Swedenborg Study.com

Online works based on the Writings of Emanuel Swedenborg


Previous: VIII. Morality and Marriage Up: The Moral Life Next: Conclusion: Inadequacy of the Merely Moral Motive

IX. Morality in Uses

An attitude of wishing well to Society is the kernel of moral behavior. All the human virtues in their complex thus express themselves as a love and a zeal for the uses which will benefit humanity: a zeal on behalf of one's married partner, one's children, one's parents, one's fellow-citizens; a zeal for one's country, for the public good, and for religion (CL 164). In such zeal there is an image of Mutual Love, a love of others above oneself, which takes a permanent form in the performance of uses, but also an occasional and temporary form in punishing the evil.

All uses, therefore, all offices, functions, professions, and employments, profess themselves as forms of service to Society. But since the human virtues are not exactly balanced in any one man, the love or the zeal of each person is unique to him, so that no two people can perform a given use in exactly the same way, nor form the same combination of motives. The Writings indicate that in a man's works or deeds are contained all his affections. Indeed, man being merely a vessel of life, an instrument of use, all that is of real use, i. e., what is of eternal consequence, is not at all man's, but comes from the Lord through him. Nevertheless, in the sphere of man's finite cooperation with the Lord, man's character and thus his virtues and faults limit the ostensible uses which can be openly performed by him for other men. Some of these virtues and faults are innate or hereditary, some are acquired by habit in the course of his moral or spiritual life.

Since man is so composite a being, it is impossible for anyone to explore the full moral contents and, still less, the spiritual contents of any single use that man performs. "Man is in so obscure a perception and idea, that he is even unable to know whether he has charity, because he is not much sensible of affection; nor, if he has it, does he reflect upon it; but it is known from his zeal towards good and truth, and towards what is just and right." If he, for instance, "is in the zeal of punishing the evil to the end that they may become good, and that the good may not be hurt, and that the community might be freed from such, then he has charity, although it does not so appear; nor is he himself able to know this" (SD min. 4547).

In the zeal for uses, the spiritual virtues which man may have furnish the inmost motive, and these operate to stir up the moral virtues. But so far as man's natural degree is not reformed and regenerated, the moral virtues must call into service the subjugated but as yet unregenerate natural affections. Few, if any, at this day regenerate as to these sensual affections. And when they are permitted to be active on behalf of some use, they often appear as anger or as pride or as intemperate moods. This is what particularly appears in zeal. Yet all of these affections, spiritual, moral, and natural, are present together in a man's uses.

We call attention to this mixed state of the affections at this point, because the strength and intensity of our natural affections play an important part in forming those moral virtues which enter especially into the field of man's forensic uses. Virtues are not merely natural talents, or natural tendencies or hereditary affections, nor are they matters of training. But our moral virtues result from the way in which our rational mind takes advantage of the existing tendencies of our natural mind, and groups and develops and governs those tendencies to the benefit of the uses before us. So far as man afterwards regenerates, so far there is an actual change in the organization of the natural mind, and spiritual motives will displace the unregenerate natural affections by creating spiritual-natural affections in their stead, although the old natural affections still remain, modifying and limiting.

A man's usefulness, judged from the moral standards of society, comes largely from the energy with which he pursues his work; although the moderation and temperance, modesty and prudence, that he possesses, elevate the quality of his use and give it the necessary elements of wisdom and understanding and judgment. Energy is derived from love or affection, and is a measure of quantity. We express a man's energy in terms of Industry, Courage, Generosity, etc., that is, in terms of action.

Unfortunately for many, mankind has little use for misplaced energy; this, however extensive it may be, is merely waste action. With children, and in times of recreation, we suffer a certain amount of it. Yet even there it must be limited. Mere blind action, mere purposeless talk, mere excitement, mere boisterous noise or confused movement, are devoid of any moral meaning. Natural affections, unless rationally controlled, are signs of immaturity or of insanity, be they ever so energetic.

But morality, without energy behind it, is but a word! It is ineffective, futile; harmless, perhaps, but pure sentimentality none the less. True morality must, first of all, have Courage.


Moral courage is not merely the effervescence of physical, or even mental, recklessness! Swedenborg tells us that physical courage is mostly due to heredity or to temporary excitement, although it can be acquired by some, on occasions, through self-compulsion (R. Ps. 246-251, Char. 164). In either of these cases, however, it is not a virtue if it tends to recklessness, or senseless bravado, or cruelty, or a love of dominating. Ignorance often boldly intrudes where wise men fear to tread. What is recognized as moral courage is not the absence of fear, but the control of one's fears. It is the energy that springs from a sense of duty. " It has therefore been spoken of as "the executive side" of every virtue, although its most obvious form is seen in the warrior-patriot. Just as much moral energy is required to stand up against one's friends, or to refrain from "following a multitude to do evil", as to face an acknowledged foe. It is often harder for the soldier to remain inactive under hardships, boredom, and discipline, than to face danger. It is often braver to refuse to do what is wrong, than to do what is right.

