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Online works based on the Writings of Emanuel Swedenborg



It is the continual aim of the Divine providence that man may become a heaven in form and thus an image of the Lord, a receptacle of the gifts of life and of love and wisdom. And "the inmost" of that Divine providence is that every one should be continually prepared by the Lord for his own place in heaven, or — what is the same — for his own place in the Grand Man of heaven. What the Writings call "the Grand Man" is a structure of possible uses; a structure so sublime and perfect that no man can see it in its wholeness, yet can see it in an image in all the complex organs and viscera that cooperate spontaneously in the human body. But this allotment of a place in heaven is accomplished only for those who permit the Lord to lead them to heaven. These the Lord prepares for their own places in heaven.1 On the other hand, the man who — in freedom — does not permit the Lord to lead and assign him to heaven, is prepared for his own place in hell. The Lord indeed continually withdraws such a man from the lowest hell to which he gravitates, and bends him to a milder hell, yet if he cannot be so withdrawn he is allotted a place in hell according to the love that rules in him. And this place is opposite to a certain place in heaven.2

"If the Lord did not lead the states of human minds every least moment," the minor evils into which man fell by his own choice would lead to incredible extremes — greater and greater to eternity — even as an arrow shot from a bow would go farther from its mark the longer it travels if its aim was but slightly erroneous. But the Lord foresees "with an unceasing adaptation" how each man would lead himself, and leads him "from infancy even to the end of his life," in the least unnoticed events, foreseeing and providing his place.3

When we say that the Lord provides a "place," we mean that the Lord provides a use, a function which can become a means for his happiness; for usefulness is the only means toward happiness, even in hell. Yet "a man is not born for his own sake, but for the sake of others."4 His happiness is not an end in itself; but the end is use — uses to others by which happiness can come to others and then revert to him. Each man is born a certain form of use into which he is gradually led by his own affections, his form of mind, his native bent, his education and training, his free decision and effort. No man can survive without performing a use of some kind. Whether he comes to perform this use from a love of self alone or from a love of use for the sake of home, society, the commonwealth, the church, and heaven, depends on his own choice of inner delights.

And it is this free choice that determines whether he finds a place in heaven or an opposite place in hell. The Lord, from His infinite love, leads every man towards conjunction with Himself in heaven; but from His infinite wisdom He foresees whether man — in his freedom — is willing to follow. Thus we read: "The operation of the Divine providence for the salvation of man is said to begin at his birth and to continue unto the end of his life. To understand this it must be known that the Lord sees of what quality man is and foresees what he will want to be, thus what he will be; and in order that he may be a man, and therefore immortal, the freedom of his will must not be taken away. . . . Hence the Lord foresees man's state after death, and provides for it from his birth until the end of his life. . . . Since, then, the Lord foresees the states of all after death, and also foresees the places in hell of those who are not willing to be saved, and the places in heaven of those who are willing to be saved, it follows that for the evil . . . the Lord provides their places by permitting and withdrawing, and for the good by leading; and unless this were done unceasingly ... neither heaven nor hell would continue to exist, for without that foresight and providence together neither heaven nor hell would be anything but confusion. ..." The Lord, every moment, regards the eternal. For "the entire future is present to Him and the entire present is to Him eternal."5

The Divine foresight is necessary in order that the freedom of man be protected. Wisdom must know beforehand in order that love may provide and ameliorate. But the Divine foresight does not interfere with the human choice between heaven and hell, but is the means whereby Divine love prevents such choice under conditions where it would not be really free. It is therefore shown in the Doctrine that man, when acting from freedom, does not act "from necessity." There is no such thing as "fate," and human life is not shaped by the unavoidable force of circumstances.6 Nor is the Lord "bound by necessity," for the things, most essential, which flow from the secret operations of His providence, "do not follow from necessity, but in application to the freedom of man."7

