Online works based on the Writings of Emanuel Swedenborg
7 Influx and Persuasion
“When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places seeking rest . . .” Matthew 12:43
The Spiritual State of Christendom
It is revealed in the Writings that the first Christian Church, founded on the Gospels, has reached its consummation, judgment, and end.163 This pronouncement is not a judgment on individuals nor on specific societies in this world. But it is a Divine warning that religion has now reached the stage of decline predicted by the Lord in the twenty-fourth chapter of Matthew—a state when, “because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold”; a state when spiritual enlightenment and progress are generally impossible. This situation came about by degrees, because in the course of centuries the evils of men allowed false doctrines to creep in and be enthroned in Christendom: doctrines about three Divine persons which are but three gods, and about a vicarious atonement by Christ’s blood; doctrines about the Pope’s vicar-ship and of priestly powers to dispense salvation; doctrines about a salvation by faith without charity or change of life; doctrines which all pose as sacred mysteries into which the human understanding was forbidden to enter.
From early Christian times such falsities came to usurp the place of the Word through which communion with heaven can alone be effected. The serene light of Divine revelation was not allowed to shine in the minds of men. Its message of spiritual faith and charity was covered over with a contorting shroud of perversions. Human interpretations and pagan superstitions ruled in the church—falsities which became powerful tools for confirming ambition and cruelty and for attracting the presence and influx of evil spirits; until at last there were “no other than false churches”163b and communication with the heavens was cut off. In the spiritual world evil spirits came to dominate over the simple good among Christian souls, and the “last judgment” could no longer be delayed.
In the Writings of Emanuel Swedenborg a new Divine revelation was provided which exposes and discredits the falsities which, like a leaven, had soured all the teachings of the New Testament. The modern world, since the last judgment, has little courage left to defend these false dogmas. Yet they are still accepted by untold millions and are officially taught in schools and seminaries of Christian sects. And where they are no longer insisted on, many new falsities and denials, worse than the old, have sprung up—and these tend to divert men’s minds from any acknowledgment of the Deity of Christ and the holiness of the Word of God.
Even while the Christian denominations grow in the number of their nominal adherents, the Christian Church has lost its living office to serve as a medium of conjunction with heaven; “remaining in its external worship, as the Jews do in theirs, in whose worship it is well known that there is nothing of charity and faith, that is, nothing of the church.”164 Like the unclean spirit of the parable, a falsity may return under the guise of seven others worse than itself; even as the theological dogma of predestination has come back to haunt us in the more formidable aspect of materialistic determinism. Whether still vindicating the age-worn creeds or whether preaching the social gospels of the humanists and vaguely advancing various opposing political cure-alls, the Christian Church has lost its central place in the spiritual world. Spirits come into the other life from Christendom as into a strange world for the life of which their doctrines have not prepared them.
So far as any one is still persuaded in the teachings of the old church, he will attract to himself the spirits who are in the same falsities or who can for the time adopt his beliefs and ideas. And there are multitudes of such spirits in the world of spirits even at this day. It is true that they are no longer permitted to establish powerful societies there, nor is any one spirit able to maintain himself in the “world of spirits” for more than about thirty years.165 Still, there have to be spirits of every religion and every general faith there, to minister to their like on earth. And this will be possible as long as men adhere to such beliefs on earth.166 If uncongenial spirits were associated with a man, he would fall into a state of continuous sadness and disquietude. If angels or spirits closely associated with a man as much as converse together about things contrary to man’s faith or life, such sadness would affect him even if he was then thinking about something utterly different.167
So far as a man’s mind is under the shadow of false persuasions his spiritual progress is delayed here on earth and spiritual illustration is denied him. Although the world of spirits is now ordered and purged so that the progress of spirits after their death is quickened—the evil being judged sooner than formerly and the good being instructed sooner— yet on earth the progress is halted so long as man is under the restraining pull of false doctrines. And it is only exceptionally that men can liberate their minds from false beliefs and come to embrace the truths of the Heavenly Doctrine.
The New Church on earth can therefore grow only very slowly, and then only from such as are “interiorly affected by truths,” thus from “such as have cultivated their intellectual faculty and have not destroyed it in themselves by the loves of self and the world.”168Natural affections for kindred and friends form strong bonds which are difficult to sever. Experience testifies that conversion into the New Church is usually made easier with a man who is being introduced into a new environment or comes into a radical change of state through which the spirits with him are also changed; as when he moves to a new city or country, or enters into the married state, or comes of age, or comes into an entirely new group of friends and acquaintances who believe in the Writings. The intermediation of friendship is also a common aid in such changes of state.