There are thus many forms of courage or moral energy. We shall later consider them as they are combined into the concept of Industry, which specifically points them to a definite use. The Writings mention, for instance, Alacrity, which means a cheerful willingness and promptitude. An instant response comes from a full heart. In the heavens, spiritual angels must be convinced of their duties, and perceive their obligations by degrees as their reason is clarified. But the celestial angels, although indeed taught through angels of the spiritual kingdom, receive the Divine truth immediately into their lives: with them there is no argument, no hesitation, no doubt or delay. They act with alacrity! and so do we all when love urges us to haste. Alacrity, punctuality, instant volunteering for a service, are signs of a love of use. Love does not count the cost in terms of discomfort or time. It sees the need, anticipates the difficulties; while the faint heart hangs back, love goes ahead to smooth the way. Alertness expresses somewhat the same characteristic. It bespeaks a wide-awake, attentive readiness to perceive the needs of the neighbor, and to provide for them. And while alacrity and alertness are recognized as necessary elements of ordinary social courtesy, yet they are especially significant in a man's employment or office, as indications of the degree of intensity which his love of use possesses.

Earnestness and Sedulity

If we are really devoted to a use or a cause, we become earnest in its behalf. Our love of it will not tolerate half-heartedness or vacillation or irresponsible, flippant attitudes to it. It becomes a work, a set task, not merely a "hobby". We are willing to commit ourselves quite totally to it, to sacrifice our own welfare for its success. Firmness and decision then characterize our labor. We resolve to "see it through". We act from a conviction that it answers a real need. And this earnestness must not only contain moral courage, but must spring from true sincerity.

Sincere men may be mistaken and may act from very imperfect and partial understanding. But even though they may be in the light of some illusion, they will possess, while they are in it, a loyalty, a constancy, and a faithfulness which are admirable. It is true of all the virtues which have to do with moral energy, that they are genuine virtues only when they are accompanied with wisdom, intelligence and reason. Loyalty is thus at times the foe of progress, and delays the judgment of false positions and of evil undertakings. It is the loyalty of sincere men that makes possible the existence of the fictitious "heavens" in the spiritual world. Loyalty of such a kind is from persuasive faith which is untempered by intelligence. It asks no questions, but obeys or follows blindly, with abiding and unswerving devotion to something which it does not fully understand.

Wisdom dictates that we should give our unqualified loyalty only to Truth itself, and that we should place loyalty to uses and principles above loyalty to persons. Nevertheless, nothing worth while would be done unless there were those who had simple loyalty. All cannot understand everything! But it is important that every man should clearly understand the general principles which point to the common good. And when he resolves to support this with his loyalty, he may have to be satisfied to have faith in those whom he regards as more expert, until they are seen to be wrong.

He who is loyal to a use or an office, also possesses what the Writings call Assiduity. This word means a "close and continuous application or effort", personal attention to duty, perseverance in labor. Sedulous care in one's work is the road to progress, and this implies resistance to the distractions of pleasure or to the call of more immediate advantages. Assiduous labor is the rock on which man's uses are built. No amount of native genius or natural brilliancy can make up for the lack of hard work. It is when genius and assiduity are combined that something really great is accomplished.

Fortitude and Patience

Moral courage is often recognized as a continual persistence against opposition and difficulties. Then we call it Fortitude or Patience. To stand up against hardship tests the courage of our convictions and the inner reserve of energy in our moral will. Strength of character is seen especially in adversity. It is then that the real moral victories are won over oneself. And "he who conquers himself conquers all". It is easy to fight with the goal within reach; but to fight on in an apparently losing battle is real bravery, provided that the underlying faith is not an illusive vision beyond the realm of reality. Then it is only insanity.

Patience means self-control in still another sense. It is a struggle to refrain from acting before action is wise or beneficial. It requires strength of purpose. A weak man cannot wait. There is, in the moral realm, a need also for mental patience, for delay in forming opinions before all the facts have been made clear. We call this a suspension of judgment, and it is imperative in all intellectual progress. Impatient judgment partakes of materialistic thought, i. e., it is colored by the thought of time. If we have no patience, we are apt to judge from prejudice, from bias, from appearances, and especially from untamed natural affections or runaway passions.

