True Christian Religion #694

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694. The third experience. 1

Some while later I looked towards the city of Athenaeum which I mentioned in the preceding account. I heard an unusual shouting coming from it. There was a certain amount of laughter in the shouting, and a certain amount of indignation in the laughter, and a certain amount of sadness in the indignation. Yet this shouting was not for this reason discordant; it was harmonious, because one element was not together with the other, but one was inside the other. In the spiritual world one can distinguish in sounds the mixture of differing affections.

I asked from a distance, 'What is happening?' 'A messenger,' they said, 'has come from the place where newcomers from the Christian parts of the world first appear, to say that he had heard from three people there, that in the world they had come from they shared the belief of other people that the blessed and happy would after death have total rest from their labours. Since administrative duties, offices and work are labours, they believed they would have rest from them. The three have now been brought by our emissary, and are standing waiting in front of the gate. So a great shouting has started, and they have deliberated and decided that they should not be brought into the Palladium on Parnassium, as in the previous case, but into the large auditorium, so that they can reveal their news from Christendom. Some people have been despatched to introduce them in due form.'

I was in the spirit, and distances for spirits depend upon the condition of their affections, and I then had a desire to see and hear them, so I found myself in their presence, watching them being brought in and hearing them talking.

[2] The older and wiser people were seated at the sides of the auditorium, and the rest in the middle. There was a raised platform in front of them, and to this the three newcomers together with the messenger were conducted by younger men in a solemn procession through the middle of the auditorium. When silence had been obtained, they were greeted by one of the elders present and asked: 'What is the news from earth?'

'There is a lot of news,' they said, 'please tell us about what.'

'What is the news from earth,' replied the elder, 'about our world and about heaven?'

They replied that when recently they had arrived in this world they had heard that there and in heaven there are administrative duties, ministries, public offices, businesses, studies of all sciences and wonderful work. Yet they had believed that after their migration or transfer from the natural world to this spiritual one, they would come into everlasting rest from labours, and what were duties but labours?

[3] To this the elder said: 'Did you understand everlasting rest from labours to mean everlasting leisure, in which you would continually sit or lie, plying your hearts with delights and filling your mouths with joys?' The three newcomers smiled gently at this, and said they had supposed something of the sort.

'What have joy,' they were asked in reply, 'and delights and so happiness got in common with leisure? The result of leisure is that the mind collapses instead of expanding, or one becomes as dead instead of lively. Imagine someone sitting completely at leisure, with his hands folded, his eyes cast down or withdrawn, and imagine him being at the same time surrounded with an aura of cheerfulness; would not his head and body be gripped by lassitude, the lively expression of his face would collapse, and eventually his every fibre would become so relaxed that he would sway to and fro until he fell to the ground? What is it that keeps the whole system of the body stretched and under tension but the stretching of the mind? And what is it that stretches the mind but administrative duties and tasks, so long as they are enjoyable? So I will tell you some news from heaven: there are there administrative duties, ministries, higher and lower law-courts, as well as crafts and work.'

[4] When the three newcomers heard that in heaven there were higher and lower law-courts, they said: 'Why is that? Are not all in heaven inspired and led by God, so that they know what is just and right? What need then is there of judges?'

'In this world,' replied the elder, 'we are taught and learn what is good and true, and what is just and fair, in the same way as in the natural world. We do not learn these things directly from God, but indirectly through others. Every angel, just as every man, thinks what is true and does what is good as if of himself, and this, depending upon the angel's state, is not pure truth and good, but mixed. Among angels too there are simple and wise people, and it will be for the wise to judge, when the simple as the result of their simplicity or their ignorance are in doubt about what is just, or depart from it.

[5] But if you, who have still not been long in this world, would be good enough to accompany me to our city, we shall show you everything.'

So they left the auditorium, and some of the elders went with them. They came first to a large library, which was divided into smaller collections of books by subjects. The three newcomers were astonished to see so many books, and said: 'Are there books in this world too? Where do they get parchment and paper, pens and ink?'

'We perceive,' said the elders, 'that you believed in the previous world that this world is empty, because it is spiritual. The reason for this belief of yours is that you entertained the idea that the spiritual is abstract; and that what is abstract is nothing and so as if empty. Yet here everything is in its fulness. Everything here is substantial, not material; material things owe their origin to what is substantial. We who are present here are spiritual people, because we are substantial, and not material. This is why everything that is in the material world exists here in its perfection; so we have books and writing, and much more.'

When the three newcomers heard the term substantial mentioned, they thought this must be so, both because they saw there were books written and because they heard it said that matter originates from substance. To give them further proof of this, they were taken to the houses of scribes, who were making copies of books written by the city's wise men. They looked at the writing and were surprised how neat and elegant it was.

[6] After this they were taken to research institutions, high schools and colleges, and to the places where their literary contests took place. Some of these were called contests of the Maidens of Helicon, some those of the Maidens of Parnassus, some those of the Maidens of Athena and some those of the Maidens of the Spring-waters. They said that they were so named because maidens stand for the affections for branches of knowledge, and everyone's intelligence depends upon his affection for knowledge. The contests so called were spiritual exercises and gymnastics. Later, they were taken around the city to visit controllers, administrators and their officials and these showed them the remarkable work performed by craftsmen in a spiritual manner.

[7] When they had seen this, the elder talked with them again about the everlasting rest from labours the blessed and happy obtain after death. 'Everlasting rest,' he said, 'is not leisure, since that reduces the mind and so the whole body to a state of feebleness, torpidity, stupidness and somnolence. These are not life, but death, much less the everlasting life of the angels in heaven. So everlasting rest is a rest that banishes all those ills and makes people alive. This can only be something that uplifts the mind. So it is some interest or task which excites, enlivens and delights the mind. This depends upon the purpose for which, in which and towards which it aims. This is why the whole of heaven is seen by the Lord as a coherent purpose, and it is the purpose he serves that makes every angel an angel. The pleasure of service carries him along, as a favourable current does a ship, and confers upon him everlasting peace and the rest peace gives. This is what is meant by everlasting rest from labours. The extent to which an angel is alive depends upon his mental commitment arising from service. This is perfectly clear from the fact that the depth of conjugial love anyone enjoys, together with the manliness, potency and delights that accompany it, depend upon his commitment to true service.'

[8] When it had been proved to the three newcomers that everlasting rest is not leisure, but the pleasure of some work that is of service, some girls came with embroidery and sewing, their own handiwork, and presented these to them. Then, as the new spirits took their departure, the girls sang a song expressing in an angelic melody their affection for useful work and its attendant pleasures.


1. This is repeated from Conjugial Love 207.

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