July 20, 2007

Yankee Doodle Do It

Heber C. Kimball November 14, 1852 It's a familiar account; Joseph Smith found himself puzzling over the question of religion and how he could be forgiven of his sins. As he read the Bible a particular verse struck him with great power; it was found in James chapter 1, verse 5; encouraging those who lack wisdom to ask God for guidance. He believed this was true, he was prompted to act on it, he did, and the restoration of the gospel through him began. Joseph knew that faith in God's willingness to answer prayers was good, and faith involved the act; he received knowledge and acted on it. At the end of that first chapter we find a more cryptic message, a small parable:

But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was. But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed (James 1:22-25).
It wasn't until I was a missionary that I understood this scripture. Being a 'doer of the word' had always made sense to me, but the example of a man beholding his face in a glass didn't mean anything until I realized how it applied. In today's discourse, Heber C. Kimball, first counselor in the First Presidency[1], was encouraging the saints to continue donating to the Temple fund. His sentiments strike at the root of the parable's meaning. It is a common problem of the 'natural man;' the tendency to forget:
These things have been talked about many times, and I might split my lungs, and my brethren might do the same, unto some people in the world; for the more you talk to them, the more light that is revealed to them, the less they seem to appreciate it. If they do seem to appreciate it, they do not obey it, they do not walk in the path marked out but they will receive instructions from day to day, and enter into the most solemn obligations, before God and angels, that they will observe them, but before they get home they forget them.
James and Heber knew we have a tendency to drift, most especially if we don't have the influence of the Holy Ghost with us. On my mission all the nearby Elders and Sisters would meet every transfer at Zone Conference where we'd receive instruction and encouragement from the mission leaders. These meetings were long, but they seemed short because the Spirit was there. Many of the missionaries would leave the meeting enthused, energized, excited, full of the Spirit, believing that they would be better missionaries, and have more success in finding those who wanted to hear the gospel message. Three days later we were back in the trenches wondering where that enthusiasm went. During the Zone Conference we would be enlightened by the Spirit, which allows us to see things "as they really are, and of things as they really will be" (Jacob 4:13). Brigham Young said it like this:
To me, these principles are like the vision of open day upon this beautiful earth. Life and death are easily understood in the light of the Holy Ghost, but, like every thing else, they are hard to be understood in its absence (Journal of Discourses 1:349).
We beheld ourselves clearly, like looking a man seeing himself in a mirror. We could sense who we were, what our purpose was, what our responsibility was, and felt we could accomplish almost anything. But if we did not choose to act on those promptings to the best of our ability we go our way and forget, as it were, what we had seen when things were made plain by the Spirit. We must be hearers of the word, and doers, if we wish to keep the Spirit of God with us, and that is the promise we make each Sunday when we take the sacrament. If there is only one time during the week when we can see ourselves clearly, as though in a mirror, this is the time. You are given a promise when you partake of the bread and water; listen:
O God, the Eternal Father, we ask thee in the name of thy Son, Jesus Christ, to bless and sanctify this bread to the souls of all those who partake of it; that they may eat in remembrance of the body of thy Son, and witness unto thee, O God, the Eternal Father, that they are willing to take upon them the name of thy Son, and always remember him, and keep his commandments which he hath given them, that they may always have his Spirit to be with them (Moroni 4:3; D&C 20:77).
Note that perfection here (as in strict obedience without any mistakes) is not mentioned in the prayer. Instead, we commit that we are willing. If we are truly willing, we will do the best we can, knowing the Holy Ghost has been promised to us to help guide our lives. But we must be doers. Joseph read the scripture in James, and acted on the prompting to seek God in prayer. Later he expressed his thoughts on being a 'doer,' and not a hearer only:

I made this my rule: when the Lord commands, do it (History of the Church, 2:170).

