Swedenborg Study.com

Online works based on the Writings of Emanuel Swedenborg


Escaping from Evil Feelings

Chapter 10 from "Spirituality that Makes Sense"

by Douglas Taylor

It is an eternal truth ... that everything of life flows in the good of life from the Lord, and the evil of life from hell.
Emanuel Swedenborg Arcana Coelestia 6325

Evils are not to be done "because they belong to the devil and are from the devil." But what does "the devil" mean?

The Devil

The devil means hell "in the whole complex" (The Apocalypse Explained 1014:3). Abstractly, the devil means the evil that makes hell and flows forth from it, such as the loves of self and the world, the two devilish loves that rule in hell. The love of dominating from the love of self is also described as "the devil."

There is no basis in Scripture for the idea that the devil is a fallen angel.[1] The Lord pointed out in Luke 16 that there is a great gulf fixed between heaven and hell, so that those who wish to pass from heaven to hell cannot, nor can those come into heaven who would like to come out of hell (Luke 16:26). That verse presents a universal law admitting of no exceptions. The idea that Satan is only one person also needs to be reexamined.

Individual devils or demons or satans are certainly people; they had all lived hellish lives on earth. There is some truth, too, in the idea that the devil is like one person, just as the whole of heaven in one complex is like one person, whom Swedenborg calls the Greatest Man.

The church on earth as the "body of Christ" (Colossians 1:24; Ephesians 1:22, 23; 4:12) is a familiar idea. Any group or society of people in this world is like one person. All the functions per formed in the human body are to be found in any group or community of people. In any town, city, or country, there are those who perform the function of the head: the brainy people. There are those who perform the function of the heart: the hearty people. There are those who perform the function of the hands: the handy people. And there are those (the vast majority) who do the "leg work," who perform the function of the legs and feet, the support of the whole body. All the functions of the various organs and members of the human body are performed by the people in any body or community of people. In agreement with this idea, the United States of America is sometimes represented as one man, named Uncle Sam, and Great Britain is referred to as John Bull.

It is a similar case with the church. The church is a "Greater Man." But heaven is the "Greatest Man." All the functions of the human body are performed by those who are now in the Lord's kingdom in the heavens. Viewed in this light, heaven in the aggregate could be said to be a "Grand Man."

The societies of hell also are organized according to the functions of the human body. However, all those functions are performed unwillingly and under pressure by the inhabitants of hell, while in heaven they are performed willingly, in freedom. Hell is the opposite of the Greatest Man. "Hell is like a monstrous man" (The Divine Providence 302). "The universal hell represents one monstrous devil" (True Christian Religion 32:6). In this sense - and in this sense only - it could be said that the devil (or hell) is like a person.

Since the devil means "hell," our statement could be rephrased as: "Evils are not to be done because they belong to hell and are from hell."

Really seeing for ourselves that evils belong to hell and come from hell is vitally important. This insight is the first step in escaping from the burden of evil feelings, which can lead to evil actions. If we stop ourselves from contemplating or doing evils for any other reason, we are not really regarding them as sins against the Lord; we are not really fleeing from them in horror. We are only suppressing them, preventing them from appearing outwardly before the world. We really need to see that evil feelings flow in from hell.

This is indeed known in the Christian world, but for most people it is not really believed from the heart in any practical sense, in such a way as to affect one's life. We hear echoes of this idea when somebody describing a completely uncharacteristic action by an acquaintance, says, "I don't know what got into him," or "I don't know what possessed her." But people who use that form of language would probably be quite startled by our taking their words at face value, as if they really believed that evil feelings can flow in from evil spirits in hell and influence a person's behavior.

And yet this teaching is one of the most dynamic and practical in all of the deeper view of Christianity. When we really see that all life flows into us - good feelings from the Lord through heaven and evil feelings from hell - we have made a great step forward in our spiritual growth. Few things hold back would-be disciples of the Lord more than the feeling that the good that they do is from themselves and the evil that they do originates in themselves. Claiming the good for oneself leads to self-righteousness and a sense of merit; claiming possession of hell's evil promptings can lead to evil actions or to a paralyzing form of guilt and anxiety.

When we think according to the reality, we learn not to identify ourselves with the evil feelings and desires that surge up within us. We do not have to act as if we were the owners of these feelings. We do not have to identify ourselves with them, saying: "That's me! That's the way I am." We can just as easily say: "These feelings are rising up from hell and flowing into my mind. I do not have to accept them." We disown them, detach ourselves from them, distance ourselves from them, realizing that they are separate from us and should be kept separate from us. In this way, we are delivered from them, set free. If only we would always act in accordance with the reality, with the way things really are, we could be delivered from all the evil feelings that flow in from hell and bind us to hell.

Unfortunately, however, it is very difficult for us in our natural, unregenerate state to believe that this is in fact the reality. We are not aware, by any conscious sensation, of the presence of either the angelic people who are in heaven or the devilish people who have chosen hell as their abode. Because we do not feel their presence, and neither see nor hear them (in the vast majority of cases), we do not know from experience that good feelings flow in from heaven and evil feelings flow in from hell. We human beings need to be told this by the Lord in His Divine Word. Otherwise, we would never know. We need to learn this from a source outside of ourselves. For this reason, we must act according to what the Lord reveals; we have to eat of "the tree of life" rather than be guided by ideas formed from our own sensations, which is to "eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil" (Genesis 2:17). As Swedenborg explains in Arcana Coelestia 6206:

The reason that evil is fastened onto man is that he believes and persuades himself that what he thinks and does is from himself, and in this way makes it his own. If he believed as is really the case, then evil would not be appropriated to him; for the moment that evil flowed in, he would reflect that it was from the evil spirits with him, and as soon as he thought this, the angels would turn it aside and reject it. For the inflow from the angels is into what a man knows and believes, and not into what he does not know and does not believe; for that inflow is not fixed anywhere except where there is something belonging to the man.

