Temptation – Giving in to it – So what?

Spiritual Questions & Answers

Discovering inner health and transformation

temptationWho hasn’t at one time or another felt cross with him or herself for acting on some urge of the moment, giving in to temptation to do something which was enjoyed at the time but which later causes regret?

Perhaps it was overeating and now you are fearful of looking fat and becoming unhealthy: or maybe it was spending money you could not afford on a whim buying something not really needed and now you are concerned about paying off the credit card: or perhaps it was verbally lashing out at someone who angered you at the time and now you fear losing the benefits of the relationship.

Actions like these may bother you but the chances are you will be quick to forget all about such things. and any sense of embarrassment and even guilt will be short lived. Many people are probably like this. It is not that they are bad or stupid. It is simply that they saw they had been tempted to behave against their own interests. They do not consider that succumbing to the impulse of the moment would lead to any long-term serious consequences.

And perhaps they are right. So what is so bad about giving way to temptation? Why should anyone feel guilty about going against the social rules that are expected to be followed?

Temptation and social conformity

You might be tempted to harm the person who bothers you, but a society in which everyone gave in to the temptation to hurt those who made them angry, would quickly devolve into chaos. Therefore social roles are developed.

Psychologists have tested how people behave with and without being watched. It is clear that when they think they can get away with it, many will succumb to temptation to pinch things they fancy (for example from hotels), exaggerate their expenses claims, and even fabricate the contents of their CV’s.

Some people thus only follow rules because it seems to be in their interests to do so. If they believe other people are not following the rules or that other people won’t know if they break them, then they are also likely to break rules. Their conscience is one of social conformity rather than high principle.

Temptation and genuine conscience

Many spiritual writers have written that human problems can arise when one lacks a firm foundation of values. Without ethical principles you may be tempted to live a life in which “anything goes,” or be unable to discern what is right and wrong in any given situation.

A well-known moral principle is the golden rule that one should treat others as one would like others to treat oneself — that is with patience, tolerance, trust, and respect. This is not just for the sake of getting back what you give but rather as a spiritual principle in itself. Another example is that of conserving nature and protecting it from unsustainable exploitation not just as a way of protecting our resources but also as a way of recognising something which is valued for itself.

Let us return to the examples given at the beginning about eating, spending money and lashing out. The impulse to eat too much tests one’s inner contentment with the inflow of the spirit rather than attachment to bodily pleasure.

“The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”   (Jesus Christ)

Likewise attractive advertising of luxury goods also tests a commitment to prioritising money for what is useful: and being provoked to anger tests the ethic of forgiveness.

Consequences of spiritual temptation

A moral consciousness gives you the option of deliberately doing wrong. Having the power of rational and ethical discrimination gives you the responsibility to make the right choices.

Who doesn’t give in to temptation sometimes? Doing so can leave you feeling dissatisfied, guilty or empty because it might be suggested that you have distanced yourself a little from the spirit of goodness that had been inspiring and uplifting your life. I suspect even people of faith who have had a deep trust in their Lord, can find themselves losing confidence when circumstances are tough, becoming anxious about the future or the past, and being tempted with negative attitudes or selfish thoughts. Their faith is indeed being tested.

One idea of religion I like is that of a forgiving God who is always willing to give us another chance.

Victory in temptation

My view of spiritual growth is that it is a gradual process and that for a long time perhaps to a lessening extent your worldly orientated and self-centred habits of thought still attract you. See here for what John Odhner has written about what the new Testament describes as a conflict between the “old man” and the “new man.”  The spiritual teaching is that the more you turn away from what in your heart you know is wrong, then the more you will be transformed into a better character.

“Every trial endured and weathered in the right spirit makes a soul nobler and stronger than it was before.” (William Butler Yeats)

Copyright 2013 Stephen Russell-Lacy Author of  Heart, Head & Hands  Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems


Posted on6th November 2013CategoriesEthics, Private Ethics Leave a comment

Conscience and Armageddon


Conscience is the battleground where our various proclivities and compulsions fight it out with the things we know to be true and proper.

