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Counting the Cost

by the Rev. Dr. William Woofenden
retired faculty member from the Swedenborg School of Religion
In the June, 1996 Issue of Our Daily Bread

After the Israelites had left Mount Sinai on their journey to the land of Canaan, they came to Kadesh which was near its borders. It seemed that they would soon reach their new home. From Kadesh spies were sent out to search the land, find out its nature and the difficulties that might stand in the way of their taking it.

We recall the story. All the twelve spies brought back the report that the land was a good land and fruitful, "a land that flows with milk and honey"; but only two of the spies, Joshua and Caleb, believed that they could take it. The others were discouraged by the enemies they saw in the land, especially the giants.

The story is essentially historical. But like all the stories in the Word of God, it also has an inner meaning. We all recognize the image of a pleasant land as a picture of heavenly life, and we recognize that the "giants" that stand in our way are our natural inclinations to live for self and the pleasures of the world.

Just as Israel was called to leave Egypt and go to the land of Canaan, in the same way the Lord calls us to leave the plane of natural thought and affection into which we were born and to journey to a land that is foreign to us, even though we know it is our soul's true spiritual home. There are many difficulties to overcome, many enemies to conquer before we can possess this land.

Moses was commanded to send spies to search out the land to find out what it was like. Again the meaning is clear. The Lord does not ask us to strive for something about which we know nothing. Nor does He tell us that the way will be easy. Instead, He places the issue directly before us. We are to enter into an inheritance larger and richer than that which we now possess, but not until we have overcome the spiritual enemies that stand in the way. The Holy Land lies before each one of us, a life in which there will be blessings without limit and where there will be security and peace, but this land can be won only through the giving up of selfish and worldly ambitions.

This same lesson is taught in the parable of the man who, intending to build a tower, first counted the cost to see if he could finish it; and also in the parable of the king who, planning to make war on another king, sat down and counted his forces to see if he could win. And these parables end with the words, "In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple."

Again, the Lord tells us to take up our cross and to follow Him. Everyone can see that it is not a material cross which we are to take up. Though the Word uses natural terms, it is always speaking of spiritual things. So when we are told, for instance, that we must leave "father, mother, wife, children, and brothers," we know that it does not mean that we are to desert our families, but that what is required of us is that our natural affections and thoughts and all they involve must be rejected. Also, when we read in the Bible about waging war, it never means engaging in physical conflict with material weapons, but rather a conflict of truth with falsity and of good with evil. Forsaking home and friends and our natural possessions does not mean that we are to give them up, but they are not to become the supreme objects of our affections.

There apparently were real giants in the land of Canaan in those days, an evil remnant of the most ancient church. But today the false and evil inclinations which we must inherit from our ancestors are the "giants" which we must overcome, in order that we may become regenerate men and women and dwell in the spiritual Canaan.

It simply stands to reason: As individuals we cannot have peace until the enemies to peace within us are overcome. Nor can the world find peace until self-seeking and the desire for self-advantage are renounced.

Each one of us, individually, has to make the decision as to whether to enter into this conflict or not. The Lord cannot make the decision for us. Nor can anyone else. Yet, there are many today who are afraid to enter into this battle. And perhaps there are but few who can settle this question in their minds without any reservations. Some are afraid to accept religion or to join a church, because they thing that they will have to give up some things which they like to do. Others think that some time they may seek the heavenly kingdom, but not just now, thank you! Probably there are very few of those who have learned that there is a heaven who ever give up completely the thought of sometime preparing to enter it. Most do not want to decide in the negative; but year after year they are not yet ready to enter into the conflict. What a dilemma! They do not dare to decide in the negative, and yet they are afraid that it will cost too much if they decide in the affirmative. And so they look around for some easier way. But there is no easier way.

It should help us if we realize that regeneration - once begun - is intended to take us the rest of our lives. If we are given added years, it is only so that we may gain greater humility and wisdom. It should help us also if we realize that evil is not overcome by mere resolutions. We must fight against it. And we need to realize that we will not always be victorious; also that sometimes it may be a long battle against a particular evil; but the Lord will conquer it for us if we are patient and faithful to the end. Nor should we be discouraged when we learn that when we have overcome some evil which has most severely troubled us, complete victory is still not won. But we shall meet with victories all along the way, and we shall find times of rest, happiness and peace. There will be dark days, too, but in our times of rest after victories we shall gain power for further conquests. And, above all, the victory is well worth the price.

