The following thesis was written in fulfillment of the requirements leading to the granting of the Master of Arts degree by Northwestern University. It therefore has the rather unusual standing of being a piece of New Church literature written for acceptance by non-New Church men.

O. deC. O.


To Dr. Donald Holter of Garrett Biblical Institute, Evanston, Illinois, for introducing me into the graduate study of church history;

To Dr. Frederick Norwood of Garrett Biblical Institute, for further studies in church history, and for friendly counsel, advice, and encouragement;

To Dr. Frank Scott of Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois, for guidance in the principles of historical research; and

To Miss Lois Stebbing, Librarian of the Academy of the New Church, Bryn Athyn, Penna., and to Miss Mary Alice Carswell and Miss Ruth Henderson, assistants, for untold help in unearthing much of the Swedenborgian material which went into this paper;

I wish to express my sincere thanks.


Introduction 1
Summary of Wesleys writings concerning Swedenborg
Chapter I. Emanuel Swedenborg, His Life and Teachings 5
An Account of Swedenborgs Life

Scientific and Philosophical Works
His Call to the Office of Revelator

His Theological Writings

Swedenborgs Doctrinal Teachings


       Life After Death

       Man and His Fall

       The Association of Sprits with Men

       The Nature of Scripture

       The Incarnation


       The Trinity


Wesleys Theology

Chapter II. Wesley Chargers Swedenborg with Insanity       32
Wesleys Readings in Swedenborg
Early Chargers of Insanity

Detailed Charges

Chapter III. Refutation of Wesleys Chargers       40

Early Willingness to Accept Delirium-Story

Guarded Denials of Insanity Story

Total Denial of Wesleys Insanity Story

       Brockemers Denial

       Letter of the Rev. Francis Okely

       Character of the Rev. Aaron Mathesius

       Testimony of Richard Shearsmith

       Okelys Letter

       External Testimony to Swedenborgs Sanity

       Swedenborgs trances in 1744

       Internal Evidence of Swedenborgs Sanity

               The Journal of Dreams

       Possible Reasons for Brockmers Actions

Chapter IV. Wesleys Doctrinal Differences with Swedenborg       76
Points of Swedenborgs Theology to which Wesley Objected

Wesleys Limited Reading in Swedenborg

Wesleys Thoughts on the Writings of Baron Swedenborg

Chapter V. A Questionable Story       96

Wesley Purportedly Converted to Swedenborg

Charter of the Witness

Chapter VI. The Influence of Wesleys Charges       102

Chapter VII. Conclusions       105

Reasons for Wesleys Actions


John Wesley and Swedenborg p. 2


...One of the most ingenious, lively, entertaining madmen who ever set pen to paper. His waking dreams are so wild, so remote both from Scripture and common sense, that one might as easily swallow the stories of Tom Thumb or Jack the Giant Killer.1

1 The Journal of the Rev. John Wesley, A. M., Nehemiah Curnock, (ed.), Standard Edition; New York: Raton and Maine, 1910), V. 354.

This, in 1770, wrote John Wesley, founder of Methodism, concerning his contemporary, Emanuel Swedenborg, who claimed to be the divinely chosen medium for the giving of a new revelation constituting the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. Wesley already knew of Swedenborg as a pious man, one of a strong understanding, of much learning, and one who thoroughly believed himself.2 Swedenborg, in turn, knew of Wesley, and presented him with a copy of his last published theological work, Vera Christiana Religio.3 The paths of the two men almost crossed at the meetings of the Moravians in Fetter Lane, London, and there is testimony that they correspond with each other in 1772.

2 Ibid.

3 John Wesley, Thoughts on Writings of Baron Swedenborg, Arminian Magazine, VI (1783), 437.

At first Wesley was not altogether averse to Swedenborgs teachings. In 1771 he wrote concerning Baron4


John Wesley and Swedenborg p. 3 Swedenborgs Theologica Coelestis,1 It surely contains many excellent things.2 Before the end of the following year he had told a Moravian deacon that Swedenborg speaks many great and important truths.3 As late as February, 1779, he wrote a friend, Elizabeth Ritchie, that although Swedenborgs tract is majestic, though in ruins, still, he had strong and beautiful thoughts, and may be read with profit by a serious and cautious reader.4 At another time he spoke of Swedenborgs writings to his own designated successor as leader of the Methodists, John William Fletcher, saying, I think it will do neither harm nor good,5 (and thus, perhaps, was inadvertently responsible for Fletchers affirmative attitude toward Swedenborgs teachings).6

4 Swedenborgs family had been ennobled by Ulrica Eleanora, Queen of Sweden, on May 26, 1719, in accordance with the custom of ennobling the families of the Swedish bishops. At this juncture the family name was changed from Swedberg to Swedenborg, and Emanuel, the eldest son, took his seat in the House of Nobles. By the Queens act, however, Swedenborg was raised only to the lowest rank of the nobility, the Equestrian Order, and this carried no title. In England, nevertheless, he was constantly referred to as Baron. (Cyriel Sigstedt, The Swedenborg Epic (New York: Bookman Associates, 1952), p. 58. Rudolph Tafel, Documents concerning Emanuel Swedenborg (London: The Swedenborg Society, 1887) II, 543.)

1 A slip of Wesleys pen; he undoubtedly was referring to Swedenborgs Arcana Coelestia.

2 Wesleys Journal, V. 440.

3 Arminian Magazine, VIII, (1785), p. 552.

4 John Tolford (ed.) The Letters of the Rev. John Wesley, A. M., (Standard Edition; London: Epworth Press, 1931), VI, 340.

5 Samuel Noble, An Appeal in behalf of ... the New Jerusalem Church (12th Edition; London: James Speirs, 1893), p. 250.

6 L. Tyerman, Wesleys Designated Successor (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1882), p. 531.

When Wesley undertook a serious perusal of Swedenborgs doctrines, however, he publicly and thoroughly condemned them.


John Wesley and Swedenborg p. 4 In April of 1779 he denounced Swedenborgs Heaven and Hell as containing Many sentiments that are essentially and dangerously wrong. He refuted Swedenborgs doctrine of the Trinity, his teaching that God is only one person. He called Swedenborgs ideas of heaven low, groveling, just suiting a Mohamotan paradise. He bemoaned the fact that Swedenborg quenches the unquenchable fire of hell, saying, How dreadful a tendency must this have in such an age and nation as this!1

1 Wesleys Journal, VI, 230-231.

His last known comments on Swedenborg are found in the lengthy stories of articles he published in his Arminian Magazine for 1783, Thoughts on the Writings of Baron Swedenborg. Here he carried his attacks on Swedenborgs doctrines still further, and concluded with the following exhortation:

O my brethren, let none of you that fear God recommend such a writer any more; much less labor to make the deadly poison palatable, by sweetening it with all care! All his folly and nonsense we may excuse; but not his making God a liar; not his contradicting, in so open and flagrant a manner, the whole oracles of God! True, his tales are often exceeding lively, and as entertaining as the tales of the fairies! But I dare not give up my Bible for them; and I must give up one or the other. If the preceding extracts are from God, then the bible is only a fable! But if all Scriptures are given by inspiration of God, then let these dreams sink into the pit from whence they came.2

2 Arminian Magazine, VI (1783), p. 680. Also, The Works of the Rev. John Wesley, A. M., (3d Edition; London: James Mason, 1831), XIII, 409.

From the time he first read Swedenborg, Wesley considered him insane. Possibly as early as 1771, and certainly by 1779, he thought he had abundant proof of Swedenborgs insanity.1


John Wesley and Swedenborg p. 5 Two years later in his Arminian Magazine in an article oddly entitled, An Account of a Very Great Man, he published a detailed report of an incident that supposedly occurred in 1743, during which Swedenborg, delirious from a fever, ran into the street, stripped himself naked, rolled in deep mud, and proclaimed himself the Messiah.2 In his final article on Swedenborg, Wesley again refers to this, and says of it, From this time we are undoubtedly to date that peculiar species of insanity which attended him, with scarce any intermission, to the day of his death.3

1 Wesleys Letters, VI, 340.

2 John Wesley, An Account of a Very Great Man, Arminian Magazine, IV (1781), pp. 46-69.

3 Wesleys Works, XIII, 388.


John Wesley and Swedenborg p. 6



Who was this Emanuel Swedenborg, whom Wesley judged to be insane-this man, whose several thousand followers today are banded together in ecclesiastical organizations they call The Church of the New Jerusalem, or, more often, just The New Church?

Swedish scientist and mystic, is the usual appellation for him today. He was more than that-engineer, anatomist, member of Parliament, strong opponent of the Deism of the Enlightenment, theologian, and, according to his own claim, revelator.

An Account of his Life1

1Most items in this brief biography of Swedenborg are taken from Marguerite Block, The New Church in the New World (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1932), pp. 3-18. An exhaustive study of Swedenborgs life and teachings is found in Sigstedts Swedenborg Epic.

He was born in Stockholm, January 29 (O. S.), 1688, third in a family of eight children. His father was Jesper Swedberg, royal chaplain at the court of Charles XI, professor of theology at Upsal University, and later Bishop of Skara. Swedenborg later wrote of his childhood that he was then constantly engaged in thought about God, salvation, and the spiritual diseases of men.


John Wesley and Swedenborg p. 7 He graduated from Upsal, where he was known for a keen interest in the natural sciences-the major study of his earlier years. Several volumes of Latin poetry written during his university days show little but stilted construction and youthful conceit.

At the age of twenty-two he set out on his first foreign journey. He spent two years in London, studying mathematics, physics, astronomy and natural history. Working with Flamsteed, the leading astronomer of the day, he distinguished himself by discovering new methods for observing the moon, stars, and planets. He chose his lodgings carefully (at a watchmakers, a cabinet makers, a mathematical instrument makers), so that he might learn the secrets of various trades and introduce them into Sweden. So it went for three more years in Holland and Paris, where he learned lens grinding and engraving, and drew up plans for such inventions as a submarine, a repeating rifle, and a flying machine (actually a glider).

Back in Sweden he began publication of that countrys first scientific journal, Daedalus Hyperboreus. This he dedicated to the King, who granted him financial assistance for it and also gave him an appointment as Extraordinary Assessor of the College of Mines-an office he held until 1747. In association with Swedens great scientist, Christopher Polhem, Swedenborg supervised the transportation of several Swedish warships over fourteen miles of mountains and valleys, earning the gratitude and friendship of the King, who was thus enabled to conquer the Danish fortress at Friedrickshall.


John Wesley and Swedenborg p. 8

Throughout his life he was active in the House of Nobles. Papers read by him in Parliament covered such subjects as the adoption of the decimal system, the establishment of rolling mills, the balance of trade, and the regulation of the liquor traffic. In 1759, even after it became known that he was the author of the new works on theology then being condemned by the Swedish Lutheran Church, it was still his plan that was adopted to restore the value of the Swedish coinage and currency.

In private he continued his scientific and philosophical writings. In 1734 there appeared the first volume of His Opera Philosophica et Mineralia (the Principia or First Principles). It contained a remarkable system of cosmology, included the original version of the nebular hypothesis, and earned him the respect of most of the leading scientists and philosophers of Europe. Evident in it everywhere is Swedenborgs rejection of the Deism of the Enlightenment: the Principia is an attempt to show an orderly means whereby God not only could create the universe, but also could continue to govern it.

Anatomy next took Swedenborg to Germany, France, and Italy. By investigating the human body, he said, he hoped to discover the purpose of the human soul in the body, and thus to determine what its nature would be when released from the body. He performed many anatomical experiments and made several outstanding discoveries. (It was he, for example, who first discovered the seat of locomotion in the brain.) But suddenly he gave up his own experiments and turned to the analysis of the observations of others.


John Wesley and Swedenborg p. 9 Later he said he did so because he tended to attach too much importance to his own discoveries, too little importance to the work of others.

In 1739 he first ventured into the realm of psychology, writing an analysis of the various loves and passions of the mind. Two years later his Economy of the Animal Kingdom won him further esteem as an anatomist, but he same cannot be said for his Animal Kingdom, published in 1744. This was reviewed very unfavorably in the learned journals of the day. It was said to be too verbose, too replete with quotations from the writings of other scientists.

By the time this work was published, however, Swedenborgs work as a scientist had already come to an end. He had become increasingly troubled by what he termed the secret agnosticism of the learned, especially in Germany. He began to doubt whether he himself had sufficient faith in God, whether he also was not eating too much of the tree of science. A private diary, The Journal of Dreams, records a period of severe spiritual temptations. He dreamed strange dreams, began to attach spiritual significance to them, tried to interpret them. While writing The Animal Kingdom, he says, he began to experience supernatural manifestations: lights appeared to him, and he interpreted them to mean that his scientific writings were true.

Twice in 1743, he claims, he was granted a vision of the Saviour, but he recounts no details. In May of 1744 he dreamed of a ship and took it to mean that he should go to England, there to publish his Animal Kingdom.1


John Wesley and Swedenborg p. 10 He sailed immediately, and on shipboard met a pious Moravian a shoemaker named Seniff, and lodged with him a few days in London. Seniff then introduced him to another Moravian, a gold watch chaser, John Paul Brockmer of Fleet Street. Swedenborg took lodgings with Brockmer and with his attended the services of worship in the Moravian Chapel in Fetter Lane.2 It was while he was at Brockmers that there supposedly occurred the fit of insanity which Wesley reported in his Arminian Magazine. Swedenborg left Brockmers July 9th, 1744. He is reported to have said he did so because Brockmer and his maid meddled with his papers.

1 Alfred Acton, An Introduction to the Word Explained (Bryn Athyn, Pa.: The Academy of the New Church, 1927), p 77.

2. Sigstedt, op. cit. p 189.

He continued in London a short while, writing a poetical allegory on the Genesis creation story, The Worship and Love of God. While dining in a London inn one day, he says, the room suddenly appeared to grow dark, and in the corner of it he saw the figure of a man, who said to him, Eat not so much. (Swedenborg later interpreted this to be a divine command to eat not so much of scientific learning and knowledge.)

He was badly frightened by the experience, he says, and went home at once. That night the same man appeared to him again, and then revealed himself to him as the Lord Jesus Christ, the Saviour, the Redeemer, the Creator of the world. He told him, Swedenborg claims, that He had chosen him to give a new revelation to men concerning the spiritual meaning of the Scriptures.


John Wesley and Swedenborg p. 11

Swedenborgs outward way of life did not change at all. Back in Sweden the next year he resumed his duties as Assessor in the College of Mines and his activities in Parliament. In private, however, he gave up all study of science and philosophy and devoted himself instead to the Word of God as the only source of true theology. And now, at the age of fifty-seven, he began to master the Hebrew language, that he might read the Old Testament in the original.

Soon, too, he began his first lengthy work on theology, The Word Explained. It fills eight volumes, and contains his first attempts to expound the Scriptures as to their genuine literal meaning, and to penetrate that toward an interior spiritual sense. He never published the work. Obviously he was dissatisfied with it, for he rewrote many of its paragraphs several times. Toward the end of it he gave up all attempt to explain the Scriptures and contented himself with making a new translation of the Prophets.

About the same time, however, he began to insert into The Word Explained what he called memorabiliia (things to be remembered). These are accounts of what he claimed to be his experiences with spirits and angels, for he says that the Lord1 had opened the eyes of my spirit, so that in the middle of the day I could see into the other world, and in a state of perfect wakefulness converse with spirits and angels.2


John Wesley and Swedenborg p. 12 At another time he wrote of this, It has been grated me now for several years to be constantly and uninterruptedly in company with spirits and angels, hearing them converse with each other and conversing with them.1 He claims that he met and talked with almost all of his deceased friends and acquaintances, and with many figures of historical importance as well.2

1 Invariably in his theological writings Swedenborg used the term, the Lord, as the name for God.

2 Tafel Documents, II, 171.

1 Ibid., II, 591-592.

2 Emanuel Swedenborg, Arcana Coelestia, (Standard Edition; New York: The Swedenborg Foundation, 1923), n. 70. Swedenborg numbered the paragraphs of all his published writings, and in his works invariably referred to these paragraph numbers. His numbering system has been followed in all editions and translations of his works, and it is established custom to refer to these numbered paragraphs, rather than to page numbers of different editions.

He mentioned his spiritual experiences to no one. He kept a careful record of them, however, analyzed them, jotted down his doubts as to whether it were not all phantasy.3

3 Sigstedt, op. Cit., pp. 215-223.

In 1747 the presidency of the College of Mines was vacated by the death of its incumbent. The boards members unanimously recommended to the King that Swedenborg be appointed their head. He declined the appointment, petitioned the King instead that he be allowed to retire from the board at a pension equal to half his salary, in order that he might devote himself to a new work, which he believed would be of benefit to his country and the world. The King granted him his request, praised him in flowery language for his past services to his country, wished him success in his new work.4

4 Ibid., pp. 213-214.

This new work began to be published in London in 1749. It was entitled Arcana Coelestia, and the last of its eight volumes quarto left the press in 1756.


John Wesley and Swedenborg p. 13 It was published anonymously, but was written in Swedenborgs usual Latin-highly technical, with long and involved sentences. It essayed to recount the spiritual meaning of Genesis and Exodus, for Swedenborg taught that the writing of Scripture had been divinely guided so that its every term, sentence and story would contain a continuous internal sense treating first of mans regeneration, and inmostly within even that of the Lords glorification-the process whereby He made His human nature Divine while he lived on earth. Interspersed between the various chapters of Scripture explanation were such things as short accounts of life in heaven, in hell, and in the world of spirits (which he pictured as a state intermediate between heaven and hell, which man first enters after death, and where he finished his preparation for his final home).

Swedenborg had the second volume of the Arcana translated into English and published at his own expense. Later he expressed disappointment that neither the Latin nor the English made many sales.

In 1757 he published five more theological works, including his Heaven and Hell, a short treatise on The Last Judgment-which he said occurred in the spiritual world in 1756-1757-and an account of his conversations with the spirits of The Earths in the Universe. These were published, again anonymously, in Amsterdam, for freedom of the press, especially in matters of religion, did not yet exist in Sweden.


John Wesley and Swedenborg p. 14 The same year, however, he resumed his activities in the House of Nobles, and it was then that he submitted to Parliament his proposal to curb the liquor traffic in Sweden, in order to stop that countrys current wave of drunkenness.

By about 1759 it became public knowledge that he was the author of the new theological works then being condemned by the Consistory of the Swedish Lutheran Church. The general reaction was one of amazement and skepticism. No one doubted his veracity, but many thought him self-deceived.1 In Parliament at this time he was engaged in the bitter political controversy centering around the Prime Minister, Count Anders von Hpken, in his attempt to keep the King from gaining despotic control over the country. Swedenborg and von Hpken were close personal friends, and, as might be expected, Swedenborg spoke at length against despotism and dictatorship in the government. Both the individual life and private property, he said, were trusts given by God; neither could rightfully be surrendered to the absolute control of another. During this same year, 1759, Parliament adopted his plan to restore the value of Swedish coinage and currency.

1 Block, op. cit., p. 14.

Count von Hpken once pled with Swedenborg to omit the account of his visions from his theological writings, saying they exposed him to doubt and ridicule. Swedenborg replied: I was commanded by the Lord to publish them. Do not suppose that without such a positive order I should have thought of publishing things which I well knew would be regarded by many as falsehoods, and which would bring ridicule upon me.2

2 Ibid.


John Wesley and Swedenborg p. 15

Swedenborg continued to write and publish his theological writings-The Divine Love and Wisdom, The Divine Providence, the work on Apocalypse Revealed, and in 1767 [sic.] Conjugial Love, the first to which he subscribed his name. This last work is divided into two parts. Part One describes the spiritual ideal of marriage, its divine purpose, its eternal quality. Part Two treats of disorders that can arise in connection with marriage and sex. It roundly condemns all adultery, licentiousness and divorce, yet contains the teaching (remarkable for that day) that there is such a thing as sexual necessity, which with some men cannot be restrained without injury to the health of bodies and minds. For such a man, Swedenborg taught, it is orderly that he take a mistress, rather than indulge his sexual appetite promiscuously, for in the former state something of the true ideal of marriage can be preserved.

