The Word Not Understood Without Doctrine From The Word


Preached in Parkdale, 14th June, 1891, published in New Church Tidings, no 94, November 1892.

“And Nadab and Abihu died when they offered strange fire before Jekovah.”—Numbers xxvi.

In connection with the study of what is meant by the action of Nadab and Abihu in offering strange fire, it is necessary to know that by Moses is signified the WORD in general, by Aaron the WORD in the internal and external sense, and by Nadab and Abihu is signified doctrine from each sense (Arcana Coelestia. 9371).

“Nadab and Abihu, that it signifies doctrine from each sense appears from this that they were sons of Aaron ; wherefore when by Aaron is signified the WORD, by his sons doctrine is signified, by the elder born doctrine from the internal sense of the WORD, and by the younger born doctrine from the external sense of the WORD.”—(Arcana Coelestia. 9375).

Note that a distinction is here made between doctrine from the internal sense and doctrine from the external sense of the WORD. It is necessary to bear the distinction in mind, in order that we may see that what is taught con­cerning doctrine applies to man’s relation to the internal sense of the WORD, as well as to his relation to the external sense of the WORD. Neither one nor the other can be understood without doctrine from the WORD. Or, what is the same, without teaching from the WORD, for if we do not study it in the light of its own teaching, we can only re­gard it in the light of self-intelligence, and thereby inevit­ably misunderstand it. Each form of the WORD must be seen in the light of genuine teaching therefrom before we can begin to understand it. With those who have only the external sense, the doctrine necessary to them consists of the general truths presented in that sense which enable them to regard the whole in its own light, instead of in light derived from their own intelligence or that of the world. With those who have the internal sense, doctrine must be taken from that sense and both senses viewed in the light of that doctrine. This doctrine, or teaching, in like manner, consists of the general truths presented in the Writings which enable us to view those Writings in their own light instead of in light derived from our own intel­ligence or that of the world. Thus although the Writings are relatively the doctrine by means of which the external sense of the WORD can be understood, still they also need to be read and studied altogether in the light of their own doctrine, which alone can enable us to understand the presentation of the internal sense of the WORD which the LORD has there made. From each sense then doctrine should be derived, and the doctrine derived respectively from the internal and external senses of the WORD is signi­fied in the text by Nadab and Abihu.

“Because Nadab and Abihu represented doctrine from the WORD, therefore when they instituted worship from other doctrine than that from the WORD, they were slain ; which was represented by those words which are concern­ing them in Moses—‘The sons. of Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, .took each man his censer, and gave fire into them, upon which they placed incense and thus they offered to Jehovah strange fire, concerning which He had commanded them not, therefore fire went forth from before Jehovah and consumed them, so that they died before Jehovah : and Moses spake to Aaron, this that Jehovah has spoken, saying, I will be sanctified in those coming near to Me’—(Lev. x. 1-3).  By strange fire in the censer from another source, is signified doctrine from any other source than from the WORD.”—(Arcana Coelestia 9375).

From this it is very clear that there is doctrine from the internal as well as from the external sense of the WORD. Where can we obtain the doctrine derived from the internal sense of the WORD, except from the Writings? But it is unlawful for the Church to take doctrine from any other source than from the WORD —hence as the revelation of the internal sense of the WORD is given for the use of the New Church, teaching received from that source is itself doctrine from the WORD. Also that form of the WORD must, like every form of the WORD, be understood in the light of doctrine. In the Writings such doctrine is pro­vided as may serve for the Divine light in which the whole may be rightly understood. Hence is the importance of having the general doctrines concerning the LORD, the WORD, Faith, Charity, etc., clearly in our minds. For without such doctrine nothing of the internal sense of the WORD can be rightly understood. Without such doctrine the internal sense is altogether clouded from our view, even when we read the Writings—in that case, we only see the literal forms which are intended to convey the internal sense, but into which we read quite another sense, taken from our own intelligence. That intelligence must be put away and Divine Doctrine taken as the only guide to any genuine understanding of the internal sense. This is the reason why we are studying the Heavenly Doctrine, why we are now making a special study of the teaching concerning the WORD as it is now revealed for us.

