MIRACLES, SIGNS & WONDERS: A NEW CHURCH PERSPECTIVE (part 3)

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READINGS

“These signs shall follow them that believe: in my name they shall cast out demons; they shall speak with new tongues; they shall take up serpents; if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall be restored. And they went forth and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them by signs following” (Mk xvi. 17, 18, 20).

Apocalypse Explained 706[14]

Although these were miracles, yet they are called signs, because they testified of the Divine power of the Lord who performed them: therefore it is said, the Lord working with them by these signs. If these had been performed by the evil they would have been called miracles, for with them such things cause only amazement, and make an impression on the mind, and yet produce no conviction; but it is otherwise, with the good, for with them, these same things are testifications which induce belief, they are therefore also called signs, and it is said “these signs shall follow them that believe.” But how these signs could produce conviction, shall also be briefly stated. Those miraculous signs – that they should cast out demons, speak with new tongues, take up serpents, that if they drank any deadly thing it should not hurt them, and that the sick should be restored by the laying on of hands – were spiritual in their essence and origin, from which these flowed forth and came forth as effects; for they were correspondences, which derive their all from the spiritual world by influx from the Lord. For example, that they should cast out demons in the name of the Lord, derived its effect from this circumstance, that the name of the Lord spiritually understood means everything of doctrine out of the Word from the Lord, and that demons are falsities of every kind; and these are thus cast out, that is, removed by means of doctrine out of the Word from the Lord. That they should speak with new tongues, derived its effect from this, that new tongues signify [teachings] for the new church; they should take up serpents because serpents signify the hells as to wickedness, and thus they would be safe from its infestation. They should not be hurt if they drank a deadly thing, denotes that the wickedness of the hells should not infect them. That the sick should be restored by the laying on of hands means through communication and conjunction with heaven, thus with the Lord, to be restored to health from spiritual diseases, which are called iniquities and sins; the laying on of the disciples’ hands, corresponding to communication and conjunction with the Lord, thus to the removal of iniquities by His Divine power.

SERMON

Today we come to the third and final part of our general introduction on the subject of miracles prior our exploration of the Lord’s miracles found in the gospels.  What you find in the Word is that miracles are often referred to as either signs or wonders or both, so one of our objectives this morning will be to get a sense of why this might be.  The first thing to keep in mind when working in the Sacred Scriptures is that words that appear to mean the same thing in terms of their common meaning actually point to very different things in the inner world, this being the world with which the Word is primarily concerned.  This is especially true where you get words appearing in pairs like, poor with needy, joy with gladness, or justice with judgement (SS 84).  A superficial reading of such pairings might view them as simply terms of a literary or poetic effect on the part of the writer.  However the Heavenly Doctrines state otherwise, pointing out that nothing in the Word is superfluous or can be deemed redundant.  Every word right down to the very smallest elements is significant because it holds within it spiritual and celestial realities vital to the maintenance of all that exists.

We read in Doctrine of Sacred Scripture that in every detail of the Word there is a marriage of the Lord and the Church and so a marriage of good and truth (SS 80) and that…

Since there exists such a marriage in every detail of the Word, therefore double expressions frequently occur in it, which seem like repetitions of the same thing. They are, however, not repetitions; but one relates to good and the other to truth, and when both are taken together they effect the conjunction of good and truth, and so combine them into one. This also is the ground of the Divinity and sanctity of the Word; for in every Divine work there is a conjunction of good with truth, and of truth with good. (Doctrine of Sacred Scripture 81)

In the work the Apocalypse Explained n706 it is pointed out that this principle applies to the phrase signs and wonders, so that one of the words relates to the understanding and the other to the will, for every person has an understanding which is the seat of their truth and a will which is the seat of their good.  The word ‘sign’ relates to the understanding part of the mind while the word ‘wonder’ relates to the affections or will or volitional part of the mind.  This can be seen when we trace these words to their roots.  The word ‘sign’ (signum) comes from the idea of cutting, to scribe a mark in something, this relates to the idea of writing and writing is a tool for communicating ideas or passing on ‘an understanding of things’.  The word wonder is rendered in the Latin of the Heavenly Doctrines as ‘admiratio’ from which we get the word ‘admire,’ or ‘admiration,’ and so we see in this word its strong link to the affectional aspect of our nature.

