A common function of the Holy Spirit in the salvation of sinners, according to Catholicism, mainstream Protestantism, and the Reformed Church, among others, is derived from passages like the following:

(John 6:44 NASB) "No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day.

(2 Timothy 2:24-26 NASB) "The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will."

(Matthew 16:15-17 NASB) He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven."

(2 Corinthians 2:12-14) Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words. But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.

From these passages and others like them, the Christian groups above have commonly established certain functions of the Holy Spirit in the salvation of the individual:

  • It is by the Holy Spirit that the individual becomes aware of their sin.
  • It is by the Holy Spirit that the individual gains knowledge of the identity of the Son of God- Jesus Christ.
  • It is by the Holy Spirit that the individual acquires the desire to follow Jesus Christ in word and deed.
  • It is by the Holy Spirit that the individual is enabled to act toward this knowledge and desire.
  • The Holy Spirit dwells within the convert as a guarantee of their salvation, empowering them to act according to Jesus' commandments regarding Christian living.

However, Swedenborg does not acknowledge that a person needs to know that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, nor desire to follow Jesus Christ in word, nor to adopt Christian living1, in order to be saved.

With these things in mind, my question is,

"What is the role of the Holy Spirit in Swedenborg's soteriology?"

1. For the purpose of this question, let us regard the aspects of Christian living to be the worship of Jesus Christ in word and deed, Christian education, ministry to the Body of Christ, and evangelism of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.


2 Answers 2


I work for the Swedenborg Foundation and can provide this answer from Rev. James. F Lawrence, D.Min., Ph.D. Dean of the Center for Swedenborgian Studies and also Assistant Professor of Spirituality and Historical Studies at the Graduate Theological Union. We hope this helps!

I would say the Holy Spirit in Swedenborg is simply the divine proceeding and provides a way to understand how God as the Lord moves within us. The Holy Spirit isn't an entity unto itself, but is the active dimension of God in the present tense and refers specifically to human affairs. Thus, for soteriology (salvation) the Holy Spirit is the divine presence and force of love and wisdom available to the soul in its daily living of making choices of how to live. The sum will ultimately shape the direction and destination, but no matter where that is going the Holy Spirit is never absent. The extent to which an individual responds affirmatively to the divine will have an effect as to how intimate the Holy Spirit becomes or not, but that force field that integrates with the divine or repels the divine is determined by the individual.

Here are some passages from Swedenborg's own writings on the topic in True Christianity #142–145:


Generally speaking, the divine actions and powerful effects meant by the Holy Spirit are the acts of reforming and regenerating us. Depending on the outcome of this reformation and regeneration, the divine actions and powerful effects also include the acts of renewing us, bringing us to life, sanctifying us, and making us just; and depending on the outcome of these in turn, the divine actions and powerful effects also include the acts of purifying us from evils, forgiving our sins, and ultimately saving us.

These are the powerful effects, one after the other, that the Lord has on people who believe in him and who adapt and modify themselves in order to welcome him and invite him to stay. Divine truth has these effects. Among Christians the Word has these effects because the Word is the only means by which Christians can go to the Lord and the Lord can come to them. As I said before, the Lord is absolute divine truth; so is everything that emanates from him. It is important to take this to mean the divine truth in connection with goodness, which is the same as faith in connection with goodwill; faith is nothing but truth, and goodwill is nothing but goodness.

The divine truth in connection with goodness, that is, faith in connection with goodwill, is the force that reforms and regenerates us; then renews us, brings us to life, sanctifies us, and justifies us; and, depending on our level of growth and forward movement, purifies us from evils. (Being purified from our evils is the same as having our sins forgiven.)

All these actions of the Lord cannot be explained here one by one, however. Each one would need its own analysis with support from the Word and illustrative reasoning. This is not the place for that. The reader [who wishes to know more about them] should turn instead to the topics that come later in the book: goodwill [§§392–462], faith [§§336–391], free choice [§§463–508], repentance [§§509–570], and reformation and regeneration [§§571–625].

It is important to know that the Lord is carrying out these salvation processes in every single one of us all the time. They are the steps to heaven. The Lord wants to save everyone; his purpose is to save all people. Anyone who has a purpose desires the means to achieve it. The Lord’s coming, his redeeming humankind, and his suffering on the cross were for the sake of our salvation (Matthew 18:11; Luke 19:10). Because saving people was his purpose and is his purpose forever, it follows that having the powerful effects on us that were just listed is his intermediate purpose, and saving us is his ultimate purpose.


The producing of these powerful effects is the “Holy Spirit” that the Lord sends to those who believe in him and who modify themselves to receive him. The producing of these powerful effects is also meant by “the spirit” in the following passages:

I will give a new heart and a new spirit. I will put my spirit within you and I will make you walk the path of salvation. (Ezekiel 36:26, 27; 11:19)

Create a clean heart in us, O God, and renew a firm spirit within me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and let a willing spirit sustain me. (Psalms 51:10, 12)

Jehovah forms the human spirit within us. (Zechariah 12:1)

In my soul I awaited you at night. In my spirit, which is within me, I awaited you in the morning. (Isaiah 26:9)

Make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit. Why should you die, O house of Israel? (Ezekiel 18:31)

And so on.

