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Sermons

The First Convention

September 07, 2004

Bible Reading

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Now the dwelling of God is with people, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." Then the one sitting on the throne said, "Behold, I am making all things new!" . . .

Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and said to me, "Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb." And in the spirit, he carried me away to a great, high mountain and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God. It has the glory of God and a radiance like a very rare jewel, like jasper, clear as crystal. It has a great, high wall with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and on the gates are inscribed the names of the twelve tribes of the Israelites; on the east three gates, on the north three gates, on the south three gates, and on the west three gates. And the wall of the city has twelve foundations, and on them are the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.

The angel who talked with me had a measuring rod of gold to measure the city and its gates and walls. The city lies foursquare, its length the same as its width. And he measured the city with his rod, twelve thousand stadia; its length, width, and height are equal. He also measured its wall, one hundred forty-four cubits--the measurement of a human being, that is, of an angel.

(Revelation 21:1-5, 9-17)

Reading from Swedenborg

This, the Lord's second coming, is taking place by means of a man, to whom the Lord has shown himself in person, and whom he has filled with his spirit, so that he may teach the doctrines of the new church that come from the Lord through the Word.

Since the Lord cannot show himself in person, as has just been demonstrated, and yet he predicted that he would come and found a new church, which is the New Jerusalem, it follows that he will do this by means of a man who can not only receive intellectually the doctrines of this church, but also publish them in print. I bear true witness that the Lord has shown himself in the presence of me, his servant, and sent me to perform this task. After this he opened the sight of my spirit, thus admitting me to the spiritual world and allowing me to see the heavens and the hells, and also to talk with angels and spirits. This I have now been doing continuously for many years. At the same time, I affirm that from the first day of my calling I have not received any instruction concerning the doctrines of that church from any angel, but only from the Lord, while I was reading the Word.

In order that the Lord could be constantly present with me, he has revealed to me the spiritual sense of his Word, in which divine truth is illuminated by its own light; and in this he is continually present. For it is through the spiritual sense and in no other way that he is present in the Word. His presence passes through the light shed by the spiritual sense into the shadow that covers the literal sense. This may be compared with the sun's light in daytime obscured by an intervening cloud. I showed above that the literal sense of the Word is like a cloud, and its spiritual sense is the glory, and the Lord himself is the sun that gives light--so that the Lord is the Word. (True Christian Religion #779, 780)

Sermon

Delivered at the Annual Convention of the New Jerusalem Church, Philadelphia, 1917, on the occasion of its one hundredth anniversary.

It is a satisfaction to every New Churchman in America to feel that his church and his country were born into the world at the same time, and in a connection with each other that he understands and appreciates. And it may well seem to him more than a chance coincidence, believing as he does in the divine providence over every detail of earthly events for the sake of eternal results, that the beginnings of his country and of the national organization of his church should have taken place in the same city, Philadelphia, whose very name speaks of brotherly love, and whose Biblical predecessor in the book of Revelation is the one of the seven cities that symbolizes the new Christian Church in its purest form, as gathered out of the Christian churches of the past.

Emanuel Swedenborg was the first New Churchman in the world, and the servant of the Lord Jesus Christ in his divine founding of the New Jerusalem, symbolically described in the closing book of the Bible as the church of his Second Coming, and as descending from himself out of heaven into the thoughts and affections, deeds and characters of men to "make all things new." Swedenborg, the son of a Lutheran bishop, was born at Stockholm, Sweden, January 29, 1688. He was held in highest esteem among the scientific men of his day until he began his work as a theologian in his fifty-eighth year.

Then a division of opinion began to arise. His theological writings seemed so extraordinary and so opposed to the prevailing doctrines of the day that his sanity was doubted by some, and his position as a man of natural science discredited. But there were others who found in them a rational unfolding of the Sacred Scriptures that was like the rising of the sun out of the clouds of theological night. For they solved the great mystery of the Trinity and revealed the Lord Jesus Christ, within the appearance of the letter of his Word, as the one God in whom "dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily" (Colossians 2:9). And this new revelation of God, and the new intimacy of loving service with him to which it introduced his disciples, was shown to be the fulfillment of his Second Coming--a coming in spirit and in truth.

Some were ready for this gospel of the New Age and embraced it eagerly. Not long after Swedenborg's death it was found that forty-six of the clergymen of the established church of Sweden had accepted it in the diocese of Gottenburg, and sixty per cent of those in the diocese of Skara. There were also believers in Great Britain, Germany, and France.

Swedenborg died in London, Sunday, March 29, 1772, where he had found freedom to publish his writings. His remains were placed in a tomb under the front of the chancel of the little Swedish chapel where he had worshipped. There they were reverently kept until 1908, when, at the request of the King of Sweden, they were removed to the cathedral of Upsala, and in a beautiful sarcophagus were placed in a chapel opposite to the one in which the remains of the great botanist Linnaeus, who had been his friend in earthly life, lay in repose.

Among those who had received the Lord thus in his Second Coming was the "saintly" John Clowes of Manchester, England, a rector of the Anglican Church. He immediately engaged in translating the writings of Swedenborg into English and in preaching and teaching them by tongue and pen; and many converts to the new faith resulted.

