from Robert H. Kirven, "A Concise Overview of  Swedenborg's Theology, (Appleseed & Co. MA 2003)

Table of  Contents


Chapter 5


Order; Use; Providence; Toleration; Influx; Conscience

THE UNITY IN THIS APPARENTLY DIVERSE LIST of topics can be found in their relationship to the topic of the last chapter, regeneration. The three stages of regeneration can be seen as discerning, pursuing, and adopting what is good; order and use are two of the main characteristics by which we can recognize what is good. Regeneration is a process that seems to be our own doing, but actually, everything except our free choice to regenerate is managed by the Lord. One of the Lord's "management tools" is influx, his light and warmth flowing into us. We often experience this as perception. Providence and toleration are descriptions of God's management of each life and the whole created universe. Conscience takes several forms, but one kind of conscience is both a primary product and an essential agent of regeneration.

Order is a characteristic of everything that is good, and often is used by Swedenborg as a synonym for good. Furthermore, order is a characteristic of everything that is divine, for God is "order itself," or pure, abstract, perfect order. One consequence of this fact explains why an ancient problem of academic theology cannot be answered. The problem, "Can God create a rock so big that God can't lift it?" cannot be answered because God is order. For one aspect of God (his creativity, in this case) to challenge another (his omnipotence) would be contrary to order, so the problem cannot exist with a God who is order itself.

A more practical (and more significant) consequence of the fact that God is order concerns his relationship to us as individuals. Although his will for us is ultimately unknowable by our finite minds, it is never capricious or unpredictable. It always follows the laws that are inherent in his "created order of things." Those laws will be discussed presently, in my comments regarding providence.

Another consequence is that order pervades all things, relationships, ideas, and actions. Just as a life-giving, refreshing stream becomes a deadly agent of destruction when it overflows its banks, so everything is good when it is according to order, and bad when contrary to it. Implications of this for our intentions and actions are spelled out clearly in this chapter's readings.

Use is another characteristic of everything that is good and a frequent synonym for good. The use of any thing or action is the good that it does for someone. Anything that does not do anyone any good is not of any use, and vice-versa. The theoretical ideas that we sometimes call "good intentions" are not uses if they do no good. When we must discriminate between good and bad (or better and worse) possibilities for action, a look at the use that each would achieve is a valuable guide for our choosing.

Divine providence is Swedenborg's name for God's management of the created order. Because this management is an expression of the order that is God, it operates dependably according to eternal principles or "laws of providence" just as the material world functions according to the physical, chemical, and biological principles that we call "natural laws." These physical laws are not separate from divine providence; they serve as an external model of its consistency and interrelated dependability. Like "natural laws," the laws of divine providence operate whether we know and understand them or not; but knowing them is an advantage, because things turn out better when we work with them instead of against them.

The first thing to understand about divine providence is that it is concerned primarily with the spiritual development of individual human beings into angels. It governs other things, too, in the general sense that it is the application of divine order in all creation, as well as in the specific sense that it is involved with physical developments that affect spiritual development.

The second thing to remember about divine providence (remember, even if there are problems in full understanding) is that it is an entirely different teaching than the conventional Christian doctrine of predestination. The central difference is that predestination leaves no room for human freedom of choice in connection with salvation, and no teaching of Swedenborg's reduces, abridges, or suspends that fundamental quality of human existence. That is plain enough. The obstacle that some students find in the search for full understanding is one that arises under the topic of "God's foreknowledge."

That problem is a complex one. In its simplest form, it usually runs like this: "Since God exercises providential care over my life, and since God is outside the time in which we distinguish past, present, and future, does God know the outcome of my next moral decision? And if he does know what my choice will be, in what sense am I truly free to choose?" Some students find no particular problem in this, and some find an enormous one. If the question troubles you, further reading, such as Divine Providence 97, 175-190, 214-220 may help, or may intensify the problem. The denial of predestination is made clear in Divine Providence 322-330.

One solution to this problem is suggested in the third sub-section of Divine Providence 202, and stated more clearly in Secrets of Heaven 3854: God foreknows all the eternal possibilities implied in each choice that we face, and—so far as it is possible while still protecting our freedom of choice—he uses that knowledge to influence our discernment and understanding. This eternal projection of possible opportunities to guide us in his providence is what is meant by divine foreknowledge, leaving our freedom to accept or resist the Lord's providential guidance unimpaired.

