica­tion, the letter of every Divine Revelation, for :‑

“By ‘the Word’ is understood all Truth which is concerning Him and from Him in His kingdom in the heavens, and in His Church in the earths and because Truth, by ‘THE WORD’ is understood EVERY REVELATION.”—(Arcana Coelestia. 2894).

There are three Divine Revelations with which we have to do, and which, in the Writings, are respectively called:— “The Word of the Old Testament;…The Word of the New Testament” (Arcana Coelestia. 1690)* ; and “The Evangel (Gospel) of the New Advent of the LORD” (True Christian Religion. 669)*. The New Testament is also called :—“The Word of the life of the LORD with the Evangelists” (Arcana Coelestia. 1690) ; and “The Word of the Evangelists” (Arcana Coelestia. 2026)*.

That by the density of a cloud in the text is meant the letter of that Divine Revelation which is the Word of the Old Testament, is most plainly taught in the Writings thus :—“Behold I come to thee in the density of a cloud’; that it signifies that this will take place in an appearance the highest degree natural, appears from the signification of to come to thee,’ when it is said by Jehovah to Moses, by whom is represented the Truth from the Divine which is for the spiritual Church, that it is Revelation ; and from the signification of

The density of a cloud,’ that it is in an appearance the highest degree natural, in such quality as is the Word of the Old Testament in the letter.”—(A.C. 8781)*.

We have, therefore, in the Word of the Old Testament, the manifestation of the LORD which is “in an appearance the greatest degree natural” of all the appearances under which the LORD as Divine Truth has been manifested to us. That appearance, therefore—the letter of the Word of the Old Testament, is the most ultimate foundation upon which all manifestations of the Divine Truth must rest. It is the most ultimate appearance of the LORD’S Divine Human. Therefore the LORD in the Word of the New Testament refers to it for proof and confirmation when He says—“It is written.” Just as the Word of the New Testa­ment refers to, and rests upon, the Word of the Old Testa­ment, as its foundation, so do the Writings (a term that refers to the revelation given by the Lord through Emanuel Swedenborg) constantly refer to both as the foundation of the “Evangel of the New Advent of the LORD.” Indeed, in these three taken to­gether we have the Trine in the manifestation of His Divine Human which the LORD has effected. Most prominent in the Word of the Old Testament is Jehovah, the LORD as to Divine Good, the Father, as the invisible Divine Being appearing in the clouds and thunderings of Mount Sinai. Thus that appearance of the Divine Human, which is in “the greatest degree natural.” In the Word of the New Testament, the Divine Truth, the Son, is presented as ap­pearing to the external senses—thus as that appearance of the Divine Human which is in the sensual degree natural. In the Evangel of the New Advent of the LORD there is pre­sented to us the Internal Sense of the Word, the very Spirit of Truth, which is the Holy Spirit, clothed in rational appearances, and manifesting the LORD to the internal sight —thus as that appearance of the Divine Human, which, as to its literal forms, is in the rational degree natural. Thus is the Father, Son and Holy Spirit made manifest to us, the Trine which is in the LORD, in the Word, which together are the One LORD, the One Word. To deliberately separ­ate any one of this Trine, so as to regard one or the other to be the LORD and one or the other not to be the LORD, is but a more interior way of dividing the Unity of the LORD, and thus the Unity of the Word, than was possible in the former Christian Church. Moreover, the Writings refer so frequently and so copiously to the Word of both the Old and the New Testaments for confirmation of Doc­trine, as to make it evident how inseparable are these three forms of the manifestation of the LORD.

