The Word not Understood Except by the Enlightened


Preached in Parkdale, 7th June, 1891, published in New Church Tidings, no 92, September 1892.

“But being wakened they saw His glory.”—Luke ix., 32.

“When the LORD was transformed in the mountain, He showed to Peter, James and John, His Divine Human, such as it was and appeared in Divine Light, and the form in which it was then seen, presented the WORD such as it is in the Internal sense, thus such as is the Divine Truth in heaven, for the WORD is Divine Truth for the use of the Church.”—(Arcana Coelestia 5922).

In the Internal sense of what is written concerning the LORD’S transformation in the mount, we are taught how the LORD’S Divine Human appears when it is seen in Divine light, the only light in which it can be truly seen. It is shown, moreover, that the form in which the Divine Human then appears, is also the form in which the WORD in its Internal Sense is presented as Divine Truth for the use of the Church. This form also can only be seen as a form of the WORD, when it is seen in Divine light. There is no exception made to the application of the Doctrine that :

“The WORD is not understood except by those who are enlightened.”—(Heavenly Doctrine 256).

It is true, and always has been, with regard to the Word of the Old Testament. It is true, now as ever, of the Word of the New Testament. It is also true, and always will be, of the form of the WORD in which the Internal Sense is presented—of the Evangel of the LORD’S New Advent. There must be a certain awakening from the night which has come with the end of the former Christian Church, Peter, James and John within us must be led by the LORD to have their spiritual sight opened, before they can see Him as He appears in the glory of the spiritual sense. Before that wakening, the apostles had followed Him, as a wonderful man indeed, but still as one not discretely removed from being one of themselves ; but being wakened they saw His glory, they saw that He was Divine. The LORD then appeared to them in a form representative of the form in which He would make His New Advent—thus they saw the glory of the Internal Sense of the WORD manifested, for the glory of the WORD is from that Sense. Is not this just as it is with us ? Have we not at first seen nothing in the Writings, but the work of a wonderful man, and then at last awakened to the fact that it was the LORD Himself who appeared there in His glory, that is, the LORD clothed in the Internal Sense of the WORD? When we are thus brought to recognize the LORD as He appears in His New Advent, we see him distinct from the Historical and Prophetical WORD. We see Moses and Elias distinct from, but speaking with, Him, and reflecting the glory which proceeds from the LORD Himself as manifested in the form which presents to us the WORD in its Internal sense, or what is the same, in the form which presents to us the LORD’S Divine Human, as it appears when it is seen in the Divine light. In each case, with regard to the Internal tense, as well as with regard to the Historical and Prophetical WORD, the ultimate form through which it is seen, is literal, that is, it is presented to us by means of written Revela­tion. They were each overshadowed by a cloud. When we are wakened so as really to see the glory therein, there comes a voice out of the cloud, out of the literal forms which present to us the Lord in His New Advent, “This is my beloved Son, hear ye Him.”—(Luke ix.. 35). We then see that the LORD’S Divine Human is there presented to the awakened sight of our understandings; we then begin to understand the WORD as it is there presented.  “The WORD is not understood except by those who are enlight­ened.” The eyes of our understanding have, to some extent, to be closed to natural light and awakened to Divine light, before we can see the LORD’S glory, as He appears in His New Evangel.

“Merely human rational truth…does not grasp Divine things, because these are above the sphere of its understanding. For this truth communicates with the scientifics which are in the natural man, and so far as, from these, it regards the things which are above itself, it does not acknowledge. For this truth is in appearances which it is unable to put off; and the appearances are those which are born from sensuals, which induce the faith, as if Divine things themselves were also such, when nevertheless they are exempt from all appearances, which things, when they are said, this rational truth can never believe, because it can­not grasp.”—(Arcana Coelestia 2196).

“The human Rational is such that it cannot understand what is Divine, from the cause that that truth is in appear­ances, wherefore, what it cannot understand, neither does it believe, and what it does not believe, neither is it affected thereby. The appearances in which the Rational is are such that they affect, for in the very appearances there is delight. Wherefore if it should be deprived of the appear­ances, it thinks that there is nothing more of delight; when, nevertheless, heavenly affection is not in the appearances, but in good itself and truth itself.”—(Arcana Coelestia 2203).