Because of this teaching, Conjugial Love has always been the center of controversy. In 1910 it was the issue in a trinal before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.1 Wesley said that he read it, but he never singled it out for attack. Immediately upon its appearance, however, the Consistory of the Swedish Lutheran Church banned it from Sweden, and confiscated fifty copies of it which Swedenborg sought to import from Holland. This action set off a persecution of Swedish minister suspected of Swedenborgian heresy; two such clergymen were suspended from their posts, and a royal decree was obtained, forbidding the teaching of Swedenborgs doctrines.2

1 Block, op. cit., p. 247.

2 Tafel, op. cit., I, 46.


John Wesley and Swedenborg p. 16

For several months in 1769 Swedenborg was in London overseeing the publication of some of his writings. While there he lodged with a peruke-maker in Cold Bath Fields, Richard Shearsmith, whom we shall have occasion to mention again.

During the year that Wesley first read Swedenborg, 1770, the latter was in Holland writing his last published theological work, The True Christian Religion. On the title page of this he styled himself, its author, Servant of the Lord Jesus Christ. The work contains a general summary of his whole theology, and at the end of it claims that this theology is the Second Coming of the Lord. It is here that Swedenborg says that he got nothing in his writings from any spirit or angel, but all from the mouth of the Lord alone while he read the Word.1 It is obvious, however, that he did not mean that the Lord gave him what to write by oral dictation, but rather led his thoughts to certain specific conclusions while he was reading and studying the Scriptures. Swedenborg ordered a copy of The True Christian Religion in its original Latin, Vera Christiano Religio, sent to Wesley.

1 Emanuel Swedenborg, The True Christian Religion (Standard Edition; New York: The Swedenborg Foundation, 1928). N. 779.

Swedenborg returned to London in the summer of 1771 and again took lodgings with Richard Shearsmith. Just before Christmas he suffered a stroke which left him partially paralyzed. He died March 29th, 1772, and was interred in the Swedish Church in Princes Square, London, following a simple funeral service. In 1908 his remains were disinterred and were conveyed with royal honors to the Cathedral at Upsala, where they now lie in a stately sarcophagus.


John Wesley and Swedenborg p. 17

Swedenborgs Doctrinal Teachings1

1 For other digests of Swedenborgs theology, consult Block, The New Church in the New World, Chapter II, pp. 19-51; also Encyclopedia Brittanica and Encyclopedia Americana, s. v. Swedenborg.

Swedenborgs theological writings comprise thirty-five volumes in their English translation today. It is necessary here to give a brief digest of some of the more important points of his doctrinal system, for it was his theology especially that turned Wesley against him. It is a highly complicated system and requires assiduous study to master it. He expressed himself, furthermore, in peculiar and unusual terms, and attached distinctive meanings to several more familiar words. His followers have generally concluded that it is impossible to substitute more common expressions for his, even though this necessitates the learning of a rather large Swedenborgian vocabulary.

1. God. Swedenborg teaches that God is infinite, eternal, omniscient, omnipresent and omnipotent, but he very strongly emphasizes the idea that God is bound by the laws of His own order and cannot act contrary to them. He makes much of the teaching in John that God is love, and concerning this love he stresses three points of importance to his system;

a). Love must have an object. God could not love Himself, for that would be infinite selfishness, and God is infinitely good. God, therefore, was under an inner necessity to create, in order that He might have an object on which to expend his love.


John Wesley and Swedenborg p. 18

b). Love seeks to be conjoined with its object, mutually and in freedom. For this reason, as the supreme object of His creation God made man, and endowed him with the faculties of liberty and rationality as the constitutes of his inmost soul. God has ever revealed Himself to mans rationality, always in a manner adapted to the intellectual and spiritual state of the race, and has ever appealed to mans free will with love.

c). True love seeks to make its object genuinely happy. For this reason, God, through the government of the universe, is constantly seeking to inspire men to find genuine and eternal happiness for themselves-happiness on this earth, first (where man is placed that he may choose for himself the kind of life e wishes to lead), and afterwards happiness in the spiritual world to eternity. The death of the physical body, therefore, is a part of the Divine plan, for the purpose of creation is that there may be a heaven from the human race.

The most precious gift that God has given man is the sensation that life is his own, for thus man can enjoy himself. To be saved, however, man must acknowledge in his heart that his life comes to him from the Lord-his life, and the power to do good as if he did it from himself.

But God is no simply love. He is infinite love expressing itself through infinite wisdom. This is His eternal nature. And it is these two things-love and wisdom-


John Wesley and Swedenborg p. 19 which from eternity have constituted the human form of God. It is because men can receive genuine love and wisdom from God that he is said to be created into the image of God. (In Swedenborgs theology the essential of humanity does not reside in the physical body; the human form is primarily a thing of the mind or spirit.)

2. Life after Death. The purpose of creation is that there may be a heaven from the human race. All angels and spirits once lived on earth as men and women. There are no created angels.

By the third day after death of his physical body, Swedenborg teaches, man wakens to eternal life in the spiritual world. He is still a man, just as before, having lost nothing but his physical body, which he will never again resume. To all appearances that world is exactly similar to this world, for although it is made of spiritual substance, not natural, the spiritual man sensates what is spiritual exactly as the natural man sensates what is natural. Man in that world is still in a human body, just as he was on earth, and to all appearances he is in the same body, with all its organs and viscera.

He looks up the friends and relatives who have preceded him through the gates of death, and by them he is introduced into society there. Life in that world is much as it is on earth-work and play, worship and government, houses and clothing, food and drink. There is marriage in all its fulness, including sexual relations, save that no children are born of them. Children who die are raised and educated by angel mothers and fathers;


John Wesley and Swedenborg p. 20 they grow to adult life, find use and employment, and enter into marriage.

Immediately after death man wakens into what Swedenborg calls the world of spirits intermediate between heaven and hell. In this world of spirits he continues long enough to finish any necessary preparation for either heaven or hell. He continues there, that is, until his internal loves find complete expression in his external daily living, casting out from that all habits of thought and life not truly in agreement with his loves. Putting it another way, he continues in the world of spirits until he comes to understand how to effect in ultimate practice the loves he made his own on earth.

Mans eternal judgment is a thing he effects for himself. He freely enters heaven or hell according to the love that rules his life. Swedenborg teaches that every man makes some one love supreme in life. It is this which at last takes him to heaven or hell, for in the spiritual world he seeks for company those in loves similar to his own. The number of evils committed on earth is not weighed in the balance against the number of good deeds he has done. It is his ruling love that determines a mans eternal lot.

In general, two good loves characterize the inhabitants of heaven-love to the Lord and love toward the neighbor. These are divided into numerous types, however, and according to those, societies are formed in heaven. Each has its own type of government, its own places and types of worship, etc.


John Wesley and Swedenborg p. 21

Every angel finds his greatest happiness in being of use and service to others, and it is this which makes all else in his life delightful. All angels are married, and in their marriages find eternal joy, the husband and wife loving to think and will, each as the other. Perhaps angelic marriages are those formed on earth; perhaps not. They are, only if husband and wife were of fundamentally similar dispositions, and if they together progressed toward angelic perfection or regeneration. If not, earths marriage ends and a new, truly heavenly marriage is entered into. Life in heaven is not static, for every angel continues to progress toward the perfection of his chosen loves.

Hell is a dismal sort of life, but it is the kind of life freely chosen by those whose ruling loves are selfish or worldly. Evil men flock together after death, even as they do on earth. But hell is a society-many societies-composed of human beings, and it therefore must be governed by law. It is-the Law of Revelation. What makes it hell is that no one there wants to obey the law: he is forced into obedience. Work must also be done there, to gain the necessities and niceties of life. Again, what makes it hell is that no one there wants to work: he has to. Life in hell is very similar to the life led by evil, lazy men on earth. If, against their inmost wishes, they obey the law and stick to their jobs, they live in a state of comparative peace and can gain the merely external things in which they place all delight. Hell-fire is no physical fire, but is the fire of the eternal discontent and rebellion which smoulders in the individuals heart. Because the sexual nature of man and woman continues after death (for it is implanted in the inmost soul), there is in hell what passes for marriage.


John Wesley and Swedenborg p. 22 No marriage in hell is eternal, however, and in one place Swedenborg calls it successive polygamy. It is a purely sensual affair, and because it lacks all genuine spirituality, Swedenborg often speaks of a devil and his harlot, rather than of a devil and his wife. In every case, hell is eternal.

Swedenborg claimed to have had daily intercourse with angels, spirits, and devils-to have talked and walked and dined with them-for the last twenty-seven years of his life.

3. Man and his fall. God originally created man in a perfect state-man being a type of being discretely superior to any animal, possessed of an inmost soul guaranteeing him immortality, and possessed also of the two distinctively human faculties of liberty and rationality. In order that man might know true happiness in being alive, God made him feel his life as though it were his own. This is the most pleasant Divine gift man has. Yet for the sake of salvation, it is necessary for man to acknowledge that his life-his will and thought, his speech and action-does not arise in himself, but flows into him from God. In that way alone will he realize that he is responsible to God for what he does with his life. In that way alone will he be willing and anxious to look to God for guidance. In that way alone will he ascribe to God all merit for the good he does with his God-given life.

Mans fall occurred when, in perfect freedom, he chose to confirm with himself as true the appearance that life was his own-that is, when he chose to have his own way, rather than to make himself responsible to God for his conduct.


John Wesley and Swedenborg p. 23 Immediately he turned away from God and turned to himself for leadership, and he led himself into evil and error. Over the pre-historic ages mans evil state and nature increased in malignity; so too the falsities he hatched out from his evil loves. By the dawn of written history he had sunk exceedingly low, and by the time of Moses had reached rock bottom. All true knowledge of God was gone from the earth.

Mans salvation, however, ultimately depends on a genuine understanding of God and a willingness to accept that God in mind and heart, and since the greatest fact in history is Gods love for the human race, God now began to build up a church on earth in which he could finally and fully reveal Himself to men in His own Divine Person. This church was that which was established with the Jews.

4. The Association of Spirits with Men. Swedenborg details a highly intricate doctrine concerning the interrelationship between spirits and men. Here we must state the chief points of it, but will make almost no attempt to explain them.

He teaches that the inhabitants of the spiritual world and the inhabitants of the natural world are intimately joined together, though neither are at all conscious of that association. In general the two are related to each other as are the soul or mind and they physical body.

All good loves are inspired into man through good spirits and angels; all evil loves, through evil spirits or devils. Mans spiritual equilibrium-his free choice-


John Wesley and Swedenborg p. 24 is dependent upon an ordered balance between the forces of heaven and the forces of hell in their play upon him.

The life of man on earth has, in its turn, a tremendous effect upon spirits and angels. When the church is pure on earth (when, that is, men know the genuine truth of God and practice it in their daily lives), then the spiritual world is kept in a state of order. The devils are confined to such influence upon men as can be made to serve a divinely appointed use, and the angels of heaven can continue to live in a state of wisdom, happiness, and integrity. When, however, the church on earth is at an end, the ordered state of the spiritual world comes to an end. The power of hell begins to prevail over that of heaven, and even mans freedom is threatened with destruction. Such was the state shortly before the incarnation, Swedenborg teaches-a doctrine which Wesley violently attacked.

5. The Nature of Scripture. Tremendous preparation was necessary for the Advent, Swedenborg states. Such beliefs as monotheism, the idea that god is a loving, heavenly father, the hope of a life after death, had to find place in mens minds, before the teachings that Christ would give would make sense. It was especially through the prophets of Israel that God revealed these ideas to men.

Yet nothing of a real and genuine church could be established with the Jews. It was only a preparation for the Christian Church. Here Swedenborg repeats Pauls teaching that the rituals established in the Jewish Church-


John Wesley and Swedenborg p. 25 its sacrifices, especially-were things representatively prophetical of the life of Christ. Indeed, he teaches that every ritual and every law of the Jews was given to represent something heavenly, spiritual, and divine.

So too with the Jewish Scriptures. They seem to treat of the history of that people. But the writing of them, Swedenborg teaches, was Divinely inspired and guided so that within all of it there was an internal or spiritual sense treating of mans regeneration, or spiritual rebirth, and also prophesying how Christ would glorify or make divine the human nature He would take on by birth. This spiritual sense extends not only to the generals of Scripture, but also to its minute particulars. Joshuas bloodthirsty conquest of the land of Canaan, for example, represents the ruthless battle man must wage against evil loves and false ideas within himself, in order that he may gain his promised land, angelic life; and throughout that story the power of the ark represents the spiritual power the Lords Word gives man against his spiritual enemies.

Swedenborg claimed that this internal sense or spiritual meaning of the Scriptures was revealed to him by the Lord. He treats of it, verse by verse, through Genesis and Exodus, and again in the Apocalypse. But the spiritual meaning of roughly half the remaining books of Scripture is expounded piecemeal throughout Swedenborgs writings.

6. The Incarnation. When preparation was completed for the Advent, the incarnation took place.


John Wesley and Swedenborg p. 26 Swedenborgs doctrine on this subject was utterly at variance with Wesleys and Wesley turned on it with fury.

From beginning to end Swedenborg denies the tri-personality of God. There was no Son of God born from eternity, he insists. God is one, both in essence and in person. In the fulness of time this one God Himself was born into the world.

In the womb of the Virgin He took to Himself a physical human body. On earth He built up within that body a natural, human mind and character. Much within them at first was evil and false, the product of both His maternal heredity and His education in the Jewish Church. The one inner love of His life, however, was the love of saving the human race, and in order that He might effect this He progressively cast out from Himself every tendency toward evil, every falsity and misconception of truth. He did this throughout a lifetime of temptations brought upon Him by the hells. And as he cast out of Himself all merely mortal humanity and finition, His inner divinity was enabled to descend into the plane of His natural consciousness and there form itself into what Swedenborg calls the Divine Human.

At the end of His life on earth, His mind, fully glorified, was one in all things with His inner divinity (one with the father, that is). Then, through the gates of death, He rose to His eternal place above the heavens, and now, as the Lord Jesus Christ, rules both heaven and earth. Swedenborg teaches that today the angels of heaven see Him as the spiritual sun-another idea which Wesley vehemently attacked. He does not mean, however, that God is a sun, a ball of fire, even spiritually speaking.


John Wesley and Swedenborg p. 27 What he means is that the Lord, the Divine Human God, does all corresponding things for the spiritual world which the natural sun does for its solar system-from him, that is, comes spiritual light to enlighten the mind as to the meaning of truth, from Him comes spiritual heat which warms the heart with the love of good.

7. Redemption. Redemption, in Swedenborgs theology, did not consist of the buying back of man from the damnation pronounced upon him by an angry God the Father. Rather was man redeemed from the overbearing power that hell then exorcised upon him. It was effected thus.

The Lord on earth admitted into Himself the temptations that the hells were inducing upon the human race. From His own divine power He conquered the hells in those temptations, broke their disorderly grip on man, forced them back into their proper limits. Mans spiritual freedom was thus restored, and man on earth and man in heaven were both redeemed from the power of hell.

By these same acts, however, the Divine Human God fully revealed Himself to the minds of men on earth. It was possible for Him thereafter to raise up a true and genuine church, and when the church on earth is pure the spiritual world can be preserved in a state of order.

8. The Trinity. Swedenborg utterly denies the tri-personality of God, but he does not deny the Trinity, nor yet that a Trinity existed from eternity (which Wesley thought he did).


John Wesley and Swedenborg p. 28 He accepts the idea of the Trinity, but explains it as existing in the one person of the Lord Jesus Christ.

In everything, he teaches, there is a trinity-its substance, its form, and the use to which it is put. The chair is made of wood; its form is a ladder back; its use is to sit on. Take away any one of these essentials, and no real chair is left.

In man, the image of God, there is also a trinity; his inmost life (which no man hath seen at any time); the form of body and mind and character in which we come to know the man; and his use to, or influence upon his fellow man. Together these constitute one person; the three must exist together or there is no man.

The divine Trinity is similar. The Father is the eternal divine life or love of God-a thing in itself invisible. The Son is the form the divine life took on when it revealed itself to men-the Divine Human personality of Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit is the work effected by God to lead men to salvation.

9. Salvation. Wesley could hardly have failed to attack Swedenborgs doctrines concerning the means and methods of salvation, so contrary were they to his own belief that man is instantaneously justified through the unmerited gift of faith alone. Swedenborg, in fact, bitterly opposes faith alone, as he calls it; he terms it the great dragon mentioned in the Apocalypse. Equally bitterly, however, he attacks the Roman Catholic doctrine of salvation through meritorious good works.


John Wesley and Swedenborg p. 29

Man, he taught, is endowed with the faculties of liberty and rationality. Neither of these was destroyed by the fall, although man thus did acquire hereditary tendencies making evil enjoyable and falsity credible. Yet not even before the fall was man able to do good and believe truth from himself. Never has man been able to do either, save from the power of God. But always he has been able to do both, using that God-given power as though it were his own.

How does man gain that power? All good loves originate in God and actually are His alone. But God works from a childs very birth on to endow him with good loves (divine in origin), in such a way that he may use them as though they were his. Every good love manifested toward a child, Swedenborg teaches, is, under the providence of God, stored up inmostly within the childs mind. So too every little truth he is led to perceive. Gradually these build up within him a force which he feels to be his own (so gradual has been its acquisition, so completely is it a part of him), from which he can freely choose to believe the truth God teaches him and do the good which God commands of him.

The whole of this force, however, actually originates in God, not in man himself. It gives no merit to man, therefore, should he choose from it to follow the pathway to salvation. He is only using at Gods inspiration what God has given him to accept the truths God teaches him. He must, furthermore, consciously acknowledge that the whole of the process is Gods work in him, or he perverts any resultant good in his life by making it meritorious, and, what is more, in pride he will gradually turn from the leadership and inspiration God gives him.


John Wesley and Swedenborg p. 30

If at divine inspiration, then, man employs this divinely given power to accept divinely revealed truths, his regeneration begins. But it only begins, Swedenborg teaches; it is not at all instantaneous, but progresses through a lifetime of temptations. Man accepts a certain truth, let us say. It is not immediately an integral part of him, however; much within him still actively opposes it-many false ideas, many evils loves and practices from his former life. One by one he must discover these in himself and cast them out. It is comparatively easy to do this as to the intellectual part of the mind. (Swedenborg speaks of a man who has done this much as being reformed or regenerated as to the understanding-a point Wesley misunderstood.) It is very much harder to accept a divine truth as to the will, however, for loves are deep-seated things and will not easily give up their accustomed hold on man. It takes struggle to get rid of the evil loves that oppose the truths man learns from God. Much struggle, perhaps a lifetime of temptations. But if a regenerating man persists in this-persists in shunning his own evils as things that oppose the will of God, persists until he not only knows what evil loves oppose his salvation, but also actively hates them-the Lord at last removes those evil loves from him and grants him new loves, heavenly loves in their place.

Man may then be said to be regenerated, at least in that one aspect of his life. The same process, however, must be effected in the other phases of life.


John Wesley and Swedenborg p. 31 Swedenborg, therefore, obviously teaches that regeneration is exceedingly slow affair. Fortunately, he also teaches that if man has sincerely begun the process on earth, but dies before it is complete, he can finish his final preparation for heaven in the world of spirits. He extends the same right to such as the heathen, who through no fault of their own were ignorant of genuine truth on earth. If, within their own religions, they sincerely sought to live according to what they believed to be true, for the sake of their god or their neighbor, they accept the genuine truth after death, and are then regenerated. But, as Wesley charged, Swedenborg did insist that no one could enter heaven unless he finally accepted the genuine truths of doctrine-especially the truths concerning God and the Trinity.

Wesleys Theology

Such were the chief points of Swedenborgs theology which Wesley found totally unacceptable. It is a theology, we have said, which is exceedingly intricate, and it is elaborated in thirty-five volumes of heaven reading. Wesleys theology, on the other hand, was comparatively simple. He accepted all the old creeds that had found their way into the Church of England and, according to his admiring biographer Tyerman, added to them but little more than the following:

The justification, whereof our articles and homilies speak, means present forgiveness, pardon of sin, and consequently acceptance with god. I believe the condition of this is faith; I mean, not only that without faith we cannot be justified, but also that, as soon as any one has true faith, in that moment he is justified. Good works follow his faith, but cannot go before it; much less can sanctification, which implies a continued course of good works, springing from holiness of heart.


