Spiritual Meaning of

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Luke 14:28-35.

For which of you, intending to build a tower, sits not down first and counts the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it? Lest it happen, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all that behold it begin to mock him, saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish. Or what king, going to make war against another king, sits not down first, and consults whether he be able with ten thousand to meet him that comes against him with twenty thousand. Or else, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation, and desires conditions of peace. So likewise, any of you that forsakes not all that he has, he cannot be my disciple. Salt is good: but if the salt have lost his savour, with what shall it be seasoned? It is neither fit for the land, nor yet for the dunghill; but men cast it out. He that has ears to hear, let him hear.

Under the figure of a natural tower, Jesus Christ here describes a spiritual tower, which, like the natural tower, answers the double purpose of observation and defence. For as the natural tower has the double use of enabling those who are in it to discover the approach of an enemy, and also to withstand him, in like manner the spiritual tower has also its double use, but with this difference, that it enables those who are in it to discover the approach of, and to withstand spiritual enemies. Jesus Christ applies the term tower, in another parable, according to this same spiritual signification, where, speaking of the householder who planted a vineyard and let it out to tenants, He mentions among other things, that he built in it a tower, by which is evidently meant a spiritual tower, because the vineyard there spoken of is figurative of the Church.

By intending to build a spiritual tower is to be understood, that the spiritual builder has a serious purpose to secure himself against his spiritual enemies, and with this view, to note and observe their approach, together with all the arts and stratagems by which they would deceive and betray him.

It is evident that this tower cannot be built of any earthly materials, such as are the thoughts, the counsels, and the imaginations of man, but it must be built of heavenly materials, such as are the truths, the precepts, the doctrines of God's Most Holy Word, admitted into man's understanding, and incorporated into his life, that is to say, into his love. For when man thus imbibes and cherishes the truths, the precepts, and the doctrines of the revealed Word of the Most High, he then acquires an elevation of thought, which enables him to discover the approach of his spiritual foes, together with their qualities, their characters, and their artifices; and at the same time, and by the same means, he attains the spiritual strength resulting from such elevation of thought, whereby he is further enabled to oppose his enemies when they approach. This elevation of thought, therefore, is the spiritual tower here spoken of.

The reason why it is here said of the man intending to build a tower, that he sits down first., is that the sitting down, here spoken of, has respect to a state of rest, of peace, and tranquillity of mind, for sitting down is a position of the body, figurative of such rest, peace, and tranquillity, and is, accordingly, so applied in the Sacred Scriptures. Thus it is written in the first verse of the 1st Psalm, Blessed is the man that walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful; from which words it is evident, that the three bodily acts of walking, standing, and sitting, are applied figuratively to denote similar corresponding acts of the mind, walking having respect to the thoughts and persuasions according to which man directs the course of his life; whilst standing has respect to man's confirmation of such thoughts and persuasions in his understanding; and sitting has respect to the same confirmation in the man's will, or love, as is the case when he takes rest and finds complacency in such thoughts and persuasions. Unless the term sitting had some such spiritual signification, and was so discerned in the Lord's divine idea, it is impossible to assign any reason why, in the present instance, He should apply the term.

It is added, that he counted the cost, whether he had sufficient to finish it. By counting the cost is here to be understood the taking an account of all the sacrifices necessary to be made, on the part of man, before he can attain conjunction of life with his Heavenly Father, and thus build in himself the high tower of everlasting protection and salvation. Those sacrifices, as it is afterwards stated, consist principally in a man forsaking all that he has, this being the full cost of building the above tower, that man should submit his own will and wisdom to the divine will and wisdom, man's own will and wisdom being alone that spiritual property which God requires him to forsake, because it is the only property which, if not forsaken, or, what is the same thing, if not submitted, prevents his conjunction with the Supreme Good and Supreme Truth. It is necessary then, that with the whole force of his will, signified by sitting down, and with all the powers of his understanding, signified by counting, he should make an estimate of this cost, until he discovers, that by forsaking his own will and wisdom, he separates himself from everything most defiled, miserable, and insecure, and by submitting to the Divine Will and Wisdom, he conjoins himself with everything most holy, blessed, and permanent.

