The Word Not Understood Without Spiritual Affection In The Understanding


Preached in Parkdale, 14th June, 1891, published in New Church Tidings, no 93, October 1892.

“Who are they who fly like a cloud, and like doves to their windows?”—Isaiah lx., 8.

“By ‘To fly like a cloud, and like doves to the windows,’ is signified searching and investigation of truth from the sense of the letter of the WORD; hence also by ‘to fly ‘is signified circumspection; for by a cloud’ is signified the sense of the letter of the WORD, by doves’ the spiritual affection of truth.”—(Apocalypse Explained 282).

“Windows’ signify truth in light, and thence the intellectual.”—(Apocalypse Explained 406).

“‘A house’ signifies that of the mind which is called the will where good is, and windows’ that of the mind which is called the understanding where truth is.”—(Apocalypse Explained 193).

Hence spiritual light enters the mind through the understanding as natural light enters a house through the windows. The will cannot be enlightened, except in and through the understanding. The spiritual affections of truth in the mind, which are meant by “doves,” must enter into the understanding, in order to enjoy the truth by which alone they can be guided ; the doves must fly to the windows for light. The LORD has come, as a light into the world, but He can only be received by some form of affection. All animals signify affections—birds signify spiritual affections, such affections as flow into the under- standing for the sake of the truth there. Nothing can live without affection. Truth, even Divine Truth, becomes dead as we receive it, unless received into affection for it. The understanding is not the abode of mere truth; mere truth can only be in the memory. The understanding is dead unless there be affection therein, and can no more act without affection, than the lungs can act without the presence of blood from the heart. The natural understanding lives from merely natural affection; but such life is spiritual death. Spiritual affection, the affection for spiritual truth, is necessary in order to give life to the spiritual understanding. But, on the other hand, the will is just as dependent upon the understanding for conscious life. It can have no conscious life except through means of the activity of the understanding. It can have no conscious spiritual life, except from an understanding vivified into activity by the affections which receive spiritual truths there. This is like it is in the beginning of the life of an infant, which has no conscious life from the heart until the lungs are opened and become active. Hence, although the seat of life is in the will, the consciousness of life dwells in the understanding. As heaven is essentially the state which consciously enjoys the blessings of spiritual life, we can see how essential and important a place the understanding, and the reception of spiritual truth thereby, hold towards the life of the Church in man. True it is secondary to the will ; but still it is absolutely essential in its place, for the will could receive no conscious life without it. In order that there may be conscious life, the will must send affections into the understanding, and the degree of conscious life will then be according to the activity of those affections in receiving truths there. If the truths so received, that is, with genuine affection, are spiritual truths from the WORD of the LORD, then there will be consciousness of heavenly life therefrom, more or less internal according as the truths are more or less internal, and more or less full according as the truths are more or less abundant. It is the understanding which is enlightened, the affections of spiritual truth must go to the understanding to receive truths in light, as doves fly to the windows. When there is the affection of spiritual truth thus active in the understanding, then is the genuine good of charity kindled and purified in the will.

“It is otherwise if it is not the genuine truth of faith and not the genuine good of charity. They who are in these, also those who are in falses and evils, can indeed confirm the truths of the Church, but they cannot see and perceive from the interior whether they are truths. Hence it is that most remain in the Doctrinals of their own Church in which they were born, and only confirm those, who also would have confirmed themselves in the greatest heresies, as in Socinianism and in Judaism, if they had been born from such parents.”–(Arcana Coelestia 9300).

The LORD overthrew the seats of those that sold doves (Matt. xxi., 12), because we cannot acquire spiritual affections of ourselves, neither can we communicate them, they cannot be bought or sold. They are given freely by the LORD Himself to all who are simply willing to be led by Him. Hence affection of truth is from good, and is thus spiritual, if it be really from a desire to be led by the LORD instead of by one’s self. Such a desire is the good from which alone it can come. But if the affection of truth be really at bottom only from a desire to lead ourselves by that which naturally seems to ourselves to he truth, then that affection of truth is from evil, for self- leading is not only evil but is the very source of all evils.

“From these things it is evident that the intellectual is enlightened with those who are in the affection of truth from good, but not with those who are in the affection of truth from evil. With those who are in the affection of truth from good, the intellectual of the internal man is enlightened, and the voluntary of the internal man is kindled; but with those who are in the affection of truth from evil, the intellectual of the internal man is not enlightened, neither is the voluntary of the internal man kindled, the reason is because these are natural men. Hence it is, that they defend that the natural man cannot grasp those things which are of faith.”—(Arcana Coelestia 9300).

The natural man cannot, because he has no genuine affection for spiritual truth; and he has not this affection, because he is unwilling to give up leading himself, and determining from his own natural understanding as to what is true. They are as owls lurking in dark places, and not as the doves flying to the windows.

How those who desire to lead themselves, make even the truths of the WORD a means to that end, will appear from the following passage :—

“The literal sense of the WORD is such that whatever dogma a man seizes, he may confirm it from that sense. The cause is, that those things which are of the literal sense of the WORD are general vessels, which receive truths, and that those vessels do not, unless they receive truths, appear of what quality they are, as it were by transparence; thus that they are only generals, which by man are first to be drawn that they may aptly receive particulars and singulars. That the literal sense of the WORD is such, that whatever dogma man seizes he may confirm from it, is manifestly evident from so many heresies which have been in the Church, of which each is confirmed by the Sectaries from the literal sense of the WORD, and is so confirmed by them, that it is altogether believed that thus it is. And then if they should hear the truth itself from heaven they would not at all receive. The cause is that they have not the intellectual of the Church.”—(Arcana Coelestia 6222).