President Kimball concluded by charging the saints to do all they could to get the Temple completed, and remembered another saying Joseph Smith used to use:
Go to work, not only next spring, but now make preparations, and let us build a temple. What say you? I do not want you to say yes, unless you calculate to do it, but, as brother Joseph used to say, "Yankee doodle do it." Now go to work, and do the thing right up, and when next fall comes to pass, let us see the walls of the temple erected, and the roof on it. What say you? It is just as you say. No one man has the capacity and power to do it himself, but if you say it, and you will do it, there will be a temple next fall, with a roof upon it. Do you believe it? You do. You nod your heads; come, nod them a little lower still; none of your half winks here, but whole winks or nothing. We can do it just as easily as I have built a little house on the corner there. How do you feel, brethren? Do you feel, do it? Don't you say yes, or give me a half wink, without meaning it; but, as the girls say, give me a whole heart or nothing. I do not want you should have my heart, and I do not want you should have the hearts of my brethren, because if you have their hearts, they will do nothing for God or His cause. You know I talk just as I have a mind to, when I get up to talk here. Do you consider it sensible, that we go to work, and rear a temple to the name of the Lord, and have the roof on it next fall? Say? None of your half winks to me again; is it not reasonable to say, it cannot be done unless you do it? (JD 1:354-358).
Footnotes: [1] Heber C. Kimball was baptized into the Baptist Church in 1832, three weeks before hearing about the restoration at the home of his friend, Phineas Young, brother of Brigham Young, who had invited three missionaries in to teach the family. After several strong spiritual experiences Heber was baptised a member of the Church of Jesus Christ in April and ordained an elder. He served a short mission and marched with Zion's Camp in 1834 before he was called as one of the original apostles in the Quorum of the 12. He died on June 22, 1868 in Salt Lake City in a carriage accident. Among his posterity was his son J. Golden Kimball and grandson Spencer W. Kimball. [2] More on doing; Belief, testimony, is not enough: "A great many say, 'I believe the Gospel,' but continue to act wickedly, to do that which they know to be wrong. I wish you to fully understand that merely believing the Gospel, that Jesus is the Christ, in the Old and New Testaments, that Joseph Smith was a Prophet sent of God, and that the Book of Mormon is true, does not prepare you to become angels of light, sons and daughters of God, and joint heirs with Jesus Christ to a divine inheritance. Nor does mere belief entitle you to the possession of the crowns and thrones that you are anticipating. No, such preparation can be made, and such objects attained only by doing the work required of us by our Father in heaven, by obeying Him in all things, letting our will, dispositions, and feelings fall to our feet, to rise no more, from this time henceforth, and actually operating upon the principle that we will do the will of our Father in heaven, no matter what comes upon us. Then, if you are going to be killed by your enemies, or destroyed by the adversary, you can say, "Kill away, destroy away," (Brigham Young, JD 2:248). Grow in the knowledge of truth by doing: A man who wishes to receive light and knowledge, to increase in the faith of the Holy Gospel, and to grow in the knowledge of the truth as it is in Jesus Christ, will find that when he imparts knowledge to others he will also grow and increase. Be not miserly in your feelings, but get knowledge and understanding by freely imparting it to others, and be not like a man who selfishly hoards his gold; for that man will not thus increase upon the amount, but will become contracted in his views and feelings. So the man who will not impart freely of the knowledge he has received, will become so contracted in his mind that he cannot receive truth when it is presented to him. Wherever you see an opportunity to do good, do it, for that is the way to increase and grow in the knowledge of the truth (Brigham Young, JD 2:266).

