Spiritual Meaning of
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THE RIVER OF EDEN PARTED INTO FOUR HEADS
The people of the Adamic age had an intuitive perception of the Divine symbolism of nature. The lands and rivers of the earth were to them representative of the internal things of heaven and the church. They saw from within that the world of nature was a theatre representative of the world of mind and that there was a living and vital relation of correspondence between the two worlds. Remnants of the knowledge of this correspondence of natural things to spiritual are found among us today. Christian people speak of Zion, Jerusalem, Canaan and Jordan with spiritual ideas attached to each name. In using these names they do not think of natural cities, lands or rivers, but of what they spiritually stand for.
With the Adamic people correspondence - the relation of natural objects to spiritual realities - was a universal language. Here we have the key to the meaning of all the natural objects mentioned in connection with the Edenic story and people. As Eden was not a natural place, but a highly developed state of heavenly love; as the garden eastward in Eden was not a highly cultivated piece of ground, but a beautifully cultivated state of heavenly intelligence, so the river of Eden that parted into four heads was not a natural river, but the Divine wisdom of the Lord, which flowed into the mind, performing for it a service fitly represented by the service which a river renders to the natural country through which it courses its way.
The thought of a natural river was, in the minds of the most ancient people, instantly changed into the thought of the inflowing Divine wisdom, and the variety of forms the Divine wisdom takes on as it flows into finite minds, they regarded as its streams, and gave corresponding or symbolic names to them. This very thing has been preserved in the ancient mythologies. The consecration of the fountains of Pindus, Helicon and Parnassus to the Muses and other references, in mythology, to rivers, their sources and results, had their rise from a perception of the correspondence of a river to the Divine wisdom.
In our holy volume of Divine Scripture, this symbolism is clearly set forth. Those who find deep satisfaction in receiving instruction in the truths of Divine wisdom are said "to drink of the river of God's pleasures." Ezekiel's vision of the stream that issued from under the altar of the Lord's house and which widened and deepened as it flowed on, until it became a river that no man could pass - what was it other than the Divine wisdom received by man and heightening as he learns to love and obey it, until it attains to what no mere finite mind can comprehend?
St. John's vision of the river of life proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb - was it not a symbolic representation of the Divine wisdom as the Word going forth from the Lord to men? The Psalmist says: "There is a river the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God." What is this river? Truly, it is the Lord's Word, which is His wisdom. And the streams of that river - what are they? Truly, they are the particular truths - truths informing the will, enlightening the understanding and enriching the life, that go forth from the Divine wisdom in the Word as streams from a river.
Now, in all these instances none of us has been thinking of a natural river. We have been thinking of the Lord's Word, which is the source of all wisdom to angels and to men. Why, then, should anyone think naturally of the river in Eden?
The river in Eden is mentioned as the symbol of the Divine wisdom of God. There was a tree of life in Eden, and it was the perception of the Lord as the very life of the will - the Divine love itself, from which the will's affections existed. But the Lord was not only, as to His love, the life of the affections which belonged to the Adamic people, but He was also the life of the thoughts that belonged to their understanding. God's wisdom as the very life of their thinking, was the river of life to them, as God's love as the very life of their willing was the tree of life to them.
Have you noticed the fact that no name is given to this river? Why is it a river without a name? Its branches are named, but the river itself bears no name. Why is this so? It is so because the Divine wisdom, as it is in God, cannot be expressed to finite thought. There is no finite term by which it can be defined. For this reason the river is not named. But when the river entered Eden it was parted and "became into four heads."
The nameless river entering Eden symbolizes the inexpressible Divine wisdom finiting itself - adapting itself to human reception and thus presenting itself to the various faculties of the mind and there finding what distinguishes it in the human quality of loving and thinking.
It is not difficult to see this, for every one can see that the Divine wisdom of God cannot fall into finite vessels, and that in order to be understood by the finite mind must, in some sense and degree, enter the faculties of the mind.
Here we come to the distinct degrees of the mind - to that sublime psychology which is a part of the Lord's revelation to the church. For we are taught to think of the mind as a definite spiritual organism comprising distinct degrees or planes of mental life.
In general, the mind is formed of three degrees, which we designate as celestial, spiritual and natural, but there is really a fourth degree. It is the rational, which exists between the spiritual and the natural. As the Divine wisdom flows out of God to man, it is thus parted, like the river in Eden, into four heads. It enters these four degrees of the mind, and wisdom formed in these four degrees is apprehensible by man. The heads of the river can be named. Parted into four heads, the streams of the Edenic river were called Pison, Gihon, Hiddekel and Euphrates. Each of these names stands for a distinct form and activity of the Divine wisdom as received into the finite mind.
As a Hebrew word, Pison means literally a change or extension, but spiritually the name stands for the operation of the Divine wisdom upon the human will. As this operation goes on the will undergoes continual changes in its quality - constant improvement by being lifted up. And as this is done, the Divine wisdom directs its affections in the performance of wide and extensive uses. This is Pison - change and extension.
Gihon, as a Hebrew name, means a stream or a valley of grace. Spiritually, this stream of the river of Eden means the understanding's perception, through the truth, of all heavenly graces. Wisdom from God is the only thing that enables the understanding to distinguish between the graces of heaven and the moralities and virtues of a well-ordered natural life. The grace of heavenly life is a quality that belongs to a purified understanding - an understanding that sees how to classify the virtues of life, distinguishing those that are merely moral and civil from those that are the result of the inflowing wisdom of God. This is Gihon - Valley of Grace.
Hiddekel means a sharp voice. Here we have the Divine wisdom pictured to us as the influence which illuminates the rational faculty - the inflowing reason as the sharp voice that guides, by instruction, the rational degree of the mind. In the Eden story Hiddekel flowed toward the east of Assyria. Assyria is the great Bible symbol of the rational mind. The word itself means beholding. The rational is the seeing faculty of the mind. The rational faculty receiving the stream of Divine wisdom by which like a voice speaking from within, it is led to look up to God and revelation in all its processes, is Hiddekel.
Euphrates, the fourth stream from the river, means literally to make fruitful. The natural mind, the whole plane of natural life, when it receives the guidance of Divine wisdom, is made fruitful in good works as the true and ultimate expression of the heavenly life. Thus the Lord's wisdom flowing into the natural mind and rendering it prolific in works of genuine charity is Euphrates.
Such is the spiritual meaning of the river in Eden parted into four heads. It is the symbol way of telling us of the influence of the Divine wisdom upon every department of the life of the Adamic people. There was a stream for the will (the celestial); there was a stream for the understanding, (the spiritual); there was a stream for what lies between the spiritual and the natural, (the rational,) and there was a stream for the natural mind and life. The whole mind and life were reached and affected by the wisdom of the Lord which thus adapted itself to every plane of their being.