John Wesley and Swedenborg p. 32

Repentance must go before faith, and fruits meet for it, if there be opportunity. By repentance, I mean conviction of sin, producing real desires and sincere resolutions of amendment; and by fruits meet for repentance, I mean forgiving our brother, ceasing from evil and doing good, using the ordinances of God, and in general obeying Him according to the measure of grace which we have received. But these I cannot as yet term good works; because they do not spring from faith and the love of God.

By salvation I mean, not barely deliverance from hell, or going to heaven, but a present deliverance from sin, a restoration of the soul to its primitive healthy, its original purity; a recovery of the Divine nature; the renewal of our souls after the image of God, in righteousness and true holiness, in justice, mercy, and truth. This implies al holy and heavenly tempers, and by consequence, all holiness and conversation.

Faith is the sole condition of this salvation. Without faith we cannot be saved; for we cannot rightly serve God unless we love Him. And we cannot love him unless we know Him; neither can we know Him unless by faith.

Faith, in general, is a Divine, supernatural evidence, or conviction of things not seen; that is, of things past, future or spiritual. Justifying faith implies, not only a Divine evidence, or conviction, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself; but a sure trust and confidence that Christ died for my sins; that He loved me and gave Himself for me. And the moment a penitent sinner believes this, God pardons and absolves him.

And as soon as his pardon or justification is witnessed to him by the Holy Ghost, he is saved. He loves God and all mankind. He has the mind that was in Christ, and power to walk as He also walked. From that time (unless he makes shipwreck of the faith) salvation gradually increases in his soul.

The Author of faith and salvation is God alone. He is the sole Giver of every good gift, and the sole Author of every good work. There is no more of power than of merit in man; but as all merit is in the Son of God, in what He has done and suffered for us, so all power is in the Spirit of God. And therefore every man, in order to believe unto salvation, must receive the Holy Ghost. This is essentially necessary to every Christian, in order to faith, peace, joy, and love. Whoever has these fruits of the Spirit cannot but know and feel that God has wrought them in his heart.1

1 L. Tyerman, the Life and Times of the Rev. John Wesley, M. A., (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1872), I, 52-53.


John Wesley and Swedenborg p. 33



Wesleys attacks upon Swedenborg were two-fold. On the one hand, he charged him with being insane; on the other, with being a heretical teacher of falsity. The insanity charge came first, albeit Wesley apparently was led to believe Swedenborg insane simply by reading his theological writings-especially what Swedenborg claimed to be his visions of the spiritual world.

Wesley had long kept a diary or journal by the time he first read Swedenborg. Excerpts from it he published regularly. On March 28th, 1770, he wrote in it (for publication):

I sat down to read and seriously consider some of the writings of Baron Swedenborg. I began with huge prejudice in his favor, knowing him to be a pious man, one of a strong understanding, of much learning, and one who thoroughly believed himself. But I could not hold out long. Any one of his visions puts his real character out of doubt. He is one of the most ingenious, lively, entertaining madmen that ever set pen to paper. But his waking dreams are so wild, so remote both from Scripture and common sense, that one might as easily swallow Tom Thumb or Jack the Giant Killer.1

1 Wesleys Journal, V. 354.

Several things are evident here. Wesley previously know of Swedenborg-knew of his reputation as a scientist and philosopher, and knew too that Swedenborg claimed to have visions of the spiritual world. (Hence he speaks of Swedenborg as one who thoroughly believed himself.) It was Swedenborgs visions which led Wesley to believe him insane, and Wesley also saw them as opposed to both Scripture and common sense.


John Wesley and Swedenborg p. 34

It is possible to ascertain which one of Swedenborgs writings it was that first turned Wesley against him. In his last treatment of Swedenborg, Thoughts on the Writings of Baron Swedenborg, Wesley wrote, I have read but little more of them than what we have in the English, except his inimitable piece, De Nuptiis Coolestibus...1       Only four of Swedenborgs theological works had been translated into English by 1770-the second volume of his Arcana Caelestia, The New Jerusalem and Its Heavenly Doctrine, The Earths in the Universe, and The Intercourse between the Soul and the Body.2

1 Wesley, Works, XIII, 398. Undoubtedly another slip of Wesleys pen. He probably was referring to Swedenborgs De Amore Conjugiale.

2 Information on publication dates of Swedenborgs works can be found in James Hyde, Bibliography of the Works of Emanuel Swedenborg, Original and Translated (London: The Swedenborg Society, 1906).

Wesley at some time saw the last named work, for in his 1783 review of Swedenborgs writings he quotes from Swedenborgs autobiographical letter prefixed to the translation published in 1769.3 This work, however, is simply a highly philosophical treatise attempting to discern the relationship between the soul and the body. It contains no account at all of Swedenborgs visions, and therefore could not be the book which Wesley read in 1770.

3 Wesley, Works, XIII, 387.

Swedenborgs Earths in the Universe must also be ruled out. Its visions are so extraordinary-claims to speech with the spirits of Mars, Mercury, and even the earths in the starry heavens-that Wesley surely would have mentioned them specifically.


John Wesley and Swedenborg p. 35

It must, therefore, have been the second volume of the Arcana Caelestia that Wesley read, and this is further attested to by his works two years later, I read a little more [Italics mine] of that strange book, Baron Swedenborgs Theologica Coelestis.1 This volume, treating of the internal sense of Genesis XVI-XXI, not only describes the intricate process whereby the Lord glorified His rational mind, but, between chapters, treats of such subjects as visions and dreams; infants in heaven (from things seen and heard); the gentiles after death-how it is that they are saved; and, finally, Marriages and Adulteries-how they are regarded in the heavens and in the hells. (The last might have accounted for Wesleys terming Swedenborg that filthy dreamer ... who ... provides harlots ... for the devils in hell,2 but he probably got that idea from a reading of Heaven and Hell, which he reviewed in 1779.)

1 Wesley, Journal, V, 440.

2 Wesley, Journal, XIII, 409.

On his first reading of Swedenborg, Wesley concluded that the man was insane. The conviction would grow with him, and by 1779 at the latest, and possibly as early as 1771, he would believe that he had positive proof of Swedenborgs insanity. In 1779 he wrote to Elizabeth Ritchie, I have abundant proof that Baron Swedenborgs insanity, which he had thirty years before he died, much affected his understanding.


John Wesley and Swedenborg p. 36 Yet his tract is majestic, though in ruins.1 By this time, than, Wesley attributed Swedenborgs insanity to a fever. He seems to have known of this fever by 1771, however, for in that year he wrote in his Journal:

1 Wesley, Works, XIII, 48.

I cannot but think that he fever [Swedenborg] had twenty years ago,2 when he supposes he was introduced into the society of angels, really introduced him into the society of lunatics; but still, there is something noble, even in his ravings:

2 Wesley gives four different dates for Swedenborgs supposed fit of insanity-1740, 1742, 1743, and 1751. (Lewis Hite, Swedenborgs Historical Position (New York; The Swedenborg Foundation, 1928), p. 133.)

His mind has not yet lost all its original brightness but appears Majestic, though in ruins.3

3 Nehemiah Curnock, editor of Wesleys Journal, writes: intentional alteration. In Paradise Lost, I, 592-593, it is said of Satan:
His form has not yet lost
All her original brightness, nor appeared
Less than archangel ruined.
All in II, 305, Satan is
Majestic, though in ruin. (Journal, V. 440.) The phrase, Majestic, though in ruins, became one of Wesleys favorite descriptions of Swedenborg and his writings.

Wesley again alluded to Swedenborgs insanity in his 1779 review of Swedenborgs Heaven and Hell:

He had a violent fever when he was five and fifty years old, which quite overturned his understanding. Nor did he ever recover it; but it continued majestic, though in ruins. From that time he was exactly in the state of that gentleman at Argos:

Qui se credebat miros adire tragedas.

In vacuo laetus sosser plausorque theatro. His words, therefore, from that time were aegri somnia, the dreams of a disordered imagination.4

4 Wesley, Journal, VI. 230-231.


John Wesley and Swedenborg p. 37

Again Wesley speaks of Swedenborgs fever and insanity in his final review of his writings in 1783, wherein he says:

Many years ago the Baron came over to England, and lodged at one Mr. Brockmers,1 who informed me, (and the same information was given me by Mr. Mathesius, a very serious Swedish Clergyman...), that while he was in his house he had a violent fever, in the height of which, being totally delirious, he broke from Mr. Brockmer, ran into the street stark naked, proclaimed himself the Messiah, and rolled himself in the mire. I suppose he dates from this time his admission into the society of angels. From this time we are undoubtedly to date that peculiar species of insanity which attended him, with scarce any interruption, to the day of his death.2

1 Wesley had been well acquainted with Brockmer. When he returned from Georgia in 1738, Wesley and his brother, Charles, were for several years attracted by the Moravian Brethren in Fetter Lane, London. Frequently the Moravians held society meetings in the homes of various members, and in these meetings Wesley took an active part. Many of them were at the home of John Paul Brockmer; they are mentioned, passim, in Wesleys Journal, II, 78-147.

2 Wesley, Works, XIII, 388-389.

But in the Arminian Magazine for 1781 Wesley had already published his insanity story in full detail. He introduced it thus:

The following account of a very great man was given me by one of his own countrymen. He is now in London, as is Mr. Brockmer also, and ready to attest to every part of it.

The account first tells the circumstances under which Swedenborg in the year 1743"3 came to lodge with Brockmer. With Brockmer he attended the Moravian services in Fetter Lane every Sunday.


John Wesley and Swedenborg p. 38 He lived very recluse, but often talked with Brockmer, and was pleased with hearing the Gospel in London. Later it is added that he told Brockmer that he rejoiced that the Gospel was preached to the poor, but lamented over the learned and rich, who he said must all go to hell.1

3 Swedenborg was not in England during the year 1743; he arrived there in May, 1744. (Swedenborg, Journal of Dreams (Bryn Athyn, Pa; The Academy of the New Church, 1970), n. 192.)

1 The latter part of this statement is directly contrary to Swedenborgs repeated teaching about riches and learning. He denounces renunciation of wealth as false piety, saying a rich man thus makes himself a public charge, throwing away the means he could have employed to do great good to his neighbor. He exalts learning, although it is true that he speaks of a spirit of agnosticism and denial that especially infests the learned. E. g., Swedenborg, Heaven and Hell (Standard Edition; New York, The Swedenborg Foundation, 1952), n. 1.

For several months all went well at Brockmers. His noble lodger worked writing a pamphlet in the Latin language. After that he did not open his chamber door for two days, neither would permit the maid to come in to make the bed and sweep the room.

Later, Brockmer was at a coffee house one evening. The maid came to him, informing him that something extraordinary had happened to Mr. Swedenborg; that she had knocked several times at his door, but he had not opened it. Brockmer returned, knocked at Swedenborgs door, asked if he would not let the maid make the bed. He answered, NO: and desired to be left alone, for he was about a great and solemn work.

When Mr. Brockmer retired to his room ... he [Swedenborg] ran after him, looked very frightful; his hair stood upright, and he foamed a little at the mouth.... At last he said he had something very particular to communicate;


John Wesley and Swedenborg p. 39 namely, that he was the Messiah; that he was come to be crucified for the Jews; and that as he had a great impediment in his speech, Mr. Brockmer was chosen to be his mouth, to go with him the next day to the Synagogue, and there to preach his words. He continued, I know you are a good man, but I suspect you will not believe me. Therefore an angel will appear at your bedside early in the morning, then you will believe me.

Brockmer began to be frightened, the account goes on, and recommended that Swedenborg take some medicine from our dear Dr. Smith; but agreed to make a test of the angelic visit. Over and over before the two men retired Swedenborg repeated that the angel would appear.

At five the next morning Swedenborg heard Brockmer stirring, and a night cap half on half off, ran to him to know if the angel had appeared. Brockmer tried to divert him, Abut he foaming continually cried out, But how, how, did the angel come? Brockmer replied in the negative, insisted that Swedenborg see Dr. Smith. Swedenborg refused. The account goes on:

Then he talked a long time to himself, and said, I am now conversing with spirits, one on the right hand, and the other on the left; the one bids me follow you, because you are a good man, and the other saith, I shall have nothing to do with you; you are good-for-nothing.... Then the Baron sitting down in a chair cried like a child, and said, Do you think I should hurt you? Mr. Brockmer likewise began to cry, and the Baron went downstairs.

Again Swedenborg refused to go to the doctors with Brockmer, so Brockmer went alone, begged the doctor to take Swedenborg in. The doctor had no room for him, but got him lodgings nearby at a Peruke-makers in Cold Bath Fields. The account continues:

During the time that Mr. Brockmer was gone to Dr. Smiths, the Baron went to the Swedish Ambassadors, but on account of that day being post day, the Ambassador could not see him.


John Wesley and Swedenborg p. 40 He then went to a place called the Bulley-Hole, undressed himself, rolled in very deep mud, and threw the money out of his pockets among the crowd.

He was returned to Mr. Brockmers, covered with mud. Brockmer took him to his new lodgings. There Swedenborg desired a tub with water and six towels. He then locked himself in his room, but Brockmer had the lock taken off, apprehensive that he might hurt himself. They found Swedenborg washing his feet; he had wetted the six towels and asked for six more....

After that Mr. Brockmer continued to visit him; he had often expressed his thanks to him for his great care, but would never give up the point that he was the Messiah...

One day thereafter, Swedenborg went out into the fields, running as quick as possible. The man who then attended him, could not overtake him; the Baron sat down on a stile, and laughed heartily;-- when the man came near him, he ran to another stile, and so on. This was in the dog-days, and from that time he grew worse.

Mr. Brockmer had very little conversation with him afterwards, except hat he now and then met him in the streets, and found that he still held to his point.1

1 Wesley, Arminian Magazine, 1V (1781), pp. 46-49. Elsewhere Wesley attributes Swedenborgs mad actions to a delirium at the height of a fever, and says that from this time we are undoubtedly to date that peculiar species of insanity which attended him, with scarce any interruption, to the end of his life. Dr. John Adam Doering, chief psychiatrist at the U. S. Veterans Hospital, Tomah, Wis., states that a persons actions when delirious follow a set pattern well known to psychiatrists, and that the description Wesley gives of Swedenborgs madness does not fit this pattern in any particulars. He adds, however, that it follows the usual pattern of an epileptic seizure, but notes that such sickness has no established relationship to the patients sanity, either beforehand or afterwards. (Interview, Madison, Wis., March 23, 1957.)


John Wesley and Swedenborg p. 41



The publication of Wesleys account of course aroused the ire of those who accepted Swedenborgs doctrines. Their numbers were few, but they accepted without question both of Swedenborgs claims-that he conversed with spirits and angels, and that he was the divinely chosen medium for the giving of a new revelation. They at once sprang to his defense. Some of them undertook what they termed a thorough investigation of Wesleys charges, and, they claimed, thoroughly refuted them.1 Their defense, however, was not well organized, any more than was their ecclesiastical association at that time.2

1 Block, op. cit., pg. 64.

2 Swedenborgs followers did not organize their own ecclesiastical organization, the New Jerusalem Church, until 1787. (C. Th. Odhner, Annals of the New Church (Bryn Athyn, Pa.: The Academy of the New Church, 1904), pp. 133-134.

Early Willingness To Accept Delirium-Story.

At first there was a willingness to accept Wesleys contention that Swedenborg had acted insanely at the height of a delirium. The defense rested its case with the summation, So what? Who can possibly account for his actions when delirious from a fever? Why charge a man with insanity thereafter, simply because of his mad actions at such a time? (And Wesley had certainly charged just that.)


John Wesley and Swedenborg p. 42

Testimony of the Rev. Thomas Hartley1

1 Wesley knew of Hartley. His Journal for 1764 contains several references to his work, Defense of the Mystic Writers. Wesley wrote, March 5, 1764, that he had read this work, and then lists three objections to mystics: (1) Their sentiments-they have no conception of church communion, they slight piety and mercy, and they indulge in unscriptural speculations. (2) They are of an unsociable spirit, in that they call dissenters from their views carnal, unenlightened men. (3) Their terminology is unscriptural and affectedly mysterious. Wesley here singles out the mystic [sic] Jacob Behmen for attack. (Wesley, Journal, V. 46.) Three weeks later Wesley wrote to Hartley, approving his doctrine of the millennium, but warning against mystics and protesting a misinterpretation of his own teachings on the new birth. (Ibid., pg. 53.) Later Wesley knew too that Hartley was a convert to Swedenborgianism. In his final review of Swedenborg, he specifies Hartley as one who found pleasure in Swedenborgs teachings.

Perhaps the first to deny Wesleys insanity charge against Swedenborg was the Rev. Thomas Hartley, a Church of England Divine,2 and a very early convert to Swedenborgs doctrines. Hartley and another person had gone to visit Swedenborg in 1769, while he was lodging at Richard Shearsmiths in London. Later Hartley entered into a correspondence with Swedenborg, some of which Wesley quoted in his 1783 Thoughts on the Writings of Baron Swedenborg.

2Tafel, Documents, II, 517.

In 1781 The True Christian Religion had been published in an English translation by the Rev. John Clowes, rector of St. Johns Church in Manchester.3 In his preface to his edition, Clowes mentioned the insanity charges then being brought against Swedenborg. He writes that to counter these he had procured a letter from Hartley, which read, in part:

3 Clowes had been converted to Swedenborgs teachings in 1773, through the efforts of one Richard Houghton, an ex-Methodist minister. (Odhner, Annals, p. 106.) He firmly opposed the Separatist movement of the New Jerusalem Church. (Ibid., p. 131).


John Wesley and Swedenborg p. 43

He [Swedenborg] was seized with a fever, attended with a delirium, common in that case, about twenty years before he died, and was under the care of a physician; and they have gone about to pick up what he said and did, and how he looked at that time, and have propagated this, both in private and in print, a proceeding so contrary to common humanity, that one cannot think of it without offence, nay, even horror.1

1 Clowes, loc. cit.

Before Hartley wrote this letter, we would note, he not only had seen Wesleys insanity story in the Arminian Magazine, but he also was acquainted with the fact that the tale was being talked of in private conversation-They ... have propagated this, both in private and in print.

Some time later Hartley would more explicitly deny that Swedenborg was ever insane later in life. His testimony is found in a document written 1798 by Peter Provo, a London physician and another early convert to Swedenborgianism. Provo, setting out to refute various false and idle reports propagated concerning Mr. Swedenborg, quotes Hartley, a very learned, pious, and aged Divine of the Church of England, who was himself personally acquainted with Mr. Swedenborg, and had read his writings for many years. Hartley related to him, Provo says, that he and a friend had gone to see Swedenborg, and that so far from his having an appearance of insanity about him, that there was something in his manner and behavior remarkably kind and pleasing. And once he declared to me, Provo continues, If I had not been fully satisfied as to the perfection of his mind, I should in no wise have attempted to bring his writings before, and recommend them to the notice of the public.1

1 Tafel, Documents, II, 517.


John Wesley and Swedenborg p. 44

Testimony of Robert Beatson

Another who early undertook to refute Wesleys insanity charge against Swedenborg was Robert Beatson of Rotterham, Yorkshire. Beatson acted as secretary to the first General Conference of the New Jerusalem Church in 1787. Apparently he wrote his defense of Swedenborg almost immediately after reading Wesleys final article, but his statements did not get into print until February, 1791, just three weeks before Wesley died.