Moral energy dictates patience before we commit ourselves by a final decision; constancy in carrying it out; and again patience with opposition. But moral wisdom dictates that we shall also pursue truth above all else, and bow to it at all times.


Courage, in all its forms, is founded on faith: not merely faith in self; but faith in the Truth and in the Good, faith that these shall, in the providence of the Lord, eventually triumph, because true strength comes only from virtue. Courage thus begins as Hope, or aspiration, and grows into Faith; it is not blind to the difficulties of its task, but it is optimistic because it is sure of the eventual use for which it is fighting. And because of this high faith, true courage does not become unscrupulous. It feels that it can afford rather to wait than to use unworthy means to gain a more immediate victory. It declines to accept the slogan that "the end justifies the means". It is not satisfied with any hollow victory brought on merely by brute force or compulsion through fear.

Munificence, Liberality, and Generosity

When we regard the virtues as to their quantity, we note that some men are praised because they are prudent and frugal, while others are esteemed for their generosity. For circumstances make that a virtue which best protects the uses which we perform. Munificence testifies of a heart full of benevolence or gratitude. Deprived of reason and wisdom, this virtue becomes utter profligacy which senses no responsibilities beyond those of the moment.

Liberality has a wider implication than munificence. Munificence denotes a love of giving gifts, or of lavishly rewarding others. Liberality includes, besides this, one's desire to interpret favorably the deeds and words of others, and to be tolerant and grant freedom to others even as he desires freedom for himself. A liberal-minded man desires to listen to ideas even contrary to his own, to judge them on their merits, and (if possible) put them to use. This often testifies of a love of truth. But equally often it testifies of a confused vision which cannot decide what is truth. Such "liberals" are easily swayed by any current of opinion. And in the world to-day, a "broad-minded" man usually means one who is so confused as to what is true or false, that he is tolerant and as it were "charitable" toward everything, especially if it is somewhat unpopular. Often he is for "the under-dog", right or wrong. He may immerse himself, with sympathy and tolerance, into any sphere of thought, and at the end, finding that he cannot really determine any truth, he becomes a prey to indifference.

True liberality is not mere sentimentality, for it does not blind itself to truth, and does not give up what it knows as true principle in order to enter sympathetically into a foreign sphere of thought. It may feel pity for a criminal and strive to understand criminal psychology in order the better to assist him to reform; but it will not permit itself to forsake the principles of justice or to ignore the public welfare.

The virtue of Generosity goes further, and grants forgiveness even to one's foes. It is the essence of the Christian virtues, for it is stripped of revenge and retaliation. When the Lord, on the cross, prayed, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do", He included all men, and even angels. For none of us know the full extent of our trespass, the unforeseen consequences of our evils. So far, all are forgiven. And so far, we must forgive. Yet this virtue of "generosity" is very vulnerable. It is mistaken for weakness, or for apathy towards evil. It is so that men misinterpret the Lord's permission of evil and disorder.

The virtues which describe the intensity, the duration, the extent and quantity of moral effort, must be continually tempered by justice and wisdom and prudence. So governed, they must enter into that final virtue which looks to the specific uses and occupations, businesses and crafts and offices that sustain the Common Good, and in turn receive from the commonwealth the rewards of use. This virtue the Writings call Industry.

Industry and Leisure

In heaven "they shun idleness as they would the pestilence". For only in use is there protection and health for mind and body. It is in the sphere of his use or calling that man finds the continual outlet for his moral virtues, and it is there that his charity takes form. For "charity itself is to act justly and faithfully in the office, business and work in which he is and with whomsoever he has any intercourse" (TCR 422).

Thus the heavenly prince told Swedenborg:

"The love of use, and from this love, zeal in use, holds the mind together lest it should melt away and wander about and drink in all the lusts which flow in from the body and from the world, through the senses with their allurements, whereby the truths of religion and the truths of morality with their goods are scattered to all the winds. But the zeal of the mind in use holds and binds these together, and disposes the mind into a form capable of receiving wisdom from those truths; and then it thrusts aside the illusions and the mockeries of both falsities and vanities." (CL 16)

A well defined task or office, with its steady responsibilities, normalizes a man.

One reason why use has this beneficial effect is that a man's mind is then turned away from himself and to the needs of society. This invites the sustaining spheres of heaven, reduces the mind into order, and the body as well. Uses call for cooperation, for contacts, for accommodation of one's self-interest to social and moral ends. And the internal law is that whenever anything has been reduced into order, a general influx from heaven flows into it, which renders it easy and spontaneous. The practice of a use in a sedulous way therefore makes for an increasing perfection, and thus increases man's contribution to society which then returns it in manifold fashion, far out of proportion to the tiny gift which that individual offered.