If religion and God’s tenets form our conscience, then the stakes are raised. It not only becomes a personal conflict over civil rules or ethical standards but it rises to the level of spiritual warfare – the battle between good and evil.

Anyone who reflects on the issues of living a spiritual life, according to God’s tenets, will realize that these are issues pertaining to the human heart and mind. God, through religion, wishes to win over our minds and hearts. Similarly, maleficent influences seek to rule hearts and minds.

Victory on this level means complete victory. Principles of life obtained by the human heart and mind, through conscience (or the lack of it), cannot be quashed by physical threats or by brute force.

If the ultimate battleground between good and evil is played out on the psycho-turf of the human heart and mind, why then, do people still believe God will return to earth to “kick butt?”

God compels no one towards having religious faith or belief, otherwise he would have come down from the cross and asserted his divinity and authority, right there and then. Compelling belief accomplishes the opposite, for it destroys free will, which is a gift from God and a derivative of love. God wants to be accepted from the principle of love not from the tip of a sword, unless that sword symbolizes the power of divine truth (as opposed to polished steel).

I have maintained throughout many posts that the Sacred Word contains deeper levels of meaning by which physical things can communicate higher, spiritual qualities. When these deeper meanings are applied to the “end times” as recorded in Revelation, including the great battle of Armageddon, we will find that these scenes pertain to events taking place within the inner lives of people. This is where God makes His ultimate and final stand. This is the only “place” where true spiritual warfare can take place and allow the Lord to make all things new – from the inside out.

Even a careful reading of the literal meanings of the words used in the New Testament back this up this thesis. When the Lord speaks about the end times, he states that the current generation will not pass until all these things are fulfilled (Matt. 24:34). Well, the generation the Lord addressed has long passed. Elsewhere, the Lord states that “The kingdom of God cometh not with observation” (Luke, 17:20). One will not point to anything unusual and say, “Look here,” or “Look there” (Luke, 17:21). So, what gives here?

The only place left to look is WITHIN us. This new wrinkle on biblical interpretation certainly allows God to fulfill his promise within a generation – anyone’s generation. The caveat is we have to take part in the fight.

Posted on August 27, 2008 by thegodguy

This entry was posted in god, Inner growth, Life after death, psychology, Reality, religion, spirituality, symbolism, unity and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Personal change — Is it too late?

Personal change
Time for a personal change?

It’s never too late to make a personal change – or so my mother used to tell me. But sometimes I feel I’ve missed the boat. Others have said the same thing. The more we indulge our weaknesses, the more our flaws seem to take hold; and the more we avoid those difficult challenges, the more dissatisfied with ourselves we become – and wonder whether ingrained personal habits can ever be broken.

Stopped making personal change?

Some of us may realise that we’ve stopped moving along our path in life. Stopped making any personal change. For the warning signs have appeared – a medical complaint caused by an unhealthy lifestyle, a developing coldness due to the neglect of one’s close friends, a loss of interest and energy for something we should be doing that we know deep down is important.

Not moving along life’s path is literally true for me. In my case it is a canal tow-path near my home which I should be using for much needed daily exercise. They say, ‘A healthy mind needs a healthy body’, but mine is getting to be no longer ‘fit for purpose,’ sadly through a long time of overindulgence.

Reasons for no personal change

Sometimes I think I’m just naturally lazy and so have been quick to forget about the problem. And when I’m shaken out of my complacency, I only make an effort to make personal change in stops and starts.

Perhaps that’s the trouble with our failings  – we don’t like to dwell on them.  Our mistakes sometimes need to have catastrophic consequences before we wake up and take notice; before we see the need for something important to make a personal change about.

We may want to find peace and contentment. The trouble is such feelings are denied us as long as we turn our backs on what we see to be the truth; the truth that we can cause harm to our body by neglecting it, or the truth that we can do damage to our most valued relationships by not nourishing them.