The tower of divine protection is said to be finished when the truths of God's Most Holy Word have taken possession of man's will, or love, as well as of his understanding, or faith. For whilst truth is merely in the memory and understanding, it is not the tower, but only its foundation, nor can the tower be said to be finished, until it is built upon this foundation, in other words, until truth is elevated out of the memory and understanding, and incorporated into the life's love by a dutiful obedience to all its heavenly precepts, and especially by rejecting, as sins against God, all those natural evils, which the truth points out as opposite to the Divine Love and Purity.

The mockery of which Jesus Christ speaks, when He says, All that behold it mock him, was intended to express the extreme folly of the character which is here described, and of his conduct in storing up truth in his memory and understanding only, without applying it to the purification and regeneration of his heart and life. The Almighty Himself is accordingly described as laughing at, and having in derision, such character and conduct (see: Psalm 2:4); not that we are to suppose that God really laughs at and derides any of His creatures, but that His creatures, by their thoughtlessness and inconsideration, expose themselves to the Divine censure, and are accounted, in the sight of God, both as irrational and ridiculous, especially when they are guilty of that most irrational and ridiculous of all conduct, the acquiring the science of truth, without any serious intention to practise and incorporate it into their lives.

Jesus Christ, in this parable, under the figure of a tower, intimates the expediency and necessity imposed on every one, to build in himself the spiritual tower of divine, observation and protection, He intimates, at the same time, that this lower cannot be built until the cost of building it be seriously and deliberately calculated, which cost consists in man's submitting his own will and wisdom to the Divine. Jesus Christ would instruct us further, that if this cost be not well counted, the building of the tower may, indeed, be begun, but cannot be finished; because the building of the tower is begun by the admission of truth into the memory and understanding, but it is not finished until the truth so admitted be elevated into the higher region of the will, or love, and it cannot be so elevated until man submits himself entirely, and without reserve, to the government and guidance of the Divine Love and Wisdom. Lastly, Jesus Christ would teach us, in this parable, that there is no instance of irrationality more glaring, and more deserving of censure, than this, to store up the knowledge of heavenly things in the understanding without suffering that knowledge to influence the affections and the life, by conjoining it with holy love and charity, this being the insanity pointed at in the concluding words of the parable, where it is said, This man began to build, and was not able to finish.

Jesus Christ annexes to this parable another, concerning a king going to make war against another king. The connection between the two parables is discerned when we look beyond the letter. The first relates to a state of spiritual protection, or of security and rest from spiritual foes; but the second relates to a state of spiritual combat, which is necessary to conduct to such rest and security.

Mention is there made of a king going to make war against another king, and by these two kings are figuratively described the principles of truth and error, namely, of truth from God by His Holy Word, and of error from the powers of darkness, by the fallacies and perverse reasonings which they inject into the mind in opposition to the Divine Truth. God, therefore, as being the Supreme Truth, and possessing thereby dominion over all things both in Heaven and the Church, is frequently called, in the Sacred Scripture, a King, and sometimes King of Kings, whilst His adversary, as being the great liar, and father of lies, and possessing thereby dominion in his own infernal regions, is likewise called a king (See: Rev. 9:11). Now, all spiritual combat, it is well known, consists in this conflict in the human mind, between the heavenly powers of truth, and the infernal powers of error, and every man's salvation, or destruction, depends on the issue of this conflict. Jesus Christ, accordingly, teaches in this parable, how this combat may be waged to the greatest advantage, and, moreover, that everyone who would engage successfully in this combat, must sit down first and consult, whether he be able with ten thousand to meet him that comes against him with twenty thousand.

By sitting down, as has already been shown in the explanation of the former parable, is to be understood a state in which the will, or love, begins to be affected by the truths stored up in the memory, or understanding. Thus it denotes a serious purpose and intention respecting the warfare which is here treated of, and is designed to instruct us, that we can never fight successfully against our spiritual foes, the powers of darkness, without such a serious purpose and intention.