Toleration is a translation of the Latin permissio, which often has been rendered "permission" in English. The distinction between these two options is a subtle one, with the preference for "toleration" lying in its slightly clearer emphasis that the evils described by the term are in no way desired or approved by the Lord—except in contrast to greater evils, which they avert. Whatever translation is used, this is the crux of the teaching.

Without overpowering human freedom of choice, the Lord cannot prevent anyone from succumbing to the temptation to do evil rather than good. But when evil is chosen, the Lord attempts to ameliorate the eternal consequences of that choice by making a lesser evil available as an option to the greater. This evil is tolerated by the Lord for the opportunities it provides (from the perspective of eternity) for eventually influencing individuals to move closer to the providential goal of a heaven from the human race.

Conscience, in its various forms, is one of the most visible or conscious means by which divine providence influences us (or, in the case of spurious conscience, natural conscience, or even false conscience) for the sake of averting us from greater evil.

Influx, in one of its dimensions, can be regarded as the medium of divine providence, the process by which the Lord's love and wisdom flow into our hearts and minds to guide us in ways that do not prejudice our freedom of choice. It literally means "flowing in," and it describes the Lord's influence (from the same root) in our lives. But to understand influx (and providence), it must be seen in its larger dimensions as well. As will be seen in more detail in Chapters 11 and 12, the entire spiritual-and-physical universe came into being as a consequence of the conjunction of love and wisdom in him. What is important here is that the continued being and presence of everything— the universal heavens, the material universe, the human race, all the way down to each individual hair of every head—is a consequence of the continual power to be that flows into everything and everyone from God. If that in-flowing power—universal influx—were withdrawn even for a moment (which is impossible, for it would be contrary to order), the entire creation would vanish in that moment. The omnipotence and omniscience of this power proceeding from divine love and wisdom, as it flows through the heavens, is particularized into the influence of what is good and true in each individual life. Influx, like providence, is at once universal and particular. Galileo provided a beautiful illustration of that same truth: the sun, shining on all the planets in the solar system, warms and ripens each single grape on each vine on each hillside of the earth as perfectly as if it had nothing else in the world to do!

By now it should be plain how this discussion is a continuation of the last one. There it was said that regeneration is one of the great unifying concepts of Swedenborg's theological system. So is divine providence. Which of the two most naturally includes the other depends on what structure of the theological system is most satisfactory for your personal theologizing.

One final comment: you have had readings assigned in both Divine Love and Wisdom and Divine Providence. It should be noted that these two are related so closely as to be virtually one two-volume work, with different titles for the volumes. Divine Love and Wisdom describes God's creation of the spiritual-and-physical whole that he has made, and Divine Providence his management of it to achieve his primary goal. This course deals first with providence and its regenerating influences because it is starting from the doctrines closest to conscious experience. In this sequence, the nature of God as infinite creator of all comes later; but don't forget that it is coming at the pinnacle of this way of developing the system.


Read the following passages from Swedenborg. For further reading in other published versions, see the passages listed just below:

Secrets of Heaven 875, 1032-1033, 1919, 3563, 3570, 3854, 4167, 4190, 4299, 6207, 9112-9121
Heaven and Hell 389-391
Divine Providence 27, 70, 97, 175-190, 214-220, 234-239, 322-330
True Christianity 403-405


Order; Use; Providence; Toleration; Influx; Conscience

SH 104

These days, people do not know what perception is. It is a certain inward feeling, which comes only from the Lord, as to whether a thing is true or good. Perception was known most fully in the Earliest Church, and it is so obvious to the angels that they instantly know and recognize what comes from the Lord and what comes from themselves. In the same way, they recognize and know the character of people approaching them, merely from their manner of approach and from a single one of their ideas. Spiritual people have no perception, but they do have conscience. People who are [spiritually] dead do not even have conscience. Most people do not even know what conscience is, much less what perception is.

SH 521

Knowing something from perception is altogether different from learning it from doctrine. People who have perceived something have no need of channels of formulated doctrine to learn what they already know. People who already know how to think clearly, for instance, do not need rules of logic. Learning such rules can destroy their ability to think clearly, as happens to people buried in the dust of sheer intellectualism.