Need for personal change

Going out for a daily jog – or in my case a regular brisk walk every day, perhaps in cold wind and rain – may not seem like a deep issue; but something on the surface of life like this can be a spiritual matter if we do not follow our inner conscience. If I do not take control of my body what chance have I of taking control of my life? I do make the effort but somehow I seem to need an extra lift to keep at it. To make that personal change I really want.

Unaided personal change

To be honest, and I know it sounds pathetic, but after many years I’m beginning to wonder if I can win this battle unaided – not to mention a few other personal trials I’m facing. Many alcoholics accept that the fight to beat the demon drink cannot be won through one’s own efforts alone and have surrendered to what Alcoholics Anonymous term a ‘higher power.’ When the going gets really tough and we realise we are just not strong enough to make that very important personal change and find a way through, then perhaps we likewise can humbly ask for help from the spiritual force in which we believe.

As the Christian mystic HT Hamblin pointed out, our seeking must ultimately be not through mental effort, but through acceptance and surrender, ‘turning the heart to the Christos’. This means accepting the ‘disciplines and chastenings’ of life, working through them and learning as much as possible from them and then leaving the outcome entirely in Divine Hands.

In other words, seeking a way through our troubles and failings is usually something to do with moving away from self – from self-indulgence and self-importance. We may all be complacent about some of this but how much happier we could become by both facing the need to change and asking for help – however long it takes in relation to different aspects of our character.

I’m focusing on just one issue at the moment, but I’m becoming aware of other ways my life needs turning round. I don’t know if all my troubles will be cured but I believe I can only do what I can do and leave the rest to God’s Power.

Copyright 2013 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of Heart, Head & Hands Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems

First published as Facing the Cold Wind and Rain in New Vision Magazine March/April 2010.

In a rut? Is life a slog? Time for inner change.

in a rutAre you finding the going a bit hard these days? Dissatisfied with life without knowing why? In a rut?

“Where does discontent start? You are warm enough, but you shiver. You are fed, yet hunger gnaws you. You have been loved, but your yearning wanders in new fields” (John Steinbeck)

Reasons for feeling in a rut

The UK these days has a high pace of life, crowded driving conditions, and high cost of housing. Is this reason enough to be fed up and in a rut? Human existence of course is full of challenges and difficulties and this is normal. However some commentators point to what they see as materialist pressures of an acquisitive society resulting in both men and women spending more time in commuting to their jobs and working long hours, with a consequent squeezing of time available for relaxed living and quality home life. Such stressed people may be vulnerable to the growth of negative thinking about the unfairness of life and so on.

“People find themselves in a rut all the time. You’re in a complacent lifestyle where you work 9 to 5 and then you add a mortgage and kids. You feel trapped, but guess what, brother? You constructed that life. If you’re OK with it, there’s nothing wrong with that.” (Jeremy Renner)

You may not be able to easily alter the external circumstances of home and family life, parenthood, business, and social activity but you have an inkling that something needs to change within your soul but what it is and how to change you do not know.

Meaningful aims in life

Is it not the case that today in western culture adults are faced with a more uncertain future as concepts such as `marriage for life’ or a `job for life’ change, making it harder to achieve intimacy through marriage or identity through work? Is there not  also an increasing tendency for adults to delay commitment to an intimate relationship and to delay having children?

Arguably, healthy development in adulthood is characterised by our guiding and nurturing the next generation. Such a role has the potential to be deeply fulfilling. Of course, this may be done directly, in rearing one’s own offspring, or through a more generalised productivity and creativity. In pursuing such a role, adults will make personal sacrifices but problems arise for them when they do not receive an adequate degree of encouragement and appreciation. Sadly, when in a negative state, the ego demands even more recognition and thanks and fails to notice the happiness that a kind act generates.

According to spiritual theory there are ideas of conscience often hidden at the back of our mind that guide our lives, for example the values of patience, endurance, kindness or the principles of fairness, loyalty, truthfulness. These ideas are all about what one considers to be the important things of life.

