August 14, 1853
I find it paradoxical that the more I read, the more I learn, the more I realize I really don't know all that much. I remember a “Zits” comic in which the teenage character tells his mom that the older he gets the more frightened he is to realize that everyone might be as clueless as he is.
Concerning being knowledgeable, Brigham Young stood before a congregation years ago and admitted much the same thing: he didn’t know everything. There are things hidden from view; even from prophets of God:
Jesus said to his disciples, to them it was given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them that were without, it was not given. If we were to examine the subject closely, we should learn that a very scanty portion of the things of the kingdom were ever revealed, even to the disciples.
If we were prepared to gaze upon the mysteries of the kingdom, as they are with God, we should then know that only very small portion of them has been handed out here and there. God, by His Spirit, has revealed many things to His people, but, in almost all cases, He has straightway shut up the vision of the mind. He will let His servants gaze upon eternal things for a moment, but straightway the vision is closed, and they are left as they were, that they may learn to act by faith, or as the Apostle has it, not walking by sight, but by faith. (JD 1:264)While this may cause consternation among some believers (not to mention those critical of the idea of prophets) the reality is no one knows everything there is to know in this mortal life; we see through a glass darkly, as Paul noted (1 Cor. 13:12).
The scriptures teach that Jesus Christ was subject to the same mortal conditions we face, that he learned as he went along, growing not just physically but also in “wisdom,” albeit perhaps in a more rapid and detailed sense (perhaps due to premortal abilities and/or accomplishments?1) Even with all Christ knew there may have been at least one thing withheld from his knowledge during his mortal life. For example, it appears he was unclear on when the second coming would occur, which seems to have been revealed after he was resurrected.2
Other prophets talked about areas wherein they lacked full knowledge. Joseph Smith seemed intent on discovering when the second coming would be, but was effectively told “you will have to wait” (see D&C 130:14-17). Likewise, when Nephi was asked by the Spirit in a vision about the meaning of some of the things he saw he replied that he knew God loved Him, but he did not know the meaning of all things (see 1 Nephi 11:17).
As further light and knowledge is revealed, seekers wouldn't worry about previously held ideas being overturned; but should be ready to embrace truth as God revealed it. Some of the doctrine easily accepted today was difficult for earlier saints to grasp. The concept of three degrees of glory, rather than their classic heaven/hell beliefs, and other doctrines sometimes troubled some.3
Joseph Smith discussed the phenomenon five months before he was killed by a mob at Carthage:
I have tried for a number of years to get the minds of the Saints prepared to receive the things of God; but we frequently see some of them, after suffering all they have for the work of God, will fly to pieces like glass as soon as anything comes that is contrary to their traditions: they cannot stand the fire at all.
How many will be able to abide a celestial law, and go through and receive their exaltation, I am unable to say, as many are called, but few are chosen.4Some revelations are too “meaty” for all to digest right now; or to even comprehend or communicate, such as when Christ was among the Nephites and prayed in a language they couldn’t even write, yet they understood (see 3 Nephi 17). Some truths are expected to be kept secret, as when Christ instructed His disciples at times to “tell no one” regarding things they had witnessed with Him (see Mark 9:9 and Alma 12:9). Other things, such as the exact age, nature and method of creation of the earth, have not been fully revealed; and are not pertinent to salvation at this time. Possibly these have perfect explanations, but it has not been revealed yet.5
Whereas some truths aren’t revealed because we don’t make personal attempts to seek them out. (1 Nephi 10:19; 15:7-8; Alma 12:10-11). How long will this process of learning take? A very long time, as Brigham said in a previous sermon:
But I am proud to say of my religion, I have studied it faithfully for twenty-two years, day and night, at home and abroad, upon the rivers, and upon the lakes, when traveling by sea and by land; have studied it in the pulpit; from morning till night; whatsoever might be my pursuit, I have studied it with as close an application any college student ever did any subject he wished to commit to memory; and I can say I have only just got into the A B C of it; it leads the vision of my mind into eternity." (JD 1:41)When Joseph Smith said we believe all that God has revealed, all he is now revealing, and that he’ll reveal many “great and important things” in the future, he knew we must be ready for the new knowledge (see the 9th Article of Faith). Hugh B. Brown talked about our need to prepare for this further light and knowledge. He knew we would face issues that can try our faith; but with prayerful patience and humility, we can continue keeping the faith as we learn and grow:
[W]hile I believe all that God has revealed, I am not quite sure that I understand what he has revealed. The fact that he has promised further revelation is to me a challenge to keep an open mind and to be prepared to follow wherever my search for truth may lead…
We have been blessed with much knowledge by revelation from God which, in some part, the world lacks. But there is an incomprehensibly greater part of truth which we must yet discover. Our revealed truth should leave us stricken with the knowledge of how little we really know. It should never lead to an emotional arrogance based upon a false assumption that we somehow have all the answers--that we in fact have a corner on truth, for we do not… continue your search for truth. And maintain humility sufficient to be able to revise your hypotheses as new truth comes to you by means of the spirit or the mind. Salvation, like education, is an ongoing process…
I think the expression "Keep it cool" is peculiar to your age, but it means in reality: "Do not be impatient." Too many young people are so impatient that when they press an electric button, they can't wait for the answer... Remember, there is a power greater than yourselves upon which you may call.6
I will here remark, that it is natural for the people to desire to know a great deal of the MYSTERIES… The greatest mystery a man ever learned, is to know how to control the human mind, and bring every faculty and power of the same in subjection to Jesus Christ; this is the greatest mystery we have to learn while in these tabernacles of clay (JD 1:46-47).7
D&C 130:18-19 “Whatever principle of intelligence we attain unto in this life, it will rise with us in the resurrection. And if a person gains more knowledge and intelligence in this life through his diligence and obedience than another, he will have so much the advantage in the world to come.” (Coupled with Abraham 3, speaking of “keeping the first estate,” and the differences in the intelligences, perhaps this scripture also applies to the premortal life.)