“As concerns the Rational in general, when it thinks concerning Divine things, especially from the truth which it has, it can never believe that there are such things, as well because it cannot grasp them, as because there adhere the appearances which are from the fallacies of the senses, by which and from which it thinks.”—(Arcana Coelestia 2209).

Hence the necessity of the natural sight being closed, and the necessity of the spiritual sight, that is, the sight of the spiritual rational, being opened, in order that the WORD may be understood. For only this latter sight can be affected by Divine light, so as to see and acknowledge from affection what that light reveals. Only when thus enlightened can we understand the WORD, or see anything of its glory.

“Each is enlightened and informed from the WORD ac­cording to the affection of truth and the degree of the desire of it, and according to the faculty of receiving. They who are in enlightenment, they, as to their internal man, are in the light of heaven. For it is the light of heaven which enlightens man in the truths and goods of faith. They who are thus illuminated, they grasp the WORD according to its interiors.

Wherefore, they, from the WORD, make doctrine for them­selves, to which they apply the sense of the letter.”—(Arcana Coelestia 9382).

Note that such make doctrine for themselves. This cannot mean that that they acquire the spiritual sense by means of their knowledge of correspondences, for to do so is ex­pressly forbidden thus :‑

“It can be believed that the doctrine of genuine truth can be acquired by the spiritual sense of the WORD which is given by means of the science of correspondences ; but doctrine is not acquired by that, but only illustrated and corroborated.”—(Doctrine of Sacred Scripture 56).

But doctrine simply means teaching. We make doctrine or teaching for ourselves, from the WORD, when we read the WORD according to the law of enlightenment which we have been considering; when we thus really regard what we there read as teaching; and when we thus receive it as teaching and not merely as confirmation of our own ideas of what is good. The same is shown again thus :—

“With those (in the affection of truth for the sake of truth) the first thing is that they acquire to themselves doetrine from the literal sense of the WORD: they thus kindle for themselves a lamp for further progression.”—(Doctrine of Sacred Scripture 59).

It is our duty to draw or receive teaching (doctrine) directly from the literal forms of the WORD which we have —teaching for the lowest or foundation plane of the mind from the letter of the Word of the Old Testament; teaching for the proximately interior plane of the mind from the letter of the Word of the New Testament; but teaching for the rational plane of the mind from the letter of the Writings.

“Thus it becomes to them their own doctrine, and by doctrine their own faith. But this takes place only with those, who, not distracted by the business of the world, can see ; these, it they love truths because they are truths and make them uses of life, are in enlightenment from the LORD. The rest who are in some life according to truths can learn from them.”—(Doctrine of Sacred Scripture 59).

But still it is the duty of the rest themselves to compare the teaching thus received from others with letter of the WORD, if possible with the letter of that form of the WORD from which it is taken, and only to accept that which they find agrees therewith. Thus they who are in any light according to truth receive teaching, and “thus kindle for themselves a lamp for further progression.” Hence enlightenment gradually increases and they become more awakened to see the glory of the WORD.

“But they who are not in the affection of truth from good, and -thence in the desire of being wise, they are more blinded than enlightened when they read the WORD, for they are not in the light of heaven.”—(Arcana Coelestia 9382).

“Hence it is evident who are those who are enlightened from the WORD, and who are blinded…That it is the WORD from which there is enlightenment and informa­tion, is because that, in its first origin, is the very Divine Truth proceeding from the LORD, and in descent into the world it is accommodated to all the heavens. Hence it is, when a man who has heavenly love reads the WORD, that by it he is conjoined to heaven, and by heaven to the LORD, thence is enlightenment and information. Otherwise when a man who has worldly love reads the WORD, with him -there is not conjunction of heaven, wherefore he has not enlightenment and information.”—(Arcana Coelestia 9382).

