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The Beginning and Development of Doctrine in the New Church

From the earliest days of the Church in Sweden England there were some who perceived that the Writings of Emanuel Swedenborg are the Word of the Lord.

In a book by August Nordenskjold in Swedish entitled “Forsamling Formen uti det NyaJerusalem” published inCopenhagenin 1790, we read:

“The Word of the Lord, the Hebrew and Greek well as also the Latin, which the Lord has revealed to us through Emanuel Swedenborg is the most holy thing we have in our church; it Is our most holy book of law and it is the Lord Himself among us. Therefore no one can be regarded as member of our Church, if he does not accept all the books of this Word as the very Word and Revelation of the Lord Himself; and as the very holiness of all writing and speech; as an absolute law, most holy as to each sentence, word and letter, yea as containing the understanding of the Lord, far above any understanding of man and within exhaustible wisdom within wisdom, for angels as well as for men.”

There are many similar statements in this book, and also in an article by August Nordenskjold, “Hints for Forming a Plan of a Consortium Ecclesiasticum,” appearing in 1790 in The New Jerusalem Magazine, published in London, of which magazine Nordenskjold was one of the editors.

Dr. Beyer, August Nordenskjold and Robert Hindmarsh were friends and carried on a correspondence. Dr. Beyer in a letter to Nordenskjold wrote as follows:

“The internal or spiritual sense, which is the interior or spiritual sense or meaning in the Word, is to be found in the Arcana Coelestia so far as regards the whole of Genesis and Exodus, and likewise in the Apocalypse Revealed, and also in all his works wherever the words “and it signifies” are written in connection with some passage taken from the Word. This sense is the Word itself and is the Holy in the Word. The same has been dictated to the Assessor from Heaven, A.C. 6597, equally as the Word in the letter was dictated to the prophets; and therefore effects immediate communication with heaven.”

Dr. Harry Lenhammar, of Uppsala, Sweden, wrote in 1966: “Beyer is attaching a tremendous importance to Swedenborg’s Revelation, as without any hesitation they are put on the same level as the books of the Bible.”

Sven Schmidt was the most outspoken of the early receivers inSweden, and on account of his strong stand he was the most persecuted of the early members of theNewChurch. According to the minutes of the Skara Consistory,December 11,1771, he said: “As the Lord had raised up aNewChurchbody, so the old must perish and there will be a new doctrine from the Lord through the Writings of the Honorable Assessor Swedenborg. In his opinion, these writings are the Work of the Lord, and are one and the same as the Holy Scriptures. This opinion Schmidt had derived from the Lord through the Word.”

In opposition to leaders like Beyer, Nordenskjold, Hindmarsh and Schmidt, there were those who equally strongly opposed the belief that the Writings are the Word. The early church inSwedenandEnglandwas therefore divided as to the position they took in relation to this Doctrine.

In the “Aurora”, a magazine published in London,England, in the year 1799 there is a letter of Roger Benet which reads in part as follows:

“I have in my journeys from place to place, lately met with two different classes of the readers of Honorable Baron Swedenborg’s works:- One class holding it as a fixed principle with them, that the Baron’s writings are really the Word of the Lord, as positively as the writings of the four evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke or John, as also his Revelation . . . The other class readily allows the Baron to be a person highly illuminated by the Lord, and that his writings are highly useful in opening the spiritual sense of the Word, and thereby of the true nature of the New Jerusalem Church state; but still they cannot allow his writings to be upon an equal footing with the Word itself; for, say they, this would be raising the Baron and his writings rather above their proper place. For none can be the Word but the Lord alone.”

Those who took a negative view to the Writings of Swedenborg being the Word of the Lord prevailed, for a time, until the few who still maintained this Doctrine formed the Academy. This Doctrine became the leading principle of the Academy and General Church, and gave these bodies their distinct character.

In time the question arose as to what was the quality or character of the Writings as the Word; especially as to whether they had an internal sense and a literal sense.

In the year 1891 the Reverend Edward S. Hyatt wrote that the Doctrine of the Sacred Scripture applies to the Writings with reservation. He wrote two long series of sermons illustrating the application of this Doctrine to the Writings. In Mr.Hyatt’s later sermons in these series, he dropped the reservation which he first stated. The first fifteen sermons, in which he spoke of reservations, were published in the New Church Tidings and were known in the Church. These sermons made deep impression on some ministers and laymen. His later sermons on the subject were not published until forty years later.

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