But the loosening of the hold of false doctrines and social bonds marks only an external phase of the process which leads to illustration and association with the New Heaven. The internal conjunction with heaven and the Lord is by means of the Word—the Word seen no longer through the veils of falsities, but as it is in itself.
There is no conjunction with heaven through the doctrine and faith of the old church. But among the simple and sincere in the Christian world there are vast numbers who read the Word without much reflection upon false doctrines, and who consequently find in it the simple directions for salvation —faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and charity to man. And these, through the Word, are conjoined interiorly with spirits who are being led towards the New Heaven. Indeed, in all religions there are those who are in such simple states—upon whom the false doctrines of their religiosities have only a superficial hold: who have shunned evils as sins and placed religious life, usefulness, and common-sense charity higher than “orthodoxy.” Such are interiorly joined to heavenly societies, more or less closely according to their states of innocence. They belong already to the invisible kingdom of God—that vast communion which is called in the Writings “the Church Universal.” These are, after death, led to their various heavens. And those among them who are moved by a spiritual affection of truth can be instructed in the Heavenly Doctrine and be more nearly associated with the New Christian Heaven. According to the increase of such spirits in the world of spirits, we are told, will the New Church on earth be increased: for such spirits are needed to predispose men of various religious affiliations to receive the truths of the second advent of the Lord.169
Spirits and their Use of Man’s Memory
The general rule that each man is attended by spirits of his own faith is based on certain laws governing the relationship of the two worlds. For these worlds are held apart so that the life of each may be free. As has already been pointed out, men would not be free if they were sensibly ruled by spirits or were conscious of their presence; and spirits would not be free to progress into interior states if they were aware of the men with whom they are or felt that they used the memory of someone else. And in order that the two worlds might be apart in appearance although mutually conjoined and dependent on each other in actual fact, it is necessary that spirits and men should live consciously on two different planes and in two different states or mental environments.
When a man becomes a spirit he leaves the material body with its sense organs which throughout life had enriched his corporeal memory with constantly new impressions and with knowledges about the ultimate things of the world. But it is ordained that the risen spirit must, as to his thought, be lifted out of his own corporeal memory, which then becomes quiescent and is put to sleep; even as happens with us when we “forget” or are not thinking actively about some former experience. The spirit retains his corporeal memory—and all that is in it. It remains—but is not active. It no longer plays any active role in his mental life. Unless Swedenborg happened to be able to supply such information from his own memory, the spirits with him did not even know what their names or rank had been in their bodily life! They had forgotten, and had no curiosity about it.170
The lulling of a spirit’s external natural memory is not sudden but gradual; yet it appears to be accomplished only a relatively few days after death.171 The Lord may indeed —by various guarded modes—re-awaken a spirit’s particular earthly experiences at least in part. But this is done only for the sake of some spiritual use to be served. In order to progress in his eternal development a spirit must be liberated from such memories and from the sphere of his own material ideas which are based on space and time and personal bias. If this is not done the spirit would be unable to enter into the spiritual ideas which are proper to the more brilliant and colorful mental life which he can enjoy after death.172
Terrible consequences would also threaten mankind if spirits could actively use their own external memory. Some spirits told Swedenborg that the human race would then be liable to perish.173For the man would then become aware of the spirits, and be unable to think from his own memory-experiences. The memory of the spirits would be confused with man’s own.174 At the very least man would suffer the not uncommon illusion that he had thought such things before, a sensation which has led some people to confirm themselves in the notion of reincarnation—the persuasion that they lived on earth before, perhaps centuries ago.175
Swedenborg makes the comment that the life of a spirit is happy, that is, happy compared to that of men, and his faculties of sensation and thought vastly more distinct and subtle.176 Man has to eke out his life of thought from a few very limited experiences and from knowledges gathered with great labor. Man’s affections are clothed with no great variety in his few knowledges and in his still more scanty words. His states often fail to mature or develop, because time and space cut them short. But spirits live an intenser life—for “a spirit no longer subsists on his own basis, but upon a common basis, which is the human race.”177
Indeed, “man is the ultimate of order . . . and all ideas, even those of spirits, are terminated in man’s memory.”178 The thoughts of spirits eventually terminate and come to rest in the material ideas, the objects and mental images, of the men with whom they are associated. The spirits select these ideas from men without any conscious effort, and each spirit may be associated with a great many men at the same time, to complete the terminations of his thought. We should not take this to mean that the spirit thinks with material ideas borrowed from men. Unless he belongs to a class of exceedingly gross spirits180 he thinks quite apart from space-time concepts, and takes the material ideas of man only as a sort of basic symbol for a field of abstract ideas upon which he loves to dwell.186 Yet without the basic ultimate of man’s thought, thus without the material ideas, spirits would lose the whole connective of their thought and almost of their consciousness. Swedenborg tells that when spirits were deprived of some such material idea as that of place, they seemed to lose all sense of where they were and promptly vanished from the sight of other spirits. And they felt as if they had lost their feet.181