The effect of applying that teaching varies from person to person. Most people speak of a great load or tension being lifted from their shoulders. But for one man, the effect was quite dramatic.

This man had come to me for help with his fierce temper. He felt that his wife was always cutting him down, which enraged him. "I've always had a bad temper," he explained, "but now I'm afraid it will get out of control." After discussing this with him for a little while, I quoted that teaching in Arcana Coelestia 6206 about how to be freed from the influx from hell. This. gave him hope, but he wondered how he could remember that passage, as he had no copy of the Arcana Coelestia. I duplicated the relevant passage, which he put in his wallet.

A week later, when I asked if he had noticed any improvement, he exclaimed excitedly, "Oh yes, yes!" Taking the duplicated passage from his wallet and waving it around, he said, beaming: "This is magic! Whenever I feel an attack of rage coming on, I just pull this out and read it. It always works. It always calms me down!" This association between the two worlds is an unconscious one. The inhabitants of hell, like the inhabitants of heaven, are quite unaware of the person with whom they are associated. They are no more conscious of him than he is aware of their presence with him. But they are subconsciously attracted by a person's feelings of delight that are in agreement with their own, an attraction of similar feelings. Thus, Swedenborg states in Arcana Coelestia 5851 that "If he is avaricious, there are spirits who are avaricious; if he is haughty, there are haughty spirits; if he is desirous of revenge, there are spirits of this character; if he is deceitful, there are similar spirits. Man summons to himself spirits from hell in accordance with his life."

So if we had no tendency to evil and if we had never contemplated doing an evil act, then we would receive no such inflow from the hells. There would be neither basis nor welcome for it. But there is always something in us that attracts and summons the presence of hell.

We need to acknowledge and confess this, especially when examining ourselves, being careful not to become overwhelmed by the knowledge that part of us welcomes hell. Because we have evil spirits as well as good ones for our spiritual companions, we are not therefore irretrievably evil and beyond redemption. We are perfectly free to separate ourselves from those inhabitants of hell who want to stir up the worst in us and induce us to act and speak from those evil feelings that flow forth from them. We can free ourselves from this inflow from hell by recollecting that all evils "belong to hell and are from hell."

But we have to do this promptly, in the very moment that we recognize evil flowing in. Fortunately, "evil that enters into the thought does no harm to the person, because evil is continually in fused by spirits from hell, and is continually repelled by angels. But when evil enters into the will, then it does do harm, for then it also goes forth into act whenever external bonds do not restrain. Evil enters into the will by being kept in the thought, by consent, especially by act and the consequent delight," we are told in Arcana Coelestia 6204.

That is why we must act promptly. Otherwise, if we keep thinking about the feelings and consent to them, we will begin to enjoy them, the first step toward becoming "hooked."

A Powerful Thought

How can there be such power in the mere thought that what is evil has flowed in from hell? But is it really a mere thought? Is it thought alone or truth alone?

This thought is not an empty formula or technique; rather, it involves a complete attitude to life, a spiritual attitude, a way of thinking, feeling, believing, speaking, and acting, possible only to those who at heart acknowledge these two important truths:

l. That the Lord Jesus Christ is now Divine in both Soul and Body

2. That evils are sins (see The Divine Providence 321:5-6)

Acknowledging these two truths is not an arbitrary requirement. The reasons given are: that "those who do not acknowledge the Lord's Divinity, being disjoined from Him, believe that they think from themselves" and "those who do not acknowledge evils as sins ... think from hell; and in hell everyone imagines that he thinks from himself" (The Divine Providence 321:6).

Without a heartfelt belief in these two truths, this "technique" simply will not work. A certain humility is required, flowing from the admission that a person is nothing in and from himself or herself without the Lord, and that the Lord is everything. This state of deep humility is essential for genuine worship of the Lord. Only from the goodness of such humility before the Lord can anyone have any power at all against the hells when reflecting that evil suggestions and thoughts are aroused by the inflow from hell. After all, it takes real humility before anyone will believe and use this truth.

A further reason for the power of this thought is that evil spirits cannot endure being reflected upon. Their strength is in their secret operation; they like darkness rather than light. Like criminals in this world, they abhor having the spotlight focused on their activities. Swedenborg gives many accounts, from experience, of spirits becoming indignant and departing when their true nature is exposed and proclaimed. They simply cannot withstand the atmosphere of heaven, which we summon whenever we think according to the reality.

The teaching that "evils should not be done because they belong to hell and are from hell" surely provides us with the strongest reason for turning our backs on evil feelings - in fact, fleeing away from them as we would flee away from some disgusting odor. But that teaching also shows us the way to free ourselves from evil feelings, by remembering that they do in fact belong to hell and not to us.

Social Implications

Tremendous social implications also flow from the principle we have been discussing. Can we not see that here we have the remedy for all the world's ills?