All men are created for heaven. Every one who is born can be saved, and be regenerated according to his state.8 The Lord's foreknowledge does in no way imply any "predestination to hell" for any man. To believe, as some do, that the Lord suffers some to be born for heaven and some for hell, by a Divine selection which no man can alter, and that this is done by God to manifest His majesty and power, is "a cruel heresy" which involves "abominable accusations against the Divine."9 But the same imputation of evil to the Divine is contained in the belief that God can save any man out of pure mercy apart from means and apart from man's free cooperation. Such a belief as that man is saved by faith alone — faith granted by Divine grace to some and not to others — and that God can change man's state in a moment from damned to saved, even on his death-bed, induces a false security which blinds man to the need for repentance and for the shunning of evils as sins against God.10

If God could assign all to heaven without man's choice entering in, all would be saved. But heaven is not a place into which souls can be herded and made happy merely by being within its bounds. Heaven is a state of delight. A novitiate spirit in the other life, inquiring what heaven was, was told, "Learn what delight is and you will know what heaven and hell are." And after inquiring he learned that the very being of man is love and that the activity of love makes the sensation of delight. Love, or good, inflows from the Lord into every one, but man in his freedom receives it as a delight in wisdom or turns it into a delight in insanity. The delight which man finally makes his own, becomes permanent; for he can have neither will nor sensation, thus no life, without it.11

Every one is born for heaven. This is the reason why all children who die in their childhood are received and trained in heaven and become angels, differing according to their genius. And similarly all men are saved unless they have employed their freedom as responsible adults to confirm evils by falsities with deliberation. Evils of heredity are not imputed to men, but only evil conjoined with falsity. Children who die at a tender age are in a state of innocence, and innocence is the love of being led and instructed. They enter freely into this love, and feel it as their own, even though they never have the opportunity, as adults have, of developing any contrary ruling love, i.e., an evil love.

Is this lack of opportunity a curtailment of human freedom? Certainly the children in heaven do not so regard it! But possibly we might mistakenly imagine that human freedom requires a choice between heaven and hell. If so, evil must have come actually by creation! when yet "God saw every thing that He had made, and behold, it was very good." There was always plenty of choice for man between higher goods and lesser goods. (CL 444:3) Freedom does not depend on the existence of evil or of the hells. The choice that presents itself before each man differs in scope and kind. And since evil arose and the hells present their allurements to men, every adult can choose evil.

Under such circumstances, it would be a denial of freedom if the Divine prevented man from confirming his chosen delights by permitting him to taste the delights of evil but not to keep them, not to remain in them. The testimony of Swedenborg concerning the devils is that after much experience they were unanimous about one thing — "that they would a thousand times rather live in hell than out of it."12 Nor must we forget that in the spiritual world "eternity" is not thought of as time but as state.13

The notion of the "Universalists" — those who believe in the ultimate redemption of the hells and thus in a universal salvation — is therefore as untenable for New Church men as the alternative idea that at the last judgment or the end of this world the wicked would be annihilated and only the saved survive. The official belief among Protestants is that the disembodied spirits of the dead will "sleep" or at best flit about in vacuity until the day of judgment when they are to be judged to heaven or to hell. The more literalistic among Protestants and Catholics picture the hells as a place of unceasing physical punishments by fire and brimstone — torture of body as well as of soul; which has caused a revulsion of feeling in modern times against the idea of any hell at all, or even of any after-life. The Roman Catholics also introduced the idea of a Purgatory, a fiery place in which those who die in grace must by sufferings make amends for their minor sins and for "every idle word" before being worthy of heaven. The Writings describe the Roman doctrine of Purgatory as a "figment" and "a fable" invented to terrify the populace and increase the power of the priesthood.14 For the truth is that in the world of spirits a soul is not held accountable for what he did on earth but for that which he still persists in doing. Nor can the prayers of men or the assistance of "patron saints" aid the souls of the dead.15

Redemption from "the Lower Earth"

