And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse" (Rev. 19:11).
The great drama of the last judgment and the birth of the New Christian Church were witnessed by John on the Isle of Patmos in prophetic visions some seventeen hundred years before the events would actually take place. With his spiritual eyes opened by the Lord, John saw into the spiritual world, and there he beheld a series of representative and correspondential visions describing the last states of the Christian Church, the great last judgment upon that church, and finally, the birth of the New Christian Church.
For hundreds of years terrible falsities born from man's evils had captured the minds of the multitude of simple good from the Christian world, and these falsities ruled in the spiritual world. Hidden behind the apparent order and ritual of the church, the lust of rule and dominion extended influence in every direction. Evil leaders had come to rule in the world of spirits and perverted the natural heaven. They even began to disturb the higher heavens. The great red dragon, that old serpent called Satan, together with Babylon the Great, "the mother of harlots and abominations of the earth," had reached the height of infernal power. Never before had the hells risen to such terrible might, and never before had the light of heaven shone so weakly to enlighten man's mind.
The great last judgment whereby the Lord preserved forever man's freedom from the dominance of the hells did not take place all at one time. Before the heavens and the world of spirits could be freed from the great falsities that enslaved and affected them, and the perpetrators of these falsities moved into hell, the good had first to be separated from the evil. Man cannot free himself from falsity and evil until he has the means to see the nature of falsity and evil. And these means come only from a knowledge and understanding of the truths given by the Lord in Divine revelation. This then was the task which preceded judgment; yet the Word of the Old and New Testaments had been sealed in falsities. What truth then was to serve to free man from the captivity of falsity and evil from Christian profanation? There had to be the revelation of a new truth, a new truth so unmistakably clear that the rational mind of man could understand and be convinced.
The Lord foresaw from the beginning the necessity of revealing Himself to man in open and clear terms, and He prepared all things to fulfill that end. From the time of the fall, and indeed even before, working within the framework of 'that which was necessary to preserve man's freedom, the Lord fashioned the form of Divine revelation. When man was yet in the process of falling, the Lord allowed the knowledges of spiritual and celestial things to be lost so that man would not enter terrible states of profanation. The open and naked truths concerning the Lord, the church, man, and the kingdom of heaven were covered over and hidden. This process is likened in the Writings to a man's body being dressed with garments until the flesh is almost hidden from view. In the final ages of man's decline into externalism and ignorance, the Lord allowed only some small portion of His Word to be seen and understood, only that which could be received without harm to man's spirit. And in the end of this externalism, the end of the Jewish Church, not a single truth remained naked to man's view. The knowledges of heaven were muffled and covered over.
In His first coming the Lord began to remove again the garments that He had placed around the knowledges of celestial and spiritual things. In His instruction by parables the Lord began to open what had been closed. He began to speak of the meaning and the spirit of ancient scripture. Here and there He showed something of the quality and the life of I-Es heavenly kingdom. Good men grasping these glimpses of a new truth were inspired and enthralled with them. The early Christian Church sensed something of the spirit of revelation, something of the charity and love of heaven. Here was a new idealism, a new standard - a new beginning. But it was indeed only a beginning. Men saw, yet they did not see. Light shone in the darkness, but the darkness comprehended it not. The function of man's rational understanding could not suddenly be born out of the externalism and literalism in which it had been buried. There had to be a gradual rebuilding; and this rebuilding required continued insights into the letter of Scripture that there could be the light of spiritual truth whereby to proceed. This process could have continued uninterrupted had not other things interfered. But they did interfere, and the Lord had foreseen that they would, and that He would have to make a second coming to reveal fully and openly the spirit and quality of celestial and spiritual goods and truths. And so He prophesied His second advent. And through the visions of John He foretold the states of the Christian Church, and finally, how a true Christian Church would be raised up that would endure forever.
Again, it was man's freedom that made it necessary for the Lord to permit the first Christian Church to fail. Good men were beginning to be enlightened by the vision of a new truth; but evil men were quick to realize that the new truths were a means to an end. They could serve to make possible the attainment of wealth and possessions, of power and dominion. There were new ideals from new truths, but the ideals were not clearly understood because the truth was not yet clearly perceived. And the written testimony of the truth was in the hands of a few. Evil men were quick to assure that the new revelation was brought under their care, and they became the mouthpiece of its message. But the message was no longer there. The truths of the first advent were bathed by man's evils, and were finally twisted and turned into falsities, so that the new light from heaven was quenched almost from its birth. Men of good will became confused by the falsities promulgated in the name of Christianity, and the darkness of falsity and evil again settled over mankind. These falsities and evils, represented by the great red dragon and the woman of Babylon in the Apocalypse, moved from the earth into the spiritual world, where they continued to hold men's minds in captivity.