We can indeed, to some extent, control criminal acts (or acts against society) by external force, such as by public disapproval and law enforcement by police forces, armies, and courts of law. But we can never eradicate evil in that way. We can only limit and contain the expression of it, reducing its evil effects on our natural life.

To make a real onslaught on evil, however, we need to root out the cause of evil actions. Each one of us needs to begin with himself or herself, and refrain from doing evils for the sole reason that "they belong to hell and are from hell," or (what is the same) that they are sins against the Lord. The French philosopher Montaigne put it most aptly: "If you would reform the world, begin with yourself. Then there will be one rogue less in the world."

If every person in the world were to refrain from lusting after the evil feelings hidden within the criminal acts forbidden in the Ten Commandments for the reason that they "belong to hell and are from hell" (and thus are against the Lord), then no evil acts would be done outwardly. All the murders and crimes of violence; all adulteries and attacks upon the institution of marriage; all cheating, fraud, and stealing; all deceit, lying, false witness, and defamation would disappear from the face of the earth. How infinitely good and wise is the Lord's advice, "First cleanse the inside of the cup and dish, that the outside of them may be clean also" (Matthew 23:26). This state of affairs, when not only external acts of evil but also the evil feelings that beget them no longer exist, is the complete "kingdom of God" or rule of God that we wish will come when we pray: "Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven" (Matthew 6:10).

Here we see the true mission of a church. Its aim, the ideal toward which it strives, is to encourage every one of its members to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, to seek this in themselves by shunning their secret evils (and the falsities that seek to justify them) because they are sins against the Lord; and to encourage others outside of the church to live that same kind of life, the life of religion. This is the ideal, and we must ever keep it before our gaze.

However, we do have to realize that complete and absolute success will never be possible. Human freedom of choice cannot be ignored. The Lord allows each one of us to choose whether we will follow Him or not, and to what extent we are willing to give up self-gratification in order to follow Him. He grants this privilege of free choice to every human being, and He never takes it away.

Consequently, there will always be those who choose to follow the Lord only a little, and also those who reject Him and do not follow Him at all - in fact, who oppose Him and what comes from Him. Therefore, absolute success will never be achieved.

Nevertheless, we need to act as if the ideal were completely attainable. We need to keep striving toward the ideal. If we aim at anything less than the ideal, we will be satisfied with that lesser goal. That will then become our ideal, and our sights will be progressively lowered.

The Negative and the Positive Focus

The teaching that "to shun evils as sins is the Christian religion itself" (The Divine Providence 239) or, what is the same thing, that "evils should not be done because they belong to hell and are from hell," is sometimes thought to place too much emphasis on evil, focusing our attention too much on it. This, it is feared, could lead to a miserable, mournful state: the opposite of the happiness of heaven. If this were true, it would indeed be a very serious indictment.

But is it true? If we turn away from evils because they are from hell, we are doing so because to some extent, at least, we are concerned for the Lord; we realize that what is from hell is against the Lord and His kingdom. We have some love for the Lord. If we shun our evils because they are sins against the Lord, we are looking to the Lord and inviting His presence. And if we are looking to the Lord and are concerned for Him, are we not looking toward everything that is good and positive? Are we not looking toward goodness itself, the source of everything good? In fact, is it possible to be any more positive than that? It is really out of regard for the Lord that we shun our evils as sins.

That is why the full statement of the case in The Doctrine of Charity reads: "The first thing of charity is to look to the Lord and shun evils as sins; and the second thing of charity is to do good things" (The Doctrine of Charity 40). Besides this, the proportion in which people shun evils because they are sins is the proportion in which they do good things, not from themselves, but from the Lord. The proportion in which people shun murders of every kind as sins is the proportion in which they have love toward the neighbor. Similarly, to shun adultery as a sin is to love marriage undefiled by lasciviousness; to shun thefts of every kind as sins is to love sincerity; to shun false witness of every kind as sin is to love truthfulness. In other words, shunning evil as sin is always looking to doing what is good. (See The Doctrine of Life 18-31, 67-91.)

The idea that we should first shun evil before we can do what is good has always been basic to religion. In the Jewish Church, the Divine teaching was "Cease to do evil, learn to do good" (Isaiah 1:16-17). In the Christian Church it was "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!" (Matthew 3:2)

Besides being the consistent teaching of Divine revelation throughout the ages, this teaching is confirmed by experience and common sense, as in this passage from True Christian Religion  511:

Who can introduce sheep and kids and lambs into fields or woods where there are all kinds of wild beasts, before he has driven out the beasts? Who can make a garden out of a piece of ground that is overgrown with thorns, briars, and nettles, before he has rooted out those noxious weeds? Who can establish a mode of administering justice according to judicial practices in a city held by hostile forces and establish citizenship, before he has expelled those forces? It is the same with evils in man. They are like wild beasts, like thorns and briars, and like hostile forces; and the church can no more have a common abode with evils than a man can dwell in a cage where there are tigers and leopards.

Until we drive out the wild beasts in ourselves, eradicate the thorns and briars, and conquer the hostile forces, we will continue to be delighted by the evils forbidden in the Ten Commandments. By natural inclination, our human nature - twisted by hereditary tendencies and left entirely to itself and free to do what it likes - loves all forms of idolatry, blasphemy, irreverence, mockery, contempt, theft, adultery, murder, false witness, and covetousness. We can observe from experience that where society does not impose restraints, either by law or by moral sanctions, or where there is no real influence of the Word of God in a society, all the previously mentioned evils will break forth into open act.