In the case of people whose knowledge comes from perception, the Lord grants them knowledge, through an internal channel, of what is good and true. Those who learn from doctrine are granted that knowledge by an external channel or by their physical senses. The two ways of knowing are as different as light and darkness.

SH 875

Details of faith, drawn from the Word of the Lord (or from particular teachings within it) have to be planted in the mind of a spiritual person so that the intellectual aspect of his or her mind receives instruction. But as long as the mind is overflowing with false ideas, true ideas of faith cannot take root even though they have been planted there. They only remain on the surface or in the memory... until the false ideas have been so dispersed that they do not reappear....

The regeneration of spiritual people is the separation of the intellectual aspect of their minds from the intending aspect by means of conscience formed by the Lord in that intellectual part. What happens in this manner seems to spring from their own intention, but in fact it is from the Lord.

SH 1032

[2] The Lord's mercy is infinite, not limited to the few who are inside the church. Instead, it reaches out to all in the whole wide world. People who have no knowledge of matters of faith because they have been born outside the church are not blamed for that, nor is anyone in any way condemned for having no faith in the Lord because of not knowing the Lord. What right-thinking person is going to say that the greater part of the human race will perish in eternal death just because they have not been born in Europe, whose inhabitants are relatively few? And what right-thinking person is going to say that the Lord would allow such a large number of people to be born, only to perish in eternal death? That would be contrary to the Divine, and contrary to mercy. In any case, some people outside the church, called gentiles, lead far more upright lives than those inside the church, and far more readily embrace what true faith teaches. This becomes clearer still with souls in the next life.

SH 1033

..... Conscience in general is either true, spurious, or false. True conscience is formed by the Lord from true elements of our faith. Once it has been given us, we are afraid to act contrary to what we believe is true because to do so would be to act contrary to our conscience. This conscience cannot be received by those who are devoid of true elements in their faith, and this is why not so many in the Christian world receive it, for everyone advances their own dogma as being the truth of faith. Nevertheless, people who are being regenerated receive conscience while receiving charity, for the basic constituent of conscience is charity.

[2] Spurious conscience is formed with non-Christians from the religious worship in which they have been born and brought up. For them, acting contrary to that religious worship is acting contrary to conscience. When their conscience is grounded in charity and mercy, and in obedience, they are the kind of people who are able to receive a true conscience in the next life, and do indeed receive one. In fact, there is nothing they would rather have than what is true from faith.

[3]False conscience is formed from external things rather than internal ones—that is, from self-love and love of the world rather than charity. In fact, there are people who seem to themselves to be acting contrary to conscience when they act against their neighbor, and who also at such times feel themselves to be inwardly smitten. Yet the reason is that they perceive in themselves that their own life, position, reputation, wealth, or financial gain is at stake, and so perceive that they themselves are being hurt. Some inherit this soft-heartedness, others acquire it for themselves. It is, however, a false conscience.

SH 1919

[2]Conscience is a kind of general—and therefore obscure—dictate that presents things which flow in from the Lord by way of the heavens. We become conscious of these things in the inner aspects of our rational faculty, where they are enveloped, so to speak, in a cloud—the product of appearances and illusions concerning what is good and true in our faith. Thought actually is distinct and separate from conscience, yet it flows from conscience, for people who have a conscience think and speak according to it. Indeed, thought is scarcely anything more than a loosening of the various strands that make up conscience, and a converting of those into separate ideas which pass into words. This is how the Lord holds those who have conscience in good thoughts regarding their neighbors and withholds them from evil thoughts.

SH 3563

[2]The only source of anything good belonging to our natural self is something good in our inner self, that is, something good that is part of our rational faculty. Our natural self cannot acquire anything good from any other source; yet what flows in determines the nature of the good quality in our natural self. Since what is good in our natural self comes from nowhere but our rational faculty, neither does what is true; for where there is something good, there is something true. Both must be present if they are to be anything at all. And again, what flows in determines the nature of what is true there.

