True Christian Religion #412

By Emanuel Swedenborg

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412. IV. Man collectively, which is one's community, great or small, and as a group of communities, which is one's country, is the neighbour who is to be loved.

Those who are ignorant of the true meaning of the term 'the neighbour' think that it is an individual, and doing him kindnesses is loving the neighbour. But the neighbour and love for him have a wider range of meaning, rising to a higher level as the number of people increases. Can anyone fail to grasp that loving a number of people in a group is loving the neighbour more than just loving one out of the group? The reason why a community, great or small, is the neighbour is that it consists of a number of people. It follows from this that a person who loves a community loves its members, so that if he wishes well and does good to the community, he takes thought for each of its members. A community resembles an individual, and those who belong to it make up as it were a single body, with mutual differences like those of the parts of the body. The Lord, and by His guidance the angels, on looking down to the earth see a whole community in the form of a single person, whose appearance depends upon what its members are like. I too have been permitted to see a certain community in heaven looking exactly like a person, and of the same size as a person in the world.

[2] Love towards the neighbour takes a fuller form when it is love towards a community than when its object is a separate individual. This is clearly shown by the fact that higher rank is granted to governors depending on the size of the communities in their charge, and they are honoured in proportion to the services they perform. Offices in the world are of higher or lower rank in a hierarchy depending upon whether their control of a community is more or less universal, the king having the most universal control; each person is rewarded, honoured and generally loved in proportion to the importance of his office and the good his service does.

[3] But rulers of the present time can perform useful functions and take thought for their community without loving the neighbour, as in the case of those who are motivated to perform useful functions and take thought for worldly or selfish reasons, so that they may seem good rulers or deserving promotion to higher ranks. But although such rulers are not distinguishable in the world, they are in heaven. Those therefore who have been led by love towards the neighbour to perform useful functions are also made rulers of a community in heaven, and enjoy magnificent surroundings and honours; but they do not set their hearts on these things, but on the services they can perform. The rest, however, who have been led by love of the world or self-love to perform useful functions, are rejected.

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Thanks to the Swedenborg Society for the permission to use this translation.