Still, there is hope. We need not be imprisoned by our natural tendencies; we can rise above them, as we are assured in True Christian Religion 574:

Viewed in himself the natural man in no way differs in his nature from the nature of beasts. Like them he is wild; but it is as to his will that he is like that; in understanding he does differ from beasts, in that the understanding can be elevated above the lusts of the will, and not only see but also moderate them; and for this reason man is able to think from understanding, and speak from thought, which beasts cannot do.

So any good actions we do before evil motives are shunned as sins are not really good. They only appear to be good. Can a bad tree bring forth good fruit? (see Matthew 7:17-18) It is the motive that imparts the quality to an action. Actions done from evil motives may indeed be of use and benefit to the person to whom they are done. For example, if a group of poor people were helped very generously by a man because he was seeking some exalted office or some other honor for himself, then the poor people, as recipients of the good action, would say that they had benefited. The man's actions had a good effect. But it would be of no benefit to the doer - the man himself. He could not claim that he had done what was good, because his good actions proceeded from a selfish and worldly motive. He was not interested in the welfare of others. It was only good from and for self, good from the man, which is not good at all. "The essence of good can be from no other source than Him who is good itself" (The Doctrine of Life 13). In order to do what is good, we need first to be working in conjunction with the Lord - the only source of what is good - and to be working in conjunction with the Lord, we have to begin by shunning our evils "because they belong to hell and are from hell."

This teaching was clearly stated in the New Testament in particular. In John we read that "a man can receive nothing unless it has been given to him from heaven" (John 3:27); and "he who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing" (John 15:5). Our human nature is so contrary to heaven that it must be exchanged for a new nature. Human nature cannot be changed, only exchanged. "Unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God" (John 3:3).

Evil feelings or desires flow in from hell. In turning our backs upon the hellish inflow because it is against the Lord, we are actually looking to Him and loving Him. The extent to which we are conjoined with Him, the one source of goodness, is the extent to which we are doing good that is really good.

Chapter 11: When Good Deeds are Really Good

Good things should be done because they belong to God and are from God.

-Emanuel Swedenborg, True Christian Religion 3:2

Goods or good deeds are the same as "uses" (as Swedenborg calls them). They are good deeds done from the Lord, not from self: actions that benefit others and the common good.

What a world it would be if doing these good deeds or "uses" were the norm rather than the exception! The Lord's kingdom would have come; His will would be done on earth as it is in heaven. At last, we would literally have heaven on earth.

Heaven is a kingdom of uses, a kingdom where the inhabitants derive their highest and most abiding happiness from performing uses or good services to others, both in general and with each individual person.

The very best of these good actions are of lasting, eternal benefit, they are not just a matter of temporary relief. Since a church is meant to be an image of heaven or a receptacle of heavenly loves, it is meant to be the means of conjoining heaven and earth. Consequently, "the best [works] are those that are done for the sake of the uses of the church;' as we are informed in The Apocalypse Explained 975:2.

The Lord always looks to eternal ends or purposes - to the eternal welfare of everyone - in everything that He does from His Divine love by means of His Divine wisdom. He uses temporal things - the things of this ephemeral world and life - only as a means to eternal ends. Whenever we do good things that "belong to God and are from God," we are becoming an image and likeness of Him. We are looking, perhaps unconsciously, to the eternal welfare of everyone with whom we have any dealings, using temporal, worldly things as means to eternal ends.

Suppose we learn that a friend or acquaintance is contemplating receiving a sizable sum of money from an insurance company by withholding some relevant information that would make him or her ineligible to benefit. There seems to be no risk of being found out. In that situation, we can either aid and abet the crime by keeping quiet, or we can seek to raise the person's thought to a higher, more eternal level. Lecturing that person or expressing shock or indignation would be worse than useless, even counterproductive. But, like Socrates, we could ask some awkward questions: "Have you considered the total situation? Have you considered the implications of what you are planning to do? Have you asked yourself what God would have you do in this situation? Have you prayed about this?"

The other person may well become angry and abusive, seeing us as a "spoil-sport," especially if he or she has no spiritual conscience or one that is sleeping. But we have planted a thought that offers a different course of action. We have brought God into the equation. Who knows what effect that thought may have after the person has left our presence and quietly thinks it over? Even a dormant conscience can be aroused.

Looking to the eternal welfare of others is an example of loving others as the Lord loves us. "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another" (John 13:34).

The word for to love used in that passage means, in the original, "to consider the welfare of," which is the essential meaning of the much abused word love. Another word for love is also used in the New Testament, but never when we are commanded to love. The meaning of that other word is simply "to be fond of." To be fond of another cannot be commanded, but God may certainly command us to consider the welfare of others, just as He considers our welfare - our eternal welfare.

We can do these good things only from God. "With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible" (Matthew 19:26). "Without Me you can do nothing" (John 15:5). Any attempt to do good things from our own powers will be contaminated by selfishness and thoughts of worldly status.