Most of Beatsons essay is occupied with disputing Wesleys doctrinal disagreements with Swedenborg. These we shall consider later. Beatson begins by saying that he has no way of knowing whether or not Swedenborg actually did suffer such a delirium as Wesley claims; but, he asks, could anyone, even Mr. Wesley, account for his actions in what Wesley calls the height of the fever when totally delirious? And as for Wesleys statement, I suppose he dates from this time his admission into the society of angels.... From this time we are undoubtedly to date that peculiar species of insanity which attended him..., Beatson notes that never in his later life did the Baron exhibit any signs or words indicating insanity.2

2 New Church Magazine, London, 1885, pp. 374-392.


John Wesley and Swedenborg p. 45

Opinion of the Rev. Samuel Noble

Even as late as 1826 there was a willingness on the part of Swedenborgians to accept the possibility that Swedenborg might have acted insanely while delirious from a fever. In that year the Rev. Samuel Noble (1779-1852), a convert since his youth to Swedenborgs doctrines and an early English minister of the New Jerusalem Church, published his Appeal on Behalf of the New Jerusalem Church, and in it, admitting that Swedenborg might once have been delirious, notes the injustice of picking out what one does in a delirium to prove insanity afterwards, if, after the fever, he never again did such things.1 Besides, Noble asserts, a perfect consistency runs from beginning to end throughout Swedenborgs Theological Writings, though they covered twenty-two years, displaying acute powers of reason and remarkable powers of memory.2

1 Noble, Appeal, p. 242. During his lifetime Swedenborg was never formally charged with being insane, nor are any mad actions ever attributed to him besides those described by Wesley. Many, however, privately expressed the opinion that he must be insane, in view of his claim to daily vision into the spiritual world.

2 Ibid., p. 237.

Total Denial of Wesleys Insanity Story.

Within a few years after Wesley had published his charges that Swedenborg was insane, the defense tactics of the Swedenborgians shifted. Further investigation of the story had convinced them that they could safely deny the whole thing.


John Wesley and Swedenborg p. 46

Brockmer Denies Wesleys Story.

Some time after writing his original defense of Swedenborgs doctrines, Robert Beatson paid a visit to London. There he met Robert Hindmarsh (a man of outstanding importance in the early days of the New Church),1 and the two of them, along with several others, went to visit Brockmer in Fetter Lane. An account of the visit was published by Hindmarsh in his New Magazine of Knowledge for 1791.

1 Hindmarsh, a London Printer, is counted as both the founder of the distinct ecclesiastical New Church organization, and also as its first ordained minister. (Odhner, Annals, p. 283.) Swedenborg himself never made any attempt to organize a church. In 1782 Hindmarsh became acquainted with Swedenborgs writings, and was at once converted to their teachings. Shortly thereafter he introduced them to his father, the Rev. Samuel Hindmarsh, a Methodist minister since 1766 at the latest. (Minutes of the Methodist Conferences, 1744-1807, (London: the Conference office, 1892), p. 64.) The elder Hindmarsh soon left Wesley for the Swedenborgians. When the New Jerusalem Church was formally organized as a dissenting ecclesiastical body, Samuel Hindmarsh was chosen by lot to be its first priest. The younger Hindmarsh was chosen, again by lot, to perform the ordination ceremony. Ever after that he was recognized as the first minister of the New Church, ordained by God. (Odhner, Annals, p. 289.) As a youth Robert Hindmarsh had attended Wesleys Kingswood School, where his father was writing instructor, and at the age of nine years was outstandingly active in a highly emotional religious revival that swept the student body there. (Wesley, Journal, V. 258-60.)

Brockmer, the account says, was asked whether he had ever given an account of Swedenborg to Wesley.

[Brockmer] immediately denied the fact, positively declaring that he had never opened his mouth on the subject to Mr. Wesley-[he also] seemed much displeased that Mr. Wesley should have taken the liberty to make use of his name in public print, without his knowledge or consent.

The account which Wesley published in 1783 was then read to Brockmer. He replied:

-...that it was entirely false; that he never gave any information of the kind to Mr. Wesley; but supposed that some other person might have made such a report to Mr. Wesley, who he said was very credulous, and easy to be imposed upon by any idle tale, from whatever quarter it came.


John Wesley and Swedenborg p. 47

Brockmer continued, saying:

Baron Swedenborg was never afflicted with any illness, much less with a violent fever while at his house, nor did he ever break from him in a delirious state, and run into the street naked and there proclaim himself the Messiah.

Brockmer acknowledged, however, that:

He had heard a report that Baron Swedenborg had rolled himself in the mire; but he could not be certain of the fact, because he did not see it himself, but was only told so.

Brockmer was then asked to read the more detailed account of Swedenborgs insanity which Wesley had published in 1781. Reading it, he replied:

That to the best of his recollection, some things in the account were true; others ... absolutely false ... and the whole exaggerated and unfairly stated.... It was true that Swedenborg once called himself the Messiah, but not true that he always persisted in it whenever he saw him afterwards.... His hair stood upright, for as he wore a wig, it was necessary to keep his hair cut short.... It was not true that he looked frightful or wild, for he was of a most placid and serene disposition. It was true that he had an impediment in his speech and spoke with earnestness, but not true that he foamed at the mouth.1

1 The New Magazine of Knowledge, ed. Robert Hindmarsh, London, 1791, pp. 91-98. (This magazine may be found in the Swedenborgian Library at the Academy of the New Church, Bryn Athyn, Pa.) Hindmarsh here appends the following note: It is well known that the Rev. Charles Wesley used to sputter so much when speaking or preaching, that if any person happened to be close to him, he was sure to spit in his face. But for this he cannot be charged with foaming at the mouth, for this would be indirectly to charge him with a degree of madness to which he was never subject. (Ibid., p. 93.)

Brockmer, it is seen, not only denied telling Wesley anything at all about Swedenborg, but also denied that Swedenborg had ever suffered any mental or physical illness while he lodged with him in Fetter Lane.


John Wesley and Swedenborg p. 48 It should be noted, however, that Brockmer probably knew he was speaking to several avowed Swedenborgians. Apparently he told quite another tale to the Moravian deacon, the Rev. Francis Okely, of the Fetter Lane Society.1

1 Tafel, Op. Cit., II, 1243.

Letter of the Rev. Francis Okely.

Intrigued with Wesleys published account of Swedenborg, Okely visited the latter on Thursday, September 10, 1771, at four oclock in the afternoon. Okely and Swedenborg conversed for two hours in English and Latin and finally in German, Swedenborg being most fluent in that. In an undated letter to an unknown correspondent, Okely writes:

His eyes were bleared with much writing; but he was very composed in his countenance and whole demeanor. But there is no denying, that in the year 1743, when he first was (as he said) introduced into the spiritual world, he was for a while insane. He then lived with [sic] Mr. Brockmore (a gentleman you well know), in Salisbury Court. As Mr. J. Wesley has published in his Arminian Magazine for Jan. 1781, pages 46-49, I refer you to it. There is little doubt you will meet with it among some of the numerous Methodists on your side of the water. As I rather suspect J. W.s narratives, they being always warped to his own inclination, I inquired since of Mr. Brockmore concerning it, and have found all the main lines of it truth.2

2 New Jerusalem Magazine, Vol. Viii, no. 27, p. 1, December 28, 1861 (New York: the General Convention of the New Jerusalem Church in the United States). This communication was sent to the Messenger by the Swedenborgian bishop, William Henry Benade, of Philadelphia, who wrote that his copy of it was in the handwriting of the Rev. Jacob Duche, pastor of the Philadelphia Church during the American Revolution. Duche, another early Swedenborgian, wrote much concerning Swedenborg. Benade, therefore, might easily have recognized his handwriting. Duche died in 1798. (New Church Magazine, 1914, p. 109.)


John Wesley and Swedenborg p. 49

There seems no good reason to doubt Okelys veracity. Brockmer told him that Wesleys story was true as to its main lines. But Brockmer then knew he was speaking to a fellow Moravian.

There is, therefore, good cause to question Brockmers truthfulness. Perhaps he did not tell the story to Wesley himself. That much may be true. But he denied the story to Hindmarsh and Beatson; he affirmed it to Okely. It would seem to follow that anything Brockmer said was suspect.

The Rev. Aaron Mathesius

Wesley said he received the account of Swedenborgs insanity from Brockmer and Mathesius, the latter being a very serious Swedish clergyman. Brockmer denied being responsible for the story. Who, then, was Mathesius?

Aaron Mathesius, the youngest in a family of twenty-five children, was born in Finland in 1736. He received the degree of Mater of Philosophy from the University of Upsala, and in 1767 was ordained a priest in bo, Finland. The following year he acted as curate to Herr Pastor Arvid Ferelius at the Swedish Church in Princes Square, London, and he succeeded Ferelius as pastor there in 1773.

The Records of the Swedish Church in London, (Anteckningar rrande Svenake Kyrkan i London), state:

On April 29, 1777, the Swedish congregation sent a letter to his Royal Majesty, containing the following nine points of accusation against their pastor, Mathesius: arbitrary administration of the money belonging to the church; personal attacks from the pulpit; keeping the minutes of the congregation in a slovenly manner; refusing the members of the congregation access to the church books; holding church meetings without calling them in a legal way;


John Wesley and Swedenborg p. 50 signing the minutes of the proceedings with the names of members without their knowledge; going to the country without leave of absence; causing dissension in the congregation by exciting the lower classes against the higher, and persuading them that they possess rights which do not belong to them; and finally, purchasing a personage in an unlawful manner.

As a result of these accusations, Mathesius was suspended from office and ordered to defend himself. He did so-at length-and meanwhile changed his ways and co-operated with his congregation. On March 7th of the following year, therefore, the congregation again petitioned the King, requesting that Mathesius be re-instated. He was.

The Antechningar continues concerning him, In the summer of 1783 Pastor Mathesius was overtaken by a severe illness, whereby he was disabled from continuing his office. For almost a year the Swedish congregation had no active minister, but on May 16, 1784, in the presence of Mathesius, now restored in health, his successor was installed in the pastorate. Mathesius was returned to Sweden, and there was married at the age of fifty-three. He earned his living by acting as a private tutor, until 1806, when he was appointed pastor of a diocese in Skara. He died in 1808.1

1 Tafel, op. cit., II, 1171-1177.

As to the nature of Mathesius illness, we have three distinct testimonies that it was insanity. Eric Bergstrom,2 the keeper of the Kings Arms Tavern in Wellclose Square, London, a friend of Swedenborgs and once his landlord in London, testified on May 2, 1787:

2 In 1779 Bersgtrom was chosen one of the four trustees of the Swedish Church in London, receiving more votes for that office than did even the Swedish Council, Claes Grill. His initial friendliness with Mathesius is attested to by the fact that his name was subscribed to a document in which the Swedish congregation petitioned the King that Mathesius be appointed their pastor. (Tafel, Op. cit., II, 1182.)


John Wesley and Swedenborg p. 51

Mr. Mathesius was an opponent of Swedenborg, and said that he was a lunatic, etc.; but it is remarkable that he went lunatic himself, which happened publicly one day when he was in the Swedish Church, and about to preach; I was there, and saw it: he has been so over since, and sent back to Sweden, where he now is: this was about four years ago.1

1 Tafel, Documents, I, 703.

The second testimony to the same effect was published by Benedict Chastainer,2 in his Tableau analytique et raisonne de la Doctrine Celeste de lEglise de la Nouvelle Jerusalem (London, 1796), from which we quote the following:

2 Benedict Chastanier, a Frenchman, was a physician and apothecary in London in the 1780's. During Swedenborgs lifetime he organized a Swedenborgian Lodge in French masonry. In 1801 he returned to France to evangelize the New Church there. About 1810, a very old man, he was lost in a snow storm in Scotland and was never found. (Tafel Documents, II, 1176.)

Mr. Springer3 informed us yesterday that Mathesius, who had succeeded in supplanting the good Pastor Ferelius, ... had become mad, and had in consequence of this been suspended from his ministry, and recalled to Sweden.

3 Christopher Springer, a Swede, was born in London in 1704. By 1741 he was involved in international politics and within a year was in trouble with the Swedish government as savoring too much of republicanism. Imprisoned in 1743, he escaped in 1752 and fled to Russia, where he was appointed by the Empress Elizabeth as Assessor in the Department of Poland. In 1754, the Duke of New Castle, then Prime Minister, introduced him to King George, who heard out his lifes story. Springer afterwards unofficially took over the duties of the Swedish ambassador to the Court of St. James, and continued in that capacity until 1763. The year previously the English government had appointed him to conclude peace between Sweden and Frederick the Great. Although thus restored to favor with the King of Sweden, he continued in London, and in 1775 was the grand old man of the Swedish Church there. He and Swedenborg were warm personal friends, but Springer said he could never understand why such an exalted gentleman as the Baron ever took a liking to me. (Tafel, Op. cit., I, 705-809.)


John Wesley and Swedenborg p. 52

Where he is now living on a pension granted by the King.1 Both Bergstrom and Springer were members of the Swedish congregation in London.2 The third testimony to Mathesiuss insanity is more obscure. It is part of a long account given by Swedenborgs last landlord, Richard Shearsmith, to Dr. Peter Provo. The only part pertinent here reads, It seems to me remarkable that Mr. Brockmer himself became insane before he died, as well as another person who aspersed Swedenborgs character by saying he was so.3 It is notable that none of these three men (Bergstrom, Springer, or Shearsmith) was the least bit interested in Swedenborgs doctrinal teachings, although all three were, of course, personally friendly with him. (This is the only mention we have found of insanity being charged against Brockmer.)

1 Ibid., I, 703.

2 Ibid., II, 1181-1182.

3 New Church Magazine, 1885, pg. 382.

Swedenborg, it is known, occasionally attended the services of worship at the Swedish Church in Princes Square during his London sojourns in 1769 and 1771-1772. He met both pastor Ferelius and Mathesius, his assistant, and presented them each with a set of his Arcana Coelestia.4 Eventually Ferelius became an ardent, although secret Swedenborgian (he feared the persecution the Swedish Lutheran Church was carrying on against Swedenborgians.)5 Mathesius, however, though he refused to read Swedenborgs writings, bitterly attacked them.6 Swedenborg knew of this, which accounts for the following incident.

4 Sigstedt, op. cit., pg. 381.

5 Tafel, op. cit., II, 556

6 [footnote cannot be read]


John Wesley and Swedenborg p. 53

Several days before Swedenborg dies on March 29th, 1772, he was visited by Eric Bergstrom. Sensing that his friends end was near, Bergstrom asked him if he wished to partake of the sacrament. Swedenborg replied that he did not need it, but would partake of it lest he offend the church. Bergstrom proposed sending for Mathesius, pastor at Princes Square. Swedenborg refused to receive the sacrament from Mathesius, and Ferelius was called in, instead. This story is attested to by both Bergstrom and Springer.1

1 Sigstedt, op. cit., pp. 432-433; Tafel, op. cit., II, 576.

Several of Swedenborgs recent biographers state that the reason for this refusal of Mathesiuss administration came because Swedenborg knew that Mathesius was spreading about reports that he was insane.2 Apparently this conclusion is based on a letter from Robert Hindmarsh to a William Gomm, Esq., of London, dated November 28, 1786, in which Hindmarsh describes the incident. He writes:

2 Sigstedt, loc. cit., e. g.

This person [Mathesius] was known to be a professed enemy of Swedenborg, and had set his face against his writings; it was he that raised and spread abroad the false account of Swedenborgs having been deprived of his senses. The Baron therefore declined taking the sacrament from him....3

3 Tafel, op. cit., II, 574.

Actually there is no indication anywhere that Swedenborg knew that Mathesius was charging him with insanity, nor does Mathesius seem to have made the charge public until after Swedenborgs death (except, perhaps, to Wesley). The phrase in Hindmarshs letter, It was he that raised and spread abroad the false account of Swedenborgs having been deprived of his senses, was probably meant by the writer as a parenthetical aside, not as the reason for Swedenborgs declining to take the sacrament from Mathesius.


John Wesley and Swedenborg p. 54

Rather does the reason for this seem to be that Swedenborg well knew of Mathesiuss rejection (nay, even ridicule) of his theological teachings. In the letter quoted just above Hindmarsh says of Mathesius, this person was known to be a professed enemy of Swedenborg, and had set his face against his Writings. Five years later Hindmarsh would write for publication. It is pretty well known that Mathesius was always a great enemy to Swedenborg.1 Bergstrom reported to Provo in 1787, Mr. Mathesius was an opponent of Swedenborg....2 And Benedict Chastanier, in his preface to his Tableau Analytique, writes, on the authority of Christopher Springer, that after Ferelius had administered the sacrament to Swedenborg, the latter advised him very strongly to attach himself to the doctrine of the New Jerusalem, without minding the opposition he would meet with from men in general, and particularly from his colleague Mathesius ... who had already expressed himself strongly against these doctrines.3

1 New Magazine of Knowledge, p. 92.

2 Tafel, op. cit., ii, 538

3 Ibid. II, 581

Mathesius, then, did not view Swedenborg dispassionately. He gladly picked up and circulated stories derogatory to Swedenborgs character, if, indeed, he did not concoct them himself, and there is at least some indication that he did just that. Wesley had published Mathesiuss account in 1781. A highly altered version of the same was published in 1867 by a Mr. William White of London, in his two volume, Emanuel Swedenborg:


John Wesley and Swedenborg p. 55 His Life and Writings, I, 129-132, which Mr. White purports to be his own translation from the Swedish of a document written by Mathesius in 1796.1 (He does not say how it came into his possession, but says, We have also in manuscript, in Swedish, the story directly from Mathesiuss own hand.)

1 Tafel, op. cit., II, 1305.

This second account of Swedenborgs insanity is much longer than the first, and in it Mathesius gives many more details. He no longer has Swedenborg foaming a little at the mouth; the diminutive is gone from the latter account and Swedenborg is simply now foaming at the mouth. In the latter account Mathesius also claims to quote Brockmer directly and has him say that after Swedenborg realized the angel had not appeared to Brockmer, Swedenborg went downstairs to his own room, but returned immediately, and spoke, but so confusedly that he could not be understood. I began to be frightened [Brockmer says in the 1796 version], suspecting that he might have a penknife or some other instrument to hurt me. In my fear I addressed him seriously.... As Brockmer, in the latter account, passes Swedenborgs door on the way to the doctors he sees Swedenborg with a great stick in his hand, which he waved at him. The new landlord Brockmer found for Swedenborg is identified in the 1796 account. He is Mr. Michael Caer, wig-maker, of Warner Street, Cold Bath Fields. Swedenborg now is said to get these new lodgings on foot with the help of two men. Brockmer leaves him there with six men as guards over him. And in 1796 Mathesius has Brockmer saying that when he paid his final visit to Swedenborg, he at last had only one keeper.2

1 Tafel, op. cit., II, 1305.

2 Ibid., II, 592-596.


John Wesley and Swedenborg p. 56

Mathesiuss memory of what he claims to be Brockmers testimony concerning Swedenborgs insanity grew in both length and detail between the time he gave an account of it to Wesley sometime in 1770's and the year 1796, when he wrote the account of it published by White in 1867.

Little more is known of Mathesius in relation to Swedenborg, save that he was present at a dinner following the latters funeral, where there was much talk of his visions. Some of those present believed them (Ferelius, probably), some scoffed at them, and others spoke of them as a dangerous menace to the established church.1

1 Sigstedt, op. cit., p. 434.

Testimony of Richard Shearsmith

Wesley, we have seen, not only attributed to Swedenborg a violent fit of insanity while he lodged with Moravian Brockmer, but also said that this was but the beginning of that peculiar type of insanity which continued with scarce any intermission to the day of his death. Early Swedenborgian attempts to refute Wesleys charges of insanity, therefore, were not confined to investigations of Swedenborgs life in 1744, but sought testimony as to Swedenborgs life in 1744, but sought testimony as to Swedenborgs character in his later years also.

Dr. Peter Provo, in 1792, visited Swedenborgs last landlord, Richard Shearsmith, in Hatton Garden, London, and learned much of Swedenborgs last days from him-and much, too, of Shearsmiths opinion of Brockmers story. Provo wrote an account of this at Shearsmiths dictation, and seven years later, on June 10, 1799, again read this account to Shearsmith, who then subscribed to it:


John Wesley and Swedenborg p. 57

I attest the above account to be true.