It must be recognized that there are appearances in the letter of certain Scriptures which have been invoked to confirm each of the different doctrines of the Christian world about hell. Even the un-scriptural Catholic teaching about Purgatory finds a faint authorization in a statement of Paul that "the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is; ... he himself shall be saved, yet so as by fire." (1 Cor. 3:13, 15)

But though there be no Purgatory, there are in the "lower earth" below the world of spirits places of detention where souls unprepared for heaven undergo vastations — and the more dire of these may be mistaken for hells because they are surrounded by hells which infest them. Indeed, in the early part of the Spiritual Diary and in the first volume of the Arcana, Swedenborg describes them as hells which are redeemed. For the spirits therein felt as if they were in hell. Those who are kept in these "lower earths" are spirits who from simplicity or ignorance have imbibed falsities of religious belief and yet have been dutiful and conscientious according to their light, and have avoided hatred, revenge, and adultery. To get rid of false principles and misplaced loyalties is a difficult and long process, and is attended with heartaches and the pain of disillusionment. Such spirits must be reduced to complete confession of ignorance and to obscurity and confusion, and experience many phantasies in which they feel themselves utterly without hope of salvation, and think that their torment would be eternal. But Swedenborg records that, conversing with them while under a special protection by angels, he was "permitted to comfort them." And he tells of innumerable instances, especially after the Last Judgment, when such spirits were released by the thousands and thus redeemed from hell, to be taken up into places where angels instructed them for life in heavenly societies.16

In referring to these places of vastation, where multitudes of spirits were confined and as it were imprisoned before the Last Judgment, Swedenborg (as was noted) sometimes calls them "hells," using the language of Scripture. Thus it is said in the Psalms: "Thou wilt not leave my soul in hell." (Ps 16:10) "The sorrows of hell encompassed me." (Ps 18:5) "Thou hast delivered my soul from the lowest hell." (Ps 86:13) And Peter wrote that Christ, having been put to death in the flesh, was "quickened by the Spirit, by which He also went and preached unto the spirits in prison" — meaning in Hades or "the lower earth." (1 Peter 3:19)

Swedenborg also testifies that spirits, especially evil spirits, are sometimes sent down into special hells for punishment; from whence they are later delivered. And devils are often immersed into such hells to be punished; and each punishment removes something of evil, for it imbues them with horror and fear of doing it.17 For punishments in the other life are never unceasing, nor are they imposed except for the purpose of amendment. No spirit is punished without purpose, such as that he "may be so tempered as to be able to be in a good society," or in an orderly state.18 Unless this were the effect, "the evil spirit must necessarily be kept in some hell to eternity" — that is, kept in a hell of punishment continually, which is "contrary to Divine wisdom" with its end of good. For "there is no man who is not liable to eternal damnation, because in no one is there anything but mere evil" as to his proprium.19 Looked upon from Divine truth, every one would be condemned! Yet the Divine love and mercy as it were intercedes and saves, so far as man will allow.20 But in an evil state, as in hell, man cannot receive the Lord's mercy in love, but only in the fear that follows punishment.

The Eternity of Hell and the Permanence of Character

As noted above, there have been those in the New Church who seized upon the teachings about these places of vastation and punishment to confirm their opinion that the hells are eventually all to be redeemed; and articles have been published even in New Church journals advocating the view that hell is not eternal. Since there are hundreds of statements in the Writings which explicitly state that "he who once enters hell remains there to eternity" or that the life contracted in the world abides with man forever, some irresponsible writers have suggested that perhaps there may be a "new law" established after the Last Judgment — a law of "celestial" type — by which the hells will eventually be redeemed and changed, but which Swedenborg did not know aboutl21