The following passages from Swedenborg's works have the same central theme, but each one presents some additional facet of the truth:

Charity is willing well, and good works are doing well from willing well. Charity and works are distinct from each other like will and action, or like the mind's affection and the body's operation; consequently like the internal man and the external; and these two are related to each other like cause and effect, since the causes of all things are formed in the internal man, and from this are all effects produced in the external. Therefore charity, since it belongs to the internal man, is willing well; and works, since they belong to the external man, are doing well from willing well." (True Christian Religion 374)

Heaven and Hell 358 even says that "acting is willing, and speaking is thinking," so that where the Word of God says that we will be judged and rewarded according to our deeds, the meaning is that we will be judged and rewarded according to our thoughts and affections, the source of our deeds. "Otherwise [any action] would be nothing but a movement like that of an automaton" (Heaven and Hell 472). The same passage concludes by pointing out that "a thousand people may ... do similar deeds, so alike in outward form as to be almost undistinguishable, and yet each one regarded in itself be different, because from an unlike will" (see also The Doctrine of Charity 4 and 8).

Who Is My Neighbor?

These good works are to be done to one's neighbor. But who is one's neighbor?

That question was put to the Lord by a student of the law of Moses, a man who wished to test the Lord's fidelity to that law (Luke 10:25-29). He knew from the Scriptures that he must love his neighbor, but he wished to know how the Lord understood the term one's neighbor. The usual interpretation at that time was that only a person of one's own nation was a neighbor to be loved, that is, helped.

The Lord answered his question with the well-known parable of the Good Samaritan:

Then Jesus answered and said, "A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, who stripped him of his clothing, wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a certain priest came down that road. And when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. Likewise a Levite, when he arrived at the place, came and looked, and passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was. And when he saw him, he had compassion. So he went to him, and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; and he set him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. On the next day, when he departed, he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said to him, 'Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I come again, I will repay you. So which of these three do you think was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves?" And he said, "He who showed merry on him." Then Jesus said to him, "Go and do likewise." (Luke 10:30-37)

The question was, "Who is my neighbor?" The answer was, "He who showed mercy on him." The good Samaritan, the one who did what is good, is the neighbor to be loved, helped, and encouraged.

The original hearers of that parable must have been greatly shocked by a Samaritan's being made the hero. In fact, at that time the Samaritans were despised, although geographically they were "neighbors." So the Lord's purpose in making the hero of the story a citizen of Samaria was to broaden the prevailing idea of "one's neighbor," expanding it beyond the boundaries of one's own country.

A person who is doing any good thing is one's neighbor no matter of what nationality or race. Strictly speaking, our neighbor is not a person at all, but the good feelings or good attitudes that per son has received from the Lord. Because all goodness is from the Lord, He is the neighbor in the highest sense. The Lord is inmostly the Good Samaritan.

Because goodness is the neighbor that is to be loved, fostered, and helped, the Theological Writings of Emanuel Swedenborg always refer to the neighbor, not one's neighbor. Anyone is the neighbor to be loved and helped according to the quantity and quality of the goodness that person has received from the Lord.

So, one who obeys only the letter of the law is not so much the neighbor as one who acts from the spirit of the legal code or from moral goodness. People are the neighbor to an even greater extent if they act from spiritual goodness or obedience to the Divine commandments. Since one who acts from spiritual goodness will be both a moral person and a law-abiding citizen, we are to seek first spiritual goodness, then the lesser goods (moral and civic) will be added. "Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you" (Matthew 6:33).

Yet feelings of charity by themselves do not produce genuinely good works any more than the will alone can do anything. We can wish and wish to do something good and helpful until our heart is at a bursting point, but that accomplishes nothing. We need to know how to do it; we need some enlightenment from our intellect or understanding. Otherwise, we will be like the sadly misguided woman who thought she could dry out her drenched pet dog by putting him in the microwave! Or like the man who, passing his vacationing friend's house and noticing that the lights were on, switched them off at the main switch, not realizing that his friend's refrigerator was stacked with fish! The consequences of these acts of misguided charity are unbearable to contemplate, and examples are plentiful. In such cases the heart (the will) is in the right place, but the head (the understanding) leaves much to be desired.

It is similar with regard to our spiritual life: charity in the will needs to be matched with an enlightened faith (the sight of truth) in the understanding.

For example, aiding and abetting a murderous escaped convict "out of the kindness of our heart" is charity alone, merely natural sentimental charity. Such misguided charity ignores the larger picture, the welfare and protection of society as a whole. Charity alone is in the dark, lacking the wisdom provided by the truth belonging to an enlightened faith, which by its very nature causes us to look to the Lord and His eternal purposes. A spiritual kind of faith allows us to view life in the perspective of eternity.

Another example of charity enlightened by faith would be the technique, often used in child raising, known as "tough love."

Charity and Faith Together

The need for charity and faith to work together is brought out in this passage from True Christian Religion 377:

Good works are not produced by charity alone, still less by faith alone, but by charity and faith together. This is because charity apart from faith is not charity, and faith apart from charity is not faith. Because of this, charity cannot exist by itself or faith by itself; and it cannot be said that charity in itself produces any good works, or faith in itself. . . . Consequently, when a person does good works in accordance with truths, he does them in light, that is, intelligently and wisely. The conjunction of charity and faith is like the marriage of husband and wife. From the husband as a father and the wife as a mother all natural offspring are born; and in like manner from charity as a father and faith as a mother all spiritual offspring, which are things known about good and truth, are born.... Neither the husband alone nor the wife alone can produce offspring.

The good actions that are to be done "because they belong to God and are from God" have to go forth from the goodness of charity conjoined with the truth that belongs to faith - both from the Lord.

