You do so much for me, thank you

In New Christian thought, “charity” has a significantly different meaning than in the common modern English definition. In Swedenborg's works "charity" is usually the English rendering of the Latin word "caritas", which is also the root of the verb “to care.” If we think of “charity” as “a state of caring,” we can start seeing what Swedenborg was trying to convey.

“Caring” does not necessarily have to be emotional. You can take care of someone you don’t like, you can take care of business or errands or duties that have little or no emotional content. Swedenborg would call these “acts of charity,” things done from a desire to be a good person. But the idea of “caring” can elevate, too: When you care about someone it involves real affection, and to care about an idea or mission implies a deep commitment - it is a feeling, an emotional state. The ultimate state of “caring,” of course, would be caring about all of humanity, wanting what’s best for everyone on the planet. This is what Swedenborg would call “true charity,” and it is marked by love - the love of others. Importantly, though, it can't be left as an abstraction; it needs to be grounded out in action.

Or as Swedenborg puts it in Arcana Coelestia 8033: “Charity is an inward affection consisting in a desire which springs from a person's heart to do good to the neighbour, which is the delight of his life.”

At all these levels, though, charity cannot act on its own. It needs tools.

Imagine, for instance, a young mother falling and breaking her leg. Her four-year-old might love her desperately, but cannot take care of her. A paramedic, meanwhile, might see her as just a case number, but will get her stabilized and delivered to a hospital. The difference, obviously, is knowledge. The paramedic has a bunch of tested, true ideas in her head that give her the capacity to care for the mother; the four-year-old does not.

That knowledge is actually part of what Swedenborg would call “faith,” though he’s referring to spiritual things rather than medical ones. In general, “faith” in Swedenborg’s works refers to not just belief in the Lord but also the things we accept as true because they come to us from the Lord and the Lord’s teachings. If we take them and apply them to life, we can do works of charity - we can use knowledge to take care of people and things, to actually do something good. For this reason, faith and charity are often linked in Swedenborgian theology.

And just like the idea of caring, these items of faith can elevate. “Thou shalt not murder” is a good low-level matter of faith, and should certainly be applied if we want to be charitable people. “Love thy neighbor as thyself” is a bit higher, a bit more internal, and will help us be charitable on a deeper level. The idea that by loving others we are loving the Lord will take us to a deeper place yet.

And perhaps most beautiful of all is what happens when we reach a state of true charity. If we work to be good because we want to serve the Lord, the Lord will eventually change our hearts, transforming us so that we delight in being good and delight in loving and helping others. At that stage the ideas of faith change from being the masters over our evil desires to being the servants of our good desires. From a loving desire to be good and serve others we will seek and use knowledge that lets us fulfill that mission.

(References: Arcana Coelestia 809, 916 [2], 1798 [2-5], 1799 [3-4], 1994, 8120; Charity 11, 40, 56, 90, 199; The New Jerusalem and its Heavenly Doctrine 121; True Christian Religion 367, 377, 392, 425, 450, 453, 576)

From Swedenborg's Works

Arcana Coelestia #1799

Arcana Coelestia (Elliott translation)

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1799. 'Behold, a son of my house is my heir' means that in the Lord's kingdom there would be only that which is external. This is clear from the meaning in the internal sense of 'an heir' and of 'inheriting'. 'Becoming an heir' or inheriting means eternal life in the Lord's kingdom. All who are in the Lord's kingdom are heirs, for the source of the life in them is the Lord's life, which is the life of mutual love, and for that reason they are called 'sons'. The Lord's sons or heirs consist of all who have His life in them, for it is from Him that their life comes, and it is from Him that they have been born, that is, regenerated. Those born of another are that other's heirs; and so it is with all who are being regenerated by the Lord, for in that case they are receiving the life that is the Lord's.

[2] In the Lord's kingdom there are those who are external, those who are more interior, and those who are internal. Good spirits who dwell in the first heaven are external, angelic spirits who dwell in the second heaven are more interior, and angels who dwell in the third heaven are internal. Those who are external are not as close to or near the Lord as those who are more interior, and these in turn are not so close or near as those who are internal. Out of Divine love, or mercy, the Lord wills to have everyone near to Himself, so that they do not stand outside, that is, in the first heaven. His will is that they should dwell in the third heaven. and if possible not merely with Him but abiding in Him. Such is the nature of Divine or the Lord's love. But since at that time none but external things existed with the Church, He complained of this in the words that occur here - 'Behold, a son of my house is my heir' - by which is meant that in His kingdom there would thus be only that which is external. But comfort followed, and a promise of internal things, as described in the verses that follow next. What the external aspect of the Church is has been stated already in 1083, 1098, 1100, 1151, 1153.

[3] By itself doctrine does not constitute the external aspect of the Church, still less the internal, as stated above. Nor on the Lord's part is it its teachings that make one Church distinct and separate from another, but its life in accordance with those teachings, all of which, as long as they present what is true, regard charity as their basic principle. What else does doctrine do but teach men the kind of people they ought to be?

[4] In the Christian world it is their doctrines that cause Churches to be distinct and separate, and because of these they call themselves Roman Catholics, Lutherans, Calvinists or the Reformed, and Evangelicals, among other names. It is solely by reason of their doctrines that they are called by these names. This situation would never exist if they were to make love to the Lord and charity towards the neighbour the chief thing of faith. In this case their doctrinal differences would be no more than shades of opinion concerning the mysteries of faith which truly Christian people would leave to individual conscience, and in their hearts would say that a person is truly a Christian when he lives as a Christian, that is, as the Lord teaches. If this were so all the different Churches would become one, and all the disagreements which stem from doctrine alone would disappear. Indeed the hatred one man holds against another would be dispelled in an instant, and the Lord's kingdom on earth would come.

[5] The Ancient Church which existed immediately after the Flood, though scattered among many kingdoms, was of this nature. That is to say, people differed much from one another in matters of doctrine, but for all that, they made charity the chief thing. Also they regarded worship, not from the standpoint of doctrinal teachings which are matters of faith, but from that of charity which is a matter of life. This is what is meant by 'they all had one lip and their words were one', Genesis 11:1, regarding which see 1285.

(References: Genesis 15:3)

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From Swedenborg's Works

Inbound References:

Arcana Coelestia 2034, 2116, 2442, 2913, 3063, 3121, 3324, 3451, 8093, 9942

Apocalypse Revealed 161

The Last Judgment 39

The White Horse 8

The New Jerusalem and its Heavenly Doctrine 24, 121, 246, 257

References from Swedenborg's unpublished works:

Apocalypse Explained 104, 701

Other New Christian Commentary

Charity 1

A Church is Not a Building 1

Heir 1

Resources for parents and teachers

The items listed here are provided courtesy of our friends at the General Church of the New Jerusalem. You can search/browse their whole library at the New Church Vineyard website.

 Jesus Prays
Jesus finished His farewell speech with a three-part prayer; that He be united with the Father; that the disciples might be united with Him; and that all believers might be unified.
Sunday School Lesson | Ages 11 - 17

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