Negative thinking when you are in a rut

The trouble is, when you are in a rut, negative thinking can take away the ability to believe in the importance and usefulness of, or interest in, doing any of the things that one is engaged in — whether it be sustaining the relationship with a partner with whom one has just had a row, caring for one’s yelling baby, or putting effort into supporting one’s colleagues at work who seem inadequate to do their job.

Sometimes we need to take our higher principles out into the daylight, give them a dusting down and keep them in sight as we grapple with the mundane and stressful side of things. Love is not always selfish. Doing things for others is not always a way of expiating guilt. Work is not just a means of earning a livelihood but is often something that produces what is good.

Giving thought to deeper issues

The amount of rational thought people can give to such deeper issues will differ according to their natural disposition and their situation in life. Is not the important thing whether the person deliberately shuts them out? Some individuals will be trying to control and deal with the day to day challenges of life in all its bewildering complexity without much  consideration of any higher values or principles. Instead they remain stuck in negative thinking — in a rut with their thoughts of resentment and pessimism.

As you seek to follow higher ideas, about how you should really respond to the difficulties you daily encounter, your old negative thoughts and ways are challenged – are you ready to leave them behind and move on? Or stay in a rut of your own making? I believe if you do respond positively, your growing enlightenment leads to great changes in relationships with others.

Copyright 2013 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of  Heart, Head & Hands  Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems

Posted on12th October 2012CategoriesHealing emotions, Spiritual healingTags, , , , , , , , , ,, , , , ,, , , values,



Guilt — Why won’t it go away?

guiltWho hasn’t done something that they believe they should not have done? Kicked the cat? Stolen stationary from the office? Disclosed what a friend confided? Or whatever? Nobody is perfect, we all make mistakes, and do something wrong. And so from time to time you are likely to experience a feeling of guilt.

It may not have been such a terrible thing you did. But what if you feel bad and it keeps playing on your conscience? Why won’t the feeling of guilt go away?

As a child Catherine got ticked off a lot by strict parents. And as an adult she tended to dwell on the judgments about her of others. Sadly, she became one of those people who are quick to feel guilt over the smallest thing they do wrong if it goes against the expectations of other people. A sensitive conscience can easily become overburdened at times. What I call phoney guilt seems to come about from the assumption that what you feel must be true: so if you feel guilty, then you must be guilty!

“True guilt is guilt at the obligation one owes to oneself to be oneself. False guilt is guilt felt at not being what other people feel one ought to be.” (R. D. Laing)

I would distinguish Catherine’s false guilt with a true guilt arising from a healthy conscience of someone whose guilt feelings arise from an awareness of having acted against their own principles. Much beneficial counselling has been conducted with the Catherine’s of this world, helping such clients to stop taking to heart unfair criticism. But what use is that approach with those of us who are facing reasonable censure and who can easily distinguish successfully between appropriate and inappropriate guilt? What if you have actually done something wrong and can’t forget it because you know in your heart you have gone against your own rules?

I would like to suggest a few reasons why you might not be able to rid yourself of realistic guilt.

Making a glib acknowledgment of guilt

You may come to realise that there are some people you do not respect and some close relationships you have not cherished. Perhaps you were rude or neglectful on one or two occasions. Apologising for mistakes like this can easily trip off the tongue.

You may have felt badly at the time, but if you haven’t accepted in your heart the need to change, it is only too easy to forget you had previously glibly acknowledged the error. But then something or someone later will likely remind you of your fault.

Using escapism from guilt

If you have done something seriously wrong, and do not deal with this then to escape from emotional pain you may have fallen into some kind of addiction, escapism or other risk taking behaviour. Unfortunately, such action can cause you more guilty feelings if as a result you do harm to others for example hurting your loved ones by excessive alcohol consumption or obliging them to rescue you from difficult circumstances you have created for yourself.

Using excuses for guilt

It is comfortable to rely on such excuses as `I didn’t mean it’, `It was an accident’, `I couldn’t help it’, and `I followed an irresistible impulse’.