Levels of the Neighbor

Swedenborg deepens our idea of the neighbor to be loved by showing that the goodness received from the Lord is the neighbor; he also widens our view, extending the neighbor beyond the good received by one individual to include the goodness in

• a group of individuals

• one’s country

• the whole human race

• the church

• the Lord's kingdom, including the heavens

• supremely, the Lord Himself

These are ascending levels or degrees of the neighbor, like rungs on a ladder, as in Jacob's vision of a ladder (Genesis 28: 10-13). At the top of the ladder was the Lord, the source and origin of the neighbor. Wherever good is received, there is the neighbor to whom or to which good things are to be done - from God. In a word, charity toward the neighbor means fostering and enhancing the reception of goodness from the Lord, wherever it is received.

Since these levels of the neighbor are like rungs on a ladder, the higher ones are to be preferred to the lower ones. Therefore, a group of individuals is more the neighbor than one individual; one's country is more the neighbor than a group within the country; the whole human race is the neighbor in a still higher degree than one's country; the church is the neighbor in a still higher degree, because it is concerned with the eternal life of others; the Lord's kingdom is an even higher level of the neighbor because it consists of all who are in a state of goodness, whether on earth or in heaven. The Lord, being the source of the goodness that is the neighbor on all these levels, is supremely the neighbor to be loved (see The New Jerusalem and Its Heavenly Doctrine 91-96).

The ascending levels of the neighbor are a great guide in decision making, imparting much-needed clarity. For example, a church organization that is essentially a social club focusing mainly on worldly goals is less the neighbor to be loved and helped than one in which the Lord's kingdom is the main focus. Similarly, a country fostering the eternal welfare of its citizens by means of churches and freedom of religion is more the neighbor than one where churches are banned.

Day-to-Day Charity

Charity is meant to be the motivating force in every area of our daily life, and it is much more widespread than "caring for widows and orphans, contributing to the building of hospitals, infirmaries, asylums, orphans' homes, and especially of churches, and to their decorations and income" (True Christian Religion 425). Charity certainly includes these things, and we must do them, but doing good is not limited to those activities.

Being charitable enters into our occupation, our worship, our good works, our obligations or duties, and even into our recreation.

Charity in Our Occupation

The genuinely good works of charity begin with our occupation or employment. Here, especially, we must do "good things because they belong to God and are from God." People who are looking to the Lord and shunning their evils as sins, and who are consequently carrying out the duties of their employment sincerely, honestly, and faithfully, are doing good from the Lord all day long (see The Doctrine of Charity 158-182). Doing good things is not a part-time occupation that begins only after work. Charity begins with our work. Our occupation gives us untold opportunities for doing good things, performing uses and services to others. In fact, this is the primary and most important means of expressing love for the neighbor.

Charity may be defined as doing good to the neighbor daily and continually, not only to the neighbor individually, but also to the neighbor collectively; and this can be done only through doing what is good and just in the office, business, and employment in which a person is engaged, and with those with whom he has any dealings; for this is one's daily work, and when he is not doing it, it still occupies his mind continually, and he has it in thought and intention. (True Christian Religion 423)

Since we need to know how good works or uses are to be done in various occupations, this knowledge has been provided. In Swedenborg's short work on charity, several specific examples are given of the way good works or uses are to be done in the following occupations: a priest, a magistrate, and the officials under a magistrate, a judge, the commander of an army and the officers under a commander, a common soldier, a merchant or businessperson, a worker, a farmer, a ship's captain and sailors, and finally servants (The Doctrine of Charity 158-172). There is, obviously, no lack of teaching on how charity applies in our occupation.

At least half our waking hours during the working week are taken up with the duties of our work, which makes our occupations the most constant and widespread instrument for being of use to others and to the common good.

Charity in Worship

Good things may also pervade our worship. Feelings of charity or goodwill flow in from the Lord to the extent that we shun our evils as sins. Then "all the acts of worship that are performed externally are signs [or manifestations] of" charity (The Doctrine of Charity 177). When we receive these good feelings, our worship is "from the heart," not just from the lips and the lungs, a sign or indication of charity within and a good thing done from the Lord.

Charity in Good Works

Good works are commonly called benefactions, good kind deeds that we are moved to do voluntarily. "But most of these things are not properly matters of charity, but extraneous to it" (True Christian Religion 425), for "charity and works are distinct from each other like will and action" (True Christian Religion 374). In fact, "no one is saved through these benefactions, but through the charity from which they are done, and which is therefore in those benefactions. These benefactions are outside of the person, but charity is within him; and everyone is saved according to the quality of the good or charity in him" (The Doctrine of Charity 185).

Nevertheless, these benefactions should be done, but prudently and from charity (True Christian Religion 425-428). They are done prudently when we consider the kind of life the recipient is leading. If we do not do this, we may well be doing good to evildoers, and so encouraging evil itself. For example, if we give a murderer a gun, we are not being charitable. We may also unwittingly confirm lazy people in their laziness or irresponsible people in their irresponsibility. After all, good from the Lord is what is to be loved and fostered.

Charity in Duties

We all have certain obligations or duties beyond the duties of our occupation. Some of them are public, relating to the requirements of government - local, state, and national - for example, paying taxes (True Christian Religion 430) and customs duties (The Doctrine of Charity 187). These duties are done from goodwill by people moved by spiritual charity, who from the Lord look to their country's welfare and "regard it as iniquitous to deceive or defraud" (True Christian Religion 430). Obligations of employers to their employees, and of employees to their employers are public duties. What a different world it would be if most people had a spiritual conscience with regard to their public duties!