It will be noted that the early visions of the Apocalypse story gradually lead up to the vision of the woman clothed with the sun and her persecution by the great red dragon. Not until then is there war in heaven and the beginning of judgment upon false and evil states. And notice that even then it is only a beginning. The woman and the man- child that she brought forth had to flee from the wrath of the serpent and be hidden from his presence in a wilderness. Even so, judgment began upon the dragon and the woman of Babylon, and they were cast forth onto the earth, there to continue persecution. The great and final conflict between heaven and hell does not take place however until the heavens are opened, and "behold a white horse, and He that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He doth judge and make war ... And the armies which were in heaven followed Mm upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean." It was the white horse, and He who rode thereon, whose name was the Word of God, that made possible the final victory over the hells. Without this last great conflict and victory, the New Jerusalem could not have descended out of heaven as a bride adorned for her husband, nor could it have been received as a beautiful holy city of precious gold and jewels in which men were to live forever. Without the white horse the birth of the New Church would have been as the birth of the Christian Church-it could not have endured; its beautiful truths and ideals would again have fallen under the feet of man's evil perversions.
What did the Lord make possible in His second coming that was not possible in His first coming? What did He give to man to provide a sure defense and protection from the ravages of evil and falsity? He gave the white horse-the interior understanding of the truths of the Word (see AE 820, 826). This understanding was not born of man's intelligence and ingenious reasonings. It was born from the Word of the Lord-not the Word as to its letter but the revelation of the spiritual sense of the Word and the Heavenly Doctrine of the New Jerusalem drawn by the Lord therefrom. This is He who rode upon the white horse and who guided it forth to conquer the power of hell.
The story of how the Lord introduced the truths of His New Church into a spiritual world bound by the ignorance, falsity, and evil of the fallen Christian Church is given in great detail in the Writings. We would simply note here that the steps whereby the New Church was born in the spiritual world are also the steps whereby it is not only born on earth, but born in the mind of each individual. The first truths that filtered down from the higher heavens and began to enlighten the good in the lower heavens and in the world of spirits are like the first truths of the church that are received by man during infancy, childhood, and youth. They are general truths that provide only an obscure and elementary idea. Yet they are perceived to be true. They provide the first vision of the Lord and His kingdom, and establish the first ideals. They lead, and even begin to judge between what is right and wrong, and provide a desire to separate from what is of open disorder. So it was also with the first reception of the New Church by the good spirits of the Christian Church. They commenced to sense something of the hypocrisy and evil of many that surrounded and led them, and they began to separate themselves therefrom. There was something of a new vision of truth with them, and a new life, and they delighted in this; but they did not yet have sufficient understanding to see the falsities that had enslaved them-there was no interior understanding from the knowledge of spiritual truths whereby they could see. There was yet no vision of the white horse.
The state of first reception of truth, of early idealism, and the life therefrom, is a state that is most important for us to understand, for unless we understand both its use and its limitation, we cannot really understand why the Lord made a second coming. In giving examples of this state the Writings speak of courtship and early marriage. Those who are introduced into an idea of the purpose and nature of conjugial love from the Writings first receive this instruction with delight. The general teachings concerning conjugial love form a vision and an ideal. This not only leads and protects them, but it causes a distaste and repugnance for what is of open disorder, what is filthy and promiscuous, and it judges and separates therefrom. This is a first state, and a necessary state, but it does not rest on an interior understanding of truth. It is easily disappointed and confused, and it is often unknowingly misled. For man to have an interior understanding of truth, that truth must descend into the things of his life a little at a time, to be tested and tried so that man may have the means of desiring it to be his own. This is when the wisdom of life is born. But let us note clearly that even this is not enough. If it were, those who received and used the first spiritual truths of the Christian religion would never have fallen under the captivity of falsities. The understanding, in order to come into a full and certain rationality from heavenly light, must not only have general truths, but it must also have specifics and particulars thereof. Truths must be ordered and organized so that one truth may be seen in relation to another, a particular truth in relation to a general truth, a natural truth in relation to a spiritual truth, an effect in relation to a cause or an end. These relationships are what provide the means for man's rational mind to have a clear and certain conviction of the nature of the Lord, of His heavenly kingdom, and of man's place therein. This knowledge is what the Lord caused to be revealed in the heavens as the foundation of a New Christian Church.
