Online works based on the Writings of Emanuel Swedenborg
13 General Influx
“He sendeth rain upon the just and the unjust.” Matthew 5: 45
“Life inflows.” This statement is a postulate which no one can refute. For life, wherever it manifests itself, cannot be proved to be inherent in any natural form or to be identical with it. The death of the body testifies to the truth that life is a gift, an “influx” from a realm beyond our sight. Life is a gift—a loan. Revelation assures us that for men it is a permanent loan which shall not be taken away from us. And the further truth is revealed that the life which unfolds its strange qualities in the tiny organisms, from lichens to men, which flourish so miraculously on the surface of the planets, is derived from the Lord God who is infinitely Man—infinite Love and infinite Wisdom.
The Lord governs the heavens and the galaxies of worlds by the modes of His influx—by laws according to which He gives of His life to all finite recipients, just so far as there is response and reciprocation. The Lord alone is Life. What appears as life with man is only reception—variable and limited states of reception. To receive is the esse of man’s life,313 His body is not his own, but is built for him out of the matters of the earth and the atmospheres. His soul is beyond his control and is eternally under the Lord’s care, being formed from higher spiritual substances as the Lord’s own abode with him.314 His mind is formed from lower spiritual substances, and into it are focussed knowledges and thoughts and spheres of affection from neighboring minds and spirits; for no man either wills or thinks from himself.
Man himself is but a state of reception, a state of response to the rich gifts of life which press in from within and from without—”good measure, pressed down and shaken together and running over.” Yet he is the focus, the ultimate upon which all the influxes of life are centered as upon their final object in and through which all the ends of creation are to be fulfilled.315 The faculty of reception is given to man by the Lord’s life acting both immediately and through diverse instrumentalities. The Lord inflows into the interiors of man, or into his rational thought and will, both immediately from Himself and mediately through heaven or the spiritual world. He also inflows into the exteriors of man’s natural, both immediately, and mediately through the spiritual world.316
The Lord’s immediate influx is not only into the will and thought of man “but also at the same time into many things which befall him”—thus ruling apparent accidents, chance and fortune; which (as was shown in a preceding chapter) are called “Providence in the ultimate of order, in which all things are relatively inconstant,” or wherein no order or necessary sequence can be discerned, but which are according to Divine foresight.317
The Lord’s mediate influx, or His mediate government of man’s mind and body is effected through the spiritual world— through the heavens and the hells. We have already stressed the teaching that all man’s states draw their causes from the spirits and angels who attend him. We are creatures of changing moods. But we are usually able, on reflection, to account for the states into which we have imperceptibly drifted, by tracing them to natural causes. To excuse our frailties or our impatience, we complain that we are tired, are unjustly treated, are bored or homesick, etc. We tend to blame our rebellious moods, our moral lapses, or our indulgence in self-pity upon deficient health or other natural circumstances.
Yet common experience tells us that the same apparent natural causes do not always produce the same moods but serve merely as an occasion favorable to their appearance. The Writings convert this vague perception into a clear doctrine which teaches that there would be no conscious life, no realized affections or distinct thought with man, except for the influx of spirits and angels; and that the real meanings which we attach to our sensations and experiences in this world are derived from the moods which spirits instil into us—moods of delight or aversion.