The term consulting relates more to the understanding, or judgement, as sitting down relates more to the will, or love, and therefore the two expressions, in their conjoint meaning, were intended to teach us the important lesson, that we can never fight to advantage against our spiritual foes, only so far as both our wills and understandings, our affections and judgement, are exercised on the occasion, more especially in making the estimate of the powers which are for us, and of those which are against us; in other words, of the power of truth in its connection with the Lord and His holy angels, and of the power of error in its connection with the devil and his angels.

These powers are differently estimated in the parable, for the powers of truth are said to be ten thousand, whilst the powers of error, which are contrary to the truth, are called twenty thousand. To account for this disparity in numbers, and discover why the heavenly powers, which defend man, should be rated only at ten thousand, when the infernal powers, which destroy man, are rated at twenty thousand, or twice the number of the former, we must reflect that this is spoken according to appearance, since to the natural man it always appears that the powers of evil are stronger than the powers of good, when in reality the case is quite reversed, because, in reality, evil has no power when opposed to good, and good has all power when opposed to evil. The case, therefore, is, that so long as man himself is in evil and its love, so long he gives power to evil, and evil in such case, appears powerful; but no sooner does he set himself to oppose evil, from a real hatred of its abomination and defilements, and from a real love to the Supreme Good, than evil loses, by degrees, its power, and good obtaining the ascendancy, increases, by degrees, its power, until at length it becomes all-powerful, and destroys the power of evil. This, therefore, is the reason why man, in this parable, is exhorted to sit down and consult concerning the strength and ability of the above power, since it is by deliberate wisdom alone, and a life in agreement with it, that man is enabled to make the right estimate of the omnipotence of his heavenly friends, and of the impotence of his infernal foes.

The consequences of the want of consultation are described in these words, that while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation, and desires conditions of peace. By the other being yet a great way off, is to be understood, that the powers of evil and error have not yet gained a full possession of the man's will, or love, for both good and evil are said to be at a distance from man, in proportion as they do not enter into and gain a place in his affections. Whereas in the degree that they gain such a place, in the same degree they are said to be near. For space is not predicable of spirit, since spirit is no subject of the measurement of space, and, therefore, in regard to spirit, all distance is estimated by affection, those things being said to be near in which the affection is interested, and to be a great way oft when the affection is not interested.

Sending a delegation has relation to the man's thought, and desiring conditions of peace has relation to the man's affection; for thought, whether good or evil, is as a kind of ambassador to the kingdom of good or of evil, according to its determination; whilst affection, which is always one with thought, yet distinct from it, is desirous of confirming the terms which thought proposes. In this case, therefore, the two expressions of sending a delegation, and desiring conditions of peace, denote the conjoint result of the man's thought and affection, in making a compromise with his spiritual foes, the powers of darkness, which compromise is signified by desiring conditions of peace; in other words, by desiring not to enter into combat against evil and error, but rather to befriend and seek alliance with those infernal powers. The peace, here spoken of, does not mean real peace, because it is impossible that such peace can exist until man vigorously opposes in himself, and successfully conquers, his own natural evils, which hold him in confederacy with the powers of darkness; but it means apparent peace, or that false and deceitful rest with which some people remain satisfied, without ever considering that they are in the hands of a merciless tyrant, and that, in such case, whatsoever temporal peace and composure they may enjoy, yet in the end, they will certainly be exposed to all the disquietude and torment which must ever arise from unmortified lusts.

We learn, from this parable, that before we can hope to become regenerate, and to secure thereby a crown of eternal glory, we must pass through a course of spiritual warfare, which is here signified by one king going to make war with another king. We learn, further, that our success in this spiritual warfare will depend upon our sitting down and consulting respecting the powers which are for us, and those which are against us; in other words, it will depend on the estimate which we make of the Divine Omnipotence, and of the comparative non-ability of those who oppose it. And since we cannot be qualified to make this estimate, only so far as we submit our own will and wisdom to the Divine, which is meant by forsaking all that we have, therefore, this entire submission is also taught us in this parable. Lastly, we learn that if we never enter into such a state of submission, and thus never sit down and consult the comparative powers of our heavenly friends and of our infernal foes, we shall then become quiet slaves and base dependents in the hands of the latter, never exerting the powers which God has given us to regain heavenly liberty, thus never entering into any combat against any evil of our corrupt nature, but hugging our chains, and calling it peace, when, at the same time, we are under the tyrannical rod and restless dominion of all the powers of darkness.

