The thirty volumes authored late in Swedenborg’s career comprise the theological and philosophical perspectives that are the core of Swedenborgian belief. In his writings, Swedenborg describes his own spiritual experiences and religious insights. He does not set forth new religious doctrine, but expands the teachings of the Bible by providing a new understanding of its spiritual sense. Swedenborg contends that God has revealed Himself in many ways – the universe itself, human life, and the coming of Christ are all revelations of God, as is the Bible, its pages divulging the most complete insights to truth known to the human experience.
One of Swedenborg's premises is that the Second Coming has taken place - and in fact still is taking place. The Second Coming is not an actual physical appearance of the Lord, but rather His return in spirit and truth that is being effected as a present reality as the New Church. The information revealed to Swedenborg, he felt, is a continually-occurring Second Coming in that the new information enables a new perception of the Word of God.
Another important aspect of Swedenborgian thought is concerned with the spiritual world. Swedenborg asserts that we live in a world of spirit as well as in the material world, although we are usually unconscious of that dimension of our existence. With death we become conscious in the spiritual world, where our personal identity is retained and we are revealed as the person we inwardly are. The final “judgment” is our own realization of our individual essential nature as we face our real selves, rather than an evaluation and dictate by a power beyond.
We decide our own afterlife, choosing our own heaven or hell as we align ourselves with the loves we have affirmed in the natural world. If our love is solely selfish in this life, we will later abide with others of selfish motives. Just as we choose our own company and values in this life, in the afterlife we choose our destiny. Further, the life in the spiritual world is similar to this one; we pursue activities and work which enable us to continue developing and growing. The spiritual world is a continuation of the inner regenerative process that is life as we know it.
Swedenborg asserts that Jesus Christ Himself was a manifestation of God, the Divine made flesh to enable humanity to be aware of a unique relationship with God. Prior to His Coming, God had been incomprehensible to humans beyond the capacity of our perception and understanding. Through the birth of Christ, humanity was given an overt expression of God’s reality in human terms. Christ is not seen as a separate entity, but as reflective of the multiple consciousness that is the oneness of God. There are not three divine beings comprising the trinity, but one Divine Nature in which the three aspects of God are present. Nor did Christ come to redeem us from original sin. Rather, His mission was that of revealing the nature and reality of the spiritual life, and to provide a living example of it.
Love, Swedenborg says, is the basic element of reality. It is the source of all life, the essence of God. Our souls are individual finite forms of love, our bodies serving as mirrors of that inner essence. As we live, we choose what kind of love we will be. We may choose to regard ourselves as the only reality–our own needs, desires, and feelings as all important. Or we may choose to focus on others. In the former instance, we shrink in spirit, allowing a part of our potential as loving beings to atrophy. In the latter instance, we grow spiritually, heightening our awareness of the nature of love and thus also of the nature of ourselves and God.
Truth is the way love works. Most of us sense that. Actions we perform out of love are honest actions, genuine expressions in a physical form of what love means, or the truth of love. Swedenborgians feel that ultimately the two are inseparable, a part of the same reality. Actualized love is truth, and hence faith and charity are especially significant in human living. Swedenborg defines faith as a kind of inner sight, a perception of what is true. Charity is founded in the desire to do service and live a useful life, beginning with the choice of career or life work. The spiritual life involves the active development of a useful and meaningful life in service to the betterment of the world as a whole. Whereas the religious life often connotes withdrawal from the world and life, active participation in the world is a commitment to actualizing faith and charity. The life of charity and faith parallel the union of love and truth which is the essence of God.
Without free will in spiritual things the human being can in no wise advance into light, i.e., into truths and goods of the church, or procure himself a life. Without that free will he would not be a human being but only a figure and a phantom. For his thought would be without reflection, consequently without judgment and ... he would have no more ability to turn than a door without a hinge, or with one fastened with a bolt of steel.Coronis, 24 28
Freedom of Will
Swedenborg emphasizes the responsibility of all people to develop their own beliefs and live their lives accordingly.
Swedenborg likens the Spiritual teachings to a parent teaching a child.
… explaining all things according to their genius and capacities, although he himself thinks from an interior or deeper ground. Otherwise it would be like teaching what would not be learned. (Arcana Coelestia, 2533)
Thus the scriptures are written on the literal level in plain language expressing the truth and wisdom of God as it is adapted to our limited human understanding. The Bible also contains a deeper meaning, an inner essence, in addition to its obvious and overt meaning. Swedenborg notes in The True Christian Religion:
The Word in its essence is spiritual. Descending from Jehovah the Lord, and passing through the angelic heavens, the Divine (in itself unutterable and imperceptible) became level with the perception of angels and finally the perception of man. Hence, the Word has a spiritual sense, which is within the natural, just as the soul is within the body, or as thought is in speech, or volition in action.
The belief that all things have an inner reality, as well as an outer manifestation is a significant concept for the whole of Swedenborgian thought.
This, then, is the living reality of Swedenborg's teachings. In stressing freedom, diversity, and individualism, he issued a challenge to individuals, churches, and other organizations to be committed to the human growth processes and to express their personal commitment in ways as diverse as their numbers. Sensitivity to, and respect for, each individual's "internal church," or spirituality, is what Swedenborgianism is really all about.
One primary pathway advocated in the Swedenborgian Church for spiritual growth is a specialized study of scripture, enabling the diligent student to become aware of the inner-penetration of nature and spirit, of our natural world here and the universal spiritual world. In addition, an expanding awareness of spiritual reality is encouraged by the exploration of dreams and by prayer and meditation practices.
And perhaps the most popular of Swedenborg’s spiritual growth practices is his Zen-like discussions on “being useful.” Teilhard de Chardin once said, “Do not forget that the value and interest of life is not so much to do conspicuous (although we have this ambition) as to do ordinary things with the perception of their enormous value.” For Swedenborg, such a focus provides the ground for future spiritual growth. As Paul Zacharias, a Swedenborgian minister, observes in his pamphlet This We Believe, “Everyone who lives up to the best he knows, whether Christian, Jew, Moslem, or Pagan, is truly a member of the church Invisible.”