July 19, 2007

Cling Close To The Lord

Brigham Young December 5, 1853

The whole mortal existence of man is neither more nor less than a preparatory state given to finite beings, a space wherein they may improve themselves for a higher state of being…Mankind, in general, do not stop to reflect, they are pressing headlong to grasp the whole world if possible…
I don’t take enough time to sit and contemplate eternal things, and I’m not really talking about “deep mysteries” or anything, as we commonly think of them, but more basic mysteries like “Am I on the right track? Do I really know the gospel is true? Do I know I am a child of God? Does he love me? What is my purpose here?” Rather than reflecting on these things it’s easy to get caught up in the day to day “temporally” important things, as we press “headlong to grasp the whole world if possible.” Even our more temporal, educational pursuits can be consecrated to God, and constitute a part of our eternal progression. Brigham told the saints:
It matters not what the subject be, if it tends to improve the mind, exalt the feelings, and enlarge the capacity. The truth that is in all the arts and sciences forms a part of our religion.[1]
Including all "truth" in 'Mormonism' wasn’t a new idea Brigham came up with, it was taught from the beginning by the Prophet Joseph Smith:

One of the grand fundamental principles of 'Mormonism" is to receive truth, let it come from whence it may...

Have the Presbyterians any truth? Yes. Have the Baptists, Methodists, etc., any truth? Yes. They all have a little truth mixed with error.

We should gather all the good and true principles in the world and treasure them up, or we shall not come out true ‘Mormons.’ (History of the Church 5:499,517).

Brigham said this doctrine of embracing all truth rattled some cages, but the truth is, there is much more to praising God than sitting around singing praises and “dreaming of mansions above”[2]. The restored gospel, he said,

…comes in contact with the traditions, prejudices, and feelings of former years when the alpha and omega of our religion consisted in singing, preaching, exhorting, and shouting "Glory, hallelujah, praise the Lord!" And when Monday morning came, we would go to our farms, to our merchandise, to our mechanism and to what we called our dull business of life, which we considered did not belong to our religion. These are the traditions of the world, but it is not so with us; we have learned the Gospel better… My religion must be with me from one Monday morning to the next, the year round, or it will not answer me. You can see how easy it is for Latter-day Saints to step out of the path of duty.

