Apocalypse Explained #325

By Emanuel Swedenborg

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325. Which are the prayers of the saints, signifies from which is worship. This is evident from the signification of the "prayers of the saints," as being worship from spiritual good; "prayers," in the internal sense, mean all things of worship; and "saints" things spiritual; for those who are in the Lord's spiritual kingdom are called in the Word "saints" [or "holy"], and those who are in His celestial kingdom are called "righteous" [or "just"] (See above, n. 204). But in the internal sense of the Word by "saints" are not meant saints [holy men], but things holy, for the term "saints" involves persons, and in the internal sense everything of person is put off, for things solely make that sense (See above, n. 270); and that the angels, because they are spiritual, think abstractly from persons (See also above, n. 99, 100). This is what distinguishes the internal sense of the Word from its external sense, which is the sense of the letter; and as "saints" thus mean things holy, and "holy" in the Word means the Divine truth proceeding from the Lord, and making His spiritual kingdom (as may be seen above, n. 204, so by "saints" things spiritual are meant, and by the "prayers of the saints" worship from spiritual good. That worship from that good is meant by the "prayers of the saints" is evident from this, that it is said "they had golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints;" and "incense" signifies all things of worship that are from spiritual good (as was shown in the preceding paragraph); from which it follows that the "prayers of the saints" has a like signification.

[2] As also in David:

Give ear unto my voice when I call unto Thee. Let my prayers be received as incense before Thee; the lifting up of my hands as the evening meal-offering. Guard the door of my lips; let not my heart decline to evil, to do evil deeds in wickedness with the men who work iniquity; for still my prayers are in their evils (Psalms 141:1-5).

Here also "prayers" are called "incense," and "the lifting up of the hands" is called a "meal-offering;" and this because "prayers" and "incense" have a similar signification, also "lifting up of the hands" and "meal-offering." "Incense" signifies spiritual good, which is the good of charity towards the neighbor; and "meal-offering" signifies celestial good, which is the good of love to the Lord; thus both signifying worship. And as prayers are not from the mouth, but from the heart by the mouth, and all worship that is from the heart is from the good of love and charity, for the heart signifies that, so it is also said, "Guard the door of my lips; let not my heart decline to evil, to do evil deeds in wickedness." And because David is lamenting that evils still have power against him, he says, "for still my prayers are in their evils."

[3] That "prayers" have a similar meaning as "incense" is evident also from other passages in Revelation:

Another angel came and stood at the altar, having a golden censer; and there was given unto him much incense, that he might offer it with the prayers of all the saints, upon the golden altar. And the smoke of the incense with the prayers of the saints went up before God (Revelation 8:3-4

As "prayers" and "incense" have here similar significance, namely, worship from spiritual good, it is said, "there was given unto him much incense, that he might offer it with the prayers of the saints;" likewise that "the smoke of the incense went up with the prayers of the saints unto God." What is meant by worship from spiritual good shall first be explained, and afterwards that prayers signify such worship. Worship does not consist in prayers and in external devotion, but in a life of charity; prayers are only its externals, for they proceed from the man through his mouth, consequently men's prayers are such as they themselves are in respect to life. It matters not that a man bears himself humbly, that he kneels and sighs when he prays; for these are externals, and unless externals proceed from internals they are only gestures and sounds without life. In each thing that a man utters there is affection, and every man, spirit, and angel is his own affection, for their affection is their life; it is the affection itself that speaks, and not the man without it; therefore such as the affection is such is the praying. Spiritual affection is what is called charity towards the neighbor; to be in that affection is true worship; praying is what proceeds. From this it can be seen that the essential of worship is the life of charity, and that its instrumental is gesture and praying; or that the primary of worship is a life of charity, and its secondary is praying. From this it is clear that those who place all Divine worship in oral piety, and not in practical piety, err greatly.

[4] Practical piety is to act in every work and in every duty from sincerity and right, and from justice and equity, and this because it is commanded by the Lord in the Word; for thus man in his every work looks to heaven and to the Lord, and thus is conjoined with Him. But to act sincerely and rightly, justly and equitably, solely from fear of the law, of the loss of fame or of honor and gain, and to think nothing of the Divine law, of the commandments of the Word, and of the Lord, and yet to pray devoutly in the churches, is external piety; however holy this may appear, it is not piety, but it is either hypocrisy, or something put on derived from habit, or a kind of persuasion from a false belief that Divine worship consists merely in this; for such a man does not look to heaven and to the Lord with the heart, but only with the eyes; the heart looking to self and to the world, and the mouth speaking from the habit of the body only and its memory; by this man is conjoined to the world and not to heaven, and to self and not to the Lord. From this it can be seen what piety is, and what Divine worship is, and that practical piety is worship itself. On this see also what is said in the work on Heaven and Hell 222, 224, 358-360, 528-530); and in The Doctrine of the New Jerusalem 123-129), where also are these words:

Piety is to think and speak piously; to spend much time in prayer; to bear oneself humbly at such times; to frequent churches, and listen devoutly to discourses there; to observe the sacrament of the Supper frequently every year, and likewise the other services of worship according to the appointments of the church. But a life of charity is to will well and do well to the neighbor; to act in every work from justice and equity, from good and truth, and also in every duty; in a word, the life of charity consists in performing uses. Divine worship consists primarily in such a life, and secondarily in a life of piety; he, therefore, who separates the one from the other, that is, who lives a life of piety and not at the same time a life of charity, does not worship God. For a life of piety is valuable so far as a life of charity is joined with it; for the life of charity is the primary thing, and such as this is, such is the life of piety (n. 124, 128).

