I am the vine, ye are the branches. He that abideth in me,
and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit ; for without
me ye can do nothing. — John xv. 5.
THE general truth contained in this portion of the Divine Word is this : that man’s life consists in his conjunction with the Lord, and that severed from Him he is nothing. The doctrines of the New Church teach the same truth when they declare that ” man is a mere organ of life.” It is this truth to which I wish to invite your attention, a truth fundamental to all knowledge of man’s own nature and of his relations to the Lord. Let us look first at the truth itself. ”Man is a mere organ of life, ” or as it is expressed in other words, ” a form receptive of life.” This is not a figurative or relative expression. Man is just as truly a mere form or organ of life as a tree. He has no more life in himself—that is, no more life that has its origin in him—than a piece of granite has. For there can be only one being who has life in himself, —that is, underived life,— for to have life in one’s self is to be self- existent, and to be self-existent is to be uncreated, and to be uncreated is to be Divine, to be God.
All men who acknowledge a God assent to this truth in some form. But still it is generally supposed that man is endowed with certain faculties or powers and then left to himself in some measure to work out his destiny, or to live ; and thus the idea is entertained that man has independent and self-acting power, though in the beginning he was created. The Creator gave him a start, as it were, made him to be seif-existent, and then left him to himself so far as mere living is concerned, and only teaches him from without, as we teach one another, how to live. Most men who think at all upon the subject doubtless suppose that the Lord made man somewhat as a man forms a machine, with the difference that man is a self-acting machine, and when once created they suppose that he goes on perpetuating himself without any immediate, special agency of the Creator.
The practical effect of this doctrine is the denial of the immediate and constant agency of the Lord in life. We rarely, if ever, think of the origin of our life, and remember only that we now live and seem to live of ourselves. Now, the plain, simple truth is that man is a mere organ of life, or a form by which life from the Lord is manifested, and it is by a constant action of the Divine life upon or through this form that man has any life. It is the Divine influx or inflowing that gives life to this form that we call man.
So far as our observation extends we know that this is a universal law. No finite thing that we have any knowledge of has any life in itself, and all that we call its life is a constant inflowing into it. If we look at the human body we shall find abundant illustration of the principle. The human eye is a mere organ of sight. It has no light in itself No phenomena appear until the eye is acted upon, until it is set in motion by the influx of the ether. When its waves flow in, this organism is set in motion, and. the result is sight. When they cease, sight ceases. So the ear is a mere organ or form of hearing, and is adapted in every respect to the air. When the waves of the air flow in, the organ is set in motion, and the effect is a sound. It is with the ear just as it is with the pipe of an organ ; when the inflowing wave ceases, then the sound ceases.
The same is true of taste and of touch. No sensation is excited unless something acts upon the organ formed for that sense and excites it, and when the action ceases the sensation ceases. So the whole human body, in every part, from the least to the greatest, within and without, is made up of mere organs. They are not all organs of sensation. The brain is the organ of thought, the tongue and larynx are organs of speech, the heart is an organ for propelling the blood, the lungs for breathing, the feet and legs are the organs of locomotion. Not one of them has the least life in itself, or acts unless it is impelled ; when the motive power is shut off the organ ceases its motion, as a wheel ceases to revolve when the propelling force ceases to act.
The heart does seem to expand and contract of itself, but we know that it does not ; for when the spirit leaves the body the heart has no motion. If it were really selfacting it would keep on. The human body, then, is a series and congeries of organs, and every action, motion, and affection that we can predicate of it is caused by some force flowing into these forms and setting them in motion.
This law or mode of the Divine operation is universal, so far as our observation extends. Is it rational to suppose that the action of the law is limited by man’s powers of observation? Certainly not. As far as observation extends, it teaches us that the Lord never contradicts Himself, that He works after the same general plan everywhere. Reason, then, may take up the thread when observation can go no further, and show by the laws of analogy and correspondence how the Lord works in degrees or planes of the mind entirely above our observation. When we pass from the study of man’s body to his spirit, we conclude that as the combination of material organs compose the body and make the material form of man, so, as to his spirit also, man is a mere organ of life, an organ composed of a series and congeries of spiritual forms, which in their combination make up the human form. There is no more life in itself in the spirit than there is in the body. It is an organ receptive of life. There is a spiritual eye and a spiritual ear and heart; there are spiritual lungs and hands and feet, and all the other organs, internal and external, that make up the human form, and they are composed of spiritual substances, and are as perfectly adapted to a world composed of spiritual substances as the material man is to the material world. The eye is set in motion by waves of a spiritual ether, the ear vibrates to a spiritual air, the lungs breathe a spiritual atmosphere. The heart propels spiritual blood. When the natural body is laid aside, the spiritual senses are affected by contact with spiritual forms ; the foot treads upon a spiritual earth, which is composed of a greater variety of forms than the material earth. Men live in spiritual houses and wear spiritual garments and engage in various uses suited to the world they are in, and yet that whole world and all who are in it are mere organs of life, having the same relations to one another that material forms have. If we ascend to the highest angel we shall find him a mere organ of life, having no more life in himself than a string or pipe of a musical instrument, and no more power to set himself in motion or to live from himself.