To the above parables Jesus Christ annexes a third, concerning salt, in these remarkable words, Salt is good; but if the salt have lost its savour, with what shall it be seasoned? It is neither fit for the land, nor yet for the dunghill, but men cast it out. He that has ears to hear, let him hear. Salt, when mentioned in the Sacred Scriptures, has two significations, a good one, and a bad one, as is common also with almost every other term, and in its good signification it is applied to denote the genuine affection of truth, as in 2 Kings, 2:20, 21, 22, where the prophet Elisha is spoken of as healing the water which was bad, by casting salt into it, denoting that truth, separate from genuine affection, is not properly truth, but something perverted and defiled, and that it only recovers its proper quality by being united with a genuine affection: and in its bad signification it is applied to denote truth without affection, as in Genesis, 19:26; Deut. 29:23; Judg. 9:45; Ezek. 47:11; Zeph. 2:9.

Salt having lost its savour, denotes the affection of truth not genuine, for truth may be received by man under the influence of various affections. Thus, when man receives truth and delights in it for its own sake because it is truth, and leads to conjunction with the Supreme Good, he is then said to receive it with a genuine affection; but if he receives truth and delights in it, because it may be instrumental in raising his reputation in the world, or in advancing his temporal interests, he is then said to receive it with an affection not genuine, thus with an affection defiled and perverted, in which case the salt is said to have lost its savour.

When, therefore, Jesus Christ said of this salt which has lost its savour, Wherewith shall it be seasoned? He meant to teach, by this significant question, the great difficulty of recovering the genuine affection of truth, when it has been once perverted, and thus He would lead us to be continually upon our guard as to the quality of the affection by which we admit the truth, and to take especial heed that our affection be genuine; in other words, that we love the truth for its own sake, and not for the sake of worldly distinction and temporal advantages.

When Jesus Christ further said of the salt which has lost its savour, that it was neither fit for the land, nor yet for the dunghill, but men cast it out, He meant to instruct us that truth which does not point to God and lead to the practice of what is good, conduces to no use whatever, either good or evil, for by being unfit for the land is denoted, that it conduces to no good use, such as relates to the benefit of Heaven or of the Church, both which are signified by land. By being unfit for the dunghill is denoted, that it conduces to no evil use, such as relates to the infernal kingdom, for by the dunghill is signified that kingdom; and, lastly, by men casting it out, is denoted that it is no constituent principle of man, in other words, that it makes no part of the human constitution properly considered.

Jesus Christ adds, as a conclusion to the three foregoing parables, He that has ears to hear, let him hear; thus calling the attention of His disciples, in a particular manner, to the instruction contained in the three parables to which they are annexed as a conclusion. For by him who has ears to hear is meant the true disciple who receives truth with its proper affection, that is to say, who loves it and delights in it, because it is truth, and because it conducts to the Supreme Good; and by the words, let him hear, is intended to be expressed the importance of what precedes, namely, concerning the building a tower, one king going to war against another king, and salt. Jeans Christ, therefore, meant to instruct us further, by the above words, that nothing is of more importance to our everlasting interests than to attend to the building of a spiritual tower of observation and protection; also to the spiritual warfare which every Christian must undergo before he can be suitable to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven; also to the affection with which we receive the truth, taking good heed that it be a genuine affection, or the love of truth for its own sake, and not a spurious affection, or the love of truth for the sake of worldly gain, honour, or reputation. Lastly, Jesus Christ meant to teach us the absolute necessity of submitting our own will and wisdom to the Divine, or of forsaking all that we have, since without such submission it is impossible we should either build the spiritual tower, or fight successfully against, our spiritual foes, or receive the truth with a genuine affection.