For one kind of person a tempting way to respond to guilt is to blame the victim. “She caused my sexual aggression by making herself too attractive.” “Of course I’m going to nick his things if he can’t be bothered to lock them up properly.” Naturally, this doesn’t work either, as sooner or latter, the wrong-doer will be reminded of the misdeed when common sense prevails.

Confessing guilt to an unsympathetic person

Many alcoholics can only confess the mess they are in to fellow problem drinkers: such people will be in the same boat and can be expected to be sympathetic. People with emotional problems find it easier to confess weaknesses and failings to a counsellor they feel is showing unconditional warmth.

On the contrary, try talking about things you feel guilty about to someone who is unsympathetic and you won’t get very far. And even if you do persevere you are likely to take on board their judgmental attitude towards yourself.

Sometimes people yearn for God’s forgiveness but cannot experience this because they believe in a judgmental God. Unless your idea of God is one of love and compassion, I believe you are not going to feel any sense of forgiveness if you were to risk confessional prayer. In fact, if you pray to a harsh idea of God you may even end up beating yourself up even more as a “sinner who deserves punishment.”


“Hard though it may be to accept, remember that guilt is sometimes a friendly internal voice reminding you that you’re messing up.” (Marge Kennedy)

The way I see it is the emotional discomfort of guilt is like the physical pain of a flame. The pain will soon go away after you remove your hand from the flame.  Guilt likewise serves to teach us where we are going wrong. I don’t think guilt is meant to last. Once it has served its friendly purpose it is no longer needed.

Surely, those religious people are mistaken who happen to believe that you just need to ask for forgiveness and you are forgiven? No, something more is needed. Only, when you have a genuine remorse for your misdeed, a desire not to repeat it, and an interest in making amends, only then do I believe that it is possible for your guilt to set aside by a compassionate God.

Copyright 2014 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of  Heart, Head & Hands  Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems



A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

“And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me remove the speck that is in your eye’ when you yourself do not see the plank that is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck that is in your brother’s eye” (Luke 6:41-42).

Conscience is something uniquely human. All adults have it in one form or another. Little children do not have conscience, but, like animals, act according to their nature. They follow their will without consideration of consequences. As a child grows and learns, he learns obedience first, that is, he learns that if he does something forbidden, he will be punished and so refrains from doing it again from fear. It is the love of self that forms the basis for the first obedience. As the child continues to gather information about the world around him and the way other people react to him, he comes more and more into the ability to judge whether or not to do something for himself. In this way he learns to distinguish between actions that are “right” or “wrong” in the context of his own life and situation, but it is not yet conscience.

This is illustrated by the fact that Moses was able to make the judgment between the Hebrew and Egyptian who were fighting, a situation where right and wrong were clearly apparent, but he was not able to make a judgment when two Hebrews were fighting. Such a decision about the gray areas of right and wrong cannot be made without an adult conscience. (See AC 6761 ff.)

The men of the Most Ancient Church (in its purity) did not have conscience, nor did they need it, for their will and understanding were united, their will was nothing but good, their understanding nothing but truth. They were free to do anything they wanted to do, because they only desired heavenly things. Theirs was the freedom of heaven. They enjoyed immediate revelation from the Lord, and perceived a general knowledge of what was good and true which they confirmed by their observations of their world. When they heard something, they immediately perceived its truth, received it into their will, and began to live according to it.

The Lord foresaw that the human race could not continue in the character of the Most Ancient Church, but that men would begin to separate faith from love to the Lord. He saw that this would become faith in doctrine by itself, and such a faith, without the life of charity, would mean universal damnation. However, the Lord provided that the will and understanding be separated in such a way that through faith, men could receive charity from the Lord. (See AC 597)

When love to the Lord ceased, so did the perception that served to guide the men of the Most Ancient Church in their daily lives. Perception was replaced by conscience. Briefly, perception tells what is true, while conscience tells whether or not it is true. (See AC 371, 393) However, such perception is not possible at this day with men on earth (although it continues with angels) because man’s will and understanding are not united, and because of hereditary evils which cause the good and truth flowing in from the Lord to be reflected or perverted. (See AC 4317:5)

In order to be saved a man has to have some means of learning truth, and then applying it to his own life as if of himself. Now that hereditary evil and the separation of the will and understanding are facts of life, the Lord has provided conscience as the means by which man may be saved, the means by which a man may bring his will under the control of those things that he knows to be true whether he likes them or not.