We come to this conclusion, then, that the whole universe of angels, spirits, men, animals, vegetables, and worlds is a vast complicated organism, having no life in itself in any of its parts or forms. It is created by the Lord to be the organ of life which flows into it from Him, and sustains and animates it. The Lord constantly creates and gives ; all that created things or beings can do is to receive. And this is the next principle which I wish to notice. The measure and quality of the life we receive depend upon our capacity or ability to receive. This is also a universal law. The Lord is omnipresent in all His fulness, but He can only be received according to the capacity of the recipient form. This diversity of ability is illustrated in the human body in the same manner as diversity of form. The vibrations in the air that produce the sensation of sound are just as much present to the hand and eye as they are to the ear, but they are received and perceived only by the ear because that is the only organ whose form is adapted to the purpose. The modulations of the ether float all around us and fall upon us from every direction, but the eye only has any knowledge of them, because it is the only organ formed to receive them. All the causes which excite the sensations of sight, smell, taste, and hearing may be present to the hand ; all their undulations may fall upon it, but it does not discern their presence, though one of the most wonderful organs in the body, simply because it is not fitted to receive them. Place a person destitute of eyes in the midst of a beautiful landscape. The flowing stream, the quiet valley, the gently-rising upland, and the varied outlines of a wide sweep of hills, diversified with innumerable forms of tree and rock and animal, canopied by the blue sky or the ever-shifting forms and hues of the clouds lighted up by the glories of the rising or the setting sun,—all this infinite variety of form and color and beauty is a blank to him, though the causes which should reveal its presence, the undulations in the ether reflected from them, fall upon him from every point. The only want is in him. He has no organs to receive these motions, and consequently they are to him as though they were not. What is true of the eye is true of the ear and of every material organ. All material organs are made and adapted to be acted upon by material agents, and the manifestations, effects, or phenomena are in exact accordance with the power and degree of reception. The higher the form of the organ, the nobler its functions, the more excellent the forces of life which it receives and to which it responds. If, now, we ascend to the spiritual forms, we shall find the same general law, only varied in its effects with the capacity of the form. The Lord is present to every man’s spirit with all His love and wisdom, but He can communicate only what can be received, and what can be received depends upon the quality of the organ. The phenomena or the resulting effects of influx into the spiritual organs which compose the man are thoughts and affections. Thoughts and affections are changes of state and activities of spiritual forms, just as sound and light are the effects of the air and ether falling upon and setting in motion the organs of the ear and eye. And the thought and affection are exactly according to the measure of reception.
We should rationally expect that forms composed of substances so eminent in excellence would be susceptible of corresponding effects, and we find it is so. Our observation also, as far as it extends, teaches us that the higher the form and medium, the more varied and noble the results. The rock receives only sufficient influx, which we call attraction, to hold its particles together. It is a mere mass. In the vegetable world we first find organized forms, but each form is fixed to one spot. It has growth within certain limits, but no sensation. The animal kingdom possesses locomotion and sensation, and it possesses them by virtue of its higher organization. Man possesses all these, and within and above them a spiritual and celestial organism, and it is these highest forms which really constitute his humanity and elevate him above the animal.
The pre-eminent quality of a spiritual form is that it is not subject to the laws of fixed time and space. Organs formed of matter grow chiefly by increase in size. But a spiritual form grows by perfecting its state. Spiritual forms are as clearly defined and distinct from one another as material, and appear to be, and are in one sense, in space, as much as material forms ; but the spaces are not fixed and independent of the mind, but conform to it. From this quality of spirit it will be readily seen that there are no limits to its growth. A spiritual form may increase in the quality of its state to eternity,—that is, without any limitations as to time and space. Nor can it be destroyed or dissipated as a material form can, which can communicate itself only by giving away a part of itself A sum of money, a piece of land, or a body of water is diminished by whatever is removed from it. But with the spiritual forms it is not so. It matters not how often a thought or affection is communicated to another, it still remains in the mind, and has even been increased by the efforts to communicate it. Thus it can be readily seen that it is impossible to dissolve and disperse a spiritual form. Spiritual death is not the dissolution of the soul, its ceasing to exist as a form, but its malformation, its disorderly action.