As the mind matures and advances into adult life and responsibility, if it heeds the instruction of revelation concerning its state - John's message to the seven churches -and if it inquires of truth from the Lord's Word- the opening of the seven seals-there will come a time when the fragmentary knowledges of religion come together and form a new vision. The New Church will be seen as the woman clothed with the sun, even as it was similarly seen in the confused states of the spiritual world prior to the judgment. There does come a time when the combination of new knowledge and man's effort to apply that knowledge begins to open in him a truly rational thought that is from the light of heaven. This new state introduces many things. Man does not suddenly see clearly all truths that he has learned, that is, he does not see how they relate to the things of life, but he does see that all the great truths of revelation, spiritual and natural, come together and form one unified whole - one picture of a Divine Human God and His purpose, one picture of His church, His kingdom, and man's place therein. And with this there is born a new conviction in the Lord that is clear, even though it is not yet truly wise. It is from such a state that man begins to see what he could not see before, the awful presence and power of hell that is within himself. It is this awareness that brings him into new and very different temptations. The good loves that have been forming in him are attacked by the hells; the dragon waits to devour the offspring of the woman clothed with the sun. In spiritual temptations the vision of the truths of the church is often obscured by the activities of man's evils and his effort to war against them. The woman and her offspring flee away into a wilderness. It was so in the process of the birth of the church in the last judgment, and it is so with man. The seven angels in the Apocalypse story are said to pour out their seven vials full of seven great plagues. So are described the temptations wherein man struggles to have the Lord form in him the loves that he has seen from the knowledge of truth-the vision that is sure in the intellect but obscure in the will.
As his states advance, the Lord performs for man many judgments; his internals are cleansed, and so it is written that Satan, that old serpent, was cast to the earth. The Lord does indeed cleanse man's internals as man works in external things. But even so, evil tenaciously holds onto the external things that form so much of man's conscious life. Hell continues to attack the New Church with man, even as it did in the last judgment. One final conflict must yet be fought. Man is not free from hell until he meets it consciously; he feels its evils with him and knows full well what they are, and he sees the monstrous falsities that cloak and support their presence and life with him. It is not enough for the Lord to overcome man's evils secretly through man's efforts; in reality, this is indeed what happens. But it is a most necessary part of man's freedom that he feels he himself is doing the combat and works consciously to bring about a victory. So it is that in time the Lord gives man to behold the white horse. The Lord opens man's internal rational faculty so that he can see the spiritual sense of the Word and the heavenly doctrine from interior understanding. This is the perception wherewith all the states of heaven are present-the armies of heaven on white horses. The last war with hell is quickly accomplished, and the new and final vision of the Lord and His New Church is born - the bride descending from heaven and the holy city New Jerusalem wherein is the peace and joy of heaven.
The vision of the white horse is not easy to understand, because the interior understanding of the Word is most complex. Yet it is a symbol that shall become more and more cherished as the New Church is received on earth. The horse symbolizes the understanding of truth, and its whiteness signifies the purity of that truth which is the spiritual sense of the Word and the heavenly doctrine. The white horse and its rider had great power, because such is the power of the interior understanding of those truths that form the New Church-it is such perception and power as has not been known from most ancient times. And now it is offered again to the man of the New Church that he may see and live the truths without danger of captivity and enslavement by evils and falsities, however they may be amassed against him. But let this much be crystal clear-the white horse will not be seen from simple faith or simple Christian charity, whatever may be the good intent therein. Such faith and charity have existed before, and their limitations are amply described in the chaos and disorder that gripped the spiritual world before the last judgment. The Lord revealed a new truth because that truth was needed to give man power over the hells that are with him-and there is nothing that will take its place.
There is no easy way to behold the white horse-it requires the accumulation of knowledges through reading and study, through sermons and classes; it requires reflection upon knowledges and their implications in our natural life; it requires discussion and exchange of thought and enlightenment; it requires application and effort to bring the life and power of spiritual good and truth down into the ultimate life of our work, our country, and our church. But is it not worth all of this? The white horse is a wonderful vision to keep before the eyes of our understanding, for in it is all the purpose and meaning of the New Christian Church born from heaven. The vision is beautiful because we see the Lord therein; and the promise is sure, and he who seeks will find. Amen.
Lessons: Revelation 19:1-10; 11-21; AR 935
Presented in Bryn Athyn June 9, 1974
Apocalypse Revealed 935
... it shall be told how it is to be understood that the Lord produces the goods of charity with a man according to the state of truth with Him. He who believes that a man does good that is acceptable to the Lord, which is called spiritual good, unless there are truths from the Word in Him is much deceived. Goods without truths are not goods, and truths without goods are not truths with man, although in themselves they may be truths: for good without truth is like the voluntary of man without the understanding, which voluntary is not human, but is like a beast's, or like that of a carved image which an artificer causes to operate. But the voluntary together with the intellectual becomes human according to the state of the understanding by which it exists. For the state of life of every man is such that his will cannot do anything except through the understanding, nor can the understanding think anything except from the will. It is similar with good and truth, since good is of the will, and truth is of the understanding. It is manifest from this, that the good which the Lord produces with man is according to the state of the truth with him from which is his understanding.
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