If we are to pursue the subject further, however, we must learn to distinguish between “particular influx” and “general influx”—between two types of influx, both mediated by the spiritual world, but affecting men in different ways.318
General Influx and Particular Influx
“There flows from the Lord through the spiritual world into the subjects of the natural world a general influx and also a particular influx—a general influx into those things which are in order, a particular influx into those which are not in order.”318 Animals are all born into the order of their creation and are ruled by a general influx, without the mediation of any spirits and angels; which is of course obvious, since animals existed before mankind. The first men were also created into the order of their lives. And before the Fall, men, like the animals, were no doubt born into similar instinctive grasp of the knowledge needed for their natural life; but they were also born with a faculty to develop a perception of spiritual wisdom which beasts cannot have. The primitive race would then have been governed, even as to their mind, by no other than a “general influx.”319
But differently from the beasts, man could change the original order of his life—although only with reference to his mental life. With the fall into sin, as hereditary evils began to multiply among men, man’s natural mind became utterly divorced from heaven. The sensual degree of that mind became by heredity so infected and perverted that the Writings declare that every tender babe now born is born in “a state of damnation!”320 For an infant feels anything as good if it favors self. This shocking truth implies first of all that man’s mind cannot any longer be governed by a general influx from heaven. The only general influx that it could receive would be a general influx from hell which would flood his unresisting understanding with fantasies of self-love. All his mental instincts would then be perverse beyond any possibility of change, and he would live like a ravening beast without any restraints of reason.321
It was therefore provided by the Lord that man’s will should be separated from his understanding so that the rational part of his mind could be built up in a certain independence of the native will. Although he might long for evil, he could then still learn about truth and good. He could see truths and reflect upon them, so that a new world could be created within him in which he becomes more or less detached from that which was natural and spontaneous to him from birth. He could then be governed in a new way under the Lord’s auspices—by “particular influx” or by limited influences through a succession of angels and spirits so counterpoised that man might be held in a freedom of choice. Two good spirits and two evil spirits thus become his attendants.
Each spirit could act upon him only by affections aroused one by one and presented as intentions and perceptions in his understanding. Good spirits could approach him through the “remains” of good and truth implanted since infancy; and evil spirits would excite the hidden states of his evil loves.
Under the regime of particular influx man is born into ignorance, not as a prey to his instincts. His responsibility is confined to the states which would be gradually aroused through knowledge and experience. His native will is mere self-love, with animal appetites capable of incredible ferocity. But man does not normally realize the character of these dormant loves, for they are mercifully covered over with apparent goods. The hereditary will is covered over, closed and reserved, lest it should overwhelm the mind with irresistible waves of passion. This is the salvation provided for the “spiritual” race on our earth, and is signified by Noah’s retreat into the ark, the lowest mansion of which was shut up.322
Through particular influx man becomes aware of his evil potentialities by their gradual admission into consciousness, as intentions; which is permitted only so far as the understanding is equipped to analyze, to recognize, and to challenge them. Man has no power to change the general state of his natural mind by any sudden exertion of free choice. But he has the power to act from his understanding and judge as to particular states when they come forth one by one. He cannot shun all his evil tendencies, but he can resist them one by one as they appear while he is in free and rational states. By placing man under the rule of particular influx, the Lord as it were permits man to break the bundle of sticks one by one.
By placing man’s disordered mind under particular influx, the Lord did not abrogate the general influx of heaven wherever such influx could be received. General influx still rules all things which are in order, and thus governs those things in body and soul which man does not control. Man has no command over his inmost soul nor over the secret operations within his body. Particular spirits attend man and rest upon his ideas and stir his various emotions, thus affecting his thought and will. But no individual spirits are appointed over that in man’s life over which he has no real direction. He is free to think, to decide what to do, and to initiate an action. But the will flows into act spontaneously, and thought flows into speech by natural processes according to an order which man does not understand because it occurs by general influx in an instinctive manner. It is done by order itself, and neither man or spirit has any part in it.323 After spending many laborious years trying to understand the subject, Swedenborg concluded that “it is better simply to know” that the will inflows and moves the body than to attempt to trace the operations in their intricate fluxions through the fibres from brain to muscles.324 The order itself is as it were implanted in nerves and muscles. Other bodily functions, like the growth of the embryo during gestation, are performed without man’s real assistance. Similarly, one tastes food and swallows it; but this being done, the digestive canal acts without the help of man in converting the food into blood.