Another peculiar and prominent quality of the spiritual forms which constitute the human mind is, that they retain every motion that is communicated to them. This quality, with the power of reproducing every motion and change of state which has ever been excited in the mind, we call memory. Thus all our states return, and may return to eternity, though modified by all succeeding states.
Another quality peculiar to the most perfect spiritual forms Is that their activities are attended with consciousness. We know that we love and think. The rock does not know that it exists, the tree does not know that it grows, nor has the animal any power to reflect upon the fact of its existence.
Another quality of the highest human faculties is that they act in freedom. Their freedom is just as much a gift of the Lord as the power of motion or thought, or any other power. We can act as of ourselves. While it is true that all life comes from the Lord, it so comes that we do not perceive its influx. Our first intimation of it is in its effect upon ourselves. Thus we seem to live of ourselves. This is of the Lord’s love, that man might not be a mere machine, but a free and intelligent agent. Thus man has the power constantly given to him to receive or to reject the Lord’s influx into him. He can turn himself away from Him, or he can turn himself towards Him. He can live in order or disorder.
Man’s spiritual form is constantly perfected by right action and injured by wrong action. It is at first a mere possibility, but constantly unfolds and develops by use. And it develops in two ways ; each organ becomes more perfect, and new degrees of life or higher spiritual forms are constantly coming forward. Every new truth received into the mind, and woven into its tissues by the affections, becomes a new organ for the reception of a larger measure of the Divine life. And every heavenly affection of charity to the neighbor or love to the Lord is, in itself considered, an harmonious modulation of the whole spiritual form, and has a permanent effect. It tends to induce a state of such orderly and heavenly action that the form is more easily set in motion in the same way again. In time a habit, as we term it, is formed,—that is, the form takes on these motions spontaneously without any effort of the will, whenever the existing cause is present, as the aeolian harp rises and falls in harmonious chords when the wind breathes upon it. The highest attainable perfection, then, of any created being, is this abiUty to receive the Divine life in the largest measures and highest forms. To be a recipient of the Divine love and wisdom is the very end for which man was created. The Lord made him in His image and likeness, that he might be a form in every respect adapted to the reception of life from Him. Man is a mere organ, but an organ after a Divine pattern. All that the Lord asks of man is to receive Him and to enjoy the blessedness of conjunction with Him.
This is a great practical truth of paramount importance to every created being. Let us state it clearly. “Man is a mere organ of life.” He is a combination of forms connected together in series and degrees, one within another, and all so related, though indefinite in number and degree, that they form a one, which in the complex we call man. All the phenomena of life, all affection, thought, sensation, all that we perceive as pleasure or pain, every possible quality that we can predicate of man, is caused by influx into this wonderful combination of forms. The influx, with its effect and manifestation, is always determined by the form, as the quality of a musical sound is determined, other things being equal, by the nature and quality of the instrument. The Lord is present to every created being and to every created thing with all His love and wisdom, to the highest angel in heaven and to the lowest devil in hell, to the wisest sage upon earth and to the infant just born, to every animal and tree and rock ; but each one can receive only that which its form adapts it to receive.
The Lord is present to each one of us now, but we see Him not, because we do not receive Him. We should not any of us need to move from our places to see the ineffable splendors of the celestial heaven and groups of angels of a loveliness and beauty beyond our conception, and to hear harmonies such as never fell upon mortal ear, if we had the organs to receive such a revelation. We stand in the universe like a statue in a garden. The sun pours his mid-day splendors, his rising and his setting glories, upon it ; those motions in the ether which would communicate to the living eye the forms and colors of all surrounding objects fall upon the stony eyeball ; the fragrance of a thousand flowers is wafted on every breeze, and the minstrelsy of a thousand winds plays around the well-cut ear, but it stands with dead and stony gaze through summer’s heat and winter’s cold, unmoved by the beauty of spring or the golden wealth of autumn. Why ? Because it has no organism within to receive and be played upon by these manifold forces. So we stand in the midst of the spiritual world because we deny our higher life. We turn away from the Lord and refuse to receive Him. He stands at the door and knocks ; He presses upon every avenue as the air presses upon us. But we can only receive what we have the organs to receive.