Conscience is formed by the Lord from the truths that a man learns from his teachers and parents while he is a child, and from the truths from the Word that he seeks out for himself when he is an adult. The degree to which he applies these truths to his life determines how the Lord will be able to build a conscience in him, and what kind it will be. (See AC 895, 1002, 2831, 9113)

There are several degrees of conscience, and the highest degree is called “True” conscience. True conscience can only be formed in man by the Lord if the man hears, acknowledges and believes the truths of faith. The man who has a True conscience is the man who will be regenerated by the Lord while still living in this world.

There are degrees of the True conscience, for those who have conscience

“speak from the heart what they speak, and do from the heart what they do. Such also have an undivided mind, for they act in accordance with what they believe to be true and good, and in accordance with what they understand. Consequently a more perfect conscience is possible with those who are more enlightened than others in the truths of faith, and who are in clearer perception than others, than is possible with those who are less enlightened, and who are in an obscure perception” (AC 9114).

The Heavenly doctrines further teach that

“There are many things in the conscience of the man of the internal church, because he knows many things from the internal sense of the Word; but there are fewer things in the conscience of the man of the external church, because he knows few things from the internal sense of the Word” (AC 1098).

The next degree of conscience is called “Spurious,” and is the conscience formed in those who merely follow the religion they have been born into. These may believe falsities to be true, because they are taught by the church, and they are lived as if true. In this way, these people are prepared to receive genuine truth when they enter the state of instruction in the other world, and so may receive a True conscience when prepared to enter heaven. Spurious conscience resides in the plane of the external natural mind, and contains especially those things which the man has learned to accept as just and equitable in the moral and civil sense.

The lowest degree of conscience is called “False”, and it is not really conscience at all, for False conscience only regards what it good for the sake of self, that is, it would remind the man that he should not do a thing because it would be damaging to his reputation by revealing the evils that lay hidden within to other men. This False conscience is formed in the outermost plane of man’s mind by the Lord for the sake of the preservation of order in human society, for it prevents men from committing many overt acts of violence and evil, but it does not serve for a man’s eternal salvation, for as said above, this kind of person regards himself in all his actions and thoughts. (See AC 978, 1023, 1077, 4167:2, 1033)

The Lord governs all men by means of these three degree or planes of conscience. The man who is regenerated by the Lord has the internal or True conscience, the man who is not yet regenerated, but to whom regeneration remains possible is ruled by the external, or spurious conscience, while all other men are ruled by the outermost, or false conscience. (See AC 4167:2)

When the Most Ancient Church fell, the Lord separated the will and the understanding of man so that the corrupt will would not necessarily pervert the understanding, and it was provided that a new will would be made in man according to the wisdom in his understanding. This new will, formed by the Lord on the plane of the man’s interior natural mind from the truths that he learned during life in the world, is the conscience. The Lord then insinuates charity into it, and into the charity He insinuates innocence, and in this way He is able to conjoin Himself with man by means of His own things in the man. (See AC 863, 1023)

In the process of regeneration by the Lord, the corrupt hereditary will is to be put off entirely and replaces by a new will from the Lord. This must take place gradually, as the man learns as if of himself the truths of the Word. Finally, the new will becomes strong enough that the man no longer wishes to act according to the old, corrupt will, for the loves of his life have been changed, and he is horrified to even remember his former ways. This new will is the conscience, or rather, the conscience is the new will making itself known to the man. (See AC 9115)

Each year, the changing seasons and their holidays serve as natural milestones that help to remind us of many important spiritual milestones in our lives. We have just spent a number of weeks thinking about and preparing for the celebration of the Lord’s Advent. Now with that behind us, we prepare to celebrate the arrival of a new year. It is true that one day is really just like any other, but there is something about putting out a fresh calendar or buying a new diary that invites us to think about the year that has just passed and encourages us to decide to make certain changes in our natural and spiritual lives with the beginning of the new year. These holidays are powerful reminders of important spiritual things, they help us turn our attention away from the demands of daily life to thoughts of eternal things.