Luke 2:52 “And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.”
D&C 93:12-13 “And I, John, saw that he received not of the fulness at the first, but received grace for grace; And he received not of the fulness at first, but continued from grace to grace, until he received a fulness…”
Matthew 24:36 "But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only.”
D&C 49:7 “I, the Lord God, have spoken it; but the hour and the day no man knoweth, neither the angels in heaven, nor shall they know until he comes.”
Note before the resurrection Christ says only the Father knows but after the resurrection he does not make that distinction. This is conjecture on my part, I welcome any further light on the subject. One other instance of a lack of knowledge comes to mind: when Christ asked “Father, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46.) though this could be read several different ways. Note also that all of the acts of Christ were not recorded: “And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written. Amen" (John 21:25).
Brigham Young was somewhat thrown by the three degrees of glory:
In the days of Joseph, when the revelation came to him and Sidney Rigdon, while translating that portion of the New Testament contained in the 29th verse of the third chapter of John, in reference to the different degrees of glory, I was not prepared to say that I believed it, and I had to wait. What did I do? I handed this over to the Lord in my feelings, and said I, “I will wait until the spirit of God manifests to me, for or against.” I did not judge the matter, I did not argue against it, not in the least. I never argued the least against anything Joseph proposed, but if I could not see or understand it, I handed it over to the Lord. This is my counsel to you, my brethren and sisters… (JD, 18:247).
Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p.331.
Brigham Young, among others, taught that miracles or "mysteries" have logical explanations:
In reality there can be no miracle, only to the ignorant. There are spiritual agents, invisible to the natural eye, not only in us, but in the elements, in the heavens above, and in the earth beneath, who are continually producing effects, the cause of which we cannot comprehend (JD 1:88).
Hugh B. Brown, "An Eternal Quest-Freedom of the Mind," speech delievered to the BYU student body on May 13, 1969.
Brigham said before we can receive more we need to improve on what we already have:
If the people are anxious to learn the ways of the Lord, if they wish to see the hand of God made manifest, if they wish to have the visions and revelations of Jesus Christ given in profusion, perhaps the Lord is now using the very means to bring them to that point where they will be obliged to seek Him for themselves. They have been besought by day and by night, and from year to year, to humble themselves before the Lord, to live their religion, and to walk in the light of eternity. They have been plead with to live so that they can know the mind and will of the Lord for themselves, and for that which they preside over: at the same time, not to be too anxious for the Lord to give revelation, and make Himself known, but rather to be very anxious and very tenacious to improve upon what He has already given-this is our duty (JD 2:279).He also discussed mysteries and a lack of full knowledge elsewhere:
You will hear more with regard to the doctrine, that is, our "Marriage Relations." Elder Hyde says he has only just dipped into it, but, if it will not be displeasing to him, I will say he has not dipped into it yet; he has only run round the edge of the field. He has done so beautifully, and it will have its desired effect. But the whole subject of the marriage relation is not in my reach, nor in any other man's reach on this earth. It is without beginning of days or end of years; it is a hard matter to reach (JD 2:88).Brigham said before we can receive more we need to improve on what we already have:
If the people are anxious to learn the ways of the Lord, if they wish to see the hand of God made manifest, if they wish to have the visions and revelations of Jesus Christ given in profusion, perhaps the Lord is now using the very means to bring them to that point where they will be obliged to seek Him for themselves. They have been besought by day and by night, and from year to year, to humble themselves before the Lord, to live their religion, and to walk in the light of eternity. They have been plead with to live so that they can know the mind and will of the Lord for themselves, and for that which they preside over: at the same time, not to be too anxious for the Lord to give revelation, and make Himself known, but rather to be very anxious and very tenacious to improve upon what He has already given-this is our duty (JD 2:279).
I reflect many times upon these things, and am thankful that I know and possess the truth in a degree, still am aware that there are thousands of things before us which I have not yet attained to. The only way for us to be useful to one another is to take a course to build upon the principles of truth, and never to suffer ourselves to cultivate any but the principles of right (JD 2:354).