The Word of the Old Testament, therefore, referred to in the text as the density of a cloud, and which is the appear­ance of the Word that is in “the greatest degree natural,” is the necessary foundation upon which all manifestations of the LORD as the Word rest. The more we look to the spiritual sense, the more fully we can realize the holiness of that sense which is in “the greatest degree natural ;” the more we regard the internal sense, the more can we see the value and importance of this most external sense as an ex­ternal, as the most ultimate basis upon which all that is internal of the Word has to rest. It is, indeed, only since the Revelation of the Internal Sense of the Word, that any adequate idea of its importance could be had. The former Christian Church never did have any real conception of its value; therefore, the Bible, containing a most imperfect translation thereof, was sufficiently satisfactory, and no thought was entertained of the importance of having the Word Itself as the LORD had caused it to be written, or even of having the translations of it as literally exact as possible. Hence it has been translated with much the same freedom as might be allowable in the case of ordinary books; but which is intolerable in regard to the Word, when we learn anything of the importance of having the Divine Basis in its integrity, as the LORD in His infinite Wisdom has pro­vided it. Not only has the former Christian Church been content with a defective translation, but it has also had bound up with the Books of the Word other books which are not of the Word, and has known no distinction between these and the Word, giving them the same honour and often in practice preferring them to the Books of the Word. This has, indeed, like all else, been of the LORD’S Provi­dence, to the end that the Word might be less profaned by a devastated Church; but still the fact remains that, at best, there was in that Church but a vague and general idea concerning the Word. That this would be the case, that the first Christian Church would never have that idea of the importance of the Word in its original Divine form, which would cause her to rightly cherish it, and give due attention to its preservation, was foreseen and provided for by the LORD. It is on this account that the Jews have been pre­served so long as a distinct people, in order that they might preserve the Word in its original Hebrew form. This they have done from their sense of superstitious rever­ence for what they regarded as peculiarly their Sacred Books. So jealously careful of it have they been that every word, yea, every letter thereof, has been counted. But now, the LORD has begun to raise up a New Church, which, from rational understanding of its importance, will cherish and preserve the original Word with ever increasing rever­ence; and will also provide translations thereof; with a faith­fulness to the purpose of the original, that can only be ac­quired in the degree that the translation is made according to the light of the Internal Sense (i.e. internal meaning of the Word, or it’s spiritual sense Ed.).

We have to-day for the first time upon the altar of our worship a copy of the Word in its original Hebrew and Greek forms; instead of the Bible, containing an imperfect and defective translation thereof, bound up with books which are not Divine. This copy contains only those books of the Old and New Testaments which are the Divine Word. It is a beautifully expressive and useful custom in the New Church to have the open Word before the congregation during Worship, in the most prominent and central posi­tion—that they may be constantly reminded of the means whereby the LORD Himself is present, of the means where­by He Himself is here to teach and lead and raise up to Heaven all who are willing to follow His Doctrine. The knowledge that this is the Word in its integrity, in the very Divine Forms into which the LORD caused it to be ultimated, should help us to come into fuller states of reverence in our worship of the LORD.

Beside it lies a copy of one of the books of the sacred Writings of the New Church—also in its original literal form, the Latin. This is intended to constantly remind us that only by means of the Writings can the Priest of the New Church teach from the Word; that only by means of the Writings can any of us learn any clear knowledge whatever concerning the Word. Indeed, it is only by this means that we can even know what is the Word and what is not. This alone enables us to study the External of the Word from its own Internal, instead of subjecting it to the External. This alone can prevent us from filling those literal forms, which are as the density of a cloud, with our own ideas. This alone can prevent us turning those literal forms this way and that to confirm whatever our natural affections may make us wish to confirm. The Writings, however, can only do this for us in proportion as we are willing to put away our own intelligence, and distrust every merely.

