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ADDRESS FROM THE GENERAL CONFERENCE TO THE MEMBERS OF THE NEW CHURCH IN THE UNITED KINGDOM.
BELOVED BRETHREN.-The Conference of 1873 having appointed me to prepare the annual address to you, I desire, on its behalf, to call your attention to a few thoughts touching the existence of the New Church, and to the importance of being faithful to what is known of its position and requirements.
The Lord's Church is a Divine institution in the world, and something of its principles has always been preserved among mankind. Goodness and Truth are the foundations of this Church, and it is built up through men wisely and lovingly accepting the instructions which these principles convey. Humanity lives by means of them, and men are more or less human according to the degree in which they are received. If any entirely reject them they become insane, and if it were possible that such a calamity could become universal mankind would perish. Hence it may be evident that if there were no Church there could be no men; and, therefore, the existence of men is a proof that something of a Church exists in every place where humanity is found. God creates every man with a human internal, to the end that he may have a human life, and by means of this the whole human race is kept under His instruction.
But although the heart of the Church has been always beating, and its lungs have been always breathing, there have been several periods in its history when these symptoms of spiritual life have been feeble and
obscure. The Divine image which it was intended to bear has been variously disfigured, and the heavenly sweetness it was meant to provide has been sadly embittered; still, among all its distresses, some indications of spiritual life have been preserved; the Divine Providence has never permitted them to cease. To avert the dangers which have been frequently threatened, the Lord has mercifully interposed, and made use of the residue of spiritual life which remained as a means for receiving those Divine intuitions and instructions which were to constitute a new dispensation.
This residue, on being released from its unfavourable surroundings, has always been attended with revelations of truth of which there had been no previous experience. The successive establishment of the Noetic, Israelitish, and Christian Churches, presents historical examples of these facts. Each was provided to guard against the corruptions which had brought its predecessor to an end, and furnished with new revelations with which to carry on the work of man's regeneration. Thus the Lord has not only wonderfully provided for the preservation of remains, but in all times of spiritual danger to mankind He has mercifully interposed to carry them on from an age of darkness to a period of light, so that when one dispensation failed there might remain some ground for receiving the new revelation which always accompanies the establishment of a new dispensation.
When the Lord, by His personal advent into the world, abrogated the Jewish Church, because it had been rendered of none effect by its professors, He made much use of the law and the prophets as materials for teaching and building up the Christian Church. Of this the retention of the Decalogue, the preservation of "good ground" for the reception of Christian teaching, and the Lord's statement that He came not to destroy but to fulfil, are sufficient instances. They clearly illustrate the position, that something of the truth and goodness of one dispensation, when brought to its end by the perversions of men, is, as it. were, carried forward in a continuous line to a successor, but, when so transferred, they are filled with new light from the new revelation which is provided, and consequently by the formation of a new church.
And the same law holds good in reference to the Church of the Lord's Second Advent. This church we believe to have been prefigured by the descent of the New Jerusalem from God out of heaven, to be the Tabernacle of God with men. And we further believe that it is now in the process of being established in the world. Although
this church is a distinctive institution, and stands out and apart from all its predecessors by renouncing the perversions which have brought them to an end, it has room and sympathy for all the wisdom and beneficence which were proper to their existence. Specially it takes up the truth and goodness which were essential to the Christianity of the First Advent. This is evident from its acceptance of the revelations which were then provided. Its aim is to rescue these revelations from the corrupt interpretations with which the leaders of that Christianity have overlaid them, and to explain their spiritual significance. The teachings of the Second Advent are intended to throw a clearer light on the purposes of the first than any other which had been previously observed. And the establishment of the New Jerusalem is designed to provide for a deeper insight into the principles which constitute the true faith and life of the church. It is a high, a broad, a heavenly city in the world of men, into which everything that is good and true may enter and be accepted. Its gates are always open to receive whatsoever is holy and of good report. All that is known to have been excellent in any of its predecessors is gathered within its walls, and it has a glory of its own which they had not. The glory of God enlightens it, and the Lamb is the light thereof. and light that it acquires the distinction of a new church.
It is from this glory
As already intimated, great antiquity may be claimed for many of its teachings; some prevailed in the ancient church, but on their being resuscitated and brought into the surroundings of the light which emanates from the Divine Humanity of the Lord, they are all made new. The grand truth that the One God exists in the Deified Humanity of Jesus Christ, provides for the explanation of difficulties which have perplexed the Christianity of every age, and sheds upon all its documents a glory before unknown. As this doctrine is new, so all things of the church of which it is the central truth are made new by its acknowledgment.