At this time Robert Hindmarsh, a printer, nineteen years of age, heard of Swedenborg through friends who were engaged in printing the first English translation of Heaven and Hell, made by the Rev. Thomas Hartley and Mr. Cookworthy. But he did not begin to read his writings until four years later, when he found his mind prepared under the divine providence to accept them heartily. He could then find only two or three persons in London with whom he could enjoy conversations about them. He invited them to his house, not far from where Swedenborg died, to meet with him regularly for study. After a time John Augustus Tulk made the fourth member of this little reading circle.

Still later, to secure publicity, they took chambers at the Inner Temple, Fleet Street, and advertised in the newspapers, inviting all readers of Swedenborg to come and help in extending a knowledge of his writings. This brought James Glen, a Scotchman who was on his way to settle at Demerara, South America. He related how the captain of a ship in which he had sailed back from a previous voyage to South America had presented a copy of Heaven and Hell to him, which had filled him with astonishment, first at the nature of the information given, and second at the goodness of the divine providence in opening his mind to such a flood of spiritual truth.

So Mr. Glen sailed for America, full of gratitude and happiness, to become the pioneer missionary of the Lord in his Second Coming to the new world of freedom--of democracy--and in this special sense, perhaps, the "new earth" prepared to receive the New Jerusalem now descending from God out of heaven. On June 5, 1784, at Bell's auction room and book store, he gave the first public proclamation of the New Church in America, if not in the world. He succeeded in so interesting Francis Bailey, a printer who became a publisher of the Writings, Judge John Young, and one or two others that they soon became the nucleus of the New Church in Pennsylvania. He delivered two more lectures in the same place, and then went to Boston and lectured with similar results. Discouraged that so few sympathized with him in this great gift of heavenly light, he sailed for his new home in Demerara, where he established the first society of the New Jerusalem in the western hemisphere.

After his departure, a box of books from Mr. Hindmarsh arrived for him at Philadelphia, which being unclaimed were sold at public auction. They fell into the hands of Hetty Barclay and others, and directly and indirectly made many more converts than had the voice of the missionary himself. Thus the Lord in his divine providence makes use of his servants in ways unexpected, and not seldom unknown to them.

Another example of this hidden working of the divine providence is seen in the case of Rev. William Hill, who married Esther Duché, the daughter of the Rev. Jacob Duché, who offered prayer at the opening of the first Colonial Congress in a manner so acceptable that he was appointed Chaplain. He was then rector of Christ Church, Philadelphia, but became a New Churchman the next year. In 1794 his son-in-law, the Rev. William Hill, came from England to Boston, where he published a number of New Church works and lectured. Dr. Samuel Brown, Dr. James Mann, Miss Margaret Carey, and others were led to receive the doctrines. But the great and unexpected result under divine providence came from his gift to the library of Harvard College of an original set of the Arcana Coelestia in three volumes of which there were annotations by Swedenborg in his own handwriting. Other volumes containing similar annotations by Swedenborg are in the library of the Argyle Square Society at London. It was this set in the library of Harvard College that was found by Thomas Worcester, Sampson Reed, and others who were then students with them there, which led to the formation of the Boston Society.

In recounting thus the pioneer missionaries and forces that prepared the way for the first Convention we must not forget "Johnny Appleseed"--John Chapman--who visited the new settlements of Ohio in 1801, sowing apple seeds and New Church truths at the same time by the wayside, for the benefit of coming generations. The latter kind of seed being somewhat scarce with him, he would break the bindings of such books as Heaven and Hell, and leave the successive chapters at successive houses, and move them along at his successive visits, greeting his readers as he approached with the cry, "Here is news straight from heaven for you."

The books that James Glen and William Hill brought to America were multiplied by the printing press of Francis Bailey in Philadelphia, assisted by Judge Young, and in Boston at the expense of Mr. Hill himself. The edition of True Christian Religion printed by Mr. Bailey in 1792 contains a list of the subscribers that helped to meet the expense. Among them appears the name of Benjamin Franklin, and also that of Robert Morris, who financed the Revolutionary War and thus contributed largely to its success. A copy of this edition of True Christian Religion was sent to President George Washington in the year following, to which he replied expressing appreciation and attributing all glory to the overruling Providence. It has been learned from a member of the Washington family that in his last years he was a reader of Swedenborg. Lord Thomas Fairfax of Virginia was then a full receiver, and his son Ferdinand, and a Mr. Wilson M. C. Fairfax, are mentioned in 1803 as the first New Churchmen of the city of Washington.

Col. Robert Carter of Nomony Hall, Virginia, on becoming a New Churchman in 1790, manumitted his numerous slaves at large pecuniary sacrifice. Afterwards he moved to Baltimore and became the leader of the society there. The Rev. James Wilmer became its minister, preaching the first New Church sermon in America April 1, 1792. He had been an Episcopal clergyman previously. From this beginning finally came the building of the first house of worship for the New Church in America. On the first Sunday of the nineteenth century, January 2, 1800, the temple was dedicated. It was on the southwest corner of Baltimore and Exeter Streets, and was of brick, about 32 by 40 feet in size. The parsonage in the rear of the building is still standing, but the church was taken down in 1866. The Rev. John Hargrove had become the Pastor of the Society in 1798, when he resigned his pastorate in the Methodist Church in the same city. He immediately began to get subscriptions to build the temple. With what joy he must have preached the dedication sermon, which crowned this blessed achievement! It is preserved in a printed volume of his sermons, and has for its text the words spoken by the angel to John in Patmos, saying, "Worship God."