In the home we have domestic duties: those of a husband toward his wife and of a wife toward her husband, those of fathers and mothers toward their children and of children toward their parents. These duties also can be done unwillingly from self or cheerfully from the Lord - from the good feelings of charity or goodwill that come from the Lord.

We also incur duties of a private nature, such as paying wages and bills, paying interest, fulfilling contracts, guarding securities, and some matters that become obligations because of a solemn promise. Keeping promises is meant to be a private duty of charity.

Charity in Recreation

Even our recreational activities - called by Swedenborg "the diversions of charity" - are included in the good things to be done from the Lord. These diversions or recreations are "various delights and pleasures of the bodily senses, useful for the recreation of the mind" (The Doctrine of Charity 189). We all know from experience that if our mind is not relaxed - if kept at the stretch all the time - its affections become dull, like salt that has lost its savor or "like a bended bow, which, unless it is unbent, loses the power that it derives from its elasticity. Just so the mind if kept from day to day in the same ideas, without variety" (The Doctrine of Charity 190).

For those who are employed, these diversions (or "turnings aside") are "diversions of employments." They are really diversions of the affections from which we do our work. As those affections are various in quality, so are our recreations. "They are one thing if the affection of charity is in them, another if there is in them an affection for honor only, another if there is an affection only for gain, another if they perform their duties only for the sake of support and the necessaries of life, another if only for a name so that they may be famous, or if only for the sake of salary so that they may grow rich, or that they may live in style, and so on" (The Doctrine of Charity 192).

What if charity from the Lord is present in these diversions or recreations? In that case the delight of being useful continues deep within them and is gradually renewed. "A longing for one's work breaks or ends them. For the Lord flows into them from heaven and renews; and He also gives an interior sense of pleasure in them, which those who are not in the affection of charity know nothing of. He breathes into them a fragrance, or, as it were, a sweetness perceptible only to oneself" (The Doctrine of Charity 193).

So those delights are entirely unknown to people who are not doing good from the Lord. Such heavenly delights seem incredible to them, because people like that have never experienced those deeper delights, and cannot understand anyone's having a longing to return to his or her work. Those who perform the duties of their calling from necessity and from selfish motives remote from service to others live for the weekend and recreation. "[T]heir duties are burdens to them" (The Doctrine of Charity 196).

All these examples show how good from the Lord is meant to penetrate every single activity of our lives. No area is exempt; everything is changed. "Behold! I make all things new" (Revelation 21:5).

A Call to Action

These good things need to be actually done. Merely to intend or will these things, to wish them or only think about them, is not sufficient. They must be done, and done perpetually:

That charity and faith do not profit a man so long as they remain in only one part of his body, that is, in his head, and are not fixed in works, is evident from a thousand passages in the Word.

From this it can be seen that charity and faith are not charity and faith until they exist in works, and that while they exist only in the expanse above works, that is, in the mind, they are like appearances of a tabernacle or temple in the air, which are nothing but a mirage, and vanish of themselves; or they are like pictures drawn on paper which moths consume; or they are like an abode on a housetop where there is no sleeping place, instead of in the house. All this shows that charity and faith are perishable things so long as they are merely mental or unless they are fixed in works and co-exist in them when possible" (True Christian Religion 376).

The internal and the external - the mind and the body - need to be working together.

The Motive

Finally, it is said that "these things should be done because they belong to God and are from God;' and for no lesser reason. We are to do these good works for the glory of our Father in heaven (Matthew 5:16) because they belong to God and His kingdom wherever it is received.

If we do these good things for the Lord's sake (because He has commanded them in His Word), we are truly loving Him. For He said, "He who has My commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves Me" (John 14:21).

From that saying of the Lord, the supreme importance of theology is evident once more. In order to do good works for the Lord's sake and thus to love Him, we need to know who He is, what He is like, what He does, and so on. The answers to these questions constitute theology - wisdom about God.

Wisdom implies understanding. The concept of the Lord as a Divine Person makes it possible for us to think of Him, to think of His Divine qualities, and also to picture Him as a real and living Person. This causes Him to be present in our mind. Theology becomes not only understandable but also practical and useable.

Religion, then, is the application of theology to life. We are applying theology to life whenever we reflect that "evils should not be done because they belong to hell and are from hell" (thus against the Lord) and that "good things should be done because they belong to God and are from God." Both ethics and morality teach that good works ought to be done, and many of such works are identical to those we have been considering. However, unless theology enters into them, unless they are done for the Lord and from the Lord, they are dead works. There is no spiritual life or animation in them. They are done from the natural part of the mind only, the spiritual part of the mind being closed off.

That is why the Lord said: "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, 'Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?' And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness"' (Matthew 7:21-23).

The great difference between spiritual life and mere morality is well brought out in the following passage from The Apocalypse Explained 182:1-2:

Moral life is acting well, sincerely, and justly with one's companions in all the affairs and occupations of life; in a word, it is the life that is apparent before men, because it is the life lived with them. But this life has a two-fold origin; it is either from the love of self and the world, or it is from love to God and love towards the neighbor.

The passage goes on to explain that a moral life lived from love of self and the world is not really moral, although it seems moral. People living like that use morality, sincerity, and justice as means to attain their self-centered and worldly goals. They have to keep their real goals secret, because otherwise they would destroy the favorable image they have created, which is their means of achieving their goals. "Such a life," the passage concludes, "is merely craftiness and fraud."