Brigham warned the saints about the ease of stepping out of the path of duty. Truly, the Latter-day Saints rely on the grace and the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ, but we also realize the gate is straight and the way is narrow, and our participation is included in the process. Perhaps this is one reason we see a tendency of some to emphasize works more than simple faith and grace. The saints know that faith invites the Holy Ghost which compels us to action, and the prompted action is meant to keep us in the right way; and if we follow those promptings we will be filled with the love of God, we can become like Christ. If we want to know the master, then, we must serve him:
For how knoweth a man the master whom he has not served, and who is a stranger unto him, and is far from the thoughts and intents of his heart? (Mosiah 5:13).
Brigham continued, noting that some saints may fall by the wayside, wandering away from the iron rod into the “strange roads” Lehi described (see 1 Nephi 8:32). The pull of worldly objectives was too strong for some. One of the biggest pulls of Brigham’s time was California. Many saints believed they shouldn’t settle in the Salt Lake valley, but should continue right through to California where the beautiful weather, location and promise of gold and riches seemed abundant. Brigham directed a warning to such:
Persons who cannot control themselves, and hold in subjection their feelings and lustful desires, and appetites, know no better than to run distracted after the perishable things of this world. They say they "are going to California;" and I thank the Lord they are. Why? Because I would rather be in this community with one hundred families of poor, honest-hearted Saints, than one hundred millions who mix up, with devils, and go to California. …if any of you find men or women who will not serve the Lord, do not lay a straw in their way to hinder them from serving the devil, but give them a dollar, or help them to a wagon, to speed their way out of this community. It would be better to do so than to keep them here, when they have no disposition to love and serve the Lord. We are better without them.
This seemed to be directed more to those who were thinking of leaving, than to every saint, as Brigham continued he warned against judging others. Casting judgment on others is a very effective way to lost the guidance of the Holy Ghost:
…how often it is said-"Such a person has done wrong, and he cannot be a Saint, or he would not do so." How do you know? We hear some swear and lie; they trample upon the rights of their neighbor, break the Sabbath by staying away from meeting, riding about the city; hunting horses and cattle, working in the kanyons. Do not judge such persons, for you do not know the design of the Lord concerning them; therefore, do not say they are not Saints. What shall we do with them? Bear with them…A person who would say another is not a Latter-day Saint, for some trifling affair in human life, proves that he does not possess the Spirit of God.
Thus far in the discourse Brigham discussed several ways we might fall off the path to God: worldly distractions and sinful behavior such as judging others. Today there are spiritual and temporal “California’s” we might encounter that separate us from doing the will of God, but sinning and distraction aren’t the only things that can get in our way of returning to our Father and be with the people we love. The trials we face, even the ones not directly caused by ourselves, can prevent us from making it back, or, with Gods help, they can elevate us closer to God:
No matter what we experience in life, we are responsible for ourselves and our salvation. If we have not yet learned that poverty, sickness, pain, want, disappointment, losses, crosses, or even death, should not move us one hair's breadth from the service of God, or separate us from the principles of eternal life, it is a lesson we have to learn.
Sins, distractions, trials; these can prevent us from getting back home again. King Benjamin trembled at thinking his people wouldn’t understand this concept. (He also trembled, according to him, because he was really old; see Mosiah 2:30). After his people felt forgiven felt the love of God, King Benjamin told them they must “retain a remission” of their sins by enduring to the end. I counted at least 9 times during his sermon where he told them to endure, or warned them of consequences if they didn’t.[3] The threat is real, and when trials come, even when the “mists of darkness” obscure our view—and they will—we must “cling to the Lord,” as Brigham concluded in his sermon:
You hear many say, "I am a Latter-day Saint, and I never will apostatize;" "I am a Latter-day Saint, and shall be to the day of my death." I never make such declarations, and never shall. I think I have learned that of myself I have no power, but my system is organized to increase in wisdom, knowledge, and power, getting a little here and a little there. But when I am left to myself, I have no power, and my wisdom is foolishness; then I cling close to the Lord, and I have power in His name. I think I have learned the Gospel so as to know, that in and of myself I am nothing. In the organization of my system, however, is a foundation laid, if I rightly improve upon it, that will secure to me the independence of the Gods in eternity (Journal of Discourses 1:334-341).[4]
How do we know that we are staying in the right way, that we are retaining a remission of our sins? King Benjamin tells us we will feel our hearts changing. We will “not have a mind to injure one another, but to live peaceably with one another,” (Mosiah 4:13). We will find the pull of the “natural man” lessening, (Mosiah 3:19). We will “watch [ourselves,] and [our] words, and [our] deeds, and observe the commandments of God, and continue in the faith,” (Mosiah 4:30). Most importantly, we will do these things not to earn celestial brownie points, but because our very nature has changed and we desire, we want to do these things. Concluding a talk in General Conference, Elder Henry B. Eyring mentioned the importance of retaining a remission of sins by remembering God and serving Him:
The words and the music of this conference will lead you to do what will strengthen you against the danger of a drift away from heartfelt prayer. From what you hear you will feel promptings to go to the scriptures. Follow the promptings. You will be reminded in this conference of service you committed to give when you entered the waters of baptism. Choose to obey. If you ponder the scriptures and begin to do what you covenanted with God to do, I can promise you that you will feel more love for God and more of His love for you. And with that, your prayers will come from the heart, full of thanks and of pleading. You will feel a greater dependence on God. You will find the courage and the determination to act in His service, without fear and with peace in your heart. You will pray always. And you will not forget Him, no matter what the future brings (Henry B. Eyring, “Prayer,”Ensign, November 2001).
As Elder Eyring, Brother Brigham, and King Benjamin said, I hope we can draw closer to God and follow the promptings he gives. We will have promptings, maybe even this very day, and I hope we have the strength and courage to follow them, and to keep on the path back to Heavenly Father and His Christ. As King Benjamin concluded: “O, man, remember, and perish not,” (Mosiah 4:30). Footnotes: [1] ‘Mormonism’ embraces all truth: "Mormonism" so-called, embraces every principle pertaining to life and salvation for time and eternity. No matter who has it. If the infidel has got truth it belongs to "Mormonism." The truth and sound doctrine possessed by the sectarian world, and they have a great deal, all belong to this church. As for their morality many of them are morally just as good as we are. All that is good, lovely, and praiseworthy belongs to this church and kingdom (Journal of Discourses 11:375). [2] “Have I Done Any Good?” Hymns, 1985, no. 223. [3] King Benjamin’s warnings and admonitions to endure to the end: (This is a preliminary count; I intend on looking further into it for a more accurate number. Here are the 9 I found during my first count.) Mosiah: 2:21 2:33 2:37 2:38 2:41 3:12 4:6-7, 4:12-13 4:30 [4] For more on "being left" to yourself, see When Left To Ourselves.

