The founder of this chimerical cult was Emanuel Swedberg, a name which he later changed to the more resonant Swedenborg. Born in Stockholm in 1688, he was said to have lived and died a Lutheran. If so, one wonders whether his denomination, not far past the mighty Reformation, made any efforts to correct or discipline the pedantic heretic. Early he claimed the ability to see and converse with spirits and angels. Thus the religion he schematized became a predecessor to the Spiritism of today. Contact with the spirit-world is fundamental to the cult. However, such contact its adherents manage without mediums, Ouija board or audible knockings. Swedenborg had ready access to the realm of angels, to heaven and hell. This claim for some amounted to a distracting facade for the new religious vagaries soon to be dreamed up, without any overt displacement of the revelation of God given in the Holy Scripture. Proof for the superhuman origin of the novel reveries was sought in the power of psychic insight and in undesigned coincidences. Pharaoh’s magicians made the same appeal. We are warned, by one of his disciples, that “one might suspect” Swedenborg’s writings “to be the language of a madman . . .” Yet, it is further stated, “whatever else may be said of his teachings, they are certainly not the incoherent combinations of an unsound mind.”¹ Furthermore, the man became a genius in science, a nobleman, and finally a theologian, if what he wrote may be deemed theology. The latter we cannot grant, since the root error of this cult we believe to be a rationalistic mysticism. The man himself may have been as sane as his apologists, for whatever that is worth, but the reader must decide for himself whether his writings were.
God. Swedenborgianism teaches that God is man. In all of heaven there is no idea of God than that of a man. The reason for this is that heaven is in the, form of a man.² It is not said that God reveals himself in the form of a man, nor that God is a man, but that God is man. Heaven is in the form of a man, but God is man. This comes close to the pantheism that personalizes God only in mankind. In fact, a rather bald pantheism appears in the statement that “God created the universe from Himself, not out of nothing.”³ Let recent expositors of the cult who deny his pantheism explain this statement. But the latter error and its twin sister, evolution, teach that “it is impossible for anything to be made out of nothing.” This is the ancient pagan philosophy of ex nihilo nihil fit, and a denial of the infallible Word that “God calleth the things not being as being” (Rom. 4:17, Gk.), and that “the things which are seen are not made by things which do appear” (Heb. 11:3). Evolutionism is also evident in the contention as to “the origin of matter” that material substance is “produced from the sun.”4 This is not in harmony with what took place on the fourth creative day.
Trinity. With his rather Mormonite doctrine of God, Swedenborg could not hold the doctrine of the trinity. To him this teaching was a modern innovation. “That God was triune before the world was created the sacred Scripture does not teach . . . A trinity of persons in the Godhead before the world was created, never came into the mind of anyone from the time of Adam to the Lord’s advent . . .”5 This, to say the least, is a denial of Gen. 1:26f, and of the name. Elohim, which is not singular, not even dual, but plural. Revealing more of his anti-Trinitarian and Unitarian position, he claimed that the orthodox doctrine of the trinity implied “a trinity of gods.” Then what does he mean when he denies that there are three persons in the Godhead, but rather three distinct essences in the sort of “trinity” he imagines? These essences are the divine essence of the Father, the human essence of Jesus Christ and the proceeding essence of the Holy Spirit.6 Is this not a tritheism of a divine god, a demi-god and a neuter-god (a sort of tertium quid)? We cannot understand why anyone would think that our wonderful pseudo-theologian “carried his respect for the person and divinity of Jesus Christ to the highest point of veneration, considering him altogether as “God manifest in the flesh, and as the fulness of the Godhead united to the man Christ Jesus.”7 For in his evaluation of the creed we cannot discern that high veneration. He says: “That this church did not acknowledge three Divine Persons, nor therefore a Son of’ God from eternity, but only the Son of God born in time, is evident from the creed whit h from their church is called Apostolic . . . from which it is plain, that they acknowledge no other Son of God than the one conceived of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary, and by no means any Son of God born from eternity.”8 But the true church and the Apostolic Creed do acknowledge a Son of God from eternity—strictly, not a Son of God born from eternity—the Son was given (not born) from eternity. The Child (i.e., the impersonal human nature), which the Person of the Son took up into union with His divine nature, was born, and that “in due time.” But that the Son is from eternity is plain from Mic. 5:2; Is. 9:6; Prov. 8; John 8:58, ASV; 17:5, 24, as even an honest atheist will have to admit is the teaching of Scripture. Still, Swedenborg goes on to try to make the Athanasian Creed capable of an interpretation which admits only a modal trinity. Such a man has the fine facility of cracking his head on the immovable Gibraltar of history.
Image of God. Swedenborg here seems to have a modern “as if philosophy, for he says, “The image of God and the likeness of God are not destroyed with man, but are as if (emph. added) destroyed.”9 Modern irrationalism speaks “as if” God exists, although God, at best, is the impossible possibility, the uncertain certainty, the unthinkable thinkable, the non-existent existent. So the image of God is the indestructible destructible. We think of it “as if” it were completely obliterated. This philosophy leaves room for some vestiges of the image of God remaining in man, such as man’s rationality and liberty. In the history of the Fall and the resultant loss of the divine image, no account is taken of the noetic effects of sin. For man’s rationality is fallen also, corrupted, indeed perverted, and, although it still glimmers with remnants of natural light, he, in his will and in his intellect, is incapable of using this natural light aright even in regard to natural things. In fact, this light, vestigial as it is, he renders wholly polluted, that is, darkness, and holds the light down in the darkness, in unrighteousness, by every thought, word and act. But Swedenborg said that the divine image in man is not really destroyed, nor lost; it is only turned upside down. Man still retains his “liberty,” so that it is still within man’s power to set the inverted image right side up. This is the evolutionary “as if.” We speak “as if” man fell, whereas he fell upward, like tripping up the stairs. To this we answer that fallen man is as free as a bird—with a broken wing—i.e., formally free to fly, but materially not able. Spiritually man is dead in sins and is free only to putrify.
