Swedenborg Study.com

Online works based on the Writings of Emanuel Swedenborg


The Divine of Use

by George deCharms

As the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven, and do not return there, but water the earth, and make it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it (Isaiah 55:10, 11).

This is a prophecy concerning the Divine of use, which is the subject of our present investigation. What does it really mean?

Jehovah God is an infinitely perfect Man, in Whom there is a trinity of love, wisdom, and use. The Divine of love is that which God intends; the Divine of wisdom is what He thinks, and the Divine of use is what He does. Love and wisdom are faculties of the mind, but use is possible only by means of a body. The body of God is the created universe by means of which alone He can perform the uses which His love foresees, and which His wisdom provides.

The Writings appear to teach that from the beginning God had the two superior degrees in actuality, and the third degree only in potency. Swedenborg writes:

It had been told me from heaven that in the Lord from eternity, who is Jehovah, before His assumption of a Human in the world, the two prior degrees existed actually, and the third degree potentially, as they do also with angels; but that after the assumption of a Human in the world, He put on over these the third degree which is called the natural, thereby becoming Man like a man in the world, but with this difference, that in the Lord this degree, like the prior degrees, is infinite and uncreate, while in angel and man they are all finite and created. For the Divine, which apart from space had filled all spaces, penetrated even to the outermost of nature; yet before the assumption of the Human, the Divine influx into the natural degree was mediate through the angelic heaven, but after the assumption it was immediate from Himself (DLW 233).

How can we understand this? From the beginning of time God was immediately present in the whole of His creation. It could not be otherwise, for nothing can exist apart from God. But before Jesus Christ was born, Divine influx into the natural minds of men was effected only through the angelic heavens. Note well: the influx here referred to was not into the world of nature, but into the natural minds of men. This is important because it renders the whole teaching understandable. God was always present in the natural world. That this was true all men took for granted; but no one actually saw Him there; nor could anyone understand how He could be there. God spoke to men only by means of the prophets who saw the angel of Jehovah in dreams and visions. From time to time an angel appeared to men as is recorded in Genesis 18, in Judges 13, to David in II Samuel 24, and elsewhere. But such appearances were always in spiritual vision. He was never seen with the eyes of the body. That is why it is said that the Lord always had the two interior degrees in actuality but the natural degree only in potency.

Jesus Christ was born in order that men might see God as present in the natural world. By conception and birth Jesus Christ took on a material body, to all appearance just like the body of all men. While He was living on earth, all who came to believe in Him did perceive something of His Divine nature. They saw His Divine love in His miracles of healing diseases and His raising the dead to life. They saw His Divine power in His command over the winds and the waves. They perceived something of His Divine wisdom in His marvelous teaching. But even the twelve apostles who forsook all to follow Him did not even begin to see His true Divinity until after He had risen from the dead. Even then they could not understand how He could be one with the infinite Jehovah. This is the reason why Jesus Christ was born into the world. It was of paramount importance that God should become consciously present with men on earth - present, that is, in their natural minds. As this takes place, God is said to put on the Divine Natural which before He had only in potency.

Before men could even begin to see God as actually present in nature, they had to develop a natural rational, that is, a scientific understanding of the laws of nature, and how these laws operate for the benefit of mankind. Such a natural rational must precede any spiritually rational understanding of the Divine Word. For the first time in the history of mankind, this "internal sense of the Word" has been set forth plainly by the Lord at His second coming, by means of "the Heavenly Doctrine of the New Jerusalem."

By a natural rational is meant an understanding based on sense experience, and developed progressively by man's own effort. Everyone is endowed by the Lord with a spontaneous delight in so doing, which is called "curiosity." What one discovers in this way during infancy and childhood is known, but it is not really understood. That is, it is not understood by one's own reason. Children are dependent upon parents and teachers to explain the meaning of what they learn from nature.

They accept the rational understanding of all things from others, because they have confidence in those who teach them. No one can begin to develop his rational faculty until he begins to think for himself as he approaches adult age.

What is true of the individual is true also of the race. The entire race, in the sight of the Lord, is a "greater man." It must progress by stages from its infancy, through its childhood, even to youth and adult age. Those who lived at the time of the Most Ancient Church felt no need for a natural rational. They enjoyed an inner perception of truth directly from God, and accepted it without question because they had confidence in the Angel of Jehovah who appeared to them in heaven and taught them. Those who lived in the Ancient Church era learned from heaven the "science of correspondences," that is, the spiritual meaning that underlies all the visible objects of nature. They accepted these correspondences in a childlike manner but felt no need to explore any natural understanding of them. They were interested in nature only as a means of worshipping the Lord. They thought of mountains and groves as places of worship. They built altars of earth and stone on which to: offer in thankfulness to God the produce of the earth. They consecrated to God animals and birds, because these represented to them human loves, affections and thoughts. They looked upon the stars as the habitations of angels and sought to learn from them the wisdom of life. They looked upon the sun as the abode of God and designed places of worship to bring the light of the sun visibly present at the time of worship. Later they built marvelous structures for the burial of the dead and to provide for the needs of the spirit in the afterlife. But they had no concept of scientific investigation to acquire a natural understanding of the laws of nature. For them these laws were the mysterious operations of God, completely unintelligible to human beings.