As a matter of course this is true of each form in which the WORD has been manifested. But each form, taken alone, can only be understood on the plane to which it belongs, until it is seen in the light of the form of the WORD which belongs to a higher. Thus when he who has heavenly love reads the Word of the Old Testament, he is able to see and understand such true Doctrine as can there be gathered from its letter. But as long as that form of the WORD is his only source of enlightenment, he cannot advance beyond such general teaching as there shines through the sense of the letter, in the light of which he views the whole. So with regard to the Word of the New Testament, on a higher plane. Those who are in spirit­ual affection for truth can from those portions of the internal sense gather some genuine teaching letter thereof, through which the internal sense shines.  The latter form of the WORD, too, will then throw much more light on the former.  But from these alone we could never attain to the distinctly rational light which can be received only from the WORD as ultimated on the rational plane.  But even the Writings, cannot convey this light to us unless they are read according to the law which governs reception and enlightenment from the WORD.  When that light is received, then the other forms, in which the WORD is ultimated are also read and understood in the same light—Moses and Elias are seen speaking with the glorified LORD. The law which governs the reception of enlightenment is thus, again, stated :‑

“They are enlightened when they read the WORD, and under­stand it, who acknowledge the LORD, and love to live according to His precepts, but not they who say they believe and do not live.”—(Arcana Coelestia 10659).

In order to be enlightened, so as to recognize the true doctrine which shines through the letter of the Word of the Old Testament, we must at least acknowledge the LORD as he is there presented, and love to live according to His commandments as they are there given.

In order to be enlightened so as to recognize the true doctrine which still more clearly and abundantly shines through the letter of the Word of the New Testament, we must at least acknowledge the LORD as he is there presented, and love to live according to His commands as they are there given.

But in order to be enlightened, so as to recognize the true doctrine, which, in the greatest clearness and abund­ance possible in this world, is revealed to us by means of the literal forms of the New Evangel, which we call the Writings, the same law holds, that we must acknowledge the LORD as He is there presented to us, and we must love to live all the precepts which He has there set forth. Only in pro­portion as we follow this law can we there see the LORD’S Divine Human, as it appears in Divine light; only so can we see that Revelation as the form in which the WORD is now presented to us, thus the WORD as it is in its Internal Sense; only so can we be wakened to see the LORD in the glory of His New Advent, that glory for the sake of which all forms of the WORD exist.

The Writings, like every Divine Revelation, present to us the WORD clothed in appearances, though, differently from those of the Old and New Testaments, they are rational appearances. Still, like all appearances, they will seem to be contradictory to each other, unless they are under­stood; and in order to be understood, they must be read and studied according to the law governing the reception of enlightenment, which has already been stated. Although these appearances may not be so grossly contradictory as those of the Old Testament, still they are sufficiently so to prevent us from seeing the LORD as he has come in that Evangel, unless we in some measure endeavour to conform our manner of reading that Evangel to the law which requires acknowledgment of the LORD there, and the love of living according to all the precepts which he has there given to us. Otherwise we will be liable to regard the con­ceits of our own intelligence, and whatsoever in the Writings appears to confirm them, to be His glory, and to see only the dead letter, where His glory is really revealed to those who are wakened to see it.

Because every Revelation of the WORD is made in appear­ances which sometimes seem contradictory to each other, therefore, by those who are not enlightened, the WORD, as well in the Writings as in the Old and New Testaments, can be explained and drawn to the confirmation of any opinion or heresy whatever, and to the defence of any worldly and corporeal love whatever. It is from not hav­ing seen that the law according to which the WORD must be read, in order to be understood, applies to the Writings as well as to other forms of the WORD, or else from not obeying that law, that every heresy and thence contradictory and opposite understanding of the Writings has arisen in the Church.

In this respect the Writings only differ from the other forms of the WORD with us, in being capable of being drawn into more interior, insidious and plausible forms of heresy than any other. Just as they give the fullest light, when read accordingly the law governing the reception of enlightenment; so are readers thereof liable to be most interiorly blinded when that law is ignored or disobeyed. Thus is it with those who read merely from the love of fame, gain or honour. They, as long as they are such, cannot be wakened so as to see the LORD’S glory.

“Influx and enlightenment take place in this manner : man is such, that as to his interiors, which are of the thought and will, he is able to look downwards, and he is able to look upwards. To look downwards is to look out­wards into the world and to self, and to look upwards is to look inward to heaven and to God. Man looks outwards from self, which is called downwards, since, when from self, he looks to hell. But man looks inward not from self but from the LORD, this is called upwards, because he is elevated then as to his interiors, which are of the will and the understanding, by the LORD to heaven, thus to the LORD. Also the interiors are actually elevated, and then actually withdrawn from the body and from the world. When this takes place, the interiors of man actually come into heaven and enter into its light and heat, hence he has influx and enlightenment.”—(Arcana Coelestia 10330).