…in every part of the Word there is a marriage of truth and good, thus also of the understanding and will, for truth pertains to the understanding and good to the will, consequently signs there have reference to things pertaining to truth, thus to those of faith and the understanding, and miracles to things pertaining to good, thus to those of affection and the will. (Apocalypse Explained 706)

So when we read the word ‘sign’ in the Word it indicates that the context is something to do with the understanding faculty, whereas when we read the word ‘wonder’ the context has something to do with the will or volitional faculty.  You should also be aware that the Heavenly Doctrines use of the word ‘miracle’ leans more towards the idea of ‘wonder’ than it does towards the idea of a ‘sign’ as we can see from our reading earlier…

Although these were miracles, yet they are called signs, because they testified of the Divine power of the Lord who performed them: therefore it is said, the Lord working with them by these signs. If these had been performed by the evil they would have been called miracles, for with them such things cause only amazement, and make an impression on the mind, and yet produce no conviction; but it is otherwise, with the good, for with them, these same things are testifications which induce belief, they are therefore also called signs, and it is said “these signs shall follow them that believe.”  (Apocalypse Explained 706 [14])

What I hope you can see from this is how different words are used to describe similar external events and that the specific word used says something about the state of those through whom the event occurs.  It is also the case that a different word is used dependant on the state of those who are witnessing the event.  What we are told here is that the word ‘miracle’ has a negative application being applied to states of evil and that the term ‘sign’ is used in relation to the good.  The word ‘wonder’ also carries a negative connotation.  In fact in the Word of the New Testament the word ‘wonder’ is only used by the Lord in reference to ‘false Christs’ whereas all the works ascribed to the Lord are described as signs, although it needs to be said that the word ‘sign’ is used once in the book of Revelation (chpt 13) in connection with a beast there, but the context clearly defines the meaning of ‘sign’ as being the opposite of what is good or true in that case.

In general the word ‘signs’ in the New Testament points us to what belongs to the internal things of the Word and as such the Lord’s activity within the minds of those who are open to receiving Divine Truth.  In the Old Testament the term ‘wonders’ is much more common because it better describes the state of the relationship between the Israelitish or Jewish Church and Jehovah.  The Heavenly Doctrines point out that that Church wasn’t a true church at all but merely represented a church.  As such it was purely external in its form it having no understanding or interest in internal things, therefore their experience of the working of the Lord in their midst is described through the use of the more negatively coloured term, ‘wonders.’  We also see that despite these ‘wonders’ being performed on almost a daily basis that church constantly fell away from the Lord which confirms the truth that ‘wonders’ do not induce a genuine faith or belief.

We also find in the Old Testament that the signs and wonders the Lord performed are able to be counterfeited by others.  We see this in the story of Moses and the Egyptian magi in the book of Exodus.  In commenting on this kind of thing we find this statement in the Arcana Coelestia…

As regards miracles, be it known that Divine miracles differ from magical miracles as heaven does from hell. Divine miracles proceed from Divine truth and advance according to order, the effects in ultimates being miracles when it pleases the Lord that they be presented in this form. Hence it is that all Divine miracles represent states of the Lord’s kingdom in the heavens, and of the Lord’s kingdom in the earth, that is, of the church. This is the internal form of Divine miracles. Such is the case with all the miracles done in Egypt, and also with all others that are mentioned in the Word. All miracles which the Lord Himself wrought when He was in the world signified the coming state of the church; (AC 7337)

The Lord never performed a miracle to simply relieve individual suffering, rather, in every case the purpose was always one that looked to the universal salvation of the human race as is suggested in the following…

The Lord’s miracles are but lightly esteemed if we think merely that some blind persons received their sight, some deaf their hearing, and so on; for they all signify and involve Divine things, namely the heavenly state of His Kingdom and His church. This is a mystery hitherto unknown. (Miracles and Signs 3)

The Lord’s miracles are signs because they are designed to point people to those inner realities that belong to states of the church or spiritual mind if they are open to receiving them as such.  And for those who acknowledge the Lord as the Word through living from it the nature of these signs becomes obvious because they instruct them as to the inner processes that they experience first hand as they engage with the Word to examine themselves and practise repentance.  The sign is not found in the external healing or miracle, but is in its inner meaning…

…all Divine miracles, consequently all miracles mentioned in the Word, involved and signified things spiritual and celestial, that is, such things that pertain to heaven and the church: by this Divine miracles are distinguished from miracles not Divine.  (Apocalypse Explained 455.)