[5] That the Lord insinuates heaven into man's practical piety, but not into oral or external piety separate therefrom, has been testified to me by much experience. For I have seen many who placed all worship in oral and outward piety, while in their actual life they gave no thought to the Lord's commandments in the Word, believing that what is sincere and right, just and equitable, must be done not from regard to religion, thus from a spiritual motive, but merely from regard to civil law and also to moral law, that they might appear sincere and just for the sake of reputation, and this for the sake of honor and gain, believing that this would take them into heaven before others. According to their belief, therefore, they were raised up into heaven; but when the angels perceived that they worshiped God with the mouth only, and not with the heart, and that their external piety did not proceed from practical piety, which is of the life, they cast them down; afterwards these became associated with those who were in a life like their own, and were there deprived of their piety and sanctity, since these were interiorly defiled by evils of life. From this also it was made clear, that Divine worship consists primarily in a life of charity and secondarily in external piety.

[6] As Divine worship itself consists primarily in the life, and not in prayers, the Lord said, that in praying there should not be much speaking and repetition, in the following words:

In praying, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do; for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking. Do not make yourselves, therefore, like them (Matthew 6:7-8).

Now as Divine worship itself consists primarily in a life of charity, and secondarily in prayers, by "prayers," in the spiritual sense of the Word, worship from spiritual good, that is, from the life of charity, is meant, for that which is primary is what is meant in the spiritual sense, while the sense of the letter consists of things secondary, which are effects, and which correspond.

[7] Prayers are mentioned, moreover, in many passages of the Word; but as prayers proceed from the heart, and a man's heart is such as is his life of love and charity, so "prayers," in the spiritual sense, mean that life and worship from it, as in the following. In Luke:

Be ye wakeful at every season, praying that ye may be accounted worthy to escape the things that are to come, and so stand before the Son of man (Luke 21:36; Mark 13:33).

"To be wakeful at every season" signifies to procure to oneself spiritual life (See above, n. 187); therefore praying is also mentioned, because "praying" is an effect of that life, or its external, which is of avail so far as it proceeds from the life, for these two are one like soul and body, and like internal and external.

[8] In Mark:

Jesus said, All things that ye ask for, praying, believe that ye are to receive, and then it shall be done for you. But when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have aught against any (Mark 11:24-25).

Here, also, in the spiritual sense, by "praying," "asking for," and "supplicating," a life of love and charity is meant; for to those who are in a life of love and charity it is given from the Lord what they are to ask; therefore they ask nothing but what is good, and that is done for them; and as faith also is from the Lord, it is said, "believe that ye are to receive;" and as prayers proceed from a life of charity, and are according to it, in order that it may be done according to the prayers, it is said, "When ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have aught against any."

[9] "When ye stand praying" signifies when in Divine worship, as is clear also from this, that the like as is here said of those who pray is said also of those who offer a gift upon the altar, in Matthew:

If thou offer a gift upon the altar, and rememberest that thy brother hath aught against thee, leave the gift before the altar, and first be reconciled to thy brother, and then coming offer the gift (Matthew 5:23-24).

"Offering a gift upon the altar" signifies all Divine worship, for the reason that Divine worship with that nation consisted chiefly in offering burnt-offerings and sacrifices, by which therefore all things of worship were signified (See The Doctrine of the New Jerusalem 214, 221). From this it can be seen that "praying," or "supplicating," and "offering a gift upon the altar," have a like meaning, namely, worship from the good of love and charity.

[10] In the same:

Jesus said, It is written, My house shall be called a house of prayer, but ye have made it a den of robbers (Matthew 21:13; Mark 11:17; Luke 19:46).

The Lord's "house" signifies the church, and "prayers" worship therein; and a "den of robbers" the profanation of the church and of worship; and from this contrary sense it is also evident that prayers signify worship from the good of love and charity.

[11] In David:

I cried unto God with my mouth. If I had regarded iniquity in my heart the Lord would not have heard; but God hath heard; He hath attended to the voice of my prayer (Psalms 66:17-19).

Since prayers are such as the man's heart is, and thus are not prayers of any worship when the heart is evil, it is said, "If I had regarded iniquity in my heart the Lord would not have heard," which signifies that He would not receive such worship. Man's "heart" is his love, and man's love is his very life, consequently a man's prayers are such as his love is, that is, such as his life is; from which it follows that "prayers" signify the life of his love and charity, or that this life is meant by "prayers" in the spiritual sense.

[12] Many more passages might be cited; but as man does not know that his life and his prayers make one, and therefore does not perceive otherwise than that "prayers" where they are mentioned in the Word mean merely prayers, these passages will be omitted here. Moreover, when man is in a life of charity he is constantly praying, if not with the mouth yet with the heart; for that which is of the love is constantly in the thought, even when man is unconscious of it (according to what is said in The Doctrine of the New Jerusalem, n. 55-57); from which also it is clear that "praying" in the spiritual sense is worship from love. But those who place piety in prayers and not in the life have no relish for this truth, in fact their thought is contrary to it; such do not even know what practical piety is.

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Thanks to the Swedenborg Foundation for their permission to use this translation.