Regeneration. Swedenborgianism denies election and reprobation, teaching that God left salvation free to all, giving all an equal chance to be saved. “. . . all may be regenerated and thus saved; consequently, . . . if he is not saved, the Lord is not in fault but man; and man is in fault in that he does not co-operate”10 “To acquire spiritual regeneration a man must become willing to co-operate with God. This is because no man can regenerate himself. It is God who does the regenerating. But God requires the man’s co-operation.”11 This sounds like Billy Graham and all the rest of the modern Arminian preachers of the day. So does this: “Being born again . . . never takes place before an experience of repentance.”12 And this: “. . . men and women . . . become degenerate by their own willful choice and initiative.”13 The Arminian philosophy runs through all the heresies of the ages.
Salvation. The Swedish heretic was enamored with universalism. Since twelve years old he held that God makes a universal offer of faith to all men, but that only those who practice love to the neighbor receive it.14 This flies in the face of II Thess. 3:2. He held a universal love of God “towards the whole human race,” according to which “He desires to save eternally, and to adjoin entirely to Himself, so that none of them may perish.”15 He held to universal salvation. “Sound reason dictates that all are predestined to heaven, and no one to hell.”16
Hell. Hell is a mirage.17 The Lord casts no one into hell. “The inhabitants of hell do not actually live in fire, nor do they feel any sense of being burnt, but only such a heat as they experienced in the world.” That is, the fires of hell are nothing more than the lusts of the body, including hatred and revenge, which burn in a man.13
Heaven. “Of all the Gentiles, the Africans are the most esteemed in heaven; for they receive the . . . truths of heaven more easily than others.”19 In heaven a man who had several wives on earth may live with them all in succession temporarily. Eventually he will come to either choose one of them or leave them all. In heaven “husbands rarely recognize their wives, but wives readily recognize their husbands. The reason is that women have an interior perception of love, and men only an exterior.”20 In this last sentence do we not detect an element of truth? Apparently he never took seriously Matt. 22:30, and perhaps never read Rom. 10:12;Gal. 3:28 and especially Col. 3:11.
Judgment. The last judgment does not involve the destruction of the world. “Neither the visible heaven nor the habitable earth will perish . . . Both will remain . . . By a new heaven and a new earth a new church is meant.”21 The final judgment is supposed to have occurred in 1757. Swedenborg says he was present, but does not say why he was not himself judged.
Resurrection. This is denied, “for man rises again only as to the spirit, but not as to the body . . . with which he was clothed in the world.”22 Pet distinctions found neither in the English language nor in Scripture Swedenborg makes not only confidently but blithely, such as, “. . . by love is meant love to the Lord; and by charity, love towards the neighbor.”23 A favorite word of his, as Anglicized, found only in Swedenborgianism, but borrowed from the Latin is conjugial. Occasionally we come across such information as the following. The moon is inhabited with long-faced creatures “as small as children,” strong as men, with voices like thunder. They do not speak from the lungs like earth’s inhabitants, and, considering the moon, the reason is obvious. Their voices are emitted from the stomach like a belch. For the moon is not surrounded with an atmosphere, as Earth; in fact, has no atmosphere except when one of those thunderous belches breaks forth.24 To show what a fanciful conglomeration this silly religion is, take one instance of its method of interpretation. The Bible is regarded as a code book full of code words. Swedenborg by his communion with the spirit world found the key to break the code. For example, in the text, “And I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down from heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband,” John is the code word for “the good of life.” City is code word for “doctrines of theology.” Jerusalem is the code word for “church.” “Holy” means “true.” “New” means “new.”Heaven is code word for “the kingdom of God.” “Bride” means “affection for husband’s wisdom.” “Husband” means “wisdom of love.” Is the reader enlightened?
Swedenborg was Spiritist, Arian and Arminian, as we have shown. He was also Apollinarian, for he believed since Christ had no human father, he had no human soul, but a divine nature animated his humanity. He was worse than Pelagian, as he believed that Jesus inherited the very same evil disposition that all men have by having a human mother. Only, Jesus “mastered his depraved nature and so eliminated it.”25 Also rationalism and Gnosticism abound. Then what an incongruous name for the cult, “The New Church!” For it is nothing but the ancient heresies revived! For the most part, Swedenborgianism is a profound way of writing nothing. It is concrete reality taken and turned into insipid vapidity and inscrutable vacuity.
¹ A Compendium of the Theological Writings of Emanuel Swedenborg, by S.W. Warren, lxix.
² ibid., 3
³ ibid., 15.
4. ibid., 19.
5. ibid., 87, 88.
6. Buck’s Theol. Dictionary, 431.
8. A Compendium, (etc.) 315.
9. ibid., 29.
10. ibid., 295-296.
11. Emanuel Swedenborg, Theologian, by Hiram Vrooman, 20.
12. ibid., 84.
13. ibid., 92
14. A Compendium, (etc.) xxx.
15. ibid., 264.
16. ibid., 534.
17. E.S., Theol., H.V., 67.
18. Heaven and Hell, 1885, Noble Translation, 545-546, 571
19. ibid., 326
20. Compendium of Works, 454.
21. ibid., 705.
22. ibid., 59 61
23. ibid., 264.
24. ibid., 723-724.
25. E.S., Theol., H.V., 65.