On reflection we may see that man’s own part in life is very small, and it is sometimes said that “Nature” carries out the processes of growth, digestion, etc., with an instinctive intelligence immeasurably wiser than man’s own. But nature has no intelligence. It is the Creator Himself who inflows with life immediately into the human soul—the inmost of the spirit—and operates these miracles. The soul, which is above the ken or control of both angels and men, is created in the image and likeness of God and bears within it the cause, pattern and conatus by which the body is formed and maintained.325
The body, as to its essential form, is therefore also under the Creator’s direct rule, so that man cannot by any mental resolve make a single hair white or black. For it is under a general influx, not needing the mediation of any particular spirit.326
Yet the medium through which the human body is created and maintained by general influx is “the Grand Man, which corresponds in all its minute details to human bodies.”327 “Bodily things are exempt from the particular influx of spirits and angels,” lest men should suffer bodily obsessions.328 But the ordinate flow of the will and the thought into bodily acts is “by means of a general influx according to the correspondences of the Grand Man.”329 The human form of the body is indeed modified by parental and environmental factors, through angels, spirits and men. But this modification is comparatively slight and superficial. For “what is effected through mediate influx … is relatively very little.”330 The image of the whole of the Grand Man dominates every society of heaven, and the more general societies correspond to the organs and viscera of the body, and so regard each other mutually and make a one.331
It is a new truth revealed in the Writings that there is a general influx from each general society of heaven into the corresponding part of the human body.332 Such an influx is necessary to maintain the uses of these organs. Without it, not the smallest part of the body could have any life. We read that “spirits are appointed to every member of speech and every member of action; but these spirits do not know it.”
In fact, they are apparently not appointed as individual spirits, but as societies acting by general influx.333
From all these things the universal law may be seen that from the Lord through the spiritual world there flows a general influx into those things which are of order, and a particular influx into what is not in spontaneous order, and that man’s mind, being now in a contrary order, could not subsist without spirits adjoined to him who agree with his life.334 With the people of the most ancient church the affections, such as joy, fear, reverence or shame, were involuntarily expressed in their faces “by a general natural influx.”335 Animals, whether mild or ferocious, are governed by general influx. Indeed, nature, in whole and in part, is so governed.
But general influx has an even wider range. It may be compared with the pressure of the atmosphere which holds all things in their order. The sphere of Divine good, like an atmosphere, infills the universal heaven and encompasses, guards and preserves it. Inmostly it acts even upon the hells, although it is not openly received there and can rule only as Divine truth.336 Unless order was so imposed both in heaven and in hell, the end of creation could never be fulfilled, for even particular influx through spirits would not be possible. No freedom can exist except on the basis of order; without order there can be no clear distinctions, and thus no choice.337
Swedenborg sensed this general influx as a stream of general affections—an invisible stream of providential guidance which overrules all the conflicting endeavors of spirits and men and unifies them into forms of uses through laws of spiritual necessities. It is like an atmospheric current which holds everything in freedom, yet always within bounds. He likens the sweep of this river of heaven to the general motions of the heart and the lungs which dominate the body yet leave its parts in freedom even to the point of contrariety. He saw in it a picture of the Divine mercy.338
Spheres of Universal Loves
All life would perish unless there proceeded from the Lord certain universal spheres which fill each world, the spiritual and the natural, and sustain it.339 One of these Divine spheres looks to the preservation of the universe by means of the procreation of successive generations, and with men this makes one with the sphere of conjugial love. By a general influx it operates the miracle of propagation in all forms of life—from the simplest fern to the most perfect tree and from the unicellular protozoa to the highest mammalian structure. This sphere causes the cells to multiply and the sexes to unite from a spontaneous impulse.
With men, this sphere descends also through the celestial heaven as a free gift of conjugial love which with its ineffable delight comes to lovers everywhere as a temporary loan, by a general influx. But the feeling of selfless surrender which is instilled by this sphere cannot long remain pure, but vanishes like the manna in the desert, leaving life bleak and meaningless unless the minds of the partners are opened, by their own choice and effort, to the particular influx of celestial angels. For these inspire a resistance to evils as sins against God, and a love of the truth which alone can knit the lives of lovers more and more closely into a union of common uses— uses which make marriage the nursery of the human race and the seminary of heaven.
The second universal influx is the Divine sphere which looks to the preservation of what has been procreated. Even in the ultimates of nature we see a distant reflection of this influx in that gems are found in matrices and seeds in husks. Animals have protective coloration and by instinct build nests for their young, which they feed and defend from an inborn love called “storge.” Such a natural love of offspring is implanted in all creation. It gives the birds and beasts a herding instinct that impels an animal to give up its life for the preservation of its kind; in an unwitting resemblance to mutual love.340 Ferocious beasts and evil parents have this love as part of their love of self. How otherwise could life in its many forms be propagated generation after generation ?