The reality, to spirits, of such material ideas, is illustrated by the fact that spirits after death inhabit such cities and places as they had frequented before death: but these cities are purely spiritual, and thus are based on general states of mind. They are not exactly like the corresponding cities in this world, but resemble them, especially as to the streets and well known public squares. They are of spiritual origin. The houses therein are “not built as in the world, but rise up in a moment, created by the Lord.”182 Yet they are usually quite permanent, and their inhabitants are at home in them for long periods. If spirits leave the city for good, their houses also disappear. Swedenborg gives in his journal the following interesting information “concerning cities in the afterlife and concerning the Providence of the Lord in preserving them”:
“There appear to spirits cities similar to the cities in the world—a London, an Amsterdam, a Stockholm, and so on. The reason for this is that every man has with himself spirits who are in the other life, and these possess the interiors of the man, thus all things of his memory. They do not, indeed, see the world through his eyes, but still they are inwardly in it from his ideas. Hence the ideas of similar houses, buildings, and streets of the cities appear as if they were the places themselves. . . . Hence it is that spirits who are with the men of some one city have the idea of the same city.”183
This throws considerable light on the teaching that “the angelic mansions are indeed in heaven, and to appearance separate from the abodes in which men are. And yet they are with man, in his affections of good and truth.”184 This is said of the angels, however. And angels do not dwell, as spirits do, in the material ideas with men, but in more interior things. Yet the terminations of the spiritual world are in the ultimates of man’s life. It is true that “angels and spirits are entirely above or outside of nature, and in their own world which is under another sun.” But it is an error to think of the spiritual world from appearances, as if it were in natural space, and to imagine angels and spirits as dwelling in the interiors of nature, in the ether or on the stars, or far away from men. Where there is no space, there is no distance. The kingdom of God is within you. “The spiritual world is where man is and in no wise apart from him.”185
The spirits who are with man live in a real world of spiritual substance, but the ultimates of this substantial world around them is somehow built up from the spiritual forms of ideas taken from men. The ultimates of the spiritual world lodge in the natural minds of men, while the interiors of men’s minds are formed from the spiritual world and according to its states and its inhabitants. And in this whole space-less spiritual world, it is the Lord alone who builds and creates.
The spirits with a man think spiritually,186 and generally do not take the material ideas of his thought as standing for material objects, but as foci and basic symbols for a field of abstract ideas upon which they dwell. The man, on the other hand, is only vaguely aware of these clustering associations of ideas which the spirits take up with delight as a part of their own thoughts, imagining that it is all from themselves. For spirits do not reflect on the sources of their thoughts. But the use of these inner fields of suggestion with man—by spirits who connect them with meanings, allusions, and values never guessed by man—enriches man’s thought with a sense of pleasure; so that he actually partakes of the delight which spirits have in his meagre ideas. And the result is that he is thus confirmed in the sphere of ideas in which he is.
Angels when they are present with a man are especially able to widen his ideas and insinuate a sense of interior value, profounder meaning, and greater delight into them. When angels inflow, the Arcana tells us, “it is not an influx of such thoughts as the man then has, but it is according to correspondences; for the angels are thinking spiritually whereas the man perceives this naturally. . . . When a man speaks of bread . . . the thought of the angels is about the goods of love. . . . Objects such as a man sees with his eyes do not appear before the spirits who are with the man, neither are words heard such as the man hears with the ear, but such as the man is thinking. . . . When the angels inflow, they adjoin affections also, and the very affections contain innumerable things within them. But of these countless things only a few are received by the man—in fact only those which are applicable to the things which are already in the memory. The remaining things of the angelic influx pass around and as it were enfold them.”187
Spirits Confirm Man’s Persuasions
This brings us back to the important principle that spirits cannot infuse new persuasions, new truths or new falsities, into the mind of a man.188 No angels from the New Heaven (for instance) can possibly inflow into the minds of mortals and change their faith, remove their falsities, and introduce truths in their place. Such angels can act only into men who have something of faith from the Heavenly Doctrine in their mind; and the effect of their presence is one of confirming them in the truths which they have already seen. This was no doubt implied by Swedenborg when he wrote to Doctor Beyer about the publication of the True Christian Religion: “I am certain of this, that after the appearance of the book referred to, the Lord our Savior will operate both mediately and immediately towards the establishment throughout the whole of Christendom of a New Church based on this ‘theology.’ The New Heaven will . . . very soon be completed . . .” (April 30, 1771).189 The Lord acts immediately from the Writings, and —so far as these are received—He acts mediately through the New Heaven.