                            Richard Shearsmith.1

1 New Church Magazine, 1885, pp. 371-392.

Swedenborg had stayed at Shearsmiths house twice-for seven months in 1769, and from mid-1771 to his death, late in march of the following year. Shearsmith described his personal habits at length. Swedenborg rose at five or six in the morning and went to bed early. He smiled often, but never laughed.2 He lived a life mostly retired, and much employed in writing. During his second stay with Shearsmith Swedenborg received few visitors. He would send down word that he was busy, and when some went up, he refused to answer their questions.... A kind of a Methodist preacher who once called on him was very offended at it. He dressed soberly, ate and drank very sparingly (save that he was exceedingly fond of sweets), and ate and slept only when hungry and tired. He was skinny, his eyes watered from much writing, he wrote spectacles, took much snuff, and stammered when he spoke. He was extremely careless of his money, leaving it lying around his room.

2 In his theological works Swedenborg says that much laughter (not all of it) arises from hell, since it contains within itself something of derision.

Shearsmith said he never saw anything in Swedenborg Abut what bespoke a man in the use of his perfect reason and senses, and I am sure he was a good man.... His manner, behavior and life appeared to me to be much after the manner of life the apostles led; there was also something very sincere and innocent in his countenance;


John Wesley and Swedenborg p. 58 and his manner and conversation were pleasing and engaging. He considered every day a Sabbath.... He was never known to be in a passion, but was always kind and civil, living as a philosopher, and not minding what others thought or said of him."

Shearsmith continued:

He had very few peculiarities, and many stories propagated about these are untrue.... He did not even so much as tell me that he saw anything more than common, or had any sight of the spiritual world, nor did he appear at all forward to converse on the subject, except with a few friends.... Stories to the contrary are untrue.

Yet Shearsmith well knew of his noble lodgers peculiarities, and says of them:

He seemed at times, both in the day and night, to be conversing with some who were not visible to others, and often gave signs of approbation or disapprobation at what was said.... Sometimes as he walked he would appear to be in conversation.... At times, I think, he was under temptation of mind; for I have heard sometimes a kind of moaning, or rather weeping.... I never saw him in any state of trance or insensibility of all present objects, and think that what he saw was in a wakeful state, as he generally stood between the bed and the front room when conversing in the day, with spirits or those who were invisible to others; which conversations would often be held at night ... and would last for an hour or more, he often appearing to be in a kind of conflict, saying, Nay! Nay! Nay! Often and sometimes loud; but when it met his approbation. Yea! Yea! Was pronounced, and more often.

Shearsmith was not a Swedenborgian, although he obviously admired the man:

I have read but very little of his works, and am of no religious sect or party whatsoever. What I have seen of them appeared to me to lead to what is good, and his accounts seem probable. There appeared to be a kind of Divine instinct on his mind, and I think he was chosen for some extraordinary work.

Shearsmith flatly rejected the story of Swedenborgs insanity put forward by Brockmer, and said that the man actions reported probably were those of another man with whom Swedenborg once lodged in Cold Bath Fields, and who had a reputation for a strange turn of mind.


John Wesley and Swedenborg p. 59 His reasons for rejecting the insanity story were two-fold: 1. He himself had lived in the neighborhood of Brockmers home since about 1750, yet never had he heard the story until after Wesley published it in 1781. 2. Swedenborg was recommended to Shearsmith as a lodger by Mrs. Michael Carr1 of Greater Warner Street, Cold Bath Fields, and it was to her house that Swedenborg supposedly was taken to recover from his alleged madness. Shearsmith was Mrs. Carrs barber and wig-maker, and he said he was certain Mrs. Carr would have told him of the incident, had it been true.

1 Called Caer by Mathesius.

Shearsmith, furthermore, gave quite a different reason for Swedenborgs departure from Brockmers-a reason repeated by two other persons:

What Mr. Wesley has published against him [Swedenborg] I take to e erroneous; for I have been informed that while he lived at Mr. Brockmers, he and his maid were continually interrupting him in his studies, and wanted him to conform himself to their manner of living.2

2 New Church Magazine, loc. cit.

At some other time Shearsmith repeated much of the above to Robert Hindmarsh, saying that Swedenborg always conducted himself in the most rational, prudent, pious, and Christian-like manner, and that he [Shearsmith] was firmly of the opinion that every report injurious to his character had been raised merely from malice or disaffection to his writings, by persons of a bigoted and contracted spirit.3

3 Robert Hindmarsh, Vindication of the Character and Writings of the Hon. Emanuel Swedenborg (Manchester: H & H Smith, 1812) p. 21.


John Wesley and Swedenborg p. 60

Indirect testimony from Shearsmith was collected as late as 1842 by a Dr. J. J. Garth Wilkinson from one of his own relatives, a Mrs. Shaw, who knew Shearsmith personally. She testified:

Swedenborg left Fetter Lane, because the persons he lodged with used to meddle with his papers.

Mrs. Cartwright,1 a lady of property, knew Swedenborg, and he complained to her. She recommended the Shearsmith lodging. Shearsmith used to dress her hair. The other people were so angry at his leaving them, that they spread a report that he was mad.2

1 Apparently Shearsmiths Mrs. Carr and Mathesiuss Mrs. Michael Caer.

2 Tafel, op. cit., II, 554-555.

Okelys letter

Still further testimony to Swedenborgs sanity during his last years was published, strangely enough, by Wesley himself in his Arminian Magazine for 1785. It comes in a letter to Wesley written by the Moravian minister and deacon, Francis Okely, to whom we have referred before, and with whom Wesley was rather well acquainted. The letter is dated Upton, Dec. 10, 1772. Wesley makes no comment on the letter in his magazine, but simply prints it in full:

Baron Swedenborg is to me a riddle. Certainly, as you say, he speaks many great and important truths; and as certainly seems to me to contradict Scripture in other places. But as he told me,3 I could not understand his [sic] Vera Religio Christiana without a Divine illumination; and I am obliged to confess that I have not a sufficiency of it for that purpose. I am thankful my present course does not seem absolutely to require it. We conversed in the High Dutch; and not withstanding the impediment in his speech, I understood him well. He spoke with all the coolness and deliberation you might expect from any, the most sober and rational man.


John Wesley and Swedenborg p. 61 Yet what he said was out of my sphere of intelligence, when he related his sight of, and daily conversation in, the world of spirits, with which he declared himself better acquainted than with this.

3 Okely visited Swedenborg at Shearsmiths on Sept. 10, 1771. (New Jerusalem Messenger, Dec. 28, 1861, p. 1.)

I heartily wish, that all the real designs which an Omnipotent and Omniscient God of Love might have, either by him or by any other of his sincere servants of whatsoever kind, may be truly obtained. May His kingdom come, and His will be done [sic] once in earth, as it is done in heaven.1

1 Arminian Magazine, VIII, (1785), p. 552.

It seems strange that Wesley published such a letter for his Methodists to read-apparently the last time his magazine ever mentioned Swedenborg. WE cannot believe that it indicates any change in Wesleys heart toward the man, and yet, in spite of the obvious sarcasm in the first paragraph, Okelys letter contains much praise for Swedenborg: ... as you say, he speaks many great and important truths.... He spoke with all the coolness and deliberation ... the most sober and rational man.... I heartily wish, that all the real designs which ... God ... might have, either by him or by any other of his sincere servants.... Wesley either must have been willing to admit, in 1785, that Swedenborg was not insane in his later years; or perhaps Okelys letter of 1772 accounted for Wesleys statement the next year that Swedenborgs peculiar species of insanity attended him with scarce any intermission to the day of his death. [Italics mine.]

External Testimony to Swedenborgs Sanity

There are, however, other external testimonies refuting the Brockmer-Mathesius-Wesley story. Bergstrom and Springer-Swedenborgs friends, but not his converts-continually speak of him as sane. So does Count Anders von Hpken, the Swedish Prime Minister.


John Wesley and Swedenborg p. 62 Von Hpken, in fact, knew that even during Swedenborgs lifetime men were questioning his sanity, and knew too the reason why-Swedenborgs publication of his visions. He asked Swedenborg why he included them in his theological writings, since many regarded them as mere fictions, and this led them to despise the admirable truths contained in his works. Swedenborg replied:

I was commanded by the Lord to write and publish them; do not suppose that, without such a positive order, I should have thought of publishing things which I well knew many would regard as falsehoods, and which would bring ridicule upon myself.1

1 Tafel, op. cit., II, 536-537, 528-533.

The honors that came to Swedenborg between 1740 and 1747 also tend to refute the insanity story. His next-to-last scientific publication, The Economy of the Animal Kingdom, was exceptionally well received on its appearance in 1740. His colleagues in the College of Mines unanimously recommended him, in 1747, for the presidency of that governmental agency, and when he declined the offer, and petitioned the King instead for permission to retire at half salary, the King not only granted that request, but used exceedingly flowery language in praising Swedenborg for his past services to his country.

As for Wesleys report that Swedenborg went mad during a delirium resulting from a fever, Swedenborg himself stated, late in life, that he had always enjoyed exceptionally good health.2 A Dutch banker, John Christopher Cuno (a personal acquaintance of Swedenborgs, but by no means of his convert), wrote of him in 1796, He is for his years a perfect wonder of health ... and although he is more than twenty years older than I am, I should be afraid to run a race with him.1


John Wesley and Swedenborg p. 63 The Eulogium on Emanuel Swedenborg read in the Swedish House of Nobles, October 7, 1772, contains, near its end, the following: He enjoyed a most excellent state of bodily health, having scarcely ever been indisposed.2 And Dr. Rudolph Tafel, before publishing his Documents, made an exhaustive check on the records of Swedenborgs health. From the minutes of the College of Mines he discovered that Swedenborg, when in Sweden, was rarely absent from the meetings of that body, and never for more than a day at a time because of illness. Indeed, the only indication Dr. Tafel could uncover that Swedenborg might ever have been seriously ill before his final stroke was the fact that he spent the winter of 1749-750 in the famous watering place of Aix la Chapelle. Tafel concludes that he might have gone there on the orders of a physician.3

2 Ibid., I, 66.

1 Ibid., II. 450.

2 Ibid., I. 29.

3 Ibid., II. 590

Did Swedenborg Ever Experience Trances in 1744?

There is another report, unsubstantiated, which may have some relationship to the insanity story-if the report can be credited. It was given by Benedict Chastanier, who purports to be quoting it from Christopher Springer, and says that the story is what we already knew to be the origin of Wesleys account.

It relates that Swedenborg, while lodging at Brockmers in 1744, fell into a trance which lasted two days. During this time two men at Brockmers stole Swedenborgs gold pocket watch.


John Wesley and Swedenborg p. 64 Waking from his trance, Swedenborg asked them to return it. They replied, Do you not know that in your ecstasies you seized the watch yourself; that you went out into the street, and threw it in the gutter? My friends, Swedenborg responded, you know that this statement is false.1

1 Tafel, op. cit., 609-610.

Swedenborg, much later, wrote that he never went into a state of trance while conversing with spirits and angels, but was always at such times, in a state of full bodily wakefulness.2 This is further attested to in the evidence supplied by Richard Shearsmith, given above.

2 Swedenborg, Arcana Coelestia, n. 1885.

This would seem, at first glance, to undermine the story given by Springer about the watch. However, in 1927 the Swedenborgian bishop, Alfred Acton, penned the best treatment yet written of Swedenborgs spiritual experiences in the years 1743-1744, and showed, from a study of Swedenborgs own writings at the time, that in these early years as a seer Swedenborg was not in a state of full bodily wakefulness while enjoying his visions of the spiritual world. The ability to be conscious in both worlds at once came later.3 The incident of the watch might actually have taken place, then, and it might possibly have been this which later was enlarged by Brockmer and/or Mathesius into the story of the mud-rolling, etc.

3 Acton, op. cit., p. 49-53, 101-103.


John Wesley and Swedenborg p. 65

Internal Evidence of Swedenborgs Sanity in 1743-1744

But let us now turn to what internal evidence we possess as to Swedenborgs mental state in 1743-1744. This, of course, consists of his writings at this time-his Animal Kingdom (which he published), and his Journal of Dreams, (a careful record he kept of his dreams during those years, his attempts to interpret them, and, incidentally, references to his waking activities at that time). The latter work we consider the more important and therefore shall dwell especially on that. (Wesley, it should be noted, gives four different dates for Swedenborgs fit of madness-1740, 1742, 1743, and 1751.1 We here single out 1743 and 1744, however, for it was in the former year that, according to his claim, Swedenborg first experienced supernatural manifestations and visions (including his original vision of the Lord), and it was during the latter year that Swedenborg lodged for a while at Brockmers, where Wesley has the insanity occur.)

1 Hite, op. cit., pg. 138. (On the whole, this is an untrustworthy book. The author blithely mangles quotations in an attempt to prove that Swedenborgs contemporaries and successors all had words of praise for him. Thus he lists Wesley as one of Swedenborgs admirers and quotes from him as follows: He speaks many great and important truths....       His mind was majestic. (Idem.)

Up to July 25th, 1743, Swedenborg was in Stockholm and regularly attended the sessions of the College of Mines and the House of Nobles. There is no evidence in the minutes of either body that his behavior was at all unusual during this time. The direct contrary is attested to, of course, by the action of the members of the College of Mines, four years later, in requesting the King to appoint Swedenborg as their president.


John Wesley and Swedenborg p. 66

Swedenborg sailed for the Hague late in July of 1743, there to publish is Animal Kingdom. He published only the first two parts of the work in Holland, however, and then left for England. They comprise about a thousand pages quarto, and treat of (1) the viscera of the abdomen, etc. (2) the viscera of the thorax. (Neither volume was well received, most reviewers saying that they were too verbose and contained too many quotations from the anatomical writings of others.1) He then began the next part of the work-on the Five Senses.

1 Sigstedt, op. cit., pp. 171-172.

But it was just at this period that he began to witness supernatural manifestations. A detailed account of them is found in this private diary for that time, now published in English under the title, The Journal of Dreams.

This Journal of Dreams is an odd piece of writing. It begins with a dry, factual account of the authors journey to Holland. Suddenly the travelogue breaks off. Undated notes then refer to his dreams from the past. Several sentences speak of his joys at night ... wakeful ecstasies. He notes an almost complete cessation of the desire to work for my own glory, and of his life-long inclination toward the sex.

On March 25th, 1744, he begins to record his dreams in detail, occasionally tries to interpret them. Frequently he says that they have something to do with his danger of falling into the abyss, and he derides himself for trying to get out of this abyss by his own efforts, instead of relying on the help of the Holy Spirit.


John Wesley and Swedenborg p. 67

On Easter Sunday, April 5, 1744, he writes that he went to Gods table, and says that he is in a severe state of temptation with tremors, but hopes for the Holy Spirit. He glories in the grace of God, through the merit of Christ.

The night of April 6-7, he recounts, he experiences a vision, having been suddenly awakened. He sees a face of holy men ... and also smiling. At once he concludes that it is Jesus Christ, but then he doubts it, remembering the command to try the spirits. He receives assurance that it was Christ, indeed, and prays for forgiveness for having doubted.

His dreams go on. He begins more and more to interpret them to mean that he is spiritually unworthy, but asks for strength to do what is commanded of him. He says his great temptation is to remain in scientific and philosophical writings, when he should be turning to a study of things spiritual. He adopts as his motto:

Gods will be done; I am Thine and not my own. May God give His grace for this, for it is not mine.

Anyones dreams are weird to hear, lacking in the common sense procedures of wakefulness. Swedenborgs were no exception. By themselves they do nothing to bolster a claim to his sanity. His attempts to interpret them help little more. But scattered throughout these attempts are paragraphs on philosophy, religion, and theology, and these, such as those referred to just above, only paint a picture of a man worrying about his spiritual state and trying to find a just relationship with his God.


John Wesley and Swedenborg p. 68

Perhaps a greater evidence of Swedenborgs sanity at this time, however, are the Journals occasional references to his anatomical writings and its even fewer references to his daytime activities. He outlines the workings of the thymus glands, notes that he has finished writing on the five senses, and has begun to write on the brain. He records his journeys from one city to another in Holland. He notes that he dined the day before with Preiss, the Swedish envoy to Holland; speaks of his going to his banker, and of a pleasant dinner at which he was engaged in discussing worldly affairs.

On April 24th he dreamed of a ship and took it to mean that he should sail for England, there to publish the rest of his Animal Kingdom. He did so, and while on ship he met a pious shoemaker, whom Wesley identifies as John Seniff, a Moravian.1

1 Arminian Magazine, Jan., 1781, p. 388.

From other sources we know that Swedenborg stayed with Seniff a few days in London, and from the Journal of Dreams it is clear that he was with him at least until May 6th. Wesley states that it was Seniff who introduced him to John Paul Brockmer, the Moravian gold watch chaser.2 He stayed with Brockmer until July 9th, 19744, when, he writes, during the day i chose other lodgings for myself.

2 Idem.

Entries in the Journal are extremely sparse for the summer of 1744. Only eight of them were jotted down while Swedenborg lodged with Brockmer. It might be argued from this that it is possible that Swedenborg was suffering from a fever during one of his periods of silence in the Journal.


John Wesley and Swedenborg p. 69 The work itself makes no mention of any sickness, however, and the occasional entries are not out of the ordinary.

The first entry he made at Brockmers, undated, concerns theology:

It is grace by means of which we are saved. Man should allow himself to be led by the spirit of Jesus. All that comes from mans selfhood is dead. Nothing of good can come, save from the Lord.

The next entry is dated may 19-20. Swedenborg begins it by recounting his intention to attend the Lords Supper in the Swedish Church may 20th, and jots down his reflections on the meaning of the communion. He speaks of a lengthy experience of a great internal joy, but says it vanishes if I turn aside to seek my pleasure in worldly things. The entry closes with a few sentences on the Moravian Brethren. Swedenborg says he was led to them by various providential dispensations. He writes that they claim to be the real Lutherans, and that they are conscious of the operation of the Holy Spirit ... and that they look only to the grace of God, and the blood and merit of Christ. He says he is not sure whether it will be permitted him to join brotherhood with them.

The items from June 11th and June 15th reveal little of importance. He re-counts several dreams, warns of trying to resist the Holy Spirit, and writes that on the following day, Sunday, June 18th, he should be in what is spiritual.

The entry dated June 20-21 should be observed with particular care, for it may have had a great deal to do with the story circulated by Wesley, even though it obviously is nought but the description of a dream. It reads:


John Wesley and Swedenborg p. 70

It seemed that a deliberation was going on as to whether I should be admitted to the society there, or to one of their councils. My father came out and said to me that what I had written about Providence was the finest. I called to mind that it was only a small treatise. Afterwards, one night, I was found in the Church, but I was naked, having nothing on but the shirt, so that I did not dare to come forward. This may mean that I am not yet clothed and prepared as I need to be.

The entry concludes with the account of another dream-the Danes at war.

Also of special importance, perhaps, is the entry dated July 1-2. Swedenborg claims he experienced another vision that night. It came to him, he says, when I was neither awake nor asleep, for I had all my thoughts collected. It began, he says, with violent tremors, one after another, about ten or fifteen in succession. He saw a mans back, and, very obscurely, a face. After he awoke fully, similar tremors shook him several times more. He writes that he is at a loss to explain the meaning of the vision, is sure that it was not Christ whose back and face he saw, and concludes that it is further evidence that he was being shown the grace of God.

July 3rd, he writes, he finished his work on the five senses, and now plans to start writing on the brain. July 7th he speaks his thoughts on the love of God for men as evidenced by the fact that He took upon Himself their sins, even to the most severe punishment. The night of July 9th, he recounts, he dreamed concerning a dinner he attended with the Swedish royalty. As in so many dreams, all goes wrong. The next day he left Brockmers forever, and writes of this (we repeat it, because in it Swedenborg claims to have chosen other lodgings at his own volition), ... during the day chose other lodgings for myself.


John Wesley and Swedenborg p. 71

According to the Brockmer-Mathesius-Wesley story, Swedenborgs insanity continued for at least a while after he left Brockmers-well into the dog days, indeed, he grew steadily worse, according to Mathesiuss statement. Let us briefly review, therefore, Swedenborgs entries in the Journal up to the end of August.