To repeat the innumerable asseverations of the Writings that hell is eternal, is hardly necessary, as it is a cardinal doctrine.22 But it is of interest to note that every Divine revelation has implied or expressed the same teaching. Daniel wrote that the risen dead would awake, "some to everlasting life and some to shame and everlasting contempt." (12:2) The Gospels and the Apocalypse speak of hell as everlasting fire and eternal damnation. (Matt. 18:8, 25:46, Mark 3:29, 9:43ff, Rev. 20:10)

That which gives eternal permanence to a man's character is his ruling love which he acquires and confirms during his life on earth. And since it is of mercy that he is free to choose this love and its delights, it is provided that what he chooses and loves shall be preserved in his mind and life, as memory and as habit. What he loves and confirms by thought and act becomes more and more easy to recall and repeat. Repetition of the same mental states of intention and effort give facility and spontaneity both to thought and to action, and establishes habits which are engraven in the very organism of his spirit and his body, until he acts almost unconsciously from his confirmed affections, as if from "second nature."

It is well known that it is by training and habit that one acquires skill and perfection in any field of work or play. But the Writings reveal that it is by his life in the body that man's eternal character, or the ruling love of his spirit, is formed and confirmed. For spiritual substance — the substance of man's soul and spirit and mind — is such that by itself it has no permanence of form, or constancy, for it does not possess the quality of space or of time. This is the reason why no angels could be created directly into the spiritual world, but must first be born on an earth. We must here briefly summarize what was shown in greater detail in our second chapter: The human soul, in order to become an immortal and permanent individual being, must be adjoined to a body of natural substances and thus find a beginning in time and become associated with a world of space, and thus become limited, or individualized, as a form of potential use different from any other. Each human soul, already before birth, is differentiated by being an offshoot of the paternal soul and spirit, as well as by a distinct heredity from the mother. Yet the soul does not become individualized, permanent and immortal, except by the act of birth and the experience of sensation as a free being.

From the time of birth — the opening of the lungs and the beginning of conscious sensation — the soul commences to mold its own substance into the forms which we call the mind, and begins to arrange all sensations and experiences into harmony with its own various preferences. And when rational freedom is attained, it is man's free spiritual choice that determines the internal form of the mind or spirit, and decides its ruling love. And it is to be specially noted that the spirit forms itself always by reference to the sensations of the body, and confirms that form by efforts and actions in the body. It is the world of sensations, which the body and brain present before the mind, that allows the spirit to exert its free choice, its valuations of delights, its selection of good and truth or of evil and falsity. The soul thus assumes a ruling love according to the choice and free decision of its rational mind; or — what is the same — the ruling love is formed, and once formed, is fixed by life in the material body.

Thus evil — and hell — cannot arise except in human minds living in earthly bodies. Man's mind from birth is of three degrees. The two highest—the "celestial" and the "spiritual"—are always in the order of heaven. But the lowest of the three mental degrees is the "ultimate spiritual" or "spiritual-natural," and is called the natural mind. The natural mind operates among the inmost organics of the physical body, and there only "can the ultimate spiritual separate itself from the superior degrees" and become perverted into evil.23 It is in the rational of the natural mind that man's eternal choice is made.

The further explanation is given, that "no man's life can be changed after death, because it has been organized according to his love and the works therefrom; that if it were changed, the organization would be torn apart, which can never be done; also that a change in organization is possible only in the material body, and is entirely impossible in the spiritual body after the former has been cast off."24

It might be thought that a change could still occur after death, since the spirit of man retains from its abode in the material body a "limbus" or fringe of the inmost substances of nature as a perennial medium by which he is provided with something relative to the things which are in nature, and something which — by remaining in the world of space and time — shall preserve and limit his existence as an immortal individual.25 But this "limbus," although it must contain a record of all man's natural experiences, cannot any more change its form, for there are no longer any natural sense-organs to induce changes upon it. Instead, it guarantees that the corporeal memory, which recorded man's external experiences in the world, shall become quiescent and inactive and unchanged forever.