Now if we do not read the WORD according to doctrine from the WORD, we cannot do otherwise, if we read it at all, than read it according to doctrine from some other source—from self or the world. What doctrine we read it according to depends upon our love—upon the fire which we use in worship. Only in proportion as we learn to hate self-leading and to distrust worldly wisdom, will we in any practical sense take doctrine from the WORD. Other­wise, we may indeed, appear to go to the Revealed forms of the WORD for doctrine, but we will only take those forms thence which can be made to express our own loves. This is what Nadab and Abihu did and for which they were slain —they took strange fire instead of that perpetual fire burn­ing on the Altar of the LORD, and which had come down from heaven. That perpetual fire is love to the LORD, the love of being led by Him—that is the only love which can enable us really to receive true doctrine from any form of the WORD, and that love we can only have in proportion as we really hate self-leading and our own intelligence— Except a man hate his father and mother he cannot be the LORD’S disciple.

“Doctrine is to be collected from the WORD, and when it is collected, man is in enlightenment from the LORD, and he is in enlightenment when he is in the love of truth for the sake of truth and not for the sake of self and the world.” —(Arcana Coelestia 9424).

To love truth for the sake of truth is to love to be led by the LORD, for the only thing that makes truth to be truth is its origin from the LORD. On the other hand we love truth for the sake of self, when we love it simply be­cause it seems to express our own cherished ideas. Thus it is only real love of being led by the LORD that can enable us to receive, with our hearts, the genuine truths which form genuine doctrine, and which alone can reveal to us in a true light the WORD as a whole. But as certainly as we give way to our inherited love of leading ourselves, so sure will we be to take only those appearances of truth with which our own ideas can fit, for our doctrine. These are indeed appearances of truth, which in the light of true doctrine would each be receptive of light, but When thus taken they are appearances of truth filled only with our own self loves, with the strange fire on account of which Nadab and Abihu were slain—that is, on account of which doctrine from the internal and external senses of the WORD, because it only as to appearance came from the WORD, ceased to have spiritual life.

Concerning those who love truth for the sake of truth we are taught‑

“These are those who are enlightened in the WORD when they read it, and see truth and make for themselves doctrine thence.” —(Arcana Coelestia 9424).

Mark the statement “they make for themselves doctrine thence.” There is a sense in which the doctrine is made for us—it is indeed presented in all fulness in the Writings; but in another sense, we actually make it for ourselves by receiving it—it is actual doctrine for us only in proportion as our lives are governed by it. We can cause what we receive from the Writings to be doctrine, that is, teaching, to us, or we can cause it to be only confirmation of our own ideas, in which case it is not doctrine, not teaching, to us. The love of being led by the LORD must be in our reception of it—otherwise we are offering strange fire, and the doctrine, even though it externally appears to be taken from the WORD, is slain in us—it ceases to be doctrine or teaching, as far as we are concerned.

The internal sense of the WORD is revealed in the Writ­ings, but clothed in literal forms taken from the world, thus to some extent clouded and guarded by cherubim lest only the hand of profanation should be laid upon it. We can understand the Internal Sense, there presented, by means of doctrine—only when we have the love which enables us to make for ourselves genuine doctrine, do we really receive, or even know, anything of the Internal Sense. For we are taught…

“That man when he is in the world is at the same time in the internal sense of the WORD when he is in the genuine doctrine of the Church as to faith and as to life, for then by that doctrine the internal sense of the WORD is inscribed both upon his understanding and his will, upon his understanding by faith and upon his will by life. Such a man when he comes into heaven does not at all otherwise grasp the WORD than according to its internal sense, and knows nothing concerning its external sense, this appears to him then like a cloud which absorbs the rays of its light.”  —(Arcana Coelestia. 9430).

