In the late 1700s and early 1800s a man known as “Johnny Appleseed” travelled around various regions of North America, planting apple trees. A less-known fact about this man was that, while he travelled, he also gave out chapters of Emanuel Swedenborg’s books and he told people that it was, “Good news, fresh from heaven.” (Read more about Johnny Appleseed.)
People are often intimidated to try reading Emanuel Swedenborg’s books. (These books are called a variety of things including “The Writings” and “the Heavenly Doctrine”. At New Church Westville we refer to them as “the teachings of the New Church”.) He wrote a lot of books and they get into some pretty deep and complex topics. This program is your chance to give reading them a try (or another try if you’ve tried before). Imagine that some guy came by, handed you a chapter ripped out of an intriguing book, and told you it was “Good news, fresh from heaven”; would you at least read a little bit of it?
In the weeks that follow, groups will be getting together, once a week, for 3 weeks, to read and discuss some portion of the teachings of the New Church (see What to Read below). If your group meets in the Durban area, one of the pastors will attend at least one of your meetings (if you’d like). If you’re meeting somewhere further away, one of our pastors will try to video chat with your group (if you’d like). Or, if you’re just reading on your own but would like some support, our pastors will do their best to respond to any questions you have via phone, email, WhatsApp, whatever.
If you’re already part of a group, talk to them, figure out when and where you’re going to meet, and pick what you’re going to read first so that you can start reading. If you need help finding a group, please contact Carey (firstname.lastname@example.org).
How to Get the Books
In the foyer of our hall we have some new books for sale (at cost) and a lending library. You are welcome to buy or borrow any of these books. You can do that on a Sunday or you can arrange a time during the week to come have a look.
The other option is to get the books digitally. Thanks to the Swedenborg Foundation (swedenborg.com) all of the teachings of the New Church are available for download—either as a free PDF, a free EPUB, or a $1 Kindle book. You can find a complete list of all the books (with links to download in various formats) and also this great little “Guide to the Theological Works of Emanuel Swedenborg” (PDF).
What to Read
You can read through that guide, pick a book, and jump into reading it from cover to cover. Or, if that’s a bit intimidating, here are some excerpts that we recommend, including information about how long it might take you to read (at the average reading speed of 200 words per minute.) The excerpts are organised in order of length (shortest to longest). There are three general categories of content in the list: teachings, explanations of stories from Biblical, and experiences Swedenborg had in the spiritual world. (The items marked with * are included in A Swedenborg Sampler (see the bottom of the list).
- Spiritual Experience: “They are so just!” “They are so learned!” “They are so wise!” (PDF) [25 mins]
In this account Swedenborg tells of a time when he visited some people close to hell who were exclaiming about how just, how learned, and how wise certain people were. In each case, though, Swedenborg finds that the people are actually just selfish and not truly just, learned, or wise. This story is from True Christianity.
- Conjunction of Souls By Marriage (PDF) [40 mins]
This chapter from Married Love (AKA Conjugial Love) explains how the souls of a husband and wife can gradually be joined together in marriage.
- Spiritual Experience: The Joys of Heaven and a Wedding There (PDF) [1.2 hrs]
This is an account from Swedenborg of a time when he got to see newcomers to the spiritual world learning, through experience, about the problems with their ideas of what makes for heavenly happiness. It’s quite a funny story with a useful underlying point. Some of the newcomers then get to visit heaven and see what a wedding there is like. This is the first chapter of the book Married Love.
- Repentance (PDF) [1.2 hrs]
Repentance holds a crucial place in the teachings of the New Church. This is a chapter from True Christianity about repentance.
- The Essence of God (PDF) [1.25 hrs] *
This is a quite philosophical exploration of the nature of God from Section 1 of Divine Love and Wisdom.
- The Inner Meaning of the Creation Story (PDF) [1.3 hrs] *
This is the 1st chapter of the 1st theological work that Swedenborg published, Secrets of Heaven. It contains some teachings about the nature of the Word and an explanation of the inner meaning of the creation story in the 1st chapter of Genesis.
- The Outer and Inner Meanings of the 10 Commandments (PDF) [1.3 hrs]
This is a chapter from True Christianity about the importance of and levels of meaning in each of the 10 Commandments.
- The End of the Age and the Second Coming of the Lord (PDF) [1.4 hrs]
This is last chapter of the last book that Swedenborg published, True Christianity. It explains the unique New Church understanding of the end of the age and the second coming and where the New Church fits into the spiritual history of the human race.
- Why is Evil Allowed to Exist in the World? (PDF) [1.5 hrs] *
These 2 chapters from Divine Providence explain how evils need to be confronted before we can be rid of them and how the Lord never stops trying to lead evil people to a better path or providing opportunities for good to come out of the evil they do.
- What it Means to Really Love Our Neighbour (PDF) [1.7 hrs] *
This is an abridged version of the chapter in True Christianity about charity, goodwill, or loving our neighbour.
- Revelation Chapter 2 – Letters to the 7 Churches (PDF) [1.8 hrs]
Chapter 2 of the book of Revelation contains the first four letters from God to the seven churches in Asia. This excerpt from Apocalypse Revealed explains the spiritual meaning within these letters.
- Dying and Waking Up in the Spiritual World (PDF) [2 hrs] *
In this extract from Heaven and Hell, Swedenborg describes how he was allowed to experience the process of dying firsthand and discusses the world of spirits, where souls first arrive after leaving their bodies.
- Afterlife: A Guided Tour of Heaven and Its Wonders (PDF) (other formats) [4.1 hrs]
This is an abridged and rearranged version of Heaven and Hell. It’s great to read the original but, if you want something shorter, this is a great option. For comparison, the original takes about 15 hours to read.
- A Swedenborg Sampler (PDF) (other formats)
This is one book containing excerpts from 5 of Swedenborg’s books. (See the items marked with * in the list above.) If you’re interested in more than one of those excerpts, we’d recommend downloading this whole collection.
Biographies of Emanuel Swedenborg
Here are a few free biographies of Emanuel Swedenborg.
- “Who Was Swedenborg?” [video, 8 mins – 2 mins of biography and 6 mins of book intros]
- Biography on Swedenborg.com [webpage, 13 mins]
- A Scientist Explores Spirit: A Biography of Swedenborg with Key Concepts of His Theology (PDF) (other formats) [1.4 hrs]
- Other biographies on Swedenborg.com