The flowing-in process works in such a way that good qualities from our rational ability flow into our natural self along two different routes. One is a very short—and thus direct—route into what is good already in our natural self, and then on through that good quality into what is true there. . . . In addition to this, something good flows into our natural aspect along a second route which is less short, that is to say, through what is true in our rational thought, by means of which influx it forms something seemingly good but is in fact true....

[4].... When we desire what is true because we have some goal in view other than life—such as to become learned because of some desire to outdo others (which amounts to childish envy), or because of some desire for glory— the order existing between what is good in our natural self and what is true a reversal of order. That is to say, the will, to which good intentions belong, exists outwardly; while the understanding, to which true ideas belong, exists inwardly.

[5] In the state following regeneration, however, things are different. Then we desire truth not only because we have life in view, but because we desire good itself which constitutes that life. Previous desires—those connected with superiority, childish envy, and glory—now break away so completely that they appear to have been dispelled. Now the good which belongs to the will exists inwardly and truth which belongs to the understanding exists outwardly. The result is that truth acts as one with good since it stems from good. This order is genuine order.

SH 3570

[4]You know how our soul begins in our mother's ovum and is then developed in her womb, surrounded by a tiny body so that the soul can properly function in the world into which it is born. A similar situation exists when we are born again—when we are regenerated. The new soul which we acquire at this point is a good goal. The goal is born, as it were, in the ovum, and then is developed as it were in the womb. The tiny body with which that soul is surrounded is our natural self, and what is good there acts in obedience to the soul's goal. The truths there are like fibers in the body, for what is true takes shape from what is good. This is in accord with our reformation being an image of our formation in the womb.

SH 3854

[2]About foresight and providence in general: foresight refers more to us, providence more to the Lord. The Lord foresaw from eternity what the human race was going to be like and that evil was going to increase all the time, so that at length we (of ourselves) would rush headlong into hell. That being so, the Lord has provided not only the means by which we may be diverted from hell and led toward heaven, but also in his providence, he does divert and lead us all the time. The Lord also foresaw that it would be impossible for any good thing to take root in us except in our freedom, for that which does not take root in freedom is expelled at the first sign of evil and temptation. The Lord foresaw this, along with the fact that of ourselves—that is, from our own freedom—we would be inclined toward the deepest hell. That being so, the Lord provided that if we would not allow ourselves to be led in freedom toward heaven we still could be diverted toward a milder hell; but if we would allow ourselves to be led in freedom toward what is good, then we could be diverted toward heaven....

[3] From this it may be seen how far we err if we believe that the Lord has not foreseen and does not see the smallest individual thing with us, or that within the smallest individual thing he does not foresee and lead. In fact, the Lord's foresight and providence are present within the tiniest details of all the smallest individual things with us. It is in details so tiny that it is impossible to comprehend one in many millions of them by any manner of thought. Every smallest fraction of a moment in each person's life entails a chain of consequences extending into eternity. Indeed, every one is like a new beginning to those that follow, and so every single moment of the life of both our understanding and our will is a new beginning....

SH 4167

[2] What is good and true in the genuine sense are found in the more inward plane or more inward conscience, for good and truth flowing in from the Lord are what activate this conscience. But the more external plane is the more external conscience; this is where to find what is just and fair in the proper sense, for a sense of what is just and fair in private and public affairs (which also flows in from him) is what activates that conscience. There is also a most external plane which resembles conscience but is not; from which a person does what is just and fair for selfish and worldly reasons (i.e., for the sake of our own position and reputation, worldly wealth and possessions, or fear of the law). The three planes are what govern us: that is, they are the means by which the Lord governs us.

By the more interior plane, or the conscience consisting of spiritual good and truth, the Lord governs those who are made new. By the more exterior plane, or conscience based on what is just and fair (i.e., by means of conscience consisting of what is good and true in private and public affairs), the Lord governs those who are not yet made new but are capable of being made new (if not in this life, then in the next). By means of the most external plane, which resembles conscience but in fact is not conscience, the Lord governs all others including the evil. Without his government, evil people would plunge into every kind of wickedness and insanity, as indeed they do when the restraints belonging to that plane are lacking. People who do not allow themselves to be governed by those planes are either insane or are punished as laws prescribe.