The Lord wants us to make new beginnings, He wants us to examine the course of our past lives and to decide to improve the way we conduct our lives on the basis of the things we have learned during the year. But the hells hate it when we turn away from them, and they use every devious trick they have to turn us back to the old habits, the old ways, the unhappy, unsuccessful routines we have locked ourselves into; for as sure as flies breed in garbage, hellish loves breed in our states of discontent.

Holidays should turn out thoughts to the Lord, but the hells find ways to distract us at every turn. They turn our attention to material possessions at Christmas, and cause us to make New Year’s resolutions into a joke. It is the hells that cause us to laugh at how quickly people break their resolutions, or what is the same thing, until they fail in their attempt to amend their life and fall back into former states of evil, thus confirming them. We have to realize that such backsliding is particularly delightful to the hells, for when we see an evil in ourselves, recognize that it is a sin against God, and shun it, the Lord is helping us remove that hellish influence from our lives. However, if we waiver, if we fall back, we have created an attitude in our own minds that we cannot defeat this evil even with the Lord’s help. Even if we try again, we have the memory of the previous failure to shake our confidence, to make our job that much harder. Eventually, if our resolve is broken a sufficient number of times, we may give up even trying to amend our lives, and give ourselves up to hell.

For this reason it is important that we realize that the tradition of making New Year’s resolutions is important to our spiritual lives, and should not be made into a joke or a some kind of contest to see who will give in first, for it reminds us to take the time to examine our lives, to find the faults there, and to remove them with the Lord’s help. We are told in the Heavenly Doctrines that if we do this but once or twice each year, it is sufficient to put us on the path to heaven! Such resolutions should not be taken lightly, for they can become the means to eternal spiritual life in heaven. At the same time we must realize that to joke about another person’s resolutions, to tease them, to try to tempt them to break their resolve is to do the work of the hells.

The New Year’s holiday should serve to remind us to listen to our conscience, to turn away from some of the things that our conscience warns us about, to spend some time looking to the state of own lives instead of being so quick to judge the states of others. As our text suggests, it is our conscience that helps us to turn our attention inward so that we can see the plank in our own eye and remove it before we give our neighbor the benefit of our opinion of the conduct of his life.

As the New Year’s Holiday approaches, our thoughts will naturally turn to amending what has gone before, and making a fresh start in the new year. Let us remember to take these new beginnings as the valuable spiritual acts they are, to support our friends and family in their efforts to change their lives for the better. Let us further take this as an opportunity to listen to the voice of our conscience, God’s presence with us, and take the time to make a spiritual inventory, to carefully examine the interiors of our hearts so that we can see one or two of the many “planks” in our own “eyes”, and to try to avoid being so interested in the “specks” in the “eyes” of our friends and fellows in the church.

Let us begin the new year by taking stock, by asking the Lord for forgiveness and beginning anew. Let us do this not only as individuals, but as a church society. As the new year begins, let us resolve to go forward together in charity to work towards the establishment of the Lord’s New Church on earth, forgiving the offenses of the past, looking forward to new uses performed with new energy. As the Lord taught us in the book of Revelation, “Behold, I make all things new” (21:5). AMEN.

First Lesson: Exodus 2:1-15

(EXO 2:11-15) Now it came to pass in those days, when Moses was grown, that he went out to his brethren and looked at their burdens. And he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his brethren. {12} So he looked this way and that way, and when he saw no one, he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. {13} And when he went out the second day, behold, two Hebrew men were fighting, and he said to the one who did the wrong, “Why are you striking your companion?” {14} Then he said, “Who made you a prince and a judge over us? Do you intend to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?” So Moses feared and said, “Surely this thing is known!” {15} When Pharaoh heard of this matter, he sought to kill Moses. But Moses fled from the face of Pharaoh and dwelt in the land of Midian; and he sat down by a well. Amen.

