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Divine Providence, by Emanuel Swedenborg, [1764], tr. by William Frederic Wunsch [1851] at


THE Book

The reader will find in this book a firm assurance of God's care of mankind as a whole and of each human being. The assurance is rested in God's infinite love and wisdom, the love pure mercy, the wisdom giving love its ways and means. It is further grounded in an interpretation of the universe as a spiritual-natural world, an interpretation fully set forth in the earlier book, _Divine Love and Wisdom_, on which the present work draws heavily. As there is a world of the spirit, no view of providence can be adequate which does not take that world into account. For in that world must be channels for the outreach of God's care to the human spirit. There also any eternal goal--such as a heaven from the human race--must exist. A view of providence limited to the horizons of the passing existence can hardly resemble the care which the eternal God takes of men and women who, besides possessing perishable bodies, are themselves creatures of the spirit and immortal. The full title of the book, _Angelic Wisdom about Divine Providence_, implies that its author, in an other-world experience, had at hand the knowledge which men and women in heaven have of God's care. Who should know the divine guidance if not the men and women in heaven who have obviously enjoyed it? "The laws of divine providence, hitherto hidden with angels in their wisdom, are to be revealed now" (n. 70).

As it is presented in this book, providence seeks to engage man in its purposes, and to enlist all his faculties, his freedom and reason, his will and understanding, his prudence and enterprise. It acts first of all on his volitions and thinking, to align them with itself. That it falls directly on history, its events and our circumstances, is a superficial view. It is man's inner life which first feels the omnipresent divine influence and must do so. If we cannot be lifted to our best selves and if our aims and outlook cannot be modified for the better, how shall the world be bettered which we affect to handle? Paramount in God's presence with all men, if only in their possibilities, is His providential care.

This care, to which man's inner life is open, is alert every moment, not occasional. It is gentle and not tyrannical, constantly respecting man's freedom and reason, otherwise losing him as a human being. It has set this and other laws for itself which it pursues undeviatingly. The larger part of the book is an exposition of these laws in the conviction that by them the nature of providence is best seen. Is it not to be expected in a universe which has its laws, and in which impersonal forces are governed by laws, that the Creator of all should pursue laws in His concern with the lives of conscious beings? To fit a world of laws must not the divine care have its laws, too? Adjustment of thought about divine providence to scientific thought is not the overriding necessity, for scientific thought must keep adjusting to laws which it discerns in the physical world. In consonance, religious thought seeks to learn the lawful order in the guidance of the human spirit.

Do not each and all things in tree or shrub proceed constantly and wonderfully from purpose to purpose according to the laws of their order of things? Why should not the supreme purpose, a heaven from the human race, proceed in similar fashion? Can there be anything in its progress which does not proceed with all constancy according to the laws of divine providence? (n 332)

Respecting the laws of providence, it is to be noted that there are more laws than those, five in number, which are stated at the heads of as many chapters in the book. Further laws are embodied in other chapters. At n. 249(2) we are told that further laws were presented in nn. 191-213, 214-220, and 221-233. In fact, at n. 243. there is a reference to laws which follow in even later chapters. In nn. 191-213 the law, partly stated in the heading over the chapter, comes to full sight particularly at n. 210(2), namely, that providence, in engaging human response, shall align human prudence with itself, so that providence becomes one's prudence (n. 311e). In nn. 214-220 the law is that providence employ the temporal goals of distinction and wealth towards its eternal goals, and perpetuate standing and wealth in a higher form, for a man will then have sought them not for themselves and handled them for the use they can be. To keep a person from premature spiritual experience, nn. 221-233, is obviously a law of providence, guarding against relapse and consequent profanation of what had become sacred to him.

The paradox of divine foreknowledge and human freedom, regularly discussed in studies of providence, receives an explanation which becomes more and more enlightening in the course of the book. The paradox, probably nowhere else discussed, of man's thinking and willing to all appearance all by himself, and of the fact that volition and thought come to him from beyond him, receives a similar, cumulative answer. The tension between the divine will and human self-will is a subject that pervades the book; to that subject the profoundest insights into the hidden activity of providence and into human nature are brought. On the question, "Is providence only general or also detailed?" the emphatic answer is that it cannot be general unless it takes note of the least things. On miracle and on chance conclusions unusual in religious thought meet the reader. The inequalities, injustices and tragedies in life which raise doubts of the divine care are faced in a long chapter after the concept of providence has been spread before the reader. What would be the point in considering them before what providence is has been considered? Against what manner of providence are the arguments valid? A chapter such as this, on doubts of providence and on the mentality which cherishes them, becomes a monograph on the subject, as the chapter on premature spiritual experience, with the risk of relapse and profanation, becomes a monograph on kinds of profanation.

Coming by revelation and by a lengthy other-world experience on Swedenborg's part (in which he learned of the incorrectness of some of his own beliefs, nn. 279(2), 290) the book, like others of his, nevertheless has for an outstanding feature a steady address to the reason. The profoundest truths of the spiritual life, among them the nature of God and the laws and ways of providence, are not beyond grasp by the reason. Sound reason Swedenborg credits with lofty insights.

_Divine Providence_ is a book to be studied, and not merely read, and studied slowly. By its own way of proceeding, it extends an invitation to read, not straight through, but something like a chapter at a time. In a new chapter Swedenborg will recall for the reader what was said in the preceding chapter, as though the reader had mean-while laid the book down. The revelator proceeds at a measured pace, carries along the whole body of his thought, and places each new point in this larger context, where it receives its precise significance and its full force. It is an accumulation of thought and not a repetition of statements merely that one meets. "What has been written earlier cannot be as closely connected with what is written later as it will be if the same things are recalled and placed with both in view" (n. 193 (1)).