SH 4190

On several occasions I have talked with Christians in the next life about the state and fortune of those outside the church—that they accept the truths and goods of faith more easily than Christians who have not lived according to the Lord's commandments, while Christians still think of them in a heartless fashion. That is to say, Christians think that all outside the church stand condemned, a way of thinking that stems from the established rule that outside the Lord there is no salvation.

I have told the Christians to whom I have been speaking that this rule is true, but that others who have led charitable lives with one another and who—moved by some kind of conscience, have done what is just and fair—receive faith and acknowledge the Lord more easily in the next life than those who are inside the church and have not led charitable lives. I have gone on to say that Christians are in falsity when they believe that heaven is theirs alone because they have the Book of the Word, written down on paper but not in their hearts. It is also false when they know the Lord but do not believe that he is divine as to his human—when they do not acknowledge him (as to his second essence, which they call human nature) as any more than an ordinary human being. Therefore, left to themselves and their own ideas, they do not even adore him. So it is they themselves who are outside the Lord, and for whom there is no salvation.

SH 4299

[2}Conscience is a new will and a new understanding received from the Lord, and therefore is the Lord's presence with us. That presence becomes all the closer the more we are stirred by affection for what is good or what is true. If the closeness of the Lord's presence exceeds the amount of affection for good or for truth in us, then we enter into temptation. The explanation for this is that the evils and falsities which reside with us, and which are moderated by the goods and truths residing with us, cannot tolerate that closer presence. This becomes clear from things that happen in the next life: evil spirits cannot by any means move toward any heavenly community without starting to feel distress and torment; also, evil spirits cannot stand angels looking at them because they are instantly tormented and collapse unconscious. In addition, there is the fact that hell is remote from heaven, for the reason that it cannot bear heaven, that is, the Lord's presence in heaven.

HH 389

Everything in the heavens is arranged according to the divine design, which is managed everywhere by the oversight of angels, the wiser ones tending to matters of the common good or use and the less wise to smaller details, and so on. These matters are ranked just as uses are ranked in the divine design. This also means that an eminence is attached to each role matching the eminence of its use. Angels, however, do not claim any eminence for themselves, but ascribe it all to the use. Since the use is the good it serves (and everything good comes from the Lord), they ascribe it all to the Lord. This means that if people think about respect for themselves first and for their use secondarily instead of the use first and themselves secondarily, they cannot be of any use in heaven because they are looking away from the Lord, putting themselves first and their use second. To say "use" is to mean the Lord as well, since (as just noted) use is something good, and good comes from the Lord.

HH 390

This enables us to determine what rankings in the heavens are like, namely that we love, value, and respect the functionaries the way we love, value, and respect the functions that are associated with them. Also, these functionaries are loved, valued, and respected to the extent that they do not attribute their use to themselves but to the Lord. To that extent they are wise, and to that extent they fulfill their uses from good motives.

Spiritual love, value, and respect are nothing but love, value, and respect for the use in the role. If we look at people from a spiritually true perspective, this is the only way to see them; one person appears much like another, whether their rank is great or small. The only difference we see is a difference in wisdom, and wisdom is love of use, which means loving the welfare of our fellow citizens, our community, our country, and the church.

This is also what constitutes love for the Lord, since everything good that is good in service comes from the Lord. It also constitutes love toward the neighbor, since the neighbor is the welfare that is to be loved in our fellow citizens, our community, our country, and our church—and fostered for their sakes.

DP 27

Since heaven is from the human race, and heaven is life in the Lord's presence forever, it follows that this was the Lord's goal in creation; since heaven was the goal in creation, it is the goal of his divine providence. The Lord did not create the universe for his own benefit, but for the benefit of those with whom he is to be in heaven. Spiritual love is such that it wishes to give from itself to another. It is, in its reality, peace and blessedness insofar as it can do this. Spiritual loves derive this from divine love, for which this is true to the infinite degree.

It follows from this that divine love and the divine providence from it have as their goal a heaven of people who have become or are becoming angels, upon whom the Lord is able to bestow all the blessings and delights that belong to love and wisdom, and to give these to them from himself. Nor can he do otherwise; there is in us from creation an image and likeness of himself. The image in us is wisdom and the likeness is love. The Lord in us is love united with wisdom and wisdom united with love or, in other words, what is good united to what is true, and what is true united to what is good.