To such, therefore, none of the written forms of Divine Revelation are as windows admitting the light of heaven, but only means of darkening what understanding they have. How the written forms of Divine Revelation may be as windows through which we may see the very light of heaven is thus shown :—

“The intellectual of the Church is, when man reads the WORD, and sedulously compares one thing with another, that he may perceive thence what is to be believed and what is to be done. This does not fall except into such who are enlightened by the LORD, and who are also called enlightened in the Christian Orb; and that enlightenment does not fall into others than into such who desire to know truths, not for the sake of fame and glory, but for the sake of life and use. That enlightenment itself is received by the intellectual with man, for it is the intellectual which is enlightened. This is manifestly evident from this, that they who have little intellectual, can in no wise see such things from the WORD, but that they have faith in those whom they believe to be enlightened. Moreover it is to be known that they who are regenerated receive from the LORD an intellectual which can be enlightened— it is the light of heaven from the LORD which inflows into the intellectual and enlightens it; for the Intellectual has not its light, its sight, therefore its perception, from any other source. But this Intellectual, which is called the Intellectual of the Church, is more interior than the Intellectual which is only from scientifics, for it is apperception that thus it is, not that scientific or philosophical things dictate it, but BECAUSE THE WORD IN ITS SPIRITUAL SENSE DICTATES IT.”-(Arcana Coelestia 6222).

In considering written Revelation as the source of spiritual light to the Church—we should bear in mind “that the ideas of man, as long as he lives in the world, are natural, because then he thinks in the natural; but still spiritual ideas are hidden in them with those who are in the affection of truth for the sake of truth.”—(H. D. 256). Therefore every Divine Revelation for us in this world must be ultimated in a natural form. Thus the Revelation of the Internal Sense of the WORD is ultimated in a natural form for our use, which form differs from those of the Words of the Old and New Testaments in being the internal of the natural, which is the rational. In our reception, therefore, of the teaching of the WORD, it necessarily enters the natural understanding, and there forms the new understanding, in which again is the new will. This new understanding and the ideas in it are not actually spiritual, for the distinctly spiritual plane is never actually opened in this life, but only potentially, in proportion as regeneration takes place. The ideas of the new understanding are distinguished by this, that they are internally connected with the spiritual and receive their quality thence. Thus the external forms of the WORD are natural, but when they are received by genuine affection in the understanding, they are then made living by connection with heaven, or rather through heaven with the LORD. This holds with regard to the reception of any of the forms of the WORD; but the rational form is so proximate to the heavenly forms, that it enables us to consciously receive fuller light than the more external forms can, it therefore presents truths which are especially truths in light, that is, if we only view those truths in their own light. Thus we read:—

“Angels, equally as men, perceive the WORD when it is read, but the angels spiritually, men however, naturally: the man whose internal is opened, also perceives the WORD spiritually, but this he does not know while he lives in the world, because his spiritual thought inflows into the natural in the external man, and there presents itself to be seen; but still it is that interior thought which enlightens, and through which influx takes place from the LORD.”-(Arcana Coelestia 10551).

In the Writings this interior thought is ultimated, not in sensual or corporeal forms, but in rational forms, thus as thought rationally presented. Hence in them we have the light of heaven presented to us in the forms the most proximate to those of heaven that it is possible for it to be ultimated in, in this world. There then, especially, can the affection of spiritual truth come to truths in light—as doves fly to the windows.

As the reception of spiritual light is the same as the reception of a spiritual understanding of truth, which is a rational understanding,

“The WORD cannot be understood except by the rational man, for to believe anything without an idea of the thing, and without the intuition of reason, is only to retain in the memory an expression destitute of all the life of perception and affection, which is not to believe.”— (New Jerusalem and its Heavenly Doctrine 256).

This necessity, however, of receiving truth in the spiritual understanding must not be confounded with the prevalent tendency to subordinate spiritual truth to the natural understanding. In the latter case truth is as destitute of spiritual life as if it were only in the memory. A rational understanding formed from the WORD can alone be receptive of spiritual light. In order to form – such an understanding in any degree of fulness, it must be built up from the WORD as ultimated on the rational plane for that purpose, thus from the literal forms of truth presented in the Writings. Thus alone can the truth received into our minds come fully into light, thus only can there be as it were windows there fully open to heavenly light.

Lastly it is important to note “that it is the literal sense of the WORD which is enlightened.”—(H. D. 256). This is why the text mentions those who fly like a cloud as well as like doves to the windows. The literal statements of written Revelation, received into the mind, are the receptacles of spiritual light; but, in proportion as they are understood. They are understood in proportion as a genuine affection of truth leads us to view truth in the light of truth as doves fly to the windows. A literal statement taken from the WORD on either of its planes of ultimation, gives no light if it be falsely understood. For, instance, such statements as that “Charity is the first of the Church,” when they are falsely understood, thus when they are only understood according to the light of the world, are receptive of no spiritual light in our minds, but rather confirm the spiritual darkness naturally existing there, there is then a cloud that altogether shuts out the light. But if we have genuine affection of truth for its own sake, we will be led thereby to view such statements in the light of Divine Revelation, by learning what Charity is there taught to be, and what the Church. In proportion as that affection leads to our doing thus, those literal statements as they exist in our minds will become receptive of more and more light.

Who, then, are they who fly like clouds and like doves to their windows? Even they whose minds are stored with the literal statements of Divine Revelation, each plane with the form of statement accommodated thereto; and who, from genuine affection, endeavour to view the truths thereof in their own light.  For genuine affection of truth is always affection for doing truth, and he the doeth the truth cometh into the light (John iii, 21).

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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