He left Brockmers July 10th. July 14th he dreamed he was flying-evenly and smoothly, but in the wrong direction. He notes that it means that in his writing on the brain perhaps I had proceeded too close to the soul. A week later he dreamed of a little child and wrote, It means that we must not so worry about what is spiritual as to provide for it through our own power ... but like a child we must cast all our cares upon our Lord.

So it goes on for the rest of July and for August: dreams, increasingly spiritualized interpretations of them, and occasional references to anatomical writings. July 22: We must allow Christ to take care of us in all that is spiritual and in all that is worldly. July 24: Should he take another road in his work? July 27: He has begun to read his Bible in the evenings. July 29: He wishes God would use him as an instrument to slay the dragon mentioned in the Apocalypse. July 30: He feels that God will assist him in his writing on the subject of the brain. August 4: He fears his pride is an offense to God and so refrains from the communion. August 8: He had done poorly in writing on the subject of the Corpus reticulare Malpighii.


John Wesley and Swedenborg p. 72 August 20: He dreams that the soles of his feet are altogether white, and thinks this perhaps signifies that his sins have been forgiven.1

1 The numbered paragraphs in Swedenborgs Journal of Dreams quoted or alluded to in the preceding section are, in order, the following: 12, 20, 38, 48, 49-56, 134, 103, 105, 212, 134, 197, 215, 198-215, 198, 199-202, 203-205, 209-211, 212, 213-214, 215, 217, 228, 226, 225, 227, 229, 231, 232, 233.

*       *       *       *       *

Such items as these last completely refute Mathesiuss claim that Swedenborgs madness, after he left Brockmers, grew increasingly severe. They simply are not the words of a man who played an insane game of tag with his keeper.

There is, in fact, no internal evidence nor is there any external evidence that Swedenborg was insane during the years 1743 and/or 1744. To the contrary, there is much evidence that he was sane at the time, and his own Journal of Dreams completely refutes the story of a long-continued spell of insanity, and, as well, confutes the claim that Swedenborg at this time identified himself with the Messiah. As one Swedenborgian wrote much later: No man ever put a greater distance between himself and his God.2

2 William Bruce, Wesley and Swedenborg: A Review of the Rev. John Wesleys Thoughts on the Writings of Baron Swedenborg (London: James Speirs, 1877) p. 32.

Possible Reasons for Brockmers Actions

What, then, was back of the story which Mathesius and/or Brockmer told to John Wesley? There is testimony, practically unauthenticated, that during Swedenborgs stay with Brockmer the two men were at first on friendly terms and conversed freely, Swedenborg even mentioning his spiritual experience.1


John Wesley and Swedenborg p. 73 Certainly, however, Swedenborg and Brockmer must not have been enemies, since it was with Brockmer that Swedenborg attended the Moravian services of worship in their chapel in Fetter Lane.

1 Noble, Appeal, p. 243; Sigstedt, Epic, p. 189.

We have already seen the testimony of both Richard Shearsmith and Mrs. Shaw-that Brockmer and his maid continually interrupted Swedenborg in his studies, and, what is more, meddled with his papers. Apparently Brockmer resented Swedenborgs leaving.2 And there is further testimony that Brockmer and his Moravian friends, years later, grew violently, angry at Swedenborg over what he wrote concerning their sect in his Continuation Concerning the Last Judgment, which was published in Amsterdam in 1763 and soon found its way to England.3

2 See above, pp. 58-59.

3 Hyde, op. cit., p. 418.

This is attested to by the Frenchman, Benedict Chastanier, who wrote in 1785 that a Mr. Brooksbank, a close friend of Swedenborgs, had informed him that Brockmer spread his report of Swedenborgs insanity because he could not forgive Swedenborg for what he had written about the Moravians at the end of his little tract, called [sic] Continuation concerning the Spiritual World, and who had sworn that he would avenge his sect for the injury which had been inflicted upon it by Swedenborg.1


John Wesley and Swedenborg p. 74 (Some of Swedenborgs more recent biographers have attributed this account to Christopher Springer, but the facts do not support them2.)

1 Chastanier, op. cit., pp. 21-24.

2 E. G., Sigstedt, Epic, p. 311.

The above story practically presupposes that Brockmer could read Latin, for Swedenborgs Continuation concerning the last Judgment was not published in an English translation until 1791.3 But if Brockmer did read the work in the original, or even if he only heard what Swedenborg there wrote concerning the Moravians, he would have had cause indeed to be angry with his former tenant. Swedenborg there speaks of the Moravians secret doctrines. He accuses them of spiritual conceit., says that they claim that they alone live. He says they make nothing of charity toward the neighbor and love to the Lord; that they hold the Lord cheap and at heart are Arians; that they reject the life of charity, make the word of the Old Testament useless, and despise the Evangelists. They believe they have a sensation of the operation of the Holy Spirit, Swedenborg says, but it is only visionary and enthusiastic spirits who are at work upon them. And all this, Swedenborg claims, he learned in the spiritual world.4

3 Hyde, Bibliography, loc. cit.

4 Swedenborg, Continuation concerning the Last Judgment, Nos. 86-94.

*       *       *       *       **

Now, if Brockmer and his maid actually meddled with Swedenborgs papers; if they tried to make him conform to their way; if they were displeased when he left them;


John Wesley and Swedenborg p. 75 and if, much later, Brockmer became angry with Swedenborg over what he wrote concerning the Moravians;-then there might have been truth indeed in Wesleys and Mathesiuss claims that the original story of Swedenborgs insanity came from Brockmer.

What made Brockmer tell the story? We can, of course, only go in for supposition here, but that, perhaps, is our proper work.

On the night of July 1, 1744 (while he lodged at Brockmers), Swedenborg claims, he was shaken bodily by violent tremors. In an earlier entry in his Journal he wrote of such tremors, saying that on the night the Lord appeared to him they were so violent that he was thrown out of his bed onto the floor.1 It is known that at this period in his life he was in the habit of retiring between nine and ten oclock at night.2 Might it not have been that his tremors on the night of July 1 were heard outside his bedroom door, and that this was what caused Brockmers maid to hurry to him in the coffee house, saying, -Something is wrong with Mr. Swedenborg?

1 Swedenborg, Journal of Dreams, 209-211.

2 Ibid., 49-56.

And might not Brockmer and his maid have meddled with his papers a day or so after this? If so, and if they or one of their friends could read Swedish (the language of the Journal), they would have found that account of one of his dreams: One day I was found in church, but I was naked....3

3 Idem.


John Wesley and Swedenborg p. 76

Swedenborg left Brockmers-perhaps only to find more peaceful lodgings. Brockmer was disappointed. Perhaps he did not know that the entry in Swedenborgs Journal simply described a dream. It hardly matters. Over the years his memory of Swedenborg must have become increasingly hazy. The man was a recluse ... he claimed spiritual experiences... he was found in the church naked. By 1763 Brockmer had perhaps read that Swedenborg published concerning the Moravians. The insanity tale made a good story. (It is obvious that Brockmers veracity was not always to be relied upon: he vowed to Okely that the story was true, denied the whole thing to Hindmarsh.)

At some still later date the Rev. Aaron Mathesius got the story from Brockmer. Mathesius did not like Swedenborg, and had utterly rejected his theology. Mathesius, who also lacks a reputation for truthfulness, gladly spread the story, and apparently enlarged it with each telling.


John Wesley and Swedenborg p. 77



So much for the story of Swedenborgs insanity. It lacks proof and today is rejected. What now of Wesleys doctrinal differences with Swedenborg, for these take up most the pages that Wesley wrote upon him?

Wesley, in his final article on Swedenborgs writings, said of them:

I have read little more of them than what we have in English, except his inimitable piece, De Nuptiis Coelestibus-of the Marriages in Heaven1 ... Desiring to be thoroughly master of the subject, I procured the translation of the first volume of his last and largest theological work, entitled, True Christian Religion. (The original the Baron himself presented me with a little before he died.)3

1 We repeat, a slip of Wesleys pen. He meant Swedenborgs De Amore Conjugiale, which treats of marriages in heaven as well as marriages on earth. We have already stated our reasons for believing that Wesley read very little of this: he never singled it out for attack.

2 True Christian Religion is by no means the largest of Swedenborgs theological works. In the original Latin it filled only one large quarto volume. The Arcana Coelestia, a part of which Wesley apparently read, filled eight volumes of a similar size.

3 Wesley, Works, XIII, 388-389.

In their English translations today Swedenborgs theological writings comprise thirty-five volumes, ranging between four hundred and seven hundred pages each. Wesley might have seen seven of these, (those published in English by the time he wrote the above paragraph), and, in addition, Swedenborgs Latin, De Amore Conjugiale.


John Wesley and Swedenborg p. 78 It is very probable, however that he was acquainted with only four of them and drew all his conclusions from a rather hasty reading of these: Arcana Caelestia, Vol. II, Heaven and Hell, the Intercourse between the Soul and the Body, and True Christian Religion, Vol. I. Our reasons for making this statement follow.

1. Swedenborgs Arcana Caelestia, in its English translation, fills twelve volumes. In 1771 Wesley wrote, I read a little more of that strange book [Italics mine], Baron Swedenborgs Theologica Caelestis.1 Swedenborg had had the second volume of his Arcana translated into English and published at his own expense in 1750. The full twelve volumes first appeared in England in 1778, but Wesley apparently was unacquainted with them, for in 1783 he termed True Christian Religion the largest of Swedenborgs works.

1 Wesley, Works, XIII, 388-389.

2. Wesley reviewed Heaven and Hell in 1779.

3. In his account of Swedenborgs insanity, which he printed in his Arminian Magazine for 1781, Wesley quoted from Swedenborgs autobiographical letter to the Rev. Thomas Hartley, which the latter prefaced in his translation of The Intercourse between the Soul and the Body, published in 1770.

2 Arminian Magazine, 1781 at the bottom of the page but it is not referenced in above text.]

4. Wesley reviewed the first volume of True Christian Religion in 1783.

5. For reasons already stated we conclude that Wesley never read far in Swedenborgs De Amore Conjugiale.

6. He probably never read Swedenborgs little work, The New Jerusalem and Its Heavenly Doctrine, published in an English translation in 1780, for an early chapter there, On Human Freedom, so strikingly parallels Wesleys own teachings on the necessity of human free will that it surely would have aroused Wesleys comment.


John Wesley and Swedenborg p. 79

7. Wesley could not possibly have read Swedenborgs Earths in the Universe, which the author had published in an English translation in 1758. He ridicules Swedenborgs claim to have talked with spirits and angels from this earth. How much more would he have publicly derided Swedenborgs claim that he conversed not only with spirits from other planets, but even with spirits from the earths in the starry heavens!

8. These were the only theological works of Swedenborg which had been published by 1783-the date of Wesleys last published statement concerning Swedenborgs writings.1

1 Bibliographical details here are taken from Hyde, Bibliography.

Wesley, then, had only a meager acquaintance with Swedenborgs theological writings-four volumes out of a total of thirty-five. It is obvious that much which Wesley found in these writings he misunderstood. On the other hand, the things in it which he did understand, he rejected as foolish, as false, or as damnable heresy. Occasionally he wrote that Swedenborgs theology contains many excellent things, and may be read with profit by a serious and cautious reader, and that Swedenborg speaks many great and important truths, but never once did he single out one item of Swedenborgs teachings for praise, nor say that he agreed with it.

There is good reason to believe that his first reading in Swedenborg was in the second volume of the Arcana Caelestia.


John Wesley and Swedenborg p. 80 This treats of the spiritual sense of Genesis XVI-XXI-the story of Abraham, Sarah, Hager, etc. The spiritual sense of this, Swedenborg writes, treats: (a) of the successive formation of the first rational mind in the Lord; (b) of the union of the Lords human essence with His inner divinity; (c) of the Lords perceptions of the nature of His first rational (that there was evil and falsity in it); (d) of the decline of the true church on earth; (e) of the Lords instruction in the doctrinal things of faith and charity; (f) of the formation of a genuine rational in the Lord. Interspersed between these doctrinal treatments are accounts of things seen and heard in the spiritual world: concerning visions and dreams; on the necessity of an imminent Last Judgment in the spiritual world (not on earth); on infants in heaven; on memory after death; on the salvation of the gentiles; on marriages in heaven and in hell.

The reading of any of these latter might easily have accounted for Wesleys original comment on Swedenborg:

Any one of his visions puts his real character out of doubt. He is one of the most ingenious, lively, entertaining madmen that ever set pen to paper. But his waking dreams are so wild, so remote both from Scripture and common sense, that one might as easily swallow the stories of Tom Thumb or Jack the Giant Killer.

It was a theology couched in highly intricate, long-winded, involved terminology and reasoning, and it taught much that was contrary to Wesleys own beliefs-the denial of a Son of God born from eternity, a faculty rational in the Lord, the possibility of salvation after death for those who had not accepted it on earth, and, as Wesley himself noted later, both the idea that all angels and spirits once had been men on earth,1 and the idea that there was marriage in all its fullness after earth.


John Wesley and Swedenborg p. 81

1 Wesley later stated, quite correctly, that without the hypothesis that all spirits and angels once were men, the whole of Swedenborgs theology falls to the ground. (Wesley, Works, XIII, 395.)

Wesley read a little more of that strange book, ... Theologica Coelestibus the following December. For the first time in public print he mentions Swedenborgs fever, says he cannot but think that it introduced him into the society of lunatics. He here makes no mention of Swedenborgs theology, however.2

2 Wesley, Journal, V. 440.

On April 22, 1779 (only eight weeks after writing to Elizabeth Ritchie that Swedenborg has strong and beautiful thoughts, and may be read with profit by a serious and cautious reader), Wesley looked over Baron Swedenborgs Account of Heaven and Hell. Violently he turned against it:

...The dreams of a disordered imagination.... The doctrine contained therein is not only quite unproved, quite precarious from beginning to end as depending entirely on the assertion of a single brain-sick man.... In many instances contrary to Scripture, to reason, and to itself.... Many sentiments that are essentially and dangerously wrong.... He round affirms God to be only one person, who was crucified. [sic] So that he revives and openly asserts ... the heresy of the Sabellians and Patripassians; yea, and that of the Anthropomorphites, affirming that God constantly appears in the heavens in the form of a man. And the worst is, he flatly affirms None can go to heaven who believe three persons in the Godhead. Which is more than the most violent Arian or Socinian ever affirmed before.

... His ideas of heaven are low, groveling, just suiting a Mohametan paradise; and his account of it has a natural tendency to sink our conceptions, both of the glory of heaven and of the inhabitants of it.... His account of hell leaves nothing terrible in it; for, first, he quenches the unquenchable fire. He assures us there is no fire there; only he also that the governor of it, the devil, sometimes orders the spirits that behave ill to be laid on a bed of hot ashes....


John Wesley and Swedenborg p. 82 He informs you that all the damned enjoy their favorite pleasures. He that delights in filth is to have his filth, yea, and his harlot, too! Now, how dreadful a tendency must this have in such an age and nation as this! I wish those pious men, Mr. Clowes and Mr. Clotworthy,1 would calmly consider these things, before they usher into the world any more of this madmans dreams.2

1 Probably a slip of Wesleys pen. The name of Clotworthy is not found in the annals of the early New Church. There is, however, a William Cookworthy who played a prominent part therein. (Odhner, Annals, p. 73.)

2 Wesley, Journal, VI. 230-231.

Wesley had looked over Swedenborgs Heaven and Hell while traveling during the week, he says. He was a voracious reader and a man of great comprehension, but his perusal of Heaven and Hell must have been rather hasty. He understood much of what he read, and what he understood he rejected; but he also misunderstood a great deal.

He says that the doctrine contained therein is contrary to Scripture. It is quite true that Swedenborgs explanations of the spiritual sense of Scripture often appear to a casual reader to contradict its letter, but Swedenborg insists that the Lord in His Second Coming did not destroy the law and prophets, but only infilled them with a deeper meaning.3 In connection with hell-fire, for example-the one single teaching that Wesley here affirms to be against Scripture-he says that in hell there is no physical fire burning the bodies of the devils, but insists that there is an eternal unquenchable hell-fire, nevertheless-the everlasting insatiable fire of the love of evil that burns in the hearts of the evil men who make their homes in hell.1

3 Swedenborg, Doctrine of the Sacred Scripture (Standard Edition; New York: The Swedenborg Foundation, 1928), n. 42.

1 Swedenborg, Heaven and Hell, no. 570.


John Wesley and Swedenborg p. 83

Again in connection with hell, Wesley misunderstood or perhaps misread Swedenborg. He speaks of Swedenborgs teaching that there is a governor of hell, the devil, who sometimes orders the ill-behaved to be laid on a bed of hot ashes. Swedenborg teaches nothing o the kind anywhere. He repeatedly insists that there is no Lucifer, a fallen angel now governing hell. Nor is there any other eternally ruling chieftan or governor over hell. Hell is, however, divided into societies, and over each of these one devil (one evil man, that is) gains control for a while until a revolution deposes him.2 As for Wesleys statement that Swedenborg speaks of his governor of hell laying the ill-behaved on a bed of hot ashes-that simply is not in Swedenborgs writings at all. He does teach, however, that the governors of the various infernal societies severely punish those who injure their neighbors or refuse to work for a living.3

2 Ibid., 544.

3 Ibid., 581.

Still another part of Heaven and Hell which Wesley misunderstood is seen in his statement that because Swedenborg affirms that god is only one person who was crucified, he therefore (Italics mine) revives the heresy of the Socinians and Patripassians. Swedenborgs teachings on this are abstruse and involved, but are not open to Wesleys charges. He says everywhere that God is only one person. That is the central theme of all his theology. He teachers, however, that when Jehovah God assumed the human form in the womb of Mary.


John Wesley and Swedenborg p. 84 He temporarily clothed Himself with much that distinctly was not divine, but was merely human and mortal. His work of glorification (the means whereby He made His human divine) consisted in casting out the merely human, the mortal, and the finite, so that His inmost divinity might descend even to the plane of mans conscious mind and there form itself into god-with-us. The last act of glorification was the casting off of the merely physical body, which was done on the Cross. It therefore was not God who was crucified (as the Patripassians said), but only the physical body which God had occupied on earth, but which could no longer be of any use to Him.1

1 Noble, in his Appeal, shows how easily the charge of Patripassianism might be leveled at Wesley himself. He quotes The Hymns of Wesley, nos. 24, 25, 28, and 552:

24: Th Immortal hangs his languid brow,

       Th Almighty faints beneath his load.

25: The earth could to her center shake,

       Convulsed, while her Creator died.

28: The Immortal God for me hath died.

       My Lord, my Love, is crucified.

       Come, see, ye worms, your Maker die!

552: The great Jehovah dies!

       Dies, the Glorious Cause of all!


       The God of angels dies.

Wesley does not say why he found Swedenborgs descriptions of heaven low, groveling, just suiting a Mohametan paradise. Swedenborg teaches that angels are male and female, that they marry, wear clothes (a teaching Wesley later ridiculed), have houses, eat and drink, go to church, have various governments, and that each angel finds his greatest happiness and delight in his use or occupation.


John Wesley and Swedenborg p. 85 What was it in all this that Wesley found low, groveling ... Mohametan? The last term perhaps conjures up a picture of costly foods and viands, the thought of sexual orgies. It is true Swedenborg mentions banquets and feasts in Heaven and Hell, but he also speaks of simple food which the angels eat, and frequently stresses the idea that they take no gluttonous delight in any food. As for the sex in heaven, he teaches anything but the thought that it leads to orgies; husband and wife in heaven, he says, simply ultimate their mutual love in the sexual embrace.

Wesley was correct, however, in saying that Swedenborg affirms that none can go to heaven who believes three persons in the Godhead. Before any can finally enter into heaven, he states, he must accept the belief that the Lord Jesus Christ is the one, only God of heaven and earth, for heaven in His kingdom, its laws are His laws, and acceptance of this idea of God is necessary so that man, now angel, will look to none other than Him for spiritual guidance. Swedenborg says, nevertheless, that any man who sought to do what was right while living on earth will be willing to accept this theology after death, and then will find his place in heaven.