DP 70

Laws of divine providence are unknown to us.

DP 234

Laws of toleration are laws of divine providence as well.

TC 394

There are three universal loves: love of heaven, love of the world, and love of self.... These three loves are universal, fundamental to all loving. Charity [the subject of this chapter] has something in common with each of them. Love of heaven means both love to the Lord and love of our neighbor. Since each of these loves sees use as its purpose, a love of heaven may be called a love of uses. Love of the world is not merely a love of wealth and possessions, but is also a love of all that the world affords and all that delights the bodily senses—as beauty delights our eyes, harmony our ears, fragrance our nostrils, delicacies our tongue, and softness our skin. It also includes attractive apparel, convenient houses, and fellowship. Love of the world is all the enjoyment arising from these and many other things the world offers. Love of self is not merely love of honor, glory, fame, and eminence; it also is love of earning and seeking office, thus of ruling over others.

Charity has something in common with each of these three loves. Viewed in itself, charity is love of uses, for charity wishes what is good for our neighbor (good and use are the same thing), and from these loves we look to uses as our purpose. Love of heaven seeks spiritual uses, love of the world seeks natural (or civil) uses, and love of self seeks body-related (domestic) uses that have regard to ourselves and what is ours.

TC 403

Correctly subordinated, these three loves perfect us; but wrongly subordinated, they pervert and invert us.... These three loves are related to each other like the three regions of the body, in which the head is highest, the chest and abdomen are intermediate, and knees, feet, and soles of the feet are lowest. When love of heaven constitutes the head, love of the world the chest and abdomen, and love of self the feet and their soles, we are in a perfect state according to our creation, because the two lower loves serve the highest, as the body and its parts serve the head. When love of heaven constitutes the head, it flows into our love of the world (which is chiefly a love of wealth) by means of which it can perform uses. Love of the world serves as a medium through which the love of heaven flows into love of self (chiefly love of authority and the power it gives to perform uses)....

TC 404

But we come into an entirely different state when love of the world or of wealth forms the head as the ruling love. Then love of heaven is exiled from the head and retreats to the body. In this state, we prefer the world to heaven: we may indeed worship God, but from merely natural love which finds merit in all worship; we may do good for the neighbor, but do it for the sake of recompense. In that state, heavenly things are like clothing: when we're wearing them, other people see us walking in brightness, but in the eyes of angels we appear dark. The reason is that when love of the world possesses our inner self and love of heaven becomes external, the former love makes everything related to the church obscure, and hides them as under a veil.

Love of the world has great variety. It is worse when it verges on avarice (when the love of heaven grows black) or pride or eminence over others from love of self. It is not quite as bad when it verges toward prodigality, and less hurtful if it looks to the splendors of the world as its goal (palaces, ornaments, magnificent clothing, servants, horses, pompously decorated carriages, and the like)....

TC 404

But when love of self or love of ruling constitutes the head, love of heaven passes down through the body to the feet. As love of self increases, love of heaven passes through the ankles to the soles; and if it increases still further, it passes to the heels and is trodden upon. There is a love of ruling arising from love of our neighbor and a love of ruling arising from love of self. Those who love ruling because of love to their neighbor seek dominion for the purpose of performing uses to the public and to individuals. In heaven, therefore, dominion is entrusted to angels like that....

TC 405

[5] Ideally, love of heaven holds the highest place, forming as it were our head over all that follows from it. Then love of the world is beneath it, like our chest beneath our head, and love of self is beneath the rest, like our feet. On the other hand, if love of self were to form our head, we would be completely inverted. We would then appear to angels like one lying bent over, with our head to the ground and our back toward heaven. When worshipping, we would appear to be frolicking on our hands and feet like a panther's cub....


Secrets of Heaven  875, 1032-1033, 1919, 3563, 3570, 3854, 4176, 4190, 4299, 6207, 9112-9121
Heaven and Hell 389-391
Divine Providence 27, 70, 234-239
True Christianity 403-405


Describe the connection and distinction between conscience and each of the three following terms: thought, perception, regeneration.

Does order place limitations on God, or is God omnipotent and unconditional?

Does God's foreknowledge mean that one's choices are predestined?

What questions or issues does the lesson raise for you?

To Chapter 6