Acknowledging that all good is from the Lord saves us from a host of evils. The first step in being delivered from evil is to recognize its source - that it flows into us from hell, from outside of us. Similarly, all goodness also flows in from outside of us, from the Lord - all the good motives of charity, mutual love, and goodwill from which alone genuinely good works can be done. Acknowledging that the Lord is the only source of goodness saves us from the illusion that we do what is good entirely from ourselves. Consequently, we will be saved from a sense of merit, from a desire for reward, from self-glory, self-praise, self-righteousness, self-worship. We will worship only the Lord, recognizing His "worth-ship" - the original meaning of the word worship. We will do good works as if of ourselves, but we will gladly realize that in reality we do them of and from the Lord.

1. APPENDIX: The Devil

Traditionally, the devil has been regarded as a person - usually called Satan. This belief is confirmed by the account in the Gospels of the Lord's temptations, when He went into the wilderness for forty days and was tempted of the devil, who seems to be just one person. In the Gospel of Mark 1:13, it is said that the Lord was tempted "by Satan."

In some parts of the Christian Church, there has also sprung up a belief that this person called "the devil" is "a fallen angel." The reference usually quoted in support of this is Isaiah 14:12:

How are you fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! How are you cut down to the ground, you who did weaken the nations!

That verse, if wrested from its context, could give the impression that Lucifer was someone who had fallen from heaven.

But how this could happen is never explained. However, when we set this verse in its context, a very different picture emerges. Historically viewed, Isaiah 14 foretells Israel's triumph over Babylon. Specifically, verse 4 gives a warning to the king of Babylon: "You will take up this proverb against the king of Babylon, and say: 'How the oppressor has ceased, the golden city ceased!' Although a prophecy of the future, it is written as though the defeat had already taken place. This mode of writing is very common in the Old Testament.

In verse 12, the king of Babylon is called "Lucifer, son of the morning." The name Lucifer means "shining one:" This, coupled with the words "son of the morning", obviously refers to the splendor and glory of the Babylonian empire with its insatiable ambition to dominate. Verses 13 and 14 make this abundantly clear, for the king of Babylon is quoted as saying, "I will ascend into heaven.... I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will be like the Most High."

The "Lucifer" described here is not "the devil", nor was he ever in heaven itself! He only dreamed of ascending to heaven. The "heaven" from which Lucifer, the shining one, is said to have fallen is only an imaginary one - a "heaven" of his imagination. The passage does not say that he was actually in heaven. How could he be there when he was reigning over the Babylonian empire on earth?

The foundations for the notion that the devil is a fallen angel are really quite fragile. If we go beyond the literal sense to the spiritual meaning of this chapter, we can readily see that the subject is the fall of what is represented by Babylon (or Babel) - namely, the love of dominion, the love of ruling even over spiritual things and over heaven itself. The next few verses reveal the spiritual meaning of this chapter: "For you have said in your heart: 'I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God; I will also sit on the mount of the congregation on the farthest sides of the north; I will ascend above the height of the clouds, I will be like the Most High: Yet you shall be brought down to Sheol, to the lowest depths of the Pit" (Isa. 14:13-15).

Another passage sometimes quoted in support of the idea that the devil is a fallen angel is in the Gospel of Luke 10:18:

And (the Lord) said to them, I beheld Satan fall like lightning from heaven.

Again, the general context shows how this is to be understood. The Lord had sent out the disciples to preach the Gospel. They had returned rejoicing, saying, "Lord, even the demons are subject to us through Your name" (verse 17). The Lord's response about Satan's fall follows. The real heaven cannot be meant, for the Lord Himself pointed out in Luke 16 that there is a great gulf fixed between heaven and hell, so that those who wish to pass from heaven to hell cannot, neither can those come into heaven who would like to come out of hell (see Luke 16:26). That verse states a universal law admitting of no exceptions. The Lord was surely speaking figuratively to the disciples, confirming their observation that they had power over even the devils when they acted in His name. In verse 18, He was referring to casting out the devils from the "imaginary heavens" that had formed in the world of spirits.

Verse 15 reads: "And you, Capernaum, who are exalted to heaven, shall be thrust down to hell." Are we to suppose that the inhabitants of Capernaum here referred to are all "fallen angels" merely because Capernaum is said to be "exalted to heaven"? The inhabitants of Capernaum, living in this world, had never been to heaven, any more than Lucifer, king of Babylon had. The meaning is that Capernaum had exalted itself "to the sky," an equally faithful translation of the original Greek.

We conclude, then, that there is no basis either in Scripture or in common sense for the idea that the devil is a fallen angel. The idea that Satan is only one person was examined in chapter 10.

-from Douglas Taylor, Spirituality that Makes Sense (West Chester, PA: Swedenborg Foundation 2000)

Back to Further Reading


Swedenborg Biography
Heavenly Doctrines
The revelation process
Who is God?
The Word of God
Bible & the Writings
Time and Eternity
History of Religion
On Being Useful
Providence and  Evil
Getting Rid of Evil
The Death Process
Life after Death
Life on Other Planets
The Second Coming
Spiritual Marriage
Art & Literature


• Back • Home • Up • Next •

Escaping from Evil

Webmaster: IJT@swedenborgstudy.com