A use is meant to meet a real need, not an imagined one. And in man's choice of a vocation in life, the thought of "earning a living" must be tempered by the moral question as to what the needs and requirements of society actually are, and what ability and talent and strength man has to offer. Only to follow talent or inclination, without thought of the needs of society, is to invite such complications as abound in the world to-day.

To the best of our judgment and ability we must look towards doing the work that has to be done, the task which we see immediately ahead. That is to say, we must be willing to follow the indications of Providence; and these come to us mostly through others. Yet if we do this, as is done in heaven, our talents and pounds will tend to increase in the course of our work, and we will find the place for which the Lord has secretly prepared us.

Resistance to laziness is thus a matter of moral and spiritual conscience. Yet it is not according to the Divine plan, nor according to the public interest, nor best for man's development, for a man to immerse himself into his work so unceasingly as to act no longer as a social being.

"There is", the Doctrine of Charity declares, "an affection in every employment. And it strains the mind, and keeps it intent upon its work or study. This, if it be not relaxed, becomes dull, and its desire flags, as salt that has lost its savor, or as a bended bow, which, unless it be unbent, loses the power that it derives from its elasticity. Just so the mind, kept from day to day in the same ideas, without variety" (op. cit., 190). The effect is likened to snow-blindness. Work without relaxation makes for a one-sided character, and dulls man's perception to the proper subordination and coordination of uses and thus to his true relationship to others. And it is for the sake of others that uses are really to be performed.

It is on this account that Charity, as well as Morality, demands that there be diversions, "which are the various delights and pleasures of the bodily senses, useful for the recreation of the mind" (Char. 189). Chief among these diversions is, of course, Rest. Nature demands periodicity, sleep, relative passiveness. To deprive the mind and body of actual physical rest by turning each night into a time for revelry, is certainly not what is meant by recreation! The Writings depict with unsparing realism the bestial character of those who live for the sake of sensual diversions. Their spirits, we are told, are unclean; they are human beasts, dead; they are public burdens; nor have they any real rest or peace of mind, even after death, for they become slaves amidst the turmoil and confusion of the hells (Char. 194, 196).

Leisure and diversions are intended as the rewards of use. To perform one's duties merely from a love of reward--merely for the sake of making money or to find the means for pleasure--makes for a pathetically sordid life. When a man lives for pleasure alone, ordinary diversions will lose their thrill and become dull and boring unless indulged in to excess. And soon he would seek out perverted and unwholesome forms of entertainment; until he can no longer see any difference between right and wrong, or even between degrees of evil. The test of true recreations is that the affection of use remains inwardly within the pleasure of the diversions, and gathers new strength while it is thus resting; and when it is renewed, it again appears as a longing to get back to work, or to prepare for the uses of the morrow (Char. 193). Such true pleasure partakes of a spiritual fragrance, which answers to the needs of the mind and is modified by its virtues.

Diligence or industry can therefore be understood only in connection with sensible diversions. And it is of utmost importance to moral life and to the proper growth of society, that the problem of work and play should be rightly viewed. There was a time when in the simple life of the farm and the home, the lines between work and amusement were not so distinctly drawn. And where the love of use rules, a congenial occupation often still combines so many delightful phases that even its arduous tasks become pleasant. But with the rise of mechanical industrialism, many groups and classes of men have been involved in uses which seem to them as an unintelligible and soul-less routine. And it is claimed that the minds of many therefore tend to develop along merely fatalistic behavior-channels which make them creatures of habit rather than of reason; so that they cease to exercise the individual initiative and free moral conscience which should be the mainsprings of human enterprise, and instead are moved blindly by the mob-emotions and mass-opinions which are fraught with a tremendous danger to Society. Others assure us that technical advances in industry will call increasingly for specializations which will lend interest and variety to our labors, and thus provide a freer field for our human qualities.

It may however be of Providence that the adoption of mass-production methods should make it possible that more leisure-time be granted to many classes of labor. For individual enterprise and moral freedom are given new opportunities in leisure. But it is recognized that at the same time a new philosophy of leisure and usefulness must be formed with each individual, which will take account of the fact that "laziness is the devil's pillow", and that the moral temptations which we must meet find us especially vulnerable when the protective sphere of a definite use does not envelop us.

Previous: VIII. Morality and Marriage Up: The Moral Life Next: Conclusion: Inadequacy of the Merely Moral Motive


Webmaster: IJT@swedenborgstudy.com