human attempt to explain the Word. We can only come into this exclusive trust in the Writings, for guidance into spiritual truth, by first suffering the Writings themselves to make rationally clear to us that they, too, are a manifesta­tion of the LORD Himself; that they are that manifestation of Him which is His New Advent. For only to the LORD Himself ought such exclusive trust be given. Only the LORD Himself can give that really and altogether new un­derstanding of the Word which must ever increasingly be the distinguishing characteristic of the genuine New Church. This absolutely new understanding of the Word, the LORD has placed within our reach by making an Immediate Revelation which “is what is understood by the LORD’S Advent” (Heaven and  Hell 1)*. Being the LORD’S Advent or Coming, it is the LORD. Being the LORD, it is the Word. That the Word is One even as the LORD is One, we know. What relation the various external forms, in which the Word is manifested, have to each other ; and how they, too, really make one as the manifestation of the LORD’S Divine Human on the three planes which make the Human, we have to some extent seen, and can learn to understand more and more, if only we seek such understanding where alone it can be found—in “the Evangel of the LORD’S New Advent.”

In this “Evangel” we have full information given to us concerning the nature of the Hebrew language, from the ex­pressions of which the density of a cloud, mentioned in the text, is formed. For the present, one passage on this part of the subject must suffice. In order to illustrate that passage there is written on the Black-board the words of the text in its Hebrew form, also the same text in the Latin form given in the Writings, together with a literal translation thereof. [Doctrine of Sacred Scripture 90 was here read, and illustrations pointed out].

However dense, and even black, the literal expressions of the Word of the Old Testament often appear to be, we should keep clearly in mind that the density of the cloud there, is just of that degree which is absolutely necessary for the manifestation of the Word upon the lowest plane of the human mind, that which is in “the greatest degree natural.” It is as absolutely necessary now as ever it was, for that plane, the plane which must ever be the ultimate foundation of the human mind. While the Writings lead us to look away from the mere density of the cloud itself, to turn our attention more and more to the Spirit of the Word for instruction; they at the same time lead us to recognize, with a fullness which would otherwise have been impossible, the absolute necessity and importance of every letter, yea, of every jot and little horn, of the Word of the Old Testament, upon the plane upon which the LORD has placed it, to be the most ultimate foundation of the Church and Heaven in man.

The letter of every Divine Revelation is also as the density of a cloud, yea it is an impenetrable density, to all who do not suffer the LORD to open their eyes to some spiritual understanding of it. To such, on whichever plane the Word is presented, it gives no spiritual light. But we are taught that

“The Word in the sacred repositories of the Temples in Heaven shines before the eyes of the Angels as a great star, even as a Sun, and from the splendour round about there also appear, as it were, most beau­tiful rainbows—this is done as soon as the adytum is opened.”—(True Christian Religion. 209)*.

This is because the Angels are in the understanding of the Word from its Internal Sense. For even as the Church is the Church, not from the mere presence of the Word, but from the understanding of the Word which is received in­to the life; so also Heaven is Heaven from the understanding of the Word which the Angels have, and by which their lives are guided. Hence it is that the Word shines before them with such splendour. The Word cannot shine thus with us before our external sight. To the merely external sight, the Word must ever be as the density of a cloud. But in proportion as we suffer our minds to be enlightened by the Internal Sense of the Word, as given to us in the Writ­ings, then the Word will really shine before the sight of our understandings, even as it shines in the Heavens. We will see ever more and more of the LORD’S glory, proceeding from Him in the Evangel of His New Advent, shining through the luminous clouds in which He has now come, and beautifully reflected even by the density of the cloud in which He effected His coming upon that plane which is in “the greatest degree natural,” when He said Behold I come in the density of a cloud.

*Titles of the works revealed by the Lord through His servant Emanuel Swedenborg, collectively referred to as The Writings.  The reference number refers to numbered paragraphs in these works.

About David Millar

My passion revolves around supporting people to engage with the Lord's Word, or Divine truths in the form of sacred texts, to cultivate an intentional spiritual practice. Through the works penned by Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772) we find that the Biblical texts contain a deeper meaning that, once understood, enables them to be applied in ways that open the human mind to the realisation of its spiritual potential. The goal of the Divine Life is to free each and every human being from the pain of self centred living and bring them into the experience of all that is heavenly through the promotion of what is genuinely good and true. The material shared here is offered in the pursuit of that aim.
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