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The Tree of Life:



A Running Commentary on the Inner Meaning of the Word of God

Published by
The American New Church Tract and Publication Society
Philadelphia, Pa. 1940

The knowledge of God grows from its inception in infancy with advancing years as man "walks in the light of life." (John 8:12)

And out of the ground made the Lord God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food: the tree of life also in the midst of the garden. (Genesis 2:9)

Blessed is the man whose delight is in the law of the Lord. And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water; that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper. (Psalm 1)

In the midst of the street of the Holy City, and on either side of the river of the water of life was the tree of life, which bears twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. (Revelation 22:2)

Viewing the Word of God as a Drama of Life, Genesis serves as a Prologue, setting forth "God’s Gift of Heaven"—the gift of "remains" in childhood and youth. These remains are "not only the goods and truths which a man has learned from the Lord’s Word from infancy, and has thus (unconsciously) impressed on his memory, but all the states derived thence, states of innocence, states of love toward parents, brothers, teachers, friends, states of charity toward the neighbor, and of pity for the poor and needy; in a word all states of good and truth by which man is man" (Arcana Coelestia #651).

Life then begins at twenty. The drama presents the way in which the content of God’s Gift of Heaven is worked out consciously and intelligently from day to day, and made our own.

The First Act of the Drama of Life, beginning with Exodus, depicts the evolution of "The Love of Obedience." Israel in Egypt plays the part of God’s children. We start life at the bottom, at sea level. We are neither committed to good nor evil. But we cannot remain neutral indefinitely. We must "either share the guilt of this world, or go to another planet" (G. B. Shaw). Reformation begins with our earliest efforts to do as we are told without question, to master evil habits in plain violation of the letter of the law (Moses). Freedom by conquest establishes our right to the first bit of heaven in the soul. The first act in the drama closes with Reuben, Gad and Manasseh in possession of their lots on the farther side of Jordan.

"The Former Prophets" occupy the stage in the Second Act, unfolding the growth of "The Love of the Neighbor." The conquest of the land, and the expansion of the kingdom to its farthest limits in David’s time, represent the growth of God’s kingdom on earth through the establishment of the square deal in human relationships, in accordance with the requirements of a conscience of what is just and fair. But this act ends with the dispersion of the ten tribes by Assyria, and with the captivity of Judah in Babylon. A "greater love" is necessary to bring into the light for judgment the deeper evils here represented, and round out the regenerate life.

"The Latter Prophets" in the Third Act, opening to view "The Love of God," reach the critical point in the drama—the Diaspora—and show the way out through the promised advent of the Lord. A good understanding of the message of the latter prophets, sharpening the perception of the love of self and the world in the heart, is invaluable to an understanding of the Lord’s inner life and teaching, although it is equally true that that life and teaching are our best help to grasp the meaning of prophecy throughout.

The Gospels, the Fourth Act, present the denouement of the Drama, "The Redemption." Having fulfilled the spirit of "the law and the prophets," the Lord in his public ministry, death and resurrection, manifested the last steps in man’s redemption, making his Human Divine even to the flesh and bones.

Revelation then figures as the Epilogue of the Drama. In its inmost meaning it contains the record of what the Lord met in Himself during the forty days preceding his Ascension, in anticipation of the experiences of the First Christian Church up to the eighteenth century. All this is now within the new spirit at work reconstructing civilization, establishing "The Crown of All the Churches," "a community of the spirit issuing in a community of life" the world over.

In the regenerate life "the love of obedience," in Act First, does not stop functioning when "the love of the neighbor," in Act Second, becomes a ruling principle in life. The love of obedience is basal in forming and sustaining character throughout life, and becomes an established ruling principle in manhood. This is represented by Saul anointed king of all Israel. It even ranks above worship, as Samuel declared to Saul: "To obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams."

Neither does the love of the neighbor abdicate, when "the love of God," in Act Third, is enthroned in the heart. We are taught in childhood to consider the rights and interests of others as much as our own. We never cease to wrestle with the problem of according equal rights to all, represented by the throne of David. We only feebly take in the meaning of the Song of David, "Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!"

As for the love of God, it enters the field of consciousness in childhood in the perception of good and evil, although it does not become a dominating principle until late in life, which is represented by the enthronement of Solomon. Neither is it put to any real test in life, as pictured in the latter prophets, right away. Ripe experience and trials alone can give a comprehensive grasp of Solomon’s Song, "Except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it; except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain."

Saul, David and Solomon—David in the center—are pivotal figures in God’s Word. In like manner Obedience, Neighborliness, and Reverence are pivotal principles in character. The first is established through comparatively little combat, the second through perpetual conflict, and the third without any fight, but through the acutely painful process of submitting one’s own will to the will of God, until the last principle has become the first, and first last, in answer to the petitions which the Lord Himself has placed on our lips, "Hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven."

These generalizations give the key notes to the successive movements of the great symphony of life. "The Book of Life" is no ordinary composition. There is no other book like it. The complete conception of the Incarnation is involved in the first verse, "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth." And the whole of the Lord’s life on earth is involved in his last words, "Surely I come quickly, Amen." The Lord Himself is present in the Word throughout from the beginning to the end, even as the oak tree is in the acorn from which it springs to the acorn which it produces. It only needs the simple-hearted prayer throughout life, "Even so, come, Lord Jesus," (Revelation 22:20), and the living word proceeds to take form in Christian lives. "There are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written."

This commentary makes no claim to perfection, but is presented rather as a helper for others to supplement, to correct, and to clarify. The better our understanding of the Word, the more intimate our knowledge of the way of the cross, which leads to life everlasting, the larger life for all.

Note: Most quotations in this volume that are not documented will be found either in the Scriptural text, or in Swedenborg’s Summaries of the Internal Sense of the Prophets and Psalms.


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