At the time when the Lord was born the race was in its youth. Men were just beginning to think for themselves, and as is the case with all youths their first attempts to do this were largely unsuccessful. In the early days of the Christian Church men were fascinated with the teaching of the gospels. Above all; they wanted to understand how Jesus Christ was God. This many of them believed with all their hearts, but how it could be true they could not understand. Controversy arose which threatened to destroy the church, and the famous Christological councils were convened to determine the official doctrine of the church. This led to the conclusion that there are three persons in the Godhead, each of whom is Divine and Infinite. This was contrary to all reason, but it preserved some idea that Jesus Christ is God. So eager were men to understand the Word that the early church fathers vied with one another in their attempts to present their own interpretations. Many of these were purely fantastic, and beyond belief. To preserve a simple faith in the Bible, the Catholic clergy forbade any interpretation except that of the clergy, and later, for the same reason, the Protestant Church decreed that the literal sense alone was to be regarded as having authority.

It was imperative that men should learn to think rationally, and we believe that the First Christian Church was in Providence used as a means whereby this might be brought about. That this is true seems to be confirmed by history, for only among Christian nations was there found the irresistible urge to think on the basis of sensation as the final criterion of truth. Because the established pronouncements of the church, when critically examined, were found to be inconsistent with the facts of sensual observation, a violent conflict arose. Science appeared to be contrary to religion. Indeed the faith of Christian scientists was sorely tried. But a fundamental truth had been discovered, namely, that sound thinking must be based on something independent of the human mind. It must be based on creation itself. Here we are confronted with a seeming paradox. Although God created nothing that did not promote the establishment of an angelic heaven, the material universe was formed of objects and of forces which could never become part of heaven. Fixed time and space, which are characteristic of all things in nature, must be left behind, together with the material body, when man dies. Nevertheless, the Writings appear to teach that the material universe is the very body of God. So we read:

If God were not One, the universe could not have been created and preserved. The unity of God may be inferred from the creation of the universe because the universe is a work coherent from things first to things last, and dependent upon one God as a body upon its soul. The universe was so created that God might be omnipresent, and hold each and all its parts under His direction, and keep its parts together as one body perpetually, which is to preserve it (TCR 13).

It becomes clear from other teachings, however, that God does not dwell in objects of space and time. "He is in space without space, and in time without time." Objects of space and time are not His body; they are only tools by means of which He can perform the uses for the sake of which they were created. God is present in the material universe as the Divine of use. It is a matter of supreme importance for men to know this, and to understand it. Only as they learn to think of things not from their physical characteristics but from their use can they advance from a purely natural rational to the spiritual understanding of all things. Use in itself is Divine. It is the will of God made manifest in what He does. To perceive the use of any created thing is to see in it the love and the wisdom of the Creator. To regard material objects as uses is to perceive their inner quality, which is the very form of heaven. So regarded, material objects are stripped of their material qualities of fixed space and time, and appear as spiritual forms, representing what is heavenly and Divine.

How this can be true may be grasped in some degree if we reflect upon the way we regard a gift from a friend who is deeply loved. It is dear to us, not because of its size or its shape, or its monetary value, but solely because it represents to us the love and thought of the friend who gave it to us, and inspires in us a similar love in return. If we regard the objects of nature as gifts from God, and if by means of them as uses we see God present in them, their physical properties become irrelevant, and they are transformed into spiritual objects. This is the way the objects of nature are transformed into the beautiful objects that surround the angels in heaven. That is the reason why no objects can appear in heaven which have not been seen, in whole or in part, by men in the world. It is why material things were created by the Lord, namely that there might be a heaven of spiritual objects in the midst of which men might live after the death of the body.

It must be well understood, however, that the objects of nature have no power in themselves whereby they might perform the uses for which they are Divinely intended. These uses must be done by the Lord Himself, and to do them He must be immediately present in nature. That this is the case becomes evident when we realize how innumerable, how complex, and how inclusive of all the objects and forces of nature these Divine uses are. Concerning this we read:

All things created by the Lord are uses; they are uses in the order, degree, and respect in which they have relation to man, and through man to the Lord, from Whom they are (DLW 327).

By man to whom uses have relation is meant not only an individual but an assembly of men, also a society smaller or larger, as a commonwealth, kingdom, or empire, or that largest society, the whole world, for each of these is a man (DLW 328).

Uses for sustaining the body relate to its nourishment, its clothing, its habitation, its recreation and enjoyment, its protection and the preservation of its state (DLW 331).

Uses for perfecting the rational are all things that give instruction about the. subjects' above mentioned, that is, all sciences and branches of study pertaining to natural, economical civil and moral affairs, which are learned either from parents and teachers, or from books, or from intercourse with others, or by reflection on these subjects by oneself. These things perfect the rational so far as they are uses in a higher degree, and they are permanent as far as they are applied to life (DLW 332).

Uses for receiving the spiritual from the Lord are all things that belong to religion and to worship therefrom, thus all things that teach the acknowledgment and knowledge of God and the knowledge and acknowledgment of good and truth and thus eternal life. These may be learned by the same means as stated above concerning the sciences. And in the Christian world from the Word (DLW 333).

We have quoted these numbers to show how all-inclusive is that which is called THE DIVINE OF USE.

The difference between the natural rational and the spiritual rational is that the first is developed by regarding all things from their material properties of space and time; the latter is developed by regarding all things according to their use. But the development of the sciences must come first, and only on the basis of such a rational can spiritual understanding be achieved. This being the case, it may be seen that the Lord in His Providence is guiding and directing the scientific explorations of our day as a means of leading men at last to receive and understand the Heavenly Doctrine through which Jesus Christ speaks to men at His second advent in order to establish, both in heaven and on the earth, the New Christian Church whereby He brings to fulfillment the promise of all the ages, the worship of a visible God whose immediate presence in nature is seen through THE DIVINE OF USE. Therefore the Lord says through the prophet Isaiah: "As the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven, and do not return there, but water the earth, and make it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it" (Isaiah 55:10, 11).

-New Church Life 1984;104:212-217

Back to Uses Introduction page


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 •

Divine of Use

Webmaster: IJT@swedenborgstudy.com