Attention is called by the Writings to this "corporeal memory" as the plane in which all the interior things of a man's mind are terminated while on earth. For every man orders his memory according to his affections and preferences, so that the association of each idea (or field of ideas) with every other is a perfect picture of his whole character and ruling love. The agreement or harmony of his internal, rational, or spiritual man with this memory, remains, after death as it was on earth. Man's interiors can indeed grow and be perfected — as with the angels and with infants who grow up in heaven. But the external — or the corporeal or sensual memory — cannot grow or change. And there can be no growth of internals except so far as the order which man has imposed upon his external memory will allow it! If a man has ordered his corporeal memory into a form corresponding to an infernal love, his interiors can never alter and put on a heavenly quality. And this, Swedenborg notes in his Diary, is illustrated by the Biblical proverb (in Ecclesiastes 11:3) that "if the tree fall toward the south or toward the north, in the place where the tree falleth, there it shall be."26

The mind that we form while on earth is the spirit which is immortal. And it cannot change its essential character after death, because it is organized even more intricately than our body. The human mind is organized, we are taught, "inwardly of spiritual substances and outwardly of natural substances and lastly of material substances."27 At death, the material substances are rejected. The inmost natural substances go to constitute what we have referred to as the "limbus," and these natural substances "recede" or withdraw from the spirit itself which enters the spiritual world and is seen there under the form of a spiritual body.28 But note that "the mind, the delights of whose love are good, consists inwardly of spiritual substances such as are in heaven; but the mind, the delights of whose love are evil, consists inwardly of spiritual substances such as are in hell; and the evils of the latter are bound into fascicles by falsities."29 The very body of an evil spirit is organized into disorderly forms, wherein the fibres act in an order or gyre or flux which is opposite to that of heaven.30

Spiritual Equilibrium

The organic character of the mind guarantees for man that the free choice of a ruling love which he makes on earth shall not be merely chimerical, that is, a mere appearance, but shall have permanent results — the enjoyment of chosen and confirmed delights. Since the delights of the evil and of the good are opposite, heaven and hell are separated and are never confused.

Yet they find a meeting place in the mind or spirit of man. The familiar doctrine is that while man lives on earth, his spirit or mind is unconsciously situated in the world of spirits, midway between heaven and hell, and by being subject to an influx from each, man is in spiritual freedom of choice, or in an equilibrium between good and evil.

The equilibrium between heaven and hell is the Lord's doing. It would be impossible to suppose that it is a numerical balance— or that the angels and the evil spirits are equal in number — for such a conception would destroy the idea of human choice. Yet the equilibrium in the world of spirits is "diminished or increased in accordance with the number of those who enter heaven and who enter hell."31 It is upset continually by the evil, and restored by the Lord, who alone can regulate and equalize it with precision in accommodation to human freedom. How He accomplishes this is told. Each hell is placed under restraint by a heavenly society to which it "corresponds by opposition." If the infernal society gains a preponderance, it is restrained by "the stronger presence of the Lord" or by a conjunction of several angelic societies (assisting each other), or by the splitting of the infernal society or the sending out of some of the evil spirits into desert regions, or by the transference of certain spirits from one hell into another, or by the segregation of the evil society, by veiling its influx or sending it down to a lower depth. There are also ordinations of the heavens, and judgments of various kinds in the world of spirits.32

But there is a certain equilibrium, or a state of freedom, in the hells themselves. Their essential choice is of course made already. But they can emerge from their phantasies if they will, and can then view their own states in rational light, and can acknowledge truth when presented to them. They can even be enabled to perceive profound arcana of angelic wisdom, from their own faculty of rationality; but are unwilling, from their faculty of liberty, to will or act otherwise than according to their evil delights.33 They can be in doctrinals and have more knowledge than many others.34Some hells even refer to God the Father as the Creator of the universe, and this without hatred; but all the hells are filled with bitter hatred against the Lord in His Divine Human.35 In some hells they continually wrangle about religious truths, yet have nothing of religion.36