And again

… the signs that testify to the Lord’s Divine Power are those meant in the spiritual sense, in which sense heaven and the church are treated of.  (Apocalypse Explained 706[24])

Now this only makes sense when we understand that by ‘heaven’ is meant the internal mind and by the word ‘church’ in the Heavenly Doctrines is meant the external mind when it corresponds to the internal mind in those who are being regenerated.  To such as these the miracles are signs because they instruct the understanding and shed light on what’s involved in living a spiritual life.  We are told that such signs attest to what is to come (AE 706[14]) and as such are able to prepare a person for the difficulties they will face in seeking to live a spiritual life.  For those not interested in such a life the Lord states clearly that…

…no sign shall be given…but the sign of prophet Jonah (Matt 12:39)

And the reason it is said that no sign will be given, despite the fact that many hearing these words would have seen the miracles the Lord performed, is because their resistance to the Divine truth meant that they were not able to be enlightened so as to see the inner instruction present in the miracle.  They saw the miracles but tragically couldn’t read the signs because they had no interest in internal things…

And the Pharisees and Sadducees coming, tempting, asked Him to show them a sign from the heaven.  And He answering said to them, When it is evening, you say, there will be serenity, for the heaven is red; and in the morning, today will be a tempest, for the heaven is red, being sad. Hypocrites! You indeed know how to discern the face of the heaven, but° the signs of the time you cannot discern.  (Matt 16:1-3)

The warning is not just for those who lived at that time it is also for us, we have the Word, the record of the Lord’s miracles is available to us, the question for us is can we read the signs?

We return to our reading from the Heavenly Doctrines which openly teaches what the signs are…

Those miraculous signs – that they should cast out demons, speak with new tongues, take up serpents, that if they drank any deadly thing it should not hurt them, and that the sick should be restored by the laying on of hands – were spiritual in their essence and origin, from which these flowed forth and came forth as effects; for they were correspondences, which derive their all from the spiritual world by influx from the Lord.

And what is meant by the fact that they were spiritual, well that they are to be understood internally or in their application to peoples mental life, for example…

…that they should cast out demons in the name of the Lord, derived its effect from this circumstance, that the name of the Lord spiritually understood means everything of doctrine out of the Word from the Lord, and that demons are falsities of every kind; and these are thus cast out, that is, removed by means of doctrine out of the Word from the Lord.

It is spiritual teaching or truth that removes falsities and this is what is meant by casting out demons, this only occurs in those who look to the Word and live from its doctrine; those who do this know this to be true in their experience and so can see that this statement attests to the truth…

That they should speak with new tongues, derived its effect from this, that new tongues signify teachings for the new church;

The giving of the Heavenly Doctrines restores charity or love to the first place making it possible for the truths of the Word to be heard and expressed in life in new ways, these teachings that focus on love are the new tongues or new ways of expressing spiritual and celestial things…

…they should take up serpents because serpents signify the hells as to wickedness, and thus they would be safe from its infestation. They should not be hurt if they drank a deadly thing, denotes that the wickedness of the hells should not infect them.

That a life according to truths protects against infestations of false forms of thinking that harbour and keep alive negative emotions, it also means that if anything from the hells enters the understanding (which is what is meant by ‘to drink what is deadly’) they will be able to counter its effects through their understanding of truths so as not to be infected by it…

That the sick should be restored by the laying on of hands means through communication and conjunction with heaven, thus with the Lord,

That is, by the practise of the Word and its application to the inner life of the mind for there is no other medium by which a person can be conjoined with heaven…

…to be restored to health from spiritual diseases, which are called iniquities and sins; the laying on of the disciples’ hands, corresponding to communication and conjunction with the Lord, thus to the removal of iniquities by His Divine power. (Apocalypse Explained 706[14])

Again it is only through the Word this become possible.  It is the inner meaning that constitute the signs in the Lord’s miracles and bring about His salvation.  The time of the external show of miracles has passed because we have entered an age where the healing of the internal man is now possible due to the Lord making His power available through a deeper understanding of the Word…

The Divine miracles which take place to-day are not manifest, but hidden. In the course of their occurrence there are many happenings which, because they do not appear as miracles, are ascribed to chance, to prudence, or to nature, except by those who acknowledge the Divine Providence in every single event. They are hidden, for the reason already stated, in order that those minds should not be influenced inopportunely, whose interiors the Lord is preparing for receiving good and truth; but that they should be in freedom, that is, that they should receive their faith from an interior affection.  (Miracles and Signs 18)

…man ought to compel himself to do good against his own lusts, and that he ought to compel himself to believe truths contrary to his own opinions; but that he should not be compelled to do so. […] self-compulsion is a mark of freedom, because it springs from an interior affection, and that to be compelled is not from freedom, but is from an exterior force. Miracles […do not involve] self-compulsion, for by them a man is compelled from without. (Miracles and Signs 11)

And finally the Lord Himself said…

If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, (i.e. live from what the Word teaches) neither will they be persuaded if someone rises from the dead. Luke 16:31.

Amen

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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