Commentary

Salvation - How?

Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro, aerial view

For anyone who believes in heaven, one question stands above all the others: How can I get there? How can I be saved?

Christianity has offered a variety of answers over the millennia, from early sects that simply followed the example of Jesus to monasticism to the elaborate rites and rituals of medieval catholicism to crusading warfare to the Protestants’ hope in the mercy and blood of Jesus.

For the most part, those concepts have regarded heaven as a paradise, where anyone would be happy no matter what he or she did to get there, and no matter what kind of person he or she is. This actually does not make a lot of sense if you think about it. If the cruel and power-hungry could attain heaven alongside the kind and caring, then surely they would make heaven a hell through their cruelty and desire to rule. And if the cruel and power-hungry were rendered non-cruel and non-power-hungry, would they still be themselves anymore?

Swedenborg’s idea of heaven - and hell - is different. In his theology both are simply spiritual states where we live with others who love the same things we do. If those loves are good and kind it will be a wonderful life of sharing and joy; if those loves are cruel and selfish we will end up in endless contention with others who are cruel and selfish.

Salvation, then, is a matter of letting the Lord change our hearts from the naturally selfish state to a heavenly, loving state. We do this by learning what is right and good, using our minds to lead us in doing those things, and asking the Lord to change our hearts. If we continue and stick to it. He will little by little do that, so that eventually we can reach a state where we love what is good and know what is true.

So is that salvation by faith? Salvation by works? In a way both, and neither. Works are involved, because we have to make ourselves do what we know is good and loving. Faith is involved because we have to invite the Lord into our hearts to make a true change. But neither can get us there without the other, and the ultimate judgment is on what we love, not what we’ve done or what we believe.

(References: Divine Providence 258 [3], 338, 339; True Christian Religion 150, 726)

From Swedenborg's Works

Divine Providence #258

Divine Providence (Dole translation)

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258. 5. Strict materialists justify their rejection of divine providence when they see that there are some professing Christians who place salvation in particular words that they think about and say, and attach no value to the good things that they do. I have explained in Teachings for the New Jerusalem on Faith that this is what people are like who make nothing but faith the basis of salvation, not a caring life, and especially who separate faith from charity. I also noted there [Teachings for the New Jerusalem on Faith 44-68] that these people are meant in the Word by the Philistines, the dragon, and goats.

[2] The reason a teaching like this is permitted under divine providence is to prevent the profanation of the divine nature of the Lord and the holy nature of the Word. The Lord's divine nature is not profaned when salvation is thought to consist of saying, "May God the Father have mercy for the sake of his Son who suffered the cross and made satisfaction for us," because this is addressing not the divine nature of the Lord but his human nature, without believing that it is divine. There is no profanation of the Word, either, because no attention is paid to the passages that speak of love, caring, doing, and works. They say that all of these are included in their statement of faith. People who advocate this belief say to themselves, "Since the law does not condemn me, neither does evil; and since any good that I myself do is not good, that does not save me." So they are like people who do not know anything true from the Word, which means that they cannot profane it.

However, the only people who really advocate this belief are the ones who are caught up in pride in their own intellect because of their self-love. At heart, they are not even Christians, though they want to appear to be.

I need now to explain that the Lord's divine providence is constantly at work to save people for whom faith separated from charity has become a theological principle.

[3] Under the Lord's divine providence, even though this kind of faith has become a theological tenet, everyone knows that this kind of faith does not bring salvation. Salvation requires a caring life in which faith participates. All the churches where this theology is accepted teach that there is no salvation unless we examine ourselves, see our sins, admit them, repent, and refrain from the sins and begin a new life. This is the urgent preface read to all who come to the Holy Supper, together with the statement that unless they do so, they mingle the sacred and the profane and consign themselves to eternal damnation. In England they even say that unless they do so the devil will enter into them as he did into Judas and destroy them, soul and body alike. We can see from this that everyone in churches where faith alone is accepted is still taught that we should abstain from evils as sins.

[4] Not only that, everyone who is born Christian knows that we are to abstain from evils as sins, because the Ten Commandments are placed in the hand of every boy and every girl and taught them by their parents and teachers. Further, all the citizens of the realm, especially commoners, are questioned by priests as to their knowledge of Christian theology solely on the basis of their recitation of the Ten Commandments from memory and warned that they should do what the Commandments say. At such times, the religious authority never tells them that they are not under the yoke of this law or that they cannot obey it because they cannot do anything good on their own.

The Athanasian Creed is accepted throughout Christendom, and people believe what it says at the end, that the Lord is going to come to judge the living and the dead and that then those who have done what is good will enter into eternal life and those who have done what is evil will enter into eternal fire.

[5] In Sweden, where a theology of faith alone is accepted, it is clearly taught that there is no such thing as faith separated from charity or from good actions. We find this in an "Added Reminder" inserted in all Psalters under the title "Obotfertigas foerhinder," or "Obstacles or Obstructions to the Impenitent." It says there, "People who are rich in good actions thereby show that they are rich in faith, because when faith is a saving faith, it works through charity. There is no faith that justifies us by itself, apart from good actions, just as there is no good tree without good fruit, no sun without light and warmth, no water without moisture."

[6] I include these few things to show that even though a theology of faith alone may be accepted, the good effects of our caring are taught everywhere--that is, good actions. This happens under the Lord's divine providence so that the common people will not be led astray by this faith.

I have heard Luther (having talked with him several times in the spiritual world) totally disclaiming faith alone. He has said that when he decreed faith alone, an angel of the Lord warned him not to. However, he thought to himself that if he did not reject works, there could be no separation from Catholic theology, so in spite of the warning he insisted on it.

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