True Christian Religion #74

By Emanuel Swedenborg

Study this Passage

/ 853  

74. The third experience.

I saw in the distance a number of people assembled with hats on their heads. Some had silk bands on their hats, to show they were clergymen; others, who were laymen, had the brims of their hats decorated with golden bands. All of them were educated and learned people. I also saw some people wearing caps 1 , and they were uneducated.

On approaching I heard them talking among themselves about unlimited Divine power, saying that if it operated according to some laws of order which had been passed, it would not be unlimited, but limited, and so power, but not omnipotence. 'But anyone can see,' they said, 'that no kind of compulsion could force omnipotence to act in one way and not another. To be sure, when we think about omnipotence and at the same time about laws of order which it is compelled to observe, our preconceived 2 notions about omnipotence collapse, like arms leaning on a broken stick.'

[2] Seeing me standing nearby some of them hastened up and said with some vehemence: 'Are you the man who has encumbered God with laws like fetters? What a presumptuous thing to do! By doing this you have shattered our faith, which is the basis of our salvation, in the midst of which we set the righteousness of the Redeemer, above it the omnipotence of God the Father, and we attach as an appendage the working of the Holy Spirit, which is effective while man is totally impotent in spiritual matters; all man needs to do is to proclaim the completeness of justification, which by Divine omnipotence is present in that faith. But I have been told that you see an empty void in that faith, because it contains nothing of Divine order on man's part.'

On hearing this I broke silence and said in a loud voice: 'Learn the laws of Divine order, and then open up your faith; you will see a vast desert and in it the long, sinuous Leviathan 3 surrounded by nets so knotted that they could never be disentangled. But do what we read Alexander did on seeing the Gordian knot; he drew his sword and cut it in two, so severing its contortions, threw it on the ground and trampled its strands under his heel.'

[3] This speech made the assembly bite their tongues, for they wanted to sharpen them to make a cutting reply; but they did not dare, because they saw heaven lying open above me, and heard a voice from there: 'Restrain yourselves and listen first to what order is, the laws of which Almighty God follows in His actions. God', the voice said 4 , 'created the universe from Himself in His capacity as Order, by order and to be subject to order. Likewise He created man, in whom He established the laws of his own order to make him an image and likeness of God. These are briefly, that he should believe in God and love the neighbour; so far as he applies his natural powers to performing those two actions, so far does he make himself a receiver of Divine omnipotence, and so far does God link Himself to him, and him to God. His faith thus becomes a living and saving faith, and his actions become charity, which also is living and saving. But it should be known that God is constantly present, continually striving and acting on the person, and touching his free will but never forcing it. For if God were to force a person's free will, his dwelling in God would be destroyed, and he would be left only with God's dwelling in him. This is something which all enjoy on earth as much as in heaven, and so do those in hell. For this is the source of their ability, will and understanding. The reciprocal dwelling of a person in God only occurs with those who live in accordance with the laws of order enacted in the Word; and these people become images and likenesses of Him, paradise is given them to possess, and the fruit of the tree of life to eat. The rest gather around the tree of knowledge of good and evil, talk with the serpent there, and eat of its fruit. But after this they are banished from paradise. Yet God does not abandon them; it is they who abandon God.'

[4] The people who wore hats understood and approved of this. But those who wore caps objected, saying: 'By this surely omnipotence is limited, and limited omnipotence is a contradiction in terms.'

'It is no contradiction,' I replied, 'to act omnipotently in accordance with the laws of righteousness with judgment, or according to the laws engraved upon love by wisdom. But it is a contradiction to say that God can act contrary to the laws of His own righteousness and love, for that would be to lack judgment and wisdom. It is that sort of contradiction your faith involves, if you believe that God can simply by grace justify the unrighteous, and mark him out by all the gifts of salvation and rewards of life. But I will tell you in a few words what God's omnipotence is. God by His omnipotence created the universe, and at the same time implanted order in every part of it. God also by His omnipotence preserves the universe and maintains order there with its laws for ever, and when anything slips out of order, brings it back and restores it. Moreover, God by His omnipotence established the church and in the Word revealed the laws of its order; and when it fell away from order, He restored it, and when its fall was complete, came down Himself into the world, and by assuming human form put on omnipotence and re-established it.

[5] 'God by His omnipotence and also omniscience examines everyone after death, and prepares the righteous or sheep for their places in heaven, to build up heaven from them; and prepares the unrighteous or goats for their places in hell, and builds up hell from them. Both heaven and hell He arranges into communities and assemblies in accordance with all the varieties in their love; there are as many of these in heaven as there are stars in the sky we see in the world. He links the communities in heaven into a unit, so that in His sight they are like one person, and likewise the assemblies in hell, so that they are like one devil. He separates one party from the other by an abyss, so that hell can offer no violence to heaven, nor can heaven torment hell. For those who are in hell suffer torment to the extent that they feel the influence of heaven. If God from His omnipotence were not doing all this at every moment, such savagery would overcome human beings that they could no longer be restrained by any laws of order, and thus the human race would be destroyed. These and similar things would happen, if God were not order, and omnipotent in order.'

On hearing this those who wore hats went away with their hats under their arms, praising God. (For in that world intelligent people wear hats.) But those who wore caps did not, because they are bald; and baldness is a sign of stupidity. These went off to the left, the others to the right.


1. The Latin word tiara usually indicates some sort of oriental headdress; the distinction here intended may be the absence of brims.

2. The Latin has praeceptae meaning 'commanded', but praeconceptae 'preconceived' is probably intended.

3. This is the version Swedenborg follows of Isaiah 27:1 (e.g. at Arcana Caelestia 7293).

4. The Latin has 'it said' (i.e. the voice), but in view of the rest of this section dixit is probably a misprint for dixi 'I said'.

/ 853  

Thanks to the Swedenborg Society for the permission to use this translation.