A church is contemplated as being old when it has ceased to know tho spiritual truths of revelation committed to its care, and begins to teach for doctrines the commandments of men. In that case intelligent growth is arrested and senility induced. But Divine truth cannot become old, nor can its evolutions ever cease: its origin being in the Infinite, its unfoldings will be continual. They may be arrested in the process of their development; and whensoever this takes place, God, in His own good time, interposes, by presenting some new teachings of truth on which to build up a new dispensation. This is the case with
the New Jerusalem: it is not a new church bursting out from anong the sects of Christendom, but it is a new dispensation coming down from God out of heaven, and it contains within itself the germs for a new unfolding of all the old revelations which have been preserved to our time. Specially, it is gifted with a new doctrine concerning the nature and personality of God, and also a new doctrine by which to understand the spiritual significance of His Word. These two doctrines are its great glory: By means of them men can enter intellectually into the truths of faith, and learn the lessons which are conducive to regeneration. Jesus, as the One God in His Divine Humanity, is acknowledged to be the sole object of Christian worship, and His Word as the only medium of all spiritual knowledge. Swedenborg tells us
that some general perception of this idea concerning God is enjoyed by the inhabitants of most of the earths in the universe, and that it
descends into them by an influx from heaven: he also says that it pre
vailed among the people of the ancient churches, in consequence of the Lord having then appeared in an angelic form, which is the human form in a state of glory; and he further declares that it is accepted throughout the universal heaven where no conception of the Divine but that which is human can possibly exist. But the Lord's Advent, by the assumption of humanity, and its glorification in the world, provided an ultimate basis on which the belief in one God in a Divine Humanity can rest: since then something of this belief has been accepted throughout the Christian world, but it has always been too obscure for the penetration of intelligent faith and therefore it was reserved for the Lord's second coming, and the establishment of His New Jerusalem, to find for this Divine doctrine its right expression and true acknowledgment. Men may not now see this Truth in all its brightness, but it is in continual effort to sweep away the clouds which interrupt the discernment of its greater glory. It is now struggling to bring into the world new and imperishable excellences for the enjoy ment of mankind. What is now known of it is but as a prelude to the evolution of superior light. No spiritual attainment can be final in the Lord's New Church, and therefore its existence in the remotest ages of mankind will not deprive it of that distinctive title. Advancement in duration will continue to supply those new perceptions by which its propriety will be sustained. It must be so, because it comes down from God out of heaven, in whom all good things are infinite, and from whom, therefore, every good thing is admissive of new developments from age to age. There can be no antiquity in heaven: senility is not
predicable of spiritual things, and therefore the New Church, because it descends from heaven, and is a spiritual institution in the world, will continue to be a New Church in the remotest period of its existence. It occupies a new position in the spiritual history of mankind, and claims to be the crown of all its predecessors.
This being the case, it becomes its professors carefully to consider the relation in which they stand to it. This is a practical duty of great importance to its vitality and extension. We are apt to think of the Church to be an abstraction, and frequently speak of it as if it were something outside our lives and characters; and in this way we are liable to overlook the fact that the Church can exist among mankind only so far as they intelligently accept its principles. The Church must ever be what men realize of its teachings by faithfulness and love. Fidelity and devotion to what we know to be its uses are indispensable to its existence and progression. The soundness and increase of the Church are advantages to be provided for by the courage of our sincerity and the wisdom of our zeal. Who among us are not deficient in these things? Are not some of us tempted to sink the distinctiveness of our doctrines in deference to the improved opinions and liberality of our times? Is there not among us many an unspoken wish, that "Jerusalem" as the name of the Church should drop out of our ecclesiastical vocabulary? Are they a few, who, while admiring the doctrines of the Church, shrink from the name of Swedenborg as the instrument for their disclosure, and think that it would have been well if his spiritual experience had not been written? Does it not frequently happen that coldness and inactivity in the work of the Church find excuses for their existence in the idea that the Lord is providing for the extension of His Church by the new influences which are abroad, without considering that these influences can have no permanence in the world if there be no suitable channels in the earnestness of men for their acceptance and distribution? Is it not a fact that much of the church life of most of our societies is kept up by the activity of a few, and that it would be much more vigorous and progressive if it were better assisted by the devotedness of the rest? How plain is it that the Church can grow only as its professed members exert themselves for its promotion. Other causes are at work to hinder its progress. There are those among us who seem to attach more importance to the occasional utterance of New Church truths from the pulpits of the old denominations than to the undisguised teachings of its own ministry. Of course we rejoice in knowing that