A reason why the young of every species are so protected is that a sphere of innocence inflows into the helpless progeny and thence affects parents. With men, the love of procreating and the love of infants can become spiritual loves when the final end regarded is to enrich heaven with as many angels as there are descendants and when the offspring are loved for their moral virtues and their spiritual intelligence.341 Natural loves are provided as free gifts by the Lord’s general influx, to sustain His creation. But spiritual loves can be received only through the man’s own selection of associate spirits, or by particular influx.
General influx is described in the Arcana as “a continuous endeavor from the Lord through the whole heaven into everything pertaining to the life of man.”342 It presses continually for the maintenance of external order and connection and health, so far as man’s freedom will allow it. Evil spirits also are brought into order, within “generals” which govern their particular forms of spiritual rebellion.343 Indeed, there are no hells which are not opposites or perversions of some general good of heaven. And upon these opposites a certain general form of order is externally superimposed, by general influx.
How the general influx of heaven as a whole—all its provinces and societies—maintains order, is seen illustrated in human society. For in a city or commonwealth “every use derives its life from the general” or from the community. Each use depends on the common good (Char., chap. vi). And the uses spring from the natural loves which are implanted in all men. All rewards of use, all wealth, all knowledge, conies to each man from the community, which is therefore likened to a lake from which each man derives his necessities, utilities, and delights; even as the organs of the body derive their nourishment from the common bloodstream. Because of a general influx into the “common good” there can be order in society in spite of the prevalence of evil and selfishness among individuals. There is a general influx of the whole into all the parts, holding them in form. The social instinct comes from a general influx, like the herding instinct with animals. Particular influx through specific spirits who are ever changing, makes for individuality and freedom for both the evil and the good. But general influx protects the state as a whole and causes the common good to be regarded. It causes a nation to unify in face of common dangers, to harbor common ideals and common delusions and to be moved by prejudices and passions peculiar to itself.
General influx maintains cooperative order. But it does not reform the spirit of man. Only by the repentance and regeneration of its citizens can the spiritual state of a nation be changed for the better. Order and legislation can never regenerate society. They merely facilitate the mutual uses of the people. And by this they furnish a neutral plane in which both good and evil men seek their individual ends. It is a common plane for many individual states and particular attitudes, a plane of automatic procedures which cannot be essentially changed or upset by any single person. Yet there might arise a state of disorder, a break-down of civic responsibility and national consciousness on the part of individuals, a state in which the means for the proper performance of uses are lacking and the sphere of general influx can no longer operate. Such a condition brings disease and sometimes death to the commonwealth. This principle has a tremendously important bearing on national and social issues. Totalitarian government while man is evil means a surrender of that particular influx which gives freedom to repent.
Habit and General Influx
It is the Lord who rules our spirit-associations in correspondence with our states and needs. Yet man can select the spirits who rule him. Doctrine states that there is no physical influx—no influx from men to spirits or from this world into the spiritual world. We can therefore not alter the character of the spirits who are with us. They do indeed adopt our natural memory and along with it our beliefs and ideas; and they are held in these ideas as long as they are with us. But we cannot transfer to them the changes of heart which we may experience. If we from free choice shun an evil, the spirits who induced that evil are simply compelled to retire, and are separated.
Students of the Spiritual Diary have marked with surprise that the world of spirits seemed to show no effect of the strong sphere of spiritual interest and exaltation which is apparently present among Christians on the occasions of festival seasons such as Christmas and Easter. To judge from Swedenborg’s entries on such days, the spiritual world was utterly unaffected by the holiday moods of men. Yet we seem to feel a stronger sphere from the spiritual world on such days; as we also do at church gatherings and at the death of a friend. Such is the relation of the two worlds that what we do on earth—our direction and concentration of thought and affection—does no more than invite an influx from such spirits and angels as are already in the loves and thoughts which we on earth wish to entertain. They enjoy the internal sense of the things which we then read about in the Word, for in such ultimates they find their delight. And we may be allowed to hope that the spirits of evil do at least retreat somewhat when the spirit of Christmas or Easter seizes hold of men.