There are in every human soul the possibilities of only less than infinite power and blessedness, but they remain mere possibilities, like the germ of a seed before it begins to grow, because we do not suffer life from the Lord to flow into them and bring them out into definite form and fill them with the activities of His own love. By our evils and falses we bar every access of the Lord to our souls, over which we have control, and by the perversion of our spiritual forms we change all that does flow in, from the perfect order, beauty, and harmony of heaven into infernal ugliness and grating discords. We suffer the cursed dust of mere earthly loves to settle down upon the fine but unused tissues of the higher faculties within us, and the damp mould of earthly passions to gather upon them, or the scorching fires of selfish and worldly loves to sear and wither their fair forms. We are dwarfs in spiritual stature, and our life is poor and mean, because we will not admit the Divine love and wisdom into our souls. We are like the stunted shrubs of arctic climes because we turn away from the sun of heaven.
How poor and disjointed and lean is even the best life compared with what it might be, and would be if we would receive what the Lord wishes and strives to give us ! Here we stand in the midst of the infinite : organs of life after the image and likeness of the infinite. The Lord calls to us in every conceivable form, “Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, . . . yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.” But we heed it not. The sweet, heavenly melody of His voice is swallowed up and lost amid the din and roar and harsh discords of worldly life. We are hurrying to and fro to get something to satisfy the clamorous appetites of selfish and worldly desires. We give free access to the influx into the organs of sensual and natural life, and they grow strong and huge and many-handed, grasping and crushing on every side, while the angels, who come to bring us heaven and eternal life, sit alone, unheeded in the dusty, dwarfed, and desolate upper chambers of the mind.
The Lord has created us forms receptive of life,—of His life. He has so made us that we are free to receive it in true order or not. We can receive it into the lower or the higher forms of our mind. He offers us the highest good and the lowest. We can receive either only by becoming its form. The question for every man and every woman to determine is this, and it is of all questions the most important : What kind of a form shall I become ? What shall I be ? It is not a question of words, but of life. Here is the life of infinite love and wisdom, freely offering itself to become formed and ultimated in me. Shall I admit it only in inverted order into the lowest forms of my mind, the natural plane of life ? If I do, I shut it out from all above, and the highest, noblest, most capacious and fruitful portion of my spiritual organism is severed from the Lord and becomes a withered branch. And all that is received is inverted. It is changed from life to death. The loves of self and the world reign, mad passions rage. The mind becomes a cage of unclean birds, of pride and envy and malice and low cunning and the greed of gain, ambition, cruelty, malevolence, and a fruitful swarm of low, vile, sensual delights, which bite and sting and poison in the end. All its motions will be discords. All its activities will clash and war with one another. All its truths will be lies, all its loves evils. It will be to the spiritual sun what the deadly nightshade is to the natural sun, turning all its pure light and heat into poison. Who wishes to become such an alembic, to distil infernal poison out of the sweet and fragrant blossoms of heaven ? Doubtless there would be a prompt and unanimous denial in words of any such wish. But what says that higher and truer voice, the hfe ? What did you do when you spoke evil of your neighbor ? when you forgot his interests in your eagerness to secure your own ? when you coveted his goods or his place, or when you were puffed up with self-conceit, or elated with pride at some possession ? What answer did you give when you let the serpent of any sensual love breathe lies into your ear ? No evil can come into the mind and be loved unless the mind is itself the form of that evil. What we receive and love we are.
If we receive the Divine life into the highest forms of our mind, into the will, the love, it will flow down into all the lower forms of the mind in order and harmony. It will enlighten the understanding with truth, it will flow down through all the affections, and out in every act, transforming everything into its own likeness. We shall be filled with the fulness of love. There will be love to the Lord and to the neighbor. There will be a clear light in the understanding, and a sweet, serene peace will flow like a river through every channel of the soul. We shall be formed after the pattern of heaven. Heaven will be within us. Every form will grow into its ineflable beauty. The soul will be built up in all its fair proportions, and every fibre of every form will be tremulous with its harmonies. The Divine love and wisdom will flow into us unimpeded. We shall abide in the Lord, and He in us. We shall be conjoined with Him, and He will withhold from us no good. All our activities will be free, because they will flow from our loves ; and the life of to-day will be but the bud which will blossom to-morrow and the next day ripen into fruit. And thus we may go on to eternity, making each attainment and each measure of blessedness the starting-point for a nobler height and a fuller measure of joy. Is it not, then, the question of questions ? Should we not propose it to ourselves every morning? What life shall flow through me to-day ? And every evening should we not ask ourselves the question, Of what have I been the organ to-day ?—life or death ? Stand up bravely to the question. Let it echo and re-echo through every chamber of the soul ; for on its answer will depend how much life you will receive, and what will be the quality of that life.
Author: Chauncey Giles, From Progress in Spiritual Knowledge, 1895