So far is it from being true that the WORD should be received in subjection to man’s rational, that we are taught that there would be no doctrine of faith if the rational were consulted. This is, we are told‑

“Because the rational is in appearances of truth, which appearances are not true in themselves. Moreover the rational has under itself fallacies which are from the external sensuals confirmed by scientifics, which induce shade upon those appearances of truth. The rational is as to the greatest part merely human, as also can appear from its nativity. Hence now it is that no doctrinal of faith can be begun from it, still less formed from it. But it must be from the Divine itself and the Divine Human of the LORD, thence is its origin, and indeed to such a degree that the LORD is doctrine itself. Wherefore also in the WORD He is called the WORD, the Truth, the Light, the Way, the Door.”  —(Arcana Coelestia 2516).

Thus we see that the very Doctrine, according to which we must read the WORD in order to rightly understand it, is the LORD Himself. We find genuine Doctrine when we find the LORD Himself appearing in His Divine Revelation to lead us, and when we fight against our natural tenden­cies of self-leading, for the sake of following what the LORD teaches, however it may differ from that to which we naturally incline. He is Doctrine—we shall see Him not in any merely imaginative way, but as our practical Teacher and Leader, speaking in the written forms of Revelation, if only we shun approaching that Revelation with strange fire, that is with the love which only looks for the confirmation of its own ideas, and have our worship kindled instead with the Divine Fire from Heaven, which is the love of being led, as children, solely by the LORD. Or as this is expressed in the Writings :

“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 those who say they believe and do not live.” —(Arcana Coelestia 10659).

The different results which come from regarding Doc­trine in the reading of Divine Revelation, and from not so regarding it, are thus set forth :–

“Among priests and among the men of the Church are those who teach and learn the truths of the Church from the literal sense of the WORD, and there are those who teach and learn from Doctrine from the WORD, which is called the doctrine of the faith of the Church. The latter differ exceedingly in perception from the former: but they cannot be distinguished by the vulgar, because the latter and the former speak almost similarly from the WORD: but they who teach and learn the literal sense of the WORD, without the Doctrine of the Church regulating, only grasp those things which are of the natural or external man, but those who teach and learn from the true doctrine which is from the WORD, understand those things which are of the spir­itual or internal man, the reason is because the WORD in the external or literal sense is natural, but in the internal sense it is spiritual.” —(Arcana Coelestia 9025).

Children should be diligently taught those genuine doc­trines which will prepare them to understand the WORD as the LORD has revealed it. But still they too when they come to adult age must make doctrine for themselves, by seeing for themselves that the doctrine that they have been taught is actually the doctrine which the LORD has revealed, and then receiving it as the LORD’S. Those adults also who, on account of the cares of business or other reasons, cannot sufficiently search out doctrine, also are still under the obligation to see for themselves that the doctrine taught to them is actually involved in the written Revelation which the LORD has given for the use of the Church, and thus make the doctrine to be actually for themselves, by receiving it as the LORD’S. As all Doctrine therefore is to be drawn from the WORD alone, and can be so drawn only by means of the written forms of Divine Revelation, by which forms also all doctrines should be confirmed, the letter becomes the very foundation upon which our understanding of the WORD rests, at the same time that our conscious thought is led to dwell more and more upon the internal sense, and less upon the mere sense of the letter. The understanding of the Internal Sense of the WORD to which genuine doctrine thus leads us, enables us to see the harmony and agreement which exist between all forms of the WORD, however they may appear to be contradictory on the surface. This applies to the Writings as well as to the Old and New Testaments—in the Writings too there will appear to be contradictory statements if the light of genuine doctrine be not shed upon them. Let us therefore diligently seek to acquire such doctrine, and let us seek it in the way which the LORD teaches to be the only way—by combating our love of being led by self and the world, in order that we may approach what the LORD has revealed for the formation of the New Church, more and more in a simple and childlike desire to be led by our Heavenly Father—that we may with the sight of our understandings see the LORD Himself therein, come to teach and lead those who will be of His New Church. Only by fighting against our own love of self-leading can the doctrine we have, both from the internal and ex­ternal senses of the WORD, be saved from spiritual death— from ceasing to be that which really teaches us and becoming only that which confirms the dead things of our own intelligence—from being thus slain like Nadab and Abihu for offering strange fire before the LORD

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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