July 18, 2007

You Find What You Seek

On Charity, and other nice advice for emigrants
Franklin D. Richards
Brigham Young
October 6, 1853

Between 1847 and 1869 approximately 70,000 people migrated across the United States to join the saints in Salt Lake. Periodically, when an especially large group of saints arrived they would be addressed in conference with advice on settling into a new location, economy, and overall lifestyle. At October's General Conference of 1853 Elder Franklin D. Richards and Brigham Young took the opportunity to urge the saints to have charity in their new surroundings. Brigham said some saints who had made the trek with money from the Perpetual Immigration Fund would arrive in the valley, find work, money to be made, goods to be purchased, and other blessings, but when asked to assist others they would decline, thus showing ingratitude towards those who had helped them cross the plains:

When they are brought to this place, they do not know their benefactors, who saved them from death, but they are ahead and shoulders above them, when they meet them in the streets. Do you know the conclusion that is natural to man, when he is treated in such a manner by his fellow man? It is, "I wish I had left you in your own country." I wish so too. I say, let such persons starve to death, and die Christians, instead of being brought here to live and commit the sin of ingratitude, and die and go to hell.
This seems harsh, but Brigham goes on to explain it would have been better for these people to live without the "blessing" of crossing the plains rather than to be given the blessings and lack the gratitude. Many of these Saints, according to Brigham, would actually lose the Spirit as they crossed the plains:
Let us now read a chapter on the other side of the page, and we find the hearts of men and women, by crossing the ocean, by traveling a few weeks or months by water and land, appear to become partially closed up, and they lose sight of the object of their pursuit. It seems as though the hardships they pass through, in coming to this land, banish nearly every particle of the light of Christ out of their minds. 
If you started on your journey with the influence of the Holy Spirit warming your hearts, who prevented you from retaining it every day of your life? You may say it was the devil that robbed you of it. But what business had you with the devil? Was there any necessity that you should enter into fellowship with him, or into partnership with the works of darkness? (Brigham Young, JD 1:322-328).
We’re responsible to keep the influence of the Holy Ghost in our lives. It’s possible to offend, grieve, or even quench the Spirit, leaving us to ourselves where we may find ourselves wandering in "strange roads" (see 1 Nephi 8:32).1 President James E. Faust explained:
The still, small voice, though still and small, is very powerful. It “whispereth through and pierceth all things.” But like my old crystal set, the message may be there but we fail to pick it up. Perhaps something in our lives prevents us from hearing the message because we are “past feeling.” We often put ourselves in spiritual dead spots—places and situations that block out divine messages. Some of these dead spots include anger, pornography, transgression, selfishness, and other situations that offend the Spirit (James E. Faust, “Did You Get The Right Message?” Ensign, May 2004).
Elder Franklin D. Richards said the Saints would find what they were looking for in the valley. If they looked for problems, they’d find them. If they looked for good, they’d find it, too:
You will find Saints living about you, that have the good Spirit, and can give you the word of comfort, and take you by the hand and pour the oil of consolation into your heart, and do you good in the name of the Lord. If you seek that kind of society, you will tend upwards towards the realms of light, in duty and intelligence. By taking this course, you will be cultivating the same good Spirit in your own hearts, that you see in the hearts, examples, and general conduct of your brethren and sisters around you, and which I most conspicuous in those who are called to lead and direct in the Priesthood. 
On the other hand, if you come in here, with the intention to be right downsharp, careful to watch and to criticize your brethren very closely, you will find all the evil you look for, and see imperfections which the cloak of charity and good will would have covered, had you possessed it yourself[2] (Franklin D. Richards, JD 1:316-322).
Again, it seems we find and become whatever type of society we seek. Our perceptions of others can expand or contract our views, depending on what we focus upon. (I am reminded of the beam and mote parable in the New Testament.) Self-righteousness blocks the spirit, while seeking the good in others is an attribute of charity. Joseph Smith spoke on this subject in a discourse to the Relief Society in Nauvoo in 1842:
As you increase in innocence and virtue, as you increase in goodness, let your hearts expand--let them be enlarged towards others--you must be longsuffering and bear with the faults and errors of mankind. How precious are the souls of man!...You must not be contracted but you must be liberal in your feelings…