Wesley found Swedenborgs hell entirely unacceptable. He rejected his quenching the unquenchable fire (as he understood Swedenborg to teach), for apparently he thought the fear of a literal hell fire was necessary in such an age and nation as this. Swedenborg, in fact, made hell all too pleasant-a charge to which he certainly laid himself open.


John Wesley and Swedenborg p. 86 It is never God who, in anger, condemns anyone to hell, Swedenborg teachers; God only grieves when a man after death refuses heaven. But an evil man seeks companionship with those of his own ilk, and it is simply the association of such men that constitutes hell. They are human beings-devil human beings-and they live in evil human societies. The loves which they made their own on earth stay with them, and those that delighted in filth on earth continue to delight in filth after death. Their sexual nature remains, with all its perversions, and male and female there enter into marriages of a Hollywoodian variety: they are not eternal, although divorce is hard to get. There is nothing of a spiritual quality about them at all; they are characterized by lasciviousness, the lust of domineering over the partner, the hope of satisfaction for self. Swedenborg, therefore, rarely speaks of a devil and his wife, but rather of a devil and his harlot.

Swedenborgs hell, however, is nevertheless hell indeed, but that was a point which Wesley apparently did not see. It is hell, for the devil deprives himself of the benefits of the love of God. It is hell, for the devil never knows the delight that comes from willing service to the neighbor. It is hell, for the devils selfishness never finds lasting satisfaction. The devil must obey the laws of his society; yet he hates them. He must work for a living, and he hates to work. That is the hell of it all, and it is hell, indeed.

Thoughts on the Writings of Baron Swedenborg


John Wesley and Swedenborg p. 87

Wesleys next pronouncement on Swedenborgs theology his last1-his review of True Christian Religion and Heaven and Hell, which he titled Thoughts on the Writings of Baron Swedenborg. The article is dated Mary 9, 1782, but was not published until the following year, when Wesley ran it in serial form in his Arminian Magazine.

1 Wesleys 1781 account of Swedenborgs insanity contains only a passing reference to his theology; In the Barons writings are many excellent things; but there are likewise many that are whimsical to the last degree. And some of those may do hurt to serious persons whose imagination is stronger than their judgment. (Arminian Magazine, 1781, p. 46.)

The review begins with a two-paragraph quotation from a letter of Swedenborgs giving his autobiography. In the first paragraph Swedenborg lists his parentage, the various honors that have come his way, and his world travels-his father was Bishop of Westragothia; Charles XII appointed Swedenborg Assessor in the College of Mines; Queen Ulrica Eleanora ennobled him; he is a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Sciences at Stockholm; in 1734 he published the three-volume Regnum Minerale; he has spent a whole year in Rome and Venice.

The second paragraph reads:

In the year 1743 the Lord was pleased to manifest Himself to me in a personal appearance, to open in me a sight of the spiritual world, and to enable me to converse with spirits and angels.... From that time I began to publish various unknown arcana, that have been either seen by me, or revealed to me, concerning God, the spiritual sense of Scripture, the state of man after death, heaven and hell, and many important truths.

Both paragraphs are put into quotation marks by Wesley. The first appears not only boastful, but disconnected as well. The latter should not be wondered at-


John Wesley and Swedenborg p. 88 Wesley has condensed three printed pages into eleven lines of type, and frequently has changed comparatively unimportant words to suit his own purposes. The full autobiographical sketch gives quite a complete account of Swedenborgs life.1

1 For the original autobiography, see Swedenborg, Posthumous Theological Works, I, 5-8.

Throughout the original, however, Swedenborg lays great stress on every honor that came to him, and he carefully mentions each one of his relatives who occupied a position of honor or trust. He then introduced what Wesley has for his second paragraph with the following: But all these worldly honors I account as nothing, for in the year 1743.... The original closes with a statement that has only purpose in traveling and publications has been to serve the cause of truth and usefulness.

It is a boastful account. Wesleys quotations from it make it sound even more so. Yet Swedenborg, accused of so many other things, has never been accused of boasting. What, then, was the reason for this exception?

In 1769 the Rev. Thomas Hartley, attracted to Swedenborgs writings, had visited him at his lodgings at Richard Shearsmiths. What Hartley found was a very old man with something in his manner or behavior remarkable kind and pleasing. What Hartley learned was that Swedenborg was returning to his native country. Hartley probably surmised that Swedenborg could not live much longer. He was well aware of the fact that some who read Swedenborgs visions considered them ludicrous and beyond belief. He had some knowledge of Swedenborgs honored reputation in the past.


John Wesley and Swedenborg p. 89

He wrote to Swedenborg, saying:

If, perchance, after your departure from England, your writings should be the subject of discussion, and occasion should arise for defending you ... against some malignant slanderer, who may wish to injure your reputation by a web of falsehoods ... would it not be well for you, in order to repel such slanderers, to leave with me some particulars concerning yourself, your degrees in the university, the public offices you have filled, your friends and relatives, the honors which, I am told, have been conferred upon you, so that ill-conceived prejudices may be removed; for it is our duty to use all lawful means lest the cause of truth should suffer injury.1

1 Swedenborg, Posthumous Works, I, 5.

Hartley received in reply the letter outlined above. The following year he translated Swedenborgs little work, The Intercourse between the Soul and the Body, and published it, introducing it with both is letter to Swedenborg and the latters lengthy autobiographical reply. It was from this that Wesley quoted a few scattered parts.

*       *       *       *       *

After opening his article with Swedenborgs autobiography, Wesley gives a very brief version of the story of Swedenborgs insanity while at Brockmers. I suppose he dates from this time his admission into the society of angels, Wesley writes. From this time we are undoubtedly to date that peculiar species of insanity which attended him, with scarce any intermission to the day of his death. In all history, Wesley says, Swedenborg has only one parallel-the gentleman at Argos, told of by the Roman poet ... who imagined himself to hear admirable tragedies, and undoubtedly saw as well as heard the actors, while he was sitting alone, and clapping them in the empty theater.

Wesley then takes up Swedenborgs admirable tragedies.


John Wesley and Swedenborg p. 90 They fill many quarto volumes, he notes, but he has read but little of them, save that he has now taken an extract from beginning to end of the first volume of Swedenborgs True Christian Religion, through the whole of which he traces remains of a fine genius, majestic, though in ruins. He continues:

What Mr. Law oddly imputes to Sir Isaac Newton is truly imputable to the Baron: He ploughed with Jacob Behmens heiffer, and that in both philosophy and divinity. But he far exceeds his master: His dreams are more extraordinary than those of Jacob himself.1

1 Swedenborg, in February of 1767, wrote to Dr. Gabriel Beyer, a Swedish clergyman: You desire to know my opinion of the writings of Bohme and Law: I have never read them, and I was forbidden to read authors on dogmatic and systematic theology, before heaven was opened to me; because unfounded opinions and fictions might have easily insinuated themselves thereby, which afterward could only have been removed with difficulty. (Tafel, op. cit., I, 650.)

Throughout his article Wesley continues to associate Swedenborgs name with Behmens: This is borrowed from Jacob Behmen.... If, as he vehemently asserts, (after Jacob Behmen) ... Jacob Behmen, the Baron, and most of the Mystics....       The odd, whimsical account of the Baron and Jacob Behmen ... who illuminated either Jacob Behmen or Baron Swedenborg flatly to contradict (the Word of God)?

*       *       *       *       *

The first of Swedenborgs teachings which Wesley condemns is his manner of expounding the Holy Scriptures. He terms it extraordinary ... utterly absurd ... removed from all shadow of reason ... whims of a distempered imagination.

To illustrate Swedenborgs Scripture interpretations, he quotes (and frequently misquotes) from the chapter of True Christian Religion on the Decalogue.2


John Wesley and Swedenborg p. 91 Thus Wesley puts the following into quotes: By the Fourth Commandment, in the spiritual sense, is meant the regeneration and reformation of man. The work of regeneration is successive. He then quotes Swedenborgs parallel between mans regeneration and his conception, gestation, birth, and education. In True Christian Religion 502 (the passage Wesley here refers to), the actual wording is quite different. It reads: By this commandment in the spiritual sense is meant mans reformation and regeneration by the Lord. The second sentence Wesley put into quotation marks does not appear in any form at all. Yet again, Wesley puts into quotation marks The celestial meaning of the Sixth Commandment is, Thou shalt not hate God. Swedenborgs original, however, reads, In the celestial sense, by to kill is meant rashly to hate the Lord.1

2 Swedenborg, True Christian Religion, nos. 283-231.

1 Swedenborg, True Christian Religion, n. 311.

Such, throughout, are Wesleys quotations from True Christian Religion. He never puts into Swedenborgs mouth anything actually contrary to Swedenborgs teachings, but he constantly phrases those teachings in his own words and calls them quotations. Similarly, he never indicates omissions in his quotations, yet runs together words and phrases frequently separated by whole sentences. Indeed, his whole review is hard to follow. He gives no references, either to pages or paragraphs, and his quotations from the book hardly deserve that name.

Incidentally, Swedenborgs teaching that regeneration is successive calls forth strong objections from Wesley; he wants it instantaneous.


John Wesley and Swedenborg p. 92

Swedenborgs treatment of charity and faith Wesley calls as arrant nonsense as was ever pronounced by an many in Bedlam. He quotes together two isolated statements concerning charity, Charity consists in living well.... Charity consists in willing what is good, and says, That both these accounts are wrong is certain; but who can reconcile one with the other? As to the subject of faith, Wesley paraphrases number 336 of the work to make it read, Faith in general is a belief that whoever lives well, and believes right, shall be saved. Wesley finds this ambiguous, says that it is utterly false if believing right means any more than a belief that God is, and that he is a reward of them that diligently seek him.1

1 Wesley, Works, XIII, 391-392.

For several pages he attacks the grand error of Swedenborgs theology-that there are not three persons in one God. He says that Swedenborg denies the Trinity, and excludes from salvation all who believe it. In this, he says, Swedenborg is worse than any Arian, Socinian or Mohametan. (Swedenborg, we have seen, denies a trinity of persons in God, but places the whole Trinity in the person of Jesus Christ. He excludes from salvation those only who finally, in the other life, wilfully reject the true idea of God.) No, says Wesley, I believe .... There are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Spirit. But then he adds, For the term person I contend not. I know no better; if any does let him use it.2

2 Ibid. 393-394.

Swedenborgs chapter on The Lord the Redeemer Wesley terms Heaps of absurdity.... Blasphemy, joined with consummate nonsense.


John Wesley and Swedenborg p. 93 He rejects the idea that the humanity of Christ was brought into union with the divinity of the Father as being against every word in all the Bible. So too the teaching that redemption consisted in bringing the hells into subjection and reducing the heavens into order. When were (the hells) not in subjection to the Almighty?, he asks. When was heaven, the abode of angels, out of order? He concludes:

In all this jumble of dissonant notions there is not one thing that is supported by any Scripture, taken in its plain, obvious meaning. And most of them are as contrary to Scripture as to common sense.1

1 Wesley, Works, XIII. 394-397.

In reviewing Swedenborgs teachings On the Holy Ghost, Wesley jumps around throughout the volume so rapidly that it is practically impossible to trace the sources of his quotations. He objects to the statement that the Holy Spirit is the divine operation to save men. He finds-quite correctly-that the Baron denies the grand truth of justification by faith. He rejects the idea that men could find saving faith after death. And he turns in fury on Swedenborgs teaching that God is never angry. Who but a madman could deny it?, he asks.2

2 Ibid., 397-398.

When he comes to Swedenborgs statement that the form of God is truly and verily human, Wesley quotes the Bible to deny it: The Scripture says, God is not a man. Which shall I believe? the Bible or the Baron?.... If this stands, the Bible must fall. But in all fairness to Swedenborg, it should be noted that Wesley was quoting from the Bible out of context. The full passage reads God is not a man, that he should like.3

3 Ibid., Numbers 23:19.


John Wesley and Swedenborg p. 94

Almost the last half of Wesleys article is taken up with a review of Swedenborgs Heaven and Hell. Its errors, he says, are of far greater importance than those contained in True Christian Religion.1 His quotations here are more copious and also more accurate. Swedenborgs teaching that men after death find themselves in a body, in garments, and in houses, he terms both antiscriptural and against common sense. Clothes!, he snorts, I never knew before that we should want any in the other world.2 He ridicules Swedenborgs teaching of a middle state between heaven and hell (his world of spirits), and says, How exceeding small is the difference between the Romish and the Mystic!3

1 Ibid., 400.

2 Ibid.

3 Ibid., 400-404.

The grand position of the Baron, he continues, is that all angels and devils once were men. Without this, he says, his whole hypothesis falls to the ground.4

4 Ibid.

He next turns to Swedenborgs treatment of hell. He calls it the most dangerous part of all his writings. Again he condemns the thought that hell-fire is not material fire, but is rather the eternal burning of evil loves in the hearts of the devils. Quoting at length from Swedenborgs account of hell, he writes:

How egregiously trifling is this account! So puerile, so far beneath the importance of the subject, that one who did not know the character of the writer, might naturally imagine he was turning it into burlesque.5

5 Ibid., 404-405.


John Wesley and Swedenborg p. 95

Swedenborgs statements concerning the lascivious nature of the sexual relations of the devils calls forth great condemnation from Wesley. So the Christian Koran exceeds even the Mohametan! he exclaims. Mohamet allowed such to be in paradise; but he never thought of placing them in hell! .... Nothing can exceeds this.1

1Wesley, Works, XIII, 407.

Wesley quotes at length from the Bible to prove the reality of material hell fire. If the word of God is true, he says, if the Scripture cannot be broken. the wicked, one and all are cast into a lake of fire burning with brimstone,... and have no rest day nor night. But they will not eat, or drink, or converse, or dally with women; neither will they sleep there.2

2 Ibid., 409.

Wesley concluded his article with the following paragraph:

Who illuminated either Jacob Behem, or Baron Swedenborg flatly to contradict these things? It could not be the God of the holy Prophets; for He is always consistent with himself. Certainly it was the spirit of darkness. And indeed the light which was in them was darkness, while they labored to kill the never dying worm, and to put out the unquenchable fire! And with what face can any that profess to believe the Bible, give any countenance to these dreamers, that filthy dreamer in particular, who takes care to provide harlots, instead of fire and brimstone, for the devils and damned spirits in hell! O my brethren, let none of you that fear God recommend such a writer any more! Much less labor to make the deadly poison palatable, by sweetening it with all care! All his folly and nonsense we may excuse; but not his making God a liar; not his contradicting, in so open and flagrant a manner, the whole oracles of God! True, his tales are often exceeding lively, and as entertaining as the tales of the fairies! But I dare not give up my Bible for them; and I must give up one or the other. If the preceding extracts are from God, then the Bible is only a fable! But if all Scriptures are given by inspiration of God, then let these dreams sink into the pit from whence they.3

3 Ibid.


John Wesley and Swedenborg p. 96

Wesley had begun his article by attributing Swedenborgs theology to insanity; he ended it by attributing it to the devil.

*       *       *       *       *

Thus closed Wesleys public pronouncements on Swedenborg and his writings. His own writings never mention him again, and the only other reference to him in his Arminian Magazine came two years later, when he published Oakelys letter concerning his visit with the Baron.


John Wesley and Swedenborg p. 97



Running through Swedenborgian lore is a story that has Wesley in the year 1772 expressing himself as being completely converted to Swedenborgs claim to be the Divinely chosen instrument for the giving of a new revelation. He is supposed to have said to a fellow Methodist:

We may now burn all our books on theology. God has sent us a teacher from heaven, and in the doctrine of Swedenborg we may learn all that it is necessary for us to know.1

1 Noble, op. cit., pp. 246-248.

This incident, it should be noted, occurred before he had turned on Swedenborgs teachings with utter bitterness, but after he had already expressed in his Journal the belief that Swedenborg was a madman whose waking dreams were wild things, remote both from Scripture and from common sense.

The immediate background of the tale supposedly began late in February, 1772. Wesley was at a meeting with some of his ministers, to whom he was giving instructions in preparation for his great circuit through northern England, Scotland and Wales. During the meeting a letter arrived for Wesley. He perused it with great astonishment, and then read it to the assembled ministers. It read:

Sir-I have been informed in the world of spirits that you have a strong desire to converse with me; I shall be happy to see you, if you will favor me with a visit.
I am, Sir, your humble Servant,
Eman. Swedenborg


John Wesley and Swedenborg p. 98

Wesley, the story continues, frankly acknowledged that he had been strongly desirous of seeing Swedenborg, yet had never mentioned that desire to anyone. He wrote back, however, that he was very busy preparing for his circuit, but would do himself the pleasure of waiting upon Mr. Swedenborg after his return to London six months later. Swedenborg again wrote to Wesley, saying that the proposed date would be too late, as he would Ago into the spiritual world on the 29th of the next month.       Wesley left on his journey. Swedenborg died March 29th, 1772.1

1 Noble, op. cit, 246-248; Robert Hindmarsh, The Rise and Progress of the New Jerusalem Church (London: Hodson and Son, 1861), p. 63.

Early in April Wesleys circuit took him to Liverpool, and he there paid a call on his intimate acquaintance, Richard Houghton, Esq. The talk turned to Swedenborg and his writings. (It is not stated whether Wesley had heard of the death of Swedenborg on the predicted date.) It was then that Wesley expressed his unstinted praise of Swedenborgs writings: We may now burn all our books on theology....2

2 Noble, op. cit., 246-248.

The second part of this story we find practically incredible, unless Wesley was being sarcastic. The part of it dealing with the interchange of the letters is quite in character, however. As to the probability of Swedenborgs prediction of the date of his death, we pass it by, save to note that an illiterate housemaid testified that he predicted the same to her.3

3 Tafel, op. cit., II, 546.


John Wesley and Swedenborg p. 99

The account of the interchange of letters between the two men is attributed to the Rev. Samuel Smith, one of Wesleys ministers from 1769 to 1778, who, that latter year, left him for the New Jerusalem Church. The Minutes of the Methodist Conferences list Smiths parishes for that decade-Kent, Derbyshire, Leeds, London, Gloucestershire, etc. Sigstedt, in her Swedenborg Epic, speaks of Smith as the gifted Wesleyan preacher, but gives no sources for the statement.1 Samuel Noble, publishing the story in his Appeal, speaks of Smith as a Methodist preacher of great piety and integrity, and quotes the engineer, J. I. Hawkins as testifying to Smiths veracity.

1 Sigstedt, op. cit., p. 437.

It was this Hawkins who wrote out the story in 1812 for Noble to publish. He says he heard Smith tell the anecdote repeatedly in 1787 or 1788.2 Robert Hindmarsh published a different version of the story in his Rise and Progress, saying it had been written out for him by a Benedict Harford of Liverpool. He adds that he himself had heard Smith tell the story, and that Harfords version of it was substantially correct.3

2 Noble, loc. Cit.

3 Hindmarsh, Rise and Progress, loc. cit.

There seems no reason at all to doubt that Smith told the story. He himself claims that Swedenborgs two letters to Wesley were what first interested him in Swedenborgs theology.4 Smiths reputation for truthfulness was attested to by both Harford and Hindmarsh, as well as by Hawkins.

4 Ibid.

We must ask, therefore, whether the event Smith reported could ever have taken place.


John Wesley and Swedenborg p. 100 Our opinion is that Swedenborgs first letter to Wesley might easily have been as recounted. The same easily holds true for Wesleys reply, if any. Swedenborgs reputed second letter, predicting the day of his death, seems more questionable. Smith, according to Hawkins, said that he afterwards learned (Italics mine) that such a letter had been received by Wesley.

There are very few external testimonies that Swedenborg enjoyed mental powers beyond those of ordinary men, but a few of those that have survived have stood up under intensive investigation. Even his very unfriendly critic, Immanuel Kant, accepted as true the account that Swedenborg once told the Swedish Queen, Lovisa Ulrika, something of which she said, That is something which no one else could have told you, except my brother! (Her broth, August William of Prussia, had died two years previously.)1 Shearsmith also testified that Swedenborg spoke of his conversation with spirits to other men.