Spirits have two kinds of life—the life of persuasion and the life of cupidity. When a spirit is in his persuasions, or in the thought from some faith which he has confirmed, he excites for his own use endless confirmations from the memory of the man with whom he is, and this without man knowing or feeling it. The spirit, since he cannot use his own corporeal memory,190 puts on the man’s knowledges, beliefs, and preconceptions, and assumes the man’s experience to be his own.191 Swedenborg was often astounded at the incredible wealth of ideas and arguments which were thus brought up.192 Things about which the spirit himself had never had any previous knowledge were at once arrayed with familiar skill and prudence, cunning and astuteness, as if by instinct !193 This has the tendency to confirm the man in his principles, by increasing his satisfaction with his own opinions. Normally, a spirit can never contradict a man! If this should occur, exceptionally, as it did with Swedenborg, spirit and man would become conscious of each other.
If a man should change his persuasions, then other spirits quickly apply themselves to him. But man “is not easily brought to renounce a preconceived persuasion”; “wherefore it is good for a man not to be persuaded in falsities, but to be confirmed in truths.”194
Yet man’s mind, even when it is enlightened by a true religion, is a very complex thing which has murky corners into which his faith has never really penetrated. It has logic-proof compartments and unexplored jungles where his hereditary evils hold sway and various false views, excuses, or stubborn reservations hold out against the faith which he professes. In such distant corners lie hidden all manner of inconsistencies from past states, undigested information and old prejudices bolstered by the pride of the proprium. With the regenerating man these old states are pushed to the sides more and more until they have little part in his mental life. But none the less they are easily observed by spirits who are in the same kind of rebellious falsities and who eagerly seize upon them as inviting fields of confirmation.195 Thus the man may be thrown into spheres of doubt and obscurity, and so far as his faith in truths is from the heart he will then suffer anxiety and temptation.
Doubts are of Providence permitted. Certain intellectual spirits who were prone to reflect and to be stuck in doubts, complained that faith—the persuasion of faith—could not be given one in a moment. But it was pointed out to them that man’s states are continually changing. What is clearly seen in one state may become doubtful later on. A sudden persuasion may satisfy one state, but it would not be adequate to answer all the questions of the next state.196 Faith takes root by degrees and grows in process of time under the Lord’s direction, like the mustard seed of the parable. And there is also another reason why “it is according to the laws of order that no one ought to be persuaded about truth in a moment in such a way … as to leave no doubt whatever about it; for the truth which is so impressed becomes persuasive truth, and lacks any extension and also any yielding quality.”197 It becomes hard, bigotted, and not easily applicable to the diverse duties of life. Therefore, in the spiritual world, when a truth is being brought out before good spirits, a doubt—something opposite—is soon afterwards presented ; so that they might think about it and consider whether it is so and collect reasons for it, and so bring the truth into their minds rationally. Only so can the truth be seen in its varieties of forms and applications, and the real essential meaning discerned. And this is done by reflection. This spiritual law was signified in the Word by the notable mention that, after Aaron had cast his rod before Pharaoh and it had become a serpent, the magicians of Egypt did likewise with their enchantments.198 Still, Aaron’s rod swallowed up all the rest.
All those laws which govern the influx of the spheres of spirits into man’s mind, have a constant regard for man’s freedom of choice. Only that which is insinuated in full freedom remains deeply inscribed on man’s being. This is the reason why thought is not insinuated into man by any spirit. The spirit inflows with an affection, and it is only when this affection accords with man’s affection that it is received by man in his thought—his interior thought—and thus tends to confirm and extend that thought more widely and more profoundly.
The life of a spirit’s thought is based upon the general ideas which are with man as upon a soil or background. But it is also and equally true that man’s entire emotional life with all its affections, is derived solely from the spirits that are with him. Few realize how much we are placed under the control of spirits when we give way to emotional states; and how these cupidities may then enkindle all manner of persuasions and fantasies.
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