As we noted earlier, people are afraid to follow the Lord because they think it will cost too much. Some in the past have been completely misled by false teachings in the church; some have thought, for instance, that they would have to give up all the pleasures of this world. This, of course, is not so. But it does cost the giving up of pride, of the desire to be thought of as better than others, the desire to be wealthier than others, and the desire to rule. It does mean the giving up of envy, hatred, covetousness. It does mean the recognition that we are weak and that without the Lord's help we are powerless to do anything that is good. It does mean that we must renounce our so-called independence, our claim to the absolute possession of anything, even our knowledge, affection, or power of any kind, and confess that we are only stewards, and that even the power to exercise the functions of our stewardship is a constant gift from the Lord.

Over against this is the fact that there is nothing that costs us so much as love of self and the world. These loves - if we allow them to become our ruling loves - cost us every chance for lasing happiness and peace. They cost us genuine friendships; they will in time cost us even the love of our families.

It is forever true that whether a thing costs too much or not depends on what we get in return for what we give up. If we give up self-seeking and self-intelligence in return for learning about the Lord and keeping His commandments and precepts, we come under His protection. Then there is no evil that can prevail against us. Instead of enemies we get friends. Instead of anxiety we get peace. Instead of a barren wilderness we get a land that flows with milk and honey.

The Lord always keeps His promise: He that overcomes will inherit all things." Amen.


Moses sent them to spy out the land of Canaan, and said to them, "Go up there into the Negeb, and go up into the hill country, and see what the land is like and whether the people who live in it are strong or weak, whether they are few or many, and whether the land they live in is good or bad, and whether the towns that they live in are unwalled or fortified, and whether the land is rich or poor, and whether there are trees in it or not. Be bold, and bring some of the fruit of the land." Now it was the season of the first ripe grapes.

So they went up and spied out the land from the wilderness of Zin to Rehob, near Lebohamath...

At the end of forty days they returned from spying out the land. And they came to Moses and Aaron and to all the congregation of the Israelites in the wilderness of Paran, at Kadesh; they brought back word to them and to tall the congregation, and showed them the fruit of the land. And they told him, "We came to the land to which you sent us; it flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. Yet the people who live in the land are strong, and the towns are fortified and very large; and besides, we saw the descendants of Anak there..."

But Caleb quieted the people before Moses, and said, "Let us go up at once and occupy it, for we are well able to overcome it." Then the men who had gone up with him said, "We are not able to go up against this people, for they are stronger than we." So they brought to the Israelites an unfavorable report of the land that they had spied out, saying, "The land that we have gone through as spies is a land that devours its inhabitants; and all the people that we saw in it are of great size. There we saw the Nephilim (the Anakites come from the Nephilim); and to ourselves we seemed like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them."

Numbers 13:17-12, 35-33

Reading from Swedenborg:

Before regeneration all good is procured by means of truth, but after regeneration one is led of the Lord by means of good...the former state was represented by the journeyings of the sons of Israel in the wilderness forty years, and the latter state was represented by their introduction into the land of Canaan. The case herein is that a person is outside of heave so long as one acts from truth and  not from good; and one comes into heaven when one acts from good, for then the person is actuated by the Lord according to the order of heaven into which one does not come, consequently not into heaven, where order is, until one has been prepared, which is effected for good through truth..."

The signification of "journeys' [is] what is progressive of spiritual life, thus the order of that life. That it denotes for receiving the life of heaven, is because that life is a gift of the Lord to humans by means of the temptations that are described by the journeys of the sons of Israel in the wilderness. The life of heaven is to be led of the Lord by means of good. In order that a person may come to that life, good must be implanted by means of truth; that is, charity by means of faith. So long as this is being done, the person is in the way to heaven, but is not yet in heaven. And in order that at that time the truths which are of faith may be confirmed, and may also be conjoined with good, the person is let into temptations, for these are the means of the conjunction of good and truth.

Arcana  Coelestia (Heavenly Secrets) #8539, #8559

Music: Conversations with my Soul
1999 Bruce DeBoer


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