1 Sigstedt, op. cit., pp. 278-281.

It was not utterly out of keeping with Swedenborgs character, then, to write Wesley concerning that of which he had been informed in the world of spirits. Nor does there seem to be reason for doubting the veracity of the Rev. Samuel Smith, who said that Swedenborgs letter to Wesley was that which first aroused his interest in Swedenborgs writings. Furthermore, the matter itself is not extraordinary-Wesley might easily have desired an audience with this man who laid claims to visions (even though Wesley thought those visions insane).


John Wesley and Swedenborg p. 101 Swedenborg might have guessed that, might have imagined it, might have heard of Wesleys public charges against him and have employed this means to set Wesley straight, or-who knows-might have even been informed of it in the world of spirits.

It is the second part of the story, however (the account of Wesleys praise for Swedenborg), which we find altogether incredible-unless, that is, Wesley was being sarcastic and Richard Houghton, his intimate friend either totally misunderstood it or purposely misinterpreted it when repeating it to others. (He used the tale as an inducement to get the Rev. John Clowes interested in Swedenborgs writings.1)

1 Tafel, op. cit., II, 568.

It was Clowes who wrote this part to the story to Noble (at Nobles request), January 19th, 1826. Clowes said that he got the account from:

...My late pious and learned friend, Richard Houghton, Esq., of Liverpool, who was also intimately acquainted with Mr. Wesley, insomuch that the latter gentleman never visited Liverpool without passing some time with him.

Noble had asked Clowes if Wesley could have been sarcastic in this remark, and Clowes replied:

I can hardly conceive, from the manner in which it was expressed by Mr. Houghton, that irony had anything to do with it.2

2 Noble, op. cit., p. 246.

Intensive research has failed to give any positive identification to this Richard Houghton, Esq. Wesley wrote copiously of all his friends, but he never mentions any Richard Houghton, so intimately acquainted with him that he always spent some time with him on his visits to Liverpool. In Wesleys Letters, however, there is a reference to a Richard Houghton in a letter written by one Thomas Bryant, Wesleys minister at Sheffield in 1758, which reads:


John Wesley and Swedenborg p. 102

Richard Houghton, one that received ordination with me in London nearly two years since, left London for debt, fled to Plymouth, and Mr. Wesley, not knowing the case, suffered him to preach at the Dock;... but he has since been taken up, and is now in Exeter Jail.1

1 Wesley, Letters, IV, 278.

It is always possible that two men can have the same name. Richard Houghton of London, Plymouth and Exeter Jail. Nor was it any great crime to be jailed for debt in England in the latter part of the 18th Century-Wesleys father spent two years in jail for such an offense. The term jailbird, however, has a stigma attached to it, and there is that in Clowes account of Houghton which tends to cast doubt on the latters reputation: Why, if he was intimately acquainted with Wesley, did not Wesley even mention him in his writings? Could it have been that Hougton made up the whole tale and then described himself as Wesleys intimate in order to gain credence from Clowes? Or could Houghton of Liverpool have been a perfectly decent man, (one with Houghton of Exeter Jail or not), and have misunderstood Wesleys sarcasm for sincerity? It must have been one of the three. Wesley could not have made the remark in earnest.


John Wesley and Swedenborg p. 103



Wesleys charges that Swedenborg was insane have little standing with Swedenborgs biographers today. Signe Toksvig, for example (and she is by no means a Swedenborgian), in her Emanuel Swedenborg, Scientist and Mystic, devotes a whole chapter to the question of Swedenborgs sanity.1 She briefly mentions Wesleys story, dismisses it as containing little more than a possible grain of truth, and then takes up several claims by modern psychiatrists and others that Swedenborg suffered from a subtler unbalance-Prof. Martin Lamm of Stockholm; Ethan Allen Hitchcok, Lincolns Civil War advisor, William James, and Dr. Karl Jaspers of Heidelburg (who concluded that Swedenborg was a schizophrenic).
1Signe Toksvig, Emanuel Swedenborg, Scientist and Mystic, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1948), pp. 156-162.

Wesleys insanity-charges, however, and his condemnations of Swedenborgs doctrines as well, could hardly have failed to influence his many thousand Methodist followers, in America as well as in England.

His influence in America is attested to by two facts. 1. Christian Kramer, a member of the Swedenborgian congregation in Baltimore, Maryland, wrote to Robert Hindmarsh in 1792:

Our worst enemies are the Methodists, who are a large body of people, and take much pains to prevent any communication between us, by ordering the members of their societies not to read any of the books.2

2 Hindmarsh, Rise and Progress, p. 150.

2. In 1832 the whole of Wesleys story of Swedenborgs supposed insanity was republished by the Methodists of Portland, Maine, where the New Church was spreading rather rapidly.1

1 Odhner, Annals, p. 385.


John Wesley and Swedenborg p. 104

In England the influence of Wesleys rejection of Swedenborg continued until at least 1870. In that year Tyerman wrote in his John Wesley: His Life and Times:

Baron Swedenborg, after rendering great service to science, and thereby winning the esteem of Charles XII, and receiving the honor of being enrolled among the members of the Academies of Upsal, Stockholm and Petersburgh, came to London in 1743, attended the Moravian Chapel in Fetter Lane, went mad, and began to write and publish the visionary books containing the creed of the Swedenborgians.2

2 Tyerman, Life and Times of Wesley, III, 59.

Wesleys condemnation of Swedenborg did not have an entirely negative effect upon his own ministers, however, for during his own lifetime at least six of them left him for the New Jerusalem Church-James Hindmarsh (a Methodist minister in good standing since at least 1766),3 Samuel Smith, Isaac Hawkins, R. Jackson, J. W. Salmon, and T. Parker.4

3 Methodist Conference Minutes, I. 54.

4 Noble, op. cit., p. 249.

The story is told of Isaac Hawkins that, upon his conversion to Swedenborgs teachings in 1785, he imagined that all the Methodists would receive them as readily as he himself had done. He was called before Wesley, who said to him, I understand, Mr. Hawkins, that you have found a new light. Hawkins replied, Yes, Sir, I have.... I perceive that I have been in darkness all my life, and I have abundant reason to bless the Lord for his mercies, in showing me this new and glorious light: and I cannot do my friends a greater service than by endeavoring to display the same to them.


John Wesley and Swedenborg p. 105 The following week Hawkins was expelled from the Society of Methodists, although Wesley himself opposed the expulsion, saying no man ought to be expelled from the society for his opinions, if his life be good.1

1 The Intellectual Repository for the New Church (London: A Society of Gentlemen), V (1820-1821), pp. 265-266.


John Wesley and Swedenborg p. 106



The fact that six of Wesleys ministers left him for the New Jerusalem Church has led almost all of Swedenborgs friendly biographers to conclude that this was the reason for Wesleys extreme bitterness toward Swedenborg. A more careful scrutiny of the dates involved would have kept them from such an error, however, for error it is. The first of Mr. Wesleys ministers to leave him for the New Church did not do so until 1778, seven years after Wesley first turned against Swedenborg; the other five did not leave him until after his final blast against Swedenborg had been published in 1783.

Samuel Nobel, in his Appeal, wrote in 1826:

when first he published the slanderous report (in 1781) he [Wesley] still seems to have had some misgivings; hence he prefaced it with an acknowledgment that Swedenborg was a very great man, and that in his writings there are many excellent things: when he afterwards seemed less inclined to admit so much, although no doubt he still spoke sincerely, perhaps a little human frailty influenced his judgment. It is well known that Mr. [sic] W. was always prompt in taking measures to put down anything like rebellion among his disciples-anything that tended to diminution of his authority over their minds. Now it is a certain fact that Mr. Smith was not the only one of his pupils who began to think the doctrines of the New Church superior to those of Methodists; among his other preachers who came to the same conclusion were Mr. James Hindmarsh, Mr. Isaac Hawkins, and Mr. R. Jackson, deceased, with Mr. J. W. Salmon and Mr. T. Parker, still living; all of whom became active promoters of those doctrines: it therefore is not to be wondered at, if Mr. W. at last took the most decisive steps to check their further extensions among his flock.

1 Noble, op. cit., p. 249.


John Wesley and Swedenborg p. 107

Rudolph Tafel republished in his Documents in 1877, thus adding his approbation to it.1 C. Th. Odhner ascribes the same cause to Wesleys actions in his Annals.2 So does Sigstedt in her Swedenborg Epic.3 And Block concludes her story of Wesleys attacks on Swedenborg thus:

1 Tafel, op. cit., II, 570.

2 Odhner, annals, p. 283.

3 Sigstedt, op. cit., pp. 437-439.

The most serious trouble for the Swedenborgians came from the Methodists. Wesley had apparently, from statements in his Journal, been favorably impressed with Swedenborgs writings at first, but had later come to believe the story circulated by the Rev. Aaron Mathesius to the effect that Swedenborg was insane. Also he had become distinctly annoyed by the conversion of six of his own ministers to the new doctrines, one of these being the Rev. James Hindmarsh ... who introduced them to his colleague, the Rev. Isaac Hawkins. When the latter began to hold meetings in his house for the study of Swedenborg, he was promptly expelled by Wesley. Shortly thereafter, there appeared in his Arminian Magazine in 1781, a series of stories purporting to be anecdotes of Swedenborgs life which proved him to have been insane.4

4 Block, op. cit., p. 10.

Lewis Hite wrote to the same effect in 1928:

As some of his preachers became interested in New Church efforts, Wesley was naturally disturbed, and became more suspicious and critical, if not more openly antagonistic.5

5 Hite, op. cit., p. 133.

It simply is not so. We repeat that only one of his ministers had left Wesley for Swedenborg before Wesleys final words against him. Neither is there any indication that Wesley was ever aware of his designated successors interest in them-William Fletcher, that is. The cause of Wesleys dislike lies elsewhere.

Wesleys dislike of mystics is well known, and, as has already been stated, Wesley believed Swedenborg to be a mystic.


John Wesley and Swedenborg p. 108 (Most non-Swedenborgians today also classify him as a mystic: Emanuel Swedenborg, scientist and mystic is a favorite appellation.)

Authorities disagree as to just what a mystic is, however. Most writers say that a mystic claims direct and intimate knowledge of, or communion with God through contemplation, an inner light, or some such thing. By that definition, Swedenborg is indeed a mystic: he claimed that when he read and studied the Scripture the Lord guided his thought to certain specific conclusions and held his mind in these, in order that through him men could be given a new revelation explaining the inner meaning of the Scripture. The majority of writers, however, also say that the mystic tends to identify himself with God. Swedenborg did not do that.

For Wesley, nevertheless, Swedenborg was one of the mystics, and that tended to turn Wesley against him, probably from the first time he heard that Swedenborg claimed spiritual experiences. (That Wesley knew of this before he read Swedenborg is evident from his first comment on the man: I knew him to be ... one who thoroughly believed himself.

Apparently Wesleys first reading in Swedenborg was in his Arcana Caelestia. There he found two things: 1. Many excellent things ... great and important truths. 2. Waking dreams so wild, so remote both from Scripture and common sense that one might as easily swallow.... Tom Thumb! the latter, for Wesley, immediately put [Swedenborgs] real character out of doubt, and soon made him forget that Swedenborg taught great and important truths.


John Wesley and Swedenborg p. 109

Within a year of his first reading in Swedenborg, Wesley, already predisposed to believe him insane, heard a story of his fever ... twenty years ago. From whom he first heard the tale, we cannot tell. We conclude, however, that he did not then hear the detailed story he later published. All he then wrote of the fever was that he concluded (italics mine) that the fever had introduced Swedenborg into the society of lunatics.

It was not until 1779 (eight years later, that is), that he first wrote that he had abundant proof of Swedenborgs insanity. By that time, we conclude, Wesley had heard from Mathesius the account of Swedenborgs delirium, mud-rolling, etc., while at Brockmers. Wesley probably had no reason whatever to doubt Mathesiuss veracity, (Mathesius, after all, was the pastor of Londons Swedish Church) and, it would seem, he somehow got a written copy of Mathesiuss tale. For Wesley, the story simply confirmed and explained what he already believed: Swedenborg was insane.

Wesley said he got the account from both Mathesius and Brockmer. Brockmer utterly denied that he ever opened his mouth on the subject to Mr. Wesley. Brockmer, however, was not above trying to lie his way out of an unpleasant situation-he affirmed the account of Okely, flatly denied it to Hindmarsh. Perhaps he lied again when he said that he himself had never told the tale to Wesley.

Let us suppose, however, that he was here telling the truth-that is, that he had only told the story to Mathesius, not to Wesley. In that case it was Wesley who spoke incorrectly.


John Wesley and Swedenborg p. 110 It was no dire falsehood, however. Wesley had known Brockmer intimately during his interlude with the Fetter Lane Moravians. Possibly Mathesius told him that he had the story from Brockmer and that Brockmer would gladly confirm it. Within a year or two after hearing that, merely careless wording could have caused Wesley to write that he had gotten the story from the two men together.

Whatever the case, Wesley was predisposed to believe Mathesiuss tale, and he took it for the truth. (It is rather notably that Brockmer has not been the only person to charge Wesley with gullibility. Umphrey Lee, one of his more recent biographers, notes Wesleys statement that giving up believe in witchcraft is in effect giving up the Bible.1 Tyerman, in whose eyes Wesley could practically do no wrong, frankly admits that Wesley was completely taken in by the story of the ghost at his fathers rectory in Epworth, and he further quotes Isaac Taylors statement, Wesleys most prominent infirmity was his wonder-loving credulity2) Wesley did not always try the spirits.

1 Umphrey lee, The Lords Horseman (New York: Century Co., 1928, p. 182.

2 Tyerman, Life and Times of Wesley, I, 22-24.

He took Mathesiuss story without question, then, and within a few weeks after he wrote Elizabeth Ritchie that he had this abundant proof of Swedenborgs insanity, he read Heaven and Hell. This, we believe, was the final turning-point. From here on, Wesley would never again have a decent word to say for Swedenborg, but instead would only hurl the most contemptuous epithets at him-according to the rough but well-established ecclesiastical customs of the day.


John Wesley and Swedenborg p. 111

There were three teachings especially which Wesley found objectionable in Heaven and Hell. 1. Swedenborgs denial of three persons in God. 2. His teaching that there is sex (with all that this implies) in both heaven and hell. 3. His denial of a physical hell-fire, along with his general doctrines picturing the life of the devils in comparatively pleasant terms.

Exactly why Wesley turned so violently against the doctrine of the Trinity Swedenborg set forth, we cannot say. Admittedly, it contradicts the old creeds of Christendom, and yet Wesley himself said of the belief that there are three persons in the Godhead, For the term person I do not contend. If any knows better, let him use it. That was just what Swedenborg was doing.

Perhaps Wesleys own marriage caused him to reject Swedenborgs teaching that there is marriage in heaven. His had been a dismally unhappy affair. But Wesley also well knew the word of Christ, In heaven they neither marry, nor are given in marriage. Here, therefore, Swedenborg was teaching that which flatly contradicted Scripture. And as for sex in general, Wesley knew all too well the lewdness and lasciviousness then so rampant in his England. He wanted it stamped out, not continued into hell.

Probably, however, the one teaching of Swedenborg which above all others turned Wesley against him was his comparatively pleasant picture of hell.


John Wesley and Swedenborg p. 112 He did not see that Swedenborgs hell is still a very miserable lot. But he did see that Swedenborg taught that the unhappiness of hell was all self-inflicted, and that there is no material hell-fire. That was just too much for Wesley: How dreadful a tendency must this have in such an age and nation as this! Wesley firmly believed that the fear of a literal hell-fire was necessary to keep men in order.

These things, we think, were accounted for the things Wesley wrote concerning Swedenborg. His belief that Swedenborg was a mystic made the man repellent to him. His initial reading in Swedenborg predisposed him to believe him insane. He heard a wonderfully detailed story of Swedenborgs fit of madness. It explained the man to Wesley. He read further in Swedenborgs teachings, was horrified by them, and wished to stop the spread of such damnable falsity. He published a careful review of Swedenborgs doctrinal teachings, writing it in phrases chosen to ridicule and condemn them. This he published, too. As lenient as he usually was toward the beliefs of others, these were too much. They were heresies, and his heart was filled with the wish that they might sink into the pit from whence they came.


John Wesley and Swedenborg p. 113



Acton, Alfred. An Introduction to the Word Explained. Bryn Athyn, Pa.: the Academy of the New Church, 1927.

Block, Marguerite, The New Church in the New World. New York: Henry Holt & Co., 1932.

Bruce, William, Wesley and Swedenborg: A Review of the Rev. John Wesleys Thoughts on the Writings of Baron Swedenborg. London: James Speirs, 1877.

Hindmarsh, Robert. The Rise and Progress of the New Jerusalem Church. London: Hodson & Son, 1861.

.       .       . Vindication of the Character and Writings of the Hon. Emanuel Swedenborg. Manchester: H. & R. Smith, 1812.

Hite, Lewis. Swedenborgs Historical Position. New York: The Swedenborg Foundation, 1928.

Hyde, James. Bibliography of the Works of Emanuel Swedenborg, Original and Translated. London: the Swedenborg Soc., 1906.

Lee, Umphrey. The Lords Horseman. New York: Century Co., 1928.

Minutes of the Methodist Conferences, Vol. I: 1744-1807. London: The Conference Office, 1892.

Noble, Samuel. An Appeal in behalf of ... the New Jerusalem. 12th ed. London: James Speirs, 1893.

Odhner, C. Th. Annals of the New Church, Bryn Athyn, PA.: The Academy of the New Church, 1904.

Sigstedt, Cyriel. The Swedenborg Epic. New York: Bookman Associates, 1952.

Swedenborg, Emanuel. Arcana Caelestia. Standard ed. New York: The Swedenborg Foundation, 1933.

.       .       .       . Continuation concerning the Last Judgment. Standard ed. New York: The Swedenborg Foundation, 1928.


John Wesley and Swedenborg p. 114

Swedenborg, Emanuel. The Doctrine of the Sacred Scripture. Standard ed. New York: The Swedenborg Foundation, 1928.

.       .       .       .       Heaven and Hell. Standard ed. New York: The Swedenborg Foundation, 1952.

.       .       .       .       Journal of Dreams. Bryn Athyn, Pa.: The Academy of the New Church, 1918.

.       .       .       .       Posthumous Theological Works. 2 vols. Standard ed. New York: The Swedenborg Foundation, 1926.

.       .       .       .       The True Christian Religion. 2 vols. Standard ed. New York: The Swedenborg Foundation, 1928.

Tafel, Rudolph. Documents concerning Emanuel Swedenborg. 2 vols. London: The Swedenborg Society, 1887.

Toksvig, Signe. Emanuel Swedenborg: Scientist and Mystic. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1948.

Tyerman, L. The Life and Times of John Wesley, M. A. 3 vols. New York: Harper & Bros., 1872.

.       .       .       .       Wesleys Designated Successor. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1882.

Wesley, John. The Journal of the Rev. John Wesley, M. A. Nehemiah Curnock, ed. Standard ed. 8 vols. New York: Eaton & mains, 1910.

.       .       .       . The Letters of the Rev. John Wesley. John Telford, ed. 8 vols. London: Epworth Press, 1931.

.       .       .       . The Works of the Rev. John Wesley, M. A. 3d ed. 14 vols. London: John Mason, 1831.

Articles and Periodicals

Arminian Magazine. London: Vols. I-XV (1778-1792).

New Church Magazine. London: Vols. XXXV (1885), LXV (1915).

New Jerusalem Messenger. New York: Vol. VIII. (1861).

New Magazine of Knowledge. London: Vol. I (1791).

Wesley, John. An Account of a Very Great Man, Arminian Magazine, Vol. IV (1781).

.       .       .       . Thoughts on the Writings of Baron Swedenborg, Arminian Magazine. Vol. IV (1783).


John Wesley and Swedenborg p. 115

Other Sources

.       .       .       . Personal interview with Dr. John Adam Doering, head psychiatrist at the Veterans Hospital, Tomah, Wis.