Servant of the Lord Jesus Christ

by the Rev. Edwin Capon, 
Past-President of the Swedenborgian Church
in the United States and Canada
In the January, 1995 Issue of Our Daily Bread

In 1749 an anonymous Latin volume was published by John Lewis, #1 Paternoster Row, London. Following the custom of the day it bore a lengthy Latin title. An English translation would read: Heavenly Arcana Disclosed, which are in the Sacred Scripture or Word of the Lord: Here, first, those which are in Genesis, together with wonderful Things Seen in the World of Spirits and the Heaven of Angels. Today we usually settle for the Arcana Coelestia, meaning "Heavenly Secrets," or merely the Arcana. Seven more volumes followed, one each year until 1756.

The first volume, 640 pages long, sold for only six shillings - in the eyes of the printer not enough for a volume printed, as his advertisement said, in "a grand and pompous manner, but it was the generous author's absolute command that it should be so, for he lacks neither purse nor spirit to carry out his laudable undertaking." By 1771 the Arcana was no longer available, for its author, writing to the Duke and Landgrave of Hesse-Darmstadt, stated that "all copies, those in England as well as those that were in Holland, have been sold."

Most of you know that the author of these eight weighty volumes in Latin [12 in English] was Emanuel Swedenborg, born 1688. It is on his Bible-based presentation of Christian doctrine that this church is founded. In 1749 he had already published a number of works in several fields, including metallurgy, anatomy, philosophy, and psychology, works to which he had not hesitated to attach his name. He was already well-known in his native Sweden, and not unknown in other parts of Europe, yet not one volume of his longest work was to bear his name. It is interesting to speculate on the reasons for this, since we have reason to think Swedenborg was concerned in earlier years with his reputation and standing as a scientist and scholar.

In his Journal of Dreams Swedenborg records the following from the night of April 8-9, 1744: "I saw a bookshop, and immediately the thought struck me that my work would have greater effect than the works of others, but I checked myself at once by the thought that one person serves another and that our Lord has many thousands of ways of preparing every one, so that every book must be left to its own merits, as a medium near or remote, according to the state of the understanding of every one. Nevertheless, pride at once was bound to assert itself; may God control it, for the power is in His hands."

Did Swedenborg withhold his name from the title page of the Arcana Coelestia out of the fear of pride? That may be part of it. It may also be that he did not wish to appear to take credit for something the worth of which he would certainly have ascribed to the Lord. His crowing work, True Christian Religion, printed in Amsterdam in 1881 after his authorship of the Arcana became known, as signed, "Emanuel Swedenborg, Servant of the Lord Jesus Christ," as if to say with St. Paul, "I, yet not I, Christ..." And two years earlier, in 1769, he wrote in reply to a laudatory letter form the Rev. Thomas Hartley, "The praises with which you overwhelm me, I receive simply as expressions of your love for the truths contained in my writings; and I refer them, as their source, to the Lord, our Savior, from whom is everything true, because He is the truth."

In many churches dedicated to Swedenborg's presentation of Christianity it has become customary to celebrate his birthday the letter part of January. Some Swedenborgians do not think this appropriate, because we do not view him as a saint and he himself would not wish to be given the credit for his accomplishments. Yet it is natural curiosity that makes us wonder about the man the Lord chose for this work of revelation. Furthermore, we may need to know something of his life in order to defend him against the attacks of the cynics and the skeptics who would attack the teachings through the man. The same Thomas Hartley I have mentioned asked Swedenborg for information about his life for this very purpose. I would like to read you Swedenborg's response:

I was born at Stockholm, on the 29th of January in the year 1688. My father's name was Jespar Swedberg, who was Bishop of West-Gothland, and a man of celebrity in his time. He was elected and enrolled as a member of the English Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts; for he had been appointed by King Charles XII Bishop over the Swedish churches in Pennsylvania, and also over the church in London. In the year 1710 I went abroad...to England... Holland, France and Germany, and returned home in the year 1714. In the year 1716, and also afterwards, I had many conversations with Charles XII, King of Sweden, who greatly favoured me, and the same year offered me an assessorship in the College of Mines, which office I filled until the year 1747, when I resigned it, retaining however, the official salary during my life. My sole object in tendering my resignation was, that I might have more leisure to devote to the new office to which the Lord had called me. A higher post of honour was then offered me, which I positively declined, lest my heart should be inspired with pride. In the year 1719, I was ennobled by Queen Ulrica Eleanora, and named Swedenborg; and from that time I have taken my seat among the nobles of the rank of knighthood, in the triennial Diet of the Realm. I am a Fellow and Member, by invitation, of the Royal Academy of Sciences in Stockholm; but I have never sought admission into any literary society in any other place, because I am in an angelic society, where such things as relate to heaven and the soul are the only subjects of discourse; while in literary societies the world and the body form the only subjects of discussion.

With respect to my family connections, I had four sisters. One of them was married to Ericus Benzelius, who subsequently became the Archbishop of Upsal, and through him I became related to the two succeeding archbishops, who were younger brothers of his. My second sister was married to Lars Benzelsteirna who became a provincial governor---Two bishops... are related to me... one of them, whose name is Filenius, and who is Bishop of East-Cothland, officiates now as President of the House of the Clergy in the Diet at Stockholm, in the pace of the Archbishop, who is an invalid... the other, named Benzelstierna, is Bishop of Westnamland and Dalecarita... Not to mention others of my relations who occupy stations of honor. Moreover, all the bishops of my native country, who are ten in number, and also the sixteen senators, and the rest of those highest in office, entertain feelings of affection for me; from their affections they honour me, and I live with them on terms of familiarity, as a friend among friends; the reason of which is, that they know I am in company with angels...

But all that I have thus far related, I consider of comparatively little importance; for it is far exceeded by the circumstance, that I have been called to a holy office by the Lord Himself...

I have increasingly found that knowing the man, Swedenborg, and knowing the background of his times has helped me to a better understanding of what he wrote. But the truth and beauty of his teachings do not rest upon the man through whom they have been given or even upon his claim to have been called by the Lord to reveal them. That truth and beauty appears to me because it makes the Bible's message alive and because it gives fuller meaning to human life. Nowhere else do I find more of life's most important questions answered. I am glad to know it was he who wrote the Arcana Coelestia and the other religious works that have meant so much to me. I am glad he was born and that he served God and the truth so well.

Scripture:

If I proclaim the Gospel, this gives me no ground for boasting, for an obligation is laid on me, and woe to me if I do not proclaim the Gospel! For if I do this of my own will, I have a reward; but if not of my own will, I am entrusted with a commission. What then is my reward? Just this: that in my proclamation I may make the gospel free of charge, so as not to make full use of my rights in the Gospel...

Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are competent of ourselves to claim anything as coming from us; our competence is from God, who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of letter but of spirit; for the letter kills, but he Spirit gives life...

For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus' sake. For it is the God who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.

I Corinthians 9:16-18, II Corinthians 3:4-6; 4:5-7

Reading from Swedenborg:

But all that I have thus far related, I consider of comparatively little importance; for it is far exceeded by the circumstance, that I have been called to a holy office by the Lord Himself, who most mercifully appeared before me. His servant, in the year 1743; when He opened my sight into the spiritual world, and enabled me to converse with spirits and angels, in which state I have continued up to the present day. From that time I began to print and publish the various arcana that were seen by me or revealed to me, concerning Heaven and Hell, the state of man after death, the true worship of God, the spiritual sense of the Word, besides many other most important matters conducive to salvation and wisdom. The only reason of my my journeys abroad has been the desire of making myself useful, and of making known the arcana that were entrusted to me. Moreover, I have as much of this world's wealth as I need, and neither seek nor wish for more.

Letter to Thomas Hartley, 1769


Music: Conversations with my Soul
1999 Bruce DeBoer