Mr. Hargrove was a preacher and a man of such power that he was twice appointed to preach before President Thomas Jefferson and the Congress of the United States. One of these sermons is preserved in the volume just mentioned. It was delivered on Christmas Day, 1804, and had for its subject, "The Second Coming of the Lord." We also find in this volume a valedictory sermon preached to the First Baltimore Volunteers on their departure for the War of 1812.

The building of the first temple in America at Baltimore was followed seventeen years afterwards by the building of the second at Philadelphia. Mr. William Schlatter was then the leading layman, and it was owing to his generosity that the temple was built. His grandfather, Michael Schlatter, known as "Old Pastor Schlatter," was the organizer of the Dutch Reformed Churches of Pennsylvania. He became a New Churchman in 1790, but lived after wards only about a year. It is said that his grandson, William, was taught Latin from an original edition of Swedenborg's works, which had belonged to his grandfather. At all events he grew up a devoted New Churchman. He was born in 1784 and died at the age of 43 years. When the "American Society for Disseminating the Doctrines of the New Jerusalem Church" was formed in Philadelphia, he was made its Vice President. He was already engaged in publishing editions of the Doctrines for gratuitous distribution, and doubtless was most useful to that organization if not the real originator of it.

At this time the Philadelphia Circle of receivers were meeting in Norris Alley, in the schoolroom of Mr. Maskil M. Carll, who was their leader, and who afterwards became their pastor. He was ordained by the Rev. John Hargrove, December 31, 1816, with ordaining powers conferred then, and became one of the most useful ministers of the Convention. He participated in the formal organization of the Boston Society in 1818, when Mr. Thomas Worcester was made its leader. He visited the church widely in this country and in England, and served as Secretary and also as President of the Convention.

On June 6, 1816, the cornerstone of the temple in Philadelphia, built by William Schlatter, was laid at 12th and George (now Sansom) Streets. And on January 1, 1817, it was completed and consecrated by the Rev. John Hargrove of Baltimore and the Rev. Maskil M. Carll of Philadelphia. A large assembly of people attended, including a number from the New Church in other states. It was then and there determined to hold the First Convention of the New Church in the United States in that newly consecrated temple on the fifteenth day of May following, which would be Ascension Day, for the purpose of consulting upon "matters concerning the general interest of the Church."

The First Convention met on the day appointed, and elected the Rev. John Hargrove of Baltimore its first President, and Mr. Condy Raguet of Philadelphia its first Secretary. The ancient record tells us that "many members of the Church, male and female, from the states of New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, and Ohio, were present; also two from the British Isles." The minutes of the last English Conference were read, and a congratulatory address was prepared and adopted to he sent to the Brethren across the ocean, introducing a custom which has been continued.

An application was received from Ohio for the ordination of Mr. David Powell into the ministry. Whereupon a Committee of five ministers and five laymen, from the five different states represented at the Convention, was appointed to consider the establishment of regulations for the ordination of ministers in the New Church. Among those on this Committee not already mentioned, we notice the name of Rev. Adam Hurdus, the first Pastor of the Cincinnati Society. The question of establishing a fund, such as that now administered by our Board of Missions, was discussed, with the conclusion that the time for it had not yet arrived. But measures were adopted to bring the Convention into full touch with what already existed of the New Church in the country, and provision was made for holding the Second Convention at Baltimore the next year, Ascension Day and the two days following.

And now in closing let us remember that it was in Philadelphia, this city, a hundred years ago that our General Convention was organized; and that the period of its birth, and of the preparation leading up to it, was in close connection with that of the birth and infancy of our country; that the Declaration of Independence was adopted July 4, 1776--four years after the death of Swedenborg; that here the Colonial Congress held its early sessions which, with the sword's help, gave freedom to our country and shaped its destiny; here the Constitution of the United States was framed and adopted in 1787--three years after the first proclamation in America of the Second Coming of the Lord; and that here, at the suggestion of General Washington, in her home which is still standing at 239 Arch Street, Betsy Ross made the first American flag, with its thirteen stars and thirteen bars, which was adopted by Congress in Independence Hall, June 14, 1777. Long may it wave, the first among the flags of the great democracies which now the Lord in his Second Coming is giving to the New World of human freedom and spiritual progress.

Prayer

O Lord God and Savior, Jesus Christ, we thank you for sending laborers into the vineyard of your church. We thank you for inspiring men and women, our spiritual ancestors, to leave their old associations and carry out the many tasks of founding a new church that looks for its pattern and inspiration to the New Jerusalem, now descending from you in heaven onto this earth. Amen.

Rev. H. Clinton Hay