In the state when their evils and phantasies are active, the inhabitants of the hells cohere in opposition to the heavens, and the whole of hell, so regarded, can be described as a Grand Monster— a monstrous human form, the "soul" of which would be the love of self and self-intelligence.37 But when considered in relation to the Grand Man of heaven, the hells correspond to the excrements rejected from the Grand Man, and to the unclean and vicious things of disease which—like germs and toxic substances—invade the body and cause fevers and disorders. Thus it is said that before the Last Judgment, the Grand Man from this earth was as it were threatened by disease.38

Yet since the devils never lose their faculties of liberty and rationality, by reason of the good remains of infancy which are still reserved within them,39 and since they thus retain something of the human form, they can on occasions perform certain vile uses in the kingdom of the Lord, "which is not only over heaven but also over hell."

Even with the devils the life which is God acts upon them from without, giving them the ability to have thought and will, speech, act, and sensation — which "continually impels them toward order" and gives them immortality. They retain the faculty of rationality. Those evil spirits who are not yet vastated of truth and external good can temporarily serve uses corresponding to the spleen, the bile, or the kidneys, through which there is judgment and discipline.40 But devils, who are in the full conjunction of evil and falsity, serve in other capacities; for their influx — for which they are not blamed — acts as a leaven which induces temptations and fermentations with good spirits, and thus serves to clarify and confirm what is good and true.41

In a sense, then, the spirits of the hells, by the necessity of their performing routine uses and from fear, come to refrain from open evils. They can be said to have an unwilling place within the kingdom of the Lord.42 And thus the evil as well as the good are constantly offered the opportunity for a certain happiness — the happiness that comes from forgetting one's self and the deceptive delights of one's own will, and being merged in the larger self of human society.

Evil cannot contribute to good. Yet one evil may balance the effects of another, even as extremes tend to counteract each other.43In itself, evil has no value. But its existence serves by contrast to accentuate for an ungrateful race the marvelous spiritual blessings which the Lord offers to those who love Him and obey His commandments.


1 DP 67

2 DP 69, 203, AC 3854

3 DP 202, 203

4 TCR 406

5 DP 333

6 DP 212

7 AC 6485ff, SD min. 4692

8 TCR 580

9 DP 330, 340

10 DP 340, TCR 463 and chapter

11 CL 461

12 SD 5830

13 AE 1131:2, 889

14 AR 770, 784:2, TCR 475

15 Cp. the apocryphal book, 2 Maccabees, 12:40-45

16 AC 699, 1106ff, SD 228, 5480, etc.

17 AC 828f, 957

18 SD 2826

19 AC 967, SD 2827

20 AC 2258

21 See pages 286f, above

22 Among these passages are: HD 239, AC 7541:3, 8637, 10749, 6657:2, SD 5830, CL 79e, AE 1220:3, 383, 194:3,4, DP 319:3

23 DLW 257, 260, 345

24 CL 524, BE 110e

25 Wis. viii. 4,5; DP 220, TCR 103, DLW 257, 388. See pages 30 to 42

26 SD min. 4645f, SD 5552, AC 4588

27 TCR 38

28 DLW257

29 TCR 38

30 DP 315:3

31 HH 593

32 HH 594, SD 5003

33 DLW 266

34 AC 1798, 2049:3

35 Ath. 201

36 LJ post. 202, SD 5103, cp TCR 14

37 AE 1224:4, DP 302, TCR 68

38 AC 2996, 5711-5726, AE 622:5, TCR 119

39 AC 7556, 7560, 7601

40 DP 26, AE 1143:5, DLW 162, 240, SD 3094, 1005

41 DP 25, 26, AC 986, 1079:2; cp 9534:2, SD 4461, 4471, 5693

42 AC 7541

43 SD 2874


The Spiritual World
Spirits and Men
Talks: Spiritual World
10Q: Life After Death


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23. Divine Foresight

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