What men do—their habits and their reflections—invites the corresponding types of spirits. This is indeed how habits are formed. For usually a habit is of the mind before it is of the body. Our states of mind mould our habits; which is the same thing as to say that we make our own habits quite freely, by repeating the same decision again and again, thus acting in the same way under similar circumstances. We thus become less and less conscious of our habit. It becomes “second nature,” and thus almost automatic. We add it to our life, and the control of it is as it were elevated into our subconscious memory. We give up controlling the habit. It controls us.344
Viewed from the spiritual world, the establishment of a certain habit actually means that we have placed ourselves under the rule of a special kind of spirits who delight in that routine. We no longer bother to spend any thought upon it. The question whether it is right or wrong no longer comes up. This is for us a great saving of mental labor and even of physical energy. Human life would be most arduous, if not impossible, if whatever a man learned to do would have to be reasoned out again whenever he wished to repeat it. Man could then never acquire skill or facility in anything. No matter how often he had convinced himself of some truth, he would still have recurrent doubts until he worked it all out in his mind again. Under such conditions there could be no progress. Therefore we are allowed to relegate what we have once approved to the interior or subconscious memory; or what is the same, to the spontaneous working of an accepted influx from the spiritual world. And when after death we enter that world, the roads we will see and wish to travel will correspond in general to the habits of thought which we have established in this world.345
When we exercise our freedom of thought in the course of our earthly life we are, from time to time, making decisions as to what particular spirits we desire to receive; for choice has to do with “particular influx.” As long as we are in the life of the body there will be repeated opportunities for such choice. Yet it seems likely, that when we are being carried along in a confirmed habit, which has established an unconscious plane of order or second nature, individual spirits are not so much in question as whole groups of spirits—a selected group of societies through whom life is channelled into our minds.
A man must therefore take thought and explore his habits of mind and body, before they are confirmed beyond the point of no return. In our habits we can recognize the workings of our self-love, our lack of consideration and charity, our impiety, brutality, conceit, or vanity. Our habits will reveal to us our ruling loves, our besetting sins and temptations. External habits which are in themselves good may because of their obsession over us indicate that we place overmuch value on external things.
We can imagine an evil man, a slave to his passions, without restraints or shame, who by his habits has abandoned himself to the general influx from an infernal society. His love has been fixed to the degree that he no longer desires to exercise his freedom of choice, but has surrendered to evil openly and irrevocably, so that his rational mind no longer resists. His spirit is immersed into the hell of his delight. Particular influx is then renounced, and a general influx from hell takes over the government of his mind.
Yet if this be true of an evil man, it must also be true that a regenerating man—after his work of reformation, with its cultivation of good habits, has been completed—will thereafter be upheld in the spontaneous sphere of a more general influx from heaven.
General States and General Influx
A man has freedom and choice in the particular states of his life. But general states are outside of his control. It is from a “general influx” that infants grow up in an unvarying order of development, year by year. Common ages imply common states, with only slight variations. In later life there is very much more differentiation between individuals of the same ages, because as to particular states, self-chosen, men are quite unlike each other in thought and affection.
Even so, there are general or common states among adults. Those in the same use or profession are also in a common state. We often speak of the illustration of a man’s use, a peculiar attitude, light, inspiration, or wisdom, which dignifies an office. The Writings indicate that this is based on general influx, which is given where there is the order of some use. This general influx is not based on man’s regeneration, but on his devotion to the use. An unregenerate man is of course constantly tending to break down the order of his use through dishonesty or indolence and is thus in danger of losing his professional illustration. But a faithful worker—although moved by selfish interests—is externally associated with societies of that use in the other world, and is restrained by their general influx from injuring his use.
That this is so is clear from the appointed rite of priestly ordination. The use of the priesthood being essential to the welfare of mankind, the entrance into this use must be orderly, and is solemnly marked by the laying on of hands (which represents the communication of the powers of illustration) and by “the promise of the Holy Spirit.” In effect the candidate accepts the order and responsibility which open him to a general influx from societies of the priestly use in the other world. But his own personal and inward repentance and regeneration can alone open his heart to the reception of the Holy Spirit. Such internal reception must come by way of particular influx.
With respect to the general environment in which man’s spirit is, order requires that the spirits normally around a man should be those of his own religious persuasion. Without this order—which implies also a general influx to maintain it— there could be no true freedom or normal progress, but man would become an easy prey to fickle states of doubt and spiritual indecision.