Thus “enlightenment is an actual opening into the light of heaven”—(Heavenly Doctrine 256). Such actual opening is meant by the wakening mentioned in the text, the wakening which is necessary in order to see the glory in which the LORD has made His New Advent.

We have seen that those who acknowledge the LORD can have enlightenment. But it is the same if it be said, only those who are led by the LORD, for to suffer ourselves to be led by the LORD, by His revealed will, is the only way in which we can internally acknowledge Him. Therefore those who lead themselves are not enlightened, and cannot be enlightened except so far as they consent to relinquish self leading.

“The WORD of the LORD is a dead letter, but it is vivified by the LORD, in the one reading, according to the faculty of each, and it becomes living according to his life of charity and state of innocence, and this with innumerable variety.” —(Arcana Coelestia 1776).

“According to his life of Charity,” is according to re­vealed Truth. “According to his state of innocence,” is according to His willingness to be led by the LORD. These make enlightenment possible, and cause that form of the WORD which has been so received to be vivified, by its being made receptive of the spirit which alone gives life; thus the truths thereof are made living expressions of the LORD’S glory.

“The things which are of the proprium or of ones own intelli­gence are called truths, but they are not truths, they only ap­pear as truths in external form, for by applications from the literal sense of the WORD, and by reasonings, they are render­ed similar to truth ; but in internal form they are false.”— (Arcana Coelestia 8941).

The things which are from our own intelligence are not receptive of spiritual light; but only truths from the WORD. But the latter, too, as we naturally receive them, and from whatever form of the WORD we so receive them, are dead, and are only vivified in us when we will to live according to them. Then they receive light, and thus we become en­lightened so as to understand those truths. When we thus really understand them, we see that they are all full of good, for they present to the awakened sight of our under­standing Him who is Divine Good itself. Truth from the- LORD is not understood until it is thus seen to be good, to be the LORD Himself. It becomes good as soon as it enters the will, and thence sheds light upon all things in the under­standing. This is the light that lighteneth every man coming into the world; but which is really seen as spiritual light only by those whose sight is opened to see the LORD’S glory, to see Him in His Divine Human, in the form in which the WORD has come in its Spiritual Sense, clothed in the very light of heaven. This light, while it shines in the merely natural mind, shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehendeth it not (John i., 5).

Keep this warning in mind :‑

“They who have much confirmed themselves in false doctrine: cannot be enlightened.”—(Heavenly Doctrine 256).

Again and again we are taught in the Writings not to confirm any doctrine until we know it is true. We may naturally fall into many false doctrines; but let us carefully resist our tendency to confirm them, for if they are strongly confirmed we cannot be led out of them—much of such confirmation makes our enlightenment impossible, and so leaves the sight of our understanding closed in the sleep of spiritual death. Appearances, which together with reflection on experience form our natural intelligence, more readily confirm false doctrine than true. How then can we know true doctrine apart from these? There is but one final and infallible test as to the truth or falsity of any doctrine, and that is to deter­mine whether it is from the LORD—if it is, it is true; if it is not, it is false. If we really wish to come into rational acknowledgment and reception of true doctrine, we must study the rational form of the WORD given to the New Church, in that spirit of humiliation which causes us to be receptive of enlightenment from the LORD, a spirit which results from constant endeavour to put away the thoughts and conclusions of our own intelligence, in order that we may be ready to receive what the LORD teaches, however it may differ from, or be opposed to, our most cherish­ed ideas. Only by so doing can we learn ever to see the teaching which is contrary to our natural love—the teach­ing of Him who declares:—“My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways.”—(Isaiah lv., 8).

The WORD can only be understood by those who are enlightened. The sight of the spiritual understanding must be opened before we can see the LORD as He now appears in the glory of His New Advent; our spiritual hear­ing must be unstopped before we can hear the voice out of the letter of the form of the WORD in which he has now come, out of the clouds of His New Advent, saying :—“This is my beloved Son, hear ye Him.”—(Luke ix., 35). It is for us to study this Evangel of the LORD’S New Advent in its own Divine light, and to seek enlightenment therefrom according to the directions there given by the LORD, in order that, being wakened, we may see His Glory therein.

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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