In these passages, “a new heart” means wanting what is good and “a new spirit” means understanding what is true. The reference to God’s giving a soul to those who walk the path of salvation makes it clear that the Lord has these powerful effects on those who do what is good and believe what is true—those who have a faith that is connected with goodwill. This is also clear from the mention of a “willing spirit.” The necessity for us to do our part of the work is clear from the following words: “Make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit. Why should you die, O house of Israel?” [Ezekiel 18:31].


We read that when Jesus was baptized the heavens opened and John saw the Holy Spirit coming down like a dove (Matthew 3:16; Mark 1:10; Luke 3:22; John 1:32, 33). This happened because baptism means regeneration and purification, and so does a dove.

Surely anyone can see that that dove was not the Holy Spirit and that the Holy Spirit was not in the dove. In heaven doves appear quite often. Every time they appear, the angels know that they correspond to feelings and thoughts in other angels nearby about regeneration and purification. As soon as the angels go to those other angels and start a conversation on a different subject than the one being pondered when the doves appeared, the doves immediately vanish.

The situation is similar with many things the prophets saw. John, for example, saw a lamb on Mount Zion (Revelation 14:1 and elsewhere). Surely everyone realizes that the Lord was not that lamb and was not in that lamb. The lamb was instead a representation of the Lord’s innocence. This highlights the error of those who deduce the existence of three persons in the Trinity from the dove seen above the Lord when he was baptized and the voice heard from heaven saying, “This is my beloved Son” [Matthew 3:16, 17].

The Lord uses faith and goodwill to regenerate us. This is the meaning of John the Baptist’s saying, “I baptize you for repentance with water, but the one who is coming after me will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire” (Matthew 3:11; Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16). Baptizing with the Holy Spirit and with fire means regenerating through the divine truth that is in faith and the divine goodness that is in goodwill. The following words of the Lord also mean the same thing: “Unless you have been born of water and spirit you cannot enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:5). “Water” in this passage, and elsewhere in the Word, means truth in our earthly or outer self, while “spirit” means truth connected with goodness in our spiritual or inner self.


Now, the Lord is absolute divine truth from divine goodness—this is his very essence. We all do what we do because of our essence. It is clear then that the Lord constantly tries (and cannot help trying) to implant truth and goodness, or faith and goodwill, in everyone.

Many things in the world could be used to illustrate this [connection between essence and action]. For one thing, we all will and think, and as much as possible speak and act, on the basis of our essence. Faithful people, for example, have faithful thoughts and intentions. People who are honorable, honest, godly, and religious have thoughts and intentions that are honorable, honest, godly, and religious. On the other hand, people who are arrogant, cunning, deceitful, and greedy have thoughts and intentions that are one with their essence. Jokers want only to joke around, and fools want only to babble their opposition to anything wise. In a word, an angel focuses and works only on what is heavenly, and a devil only on what is hellish.

As this is true of every bird, animal, fish, and winged or wingless insect, so it is true of every creature in the animal kingdom down to the lowest level: everything is known by its essence or nature. Every creature has its instincts accordingly.

Likewise in the plant kingdom, every tree, every bush, and every plant is known by its fruit and its seed. Its essence is bred into its fruit and its seed. It cannot produce anything that is unlike itself and its own kind. In fact, every type of soil or clay, every type of stone both precious and common, and every type of mineral and metal is recognized by its essence.

  • @SwedenborgFoundation Thank you for your answer. The Swedenborgian perspective is underrepresented here, and I hope that you'll continue to participate.
    – Andrew
    Commented May 13, 2016 at 12:30

From my experience the holy spirit, who Jesus called the spirit of truth and the helper, is the actual spirit of Jesus; many of us in the Catholic charismatic renewal experienced this and the spirit's main role was to convict (enlighten) us of our specific sins that we were committing. And then I (or we) would resist/shun these sin(s). We then gradually became regenerated (on born again). Now the 10 commandments were the guardrails of morality that we as Catholics at that time were taught to obey. But the spirit showed us the deeper meanings of the 10 commandments–like a searchlight on our souls.

Now, this is exactly how Swedenborg defines regeneration and salvation. So the holy spirit, "the helper", is the same as "divine providence". Now all this happened to me after I had a pentecostal experience while worshipping the Lord with songs with 100s of other people. We all knew that the holy spirit was the Lord himself–that is his spirit, not a separate person.

Also, the change in my behavior was gradual as the spirit enlightened me at the beginning of minor obvious sins and later of more hidden deeper sins. This too is in line with Swedenborg's writings. It was like the Lord was gradually purifying my conscience as Swedenborg also says.

One difference though is we could later "feel" the spirit as I described and do so this day, especially when in worship or prayer. So the Lord's spirit is also "the comforter" as described in John. And somewhere in Swedenborg's writings I also recall Swedenborg talks about how worship frees the mind of self and thus enables the Lord to come into our heart.

One other thing that Swedenborg says is that you must first remove false religious beliefs before the Lord can enter us and that is why I brought up the necessity of stopping the eastern meditation (in my case), which was blocking the spirit from entering my soul or mind.

Sorry, this is the best I can explain it but I became a strong believer in Swedenborg's writings because Swedenborg has a unique and compelling way of explaining becoming born again, which paralleled my above experience.

Also, I would add that I would also be aware that it was best to stop sinning at my "thought" level to not let it gain steam by dwelling on it. This again is in line with Swedenborg's writings and the Gospel.

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