Generals come first, particulars come later. We know that as an infant grows up, he enters first into concepts of most general truths and that particulars are later given to infill them. The generals of childish thought are such that they may be accepted from natural affections which are full of hereditary evils as yet hidden. It is not to be doubted that these basic orders of generals from natural experience and from the natural sense of the Word, are maintained by general influxes from the other world. And even with adults, the literal sense of the Scriptures is delightful because the things therein can be explained to favor their own states and opinions, until these generals are qualified by an understanding of particulars and these by a perception of singulars.346
It is the same with generals of doctrine which are taught in the church. These call forth a general influx—which is very vital for preserving the church. If generals of doctrine are denied or contradicted or called into question, the general influx of heaven fails to hold the thought of the church together, and a temptation arises, the outcome of which depends on the individual choice and illustration of each man of the church; for the battle must be decided in the field of particular influx. The prayer, “Lead us not into temptation,” is a prayer for the continuance of general influx whereby men are held in a general sphere of faith and charity, the protecting sphere of heaven and of the church as a whole. We are not to seek temptation, nor introduce temptation to others. Yet it is true that general influx by itself cannot at this day preserve the church. Advance can only come if there is individual study of the doctrine and an interior entrance into truths. Generals of doctrine are protective, and must be maintained as basic. But they may easily become lightly and thoughtlessly accepted—intoned as empty ritual and vain repetition.
The Invitation to the New Church—a work which records the results, in past churches, of relying on the momentum of a merely historical faith—therefore contains the following statement: “Unless the present little work be added to the preceding one [the True Christian Religion], the church cannot be healed. For it would be a merely palliative cure. . . . The doctrine of the New Church indeed furnishes the medicine, but only exteriorly” (Inv. 25). The little work referred to was therefore added; for it contained certain particulars of utmost importance for the establishment and survival of the church.
General Influx into the Mind
The body is held by the Lord under general influx, as an instrument for man’s mind. The externals of human society are also held in order by general influx. But the mind is attended by particular spirits, good and evil, which grant to men freedom of choice in matters of thought and will. Yet even within the mind general influx dominates. It is only in the thin conscious fringes of the mind that man’s own choice is actually operating. In the unplumbed depths of the mind and in the surrounding spiritual world general influxes order all things, and endow man with the power of reasoning, analysis, and logic. General influx must flow into the minds of all men. Thus it is mentioned that “there is a universal influx” into the souls of all men predisposing them to perceive “that there is a God and that He is one.”347 No man is taught by influx; but the gyre and flux imposed upon the mind are especially attuned to accept such truths. There is also a general influx out of heaven as a whole which disposes the minds of men to think of God in terms of the human form, but variously according to their states of perception and provided that there is something of order in the mind by the shunning of evils as sins. The perception of immortality is also mentioned as universal.343 Such general concepts are indeed said to be “implanted” in the mind, or to be “intuitive.” But what is meant is that they come from a general influx.
Indeed, our faculty of thinking could not operate unless certain “generals” were so implanted in our minds that we are not aware of them. Animals, of course, are wholly led by a connate disposition and order which automatically responds to specific general influxes of their predestined natural affections. It is from an ordering by general influx that both men and animals instinctively learn to judge distances and without reflection learn to avoid objects. And man learns to order all that he knows into general categories, arranging his knowledge into series and orders according to general qualities, classing particular ideas under general heads, and thus marking out limits and protective bounds within his thoughts.349
But, finally, general influx is also responsible for that gift which is common with the simple but often lacking among those of the learned who cannot think from general principles. This is “common sense”—thought that is not the product of learned arguments or preconceived logical formulas, but comes from seeing truth in its own light. Common perception is the great preservative of mankind.350 It can in a moment explode the most elaborate structure of fallacy. It spans our practical difficulties. It cuts the Gordian knot of seemingly hopeless dilemmas. It nullifies theological doubts. As a fresh breeze it clears the smoke clouds from the scene of our intellectual battles; and remains usually the sole victor. And upon it rest the blessings of heaven. Yet common sense—alone— cannot regenerate or even reform. It can but preserve the remnants of order in the mind.
Whatever comes from general influx depends on a remnant of order, on the health of the body or the mind. Where evil steps in or disease enters this order is disturbed, and heaven reluctantly withdraws her protective wings somewhat, with the distressing result that individual spirits of hell begin to inflow.
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