Nothing is so much calculated to lead people to forsake sin as to take them by the hand and watch over them with tenderness. When persons manifest the least kindness and love to me, O what pow'r it has over my mind, while the opposite course has a tendency to harrow up all the harsh feelings and depress the human mind. All the religious world is boasting of its righteousness--it is the doctrine of the devil to retard the human mind and retard our progress by filling us with self righteousness-- The nearer we get to our heavenly Father the more are we disposed to look with compassion on perishing souls to take them upon our shoulders and cast their sins behind our back. (Relief Society Minutes, Nauvoo Female Relief Society, April 28, 1842, Held in upper room of Red Brick Store).
Loving others in this way can seem difficult, especially when we must love those who hurt us, or even those we don’t really know yet. Where does this charity, come from? Is it self-generated? I believe it is not. I believe the more we have the Spirit of God with us, the more He fills us with charity, as a gift. We need room to receive that charity, so we have to clear the junk out of our lives; the self-righteousness, the anger, the unworthiness. As we do this, the Spirit will bestow upon us the gift of charity. And the more charity we receive, the more the Spirit can be with us. The process, then, is self-reinforcing. We are more likely to look upon others with compassion because we begin to see them as God sees them. The entire Book of Enos details the process of seeking God, being forgiven, seeing as God sees, being led to love others, including enemies. When charity didn’t come easy, he served his enemies anyway, praying for them, and was filled with love for them, but it took effort:
And my soul hungered; and I kneeled down before my Maker, and I cried unto him in mighty prayer and supplication for mine own soul; … And there came a voice unto me, saying: Enos, thy sins are forgiven thee, and thou shalt be blessed… Now, it came to pass that when I had heard these words I began to feel a desire for the welfare of my brethren, the Nephites; wherefore, I did pour out my whole soul unto God for them… And after I, Enos, had heard these words, my faith began to be unshaken in the Lord; and I prayed unto him with many long strugglings for my brethren, the Lamanites. And it came to pass that after I had prayed and labored with all diligence, the Lord said unto me: I will grant unto thee according to they desires, because of thy faith (Enos 1:4-11).
Moroni also described the process:
But charity is the pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever; and whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with him. Wherefore, my beloved bretheren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become the sons of God; that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may be purified even as he is pure. Amen.” (Moroni 7:47-48. See also Mosiah 2:4; Alma 38:12; 3 Ne. 12:6; Moroni 8:26.)
Notice we must be filled with the love. Again, it is not self-generated; it is a gift by the grace of Jesus Christ.2 It seems we can measure our closeness to God by observing our feelings of others. Do you have any enemies? Arguments? Is the Spirit with you? We all fluctuate in this process, being closer at some times than at others. Our goal is to seek to be filled with that love, and share it with others. Not to be wieghed down by our own shortcomings, but strengthened in confidence that God loves us and his grace can save us from ourselves as we try. When we are converted, we will want to strengthen others (see Luke 22:32). Seek to have charity through prayer and service, which brings