Second Lesson: Luke 6:27-42

(Luke 6:39-42) {39} And He spoke a parable to them: “Can the blind lead the blind? Will they not both fall into the ditch? {40} “A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone who is perfectly trained will be like his teacher. {41} “And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the plank in your own eye? {42} “Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me remove the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the plank that is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck that is in your brother’s eye.

Third Lesson: AC 9113-9119

9113. Conscience in a member of the Church is formed by the truths of faith received from the Word, or from religious teachings drawn from the Word, according to his acceptance of them in his heart. For when a person has a knowledge of the truths of faith and understands them in his own particular way, and then wills and does them, conscience takes shape in him. Acceptance in the heart is acceptance in the will, for a person’s will is what is called the heart.

9114. So it is that when people who have conscience speak they speak from the heart, and when they act they act from the heart. They also have an undivided mind, since they act in accordance with what they believe to be true and good, indeed in accordance with what they understand to be so. Consequently those who are more enlightened than others in the truths of faith and whose perception is clearer can be endowed with a more perfect conscience than those who are less enlightened and whose perception is dim.

9115. The people with conscience are those who have received a new will from the Lord. That will itself is their conscience; therefore acting contrary to conscience is acting contrary to their new will. And since the good of charity composes the new will it also composes conscience.

9116. Since conscience is formed by the truths of faith, as stated above in 9113, even as the new will and charity are formed by them, it also follows that acting contrary to the truths of faith is acting contrary to conscience.

9117. Since faith and charity that come from the Lord compose a person’s spiritual life, it also follows that acting contrary to conscience is acting contrary to that life.

9118. Now since acting contrary to conscience is acting contrary to the new will, contrary to charity, and contrary to the truths of faith, consequently contrary to the life that comes to a person from the Lord, it is evident that a person feels calm and at peace, experiencing inner bliss, when he acts according to conscience, but uneasy, indeed anguished when he acts contrary to conscience. This feeling of anguish is what is called the pangs of conscience.

9119. Human conscience involves a sense of what is good or a sense of what is right. A sense of what is good is conscience as it exists with the internal man, while a sense of what is right is conscience as it exists with the external man. The sense of what is good consists in being moved by an inward affection to act in accordance with what faith prescribes, whereas the sense of what is right consists in being moved by an outward affection to act in accordance with civil and moral laws. Those having a sense of what is good have as well a sense of what is right; but those having merely a sense of what is right possess the ability to acquire a sense of what is good, and do also acquire it after instruction. Amen.



One more influence helping in our rebirth is conscience. Because of its obvious outward differences in different people, conscience is not considered to be reliable in some quarters. Conscience is formed outwardly by what we’ve been taught is good and true. Because of this, it varies according to a person’s upbringing and culture. But its outer form is like a body which expresses a living spirit. The inner spirit of conscience is made alive and given light by the Divine. It is that spirit which gives us a sense of right and wrong by an inner voice, and we experience qualms of conscience when we do something against this inner voice.

Living according to conscience greatly helps our rebirth, and as we develop, the outer form of conscience becomes more and more refined. It is by devotedly learning what is actually good and true from the Word of God, and living by it, that a true form of conscience is developed.

At this point it is good to summarize the things which help in our rebirth. First, there is the Divine Activity which constantly influences our inner being, working quietly and encouraging our free response. Of course, this is the most powerful influence of all. Second, there is the goodness from the Lord (not from heredity) in our inner sell. Third, there are “lasting memories,” which are good emotional experiences carefully preserved. And fourth, there is conscience, which must be formed outwardly by knowing what is actually good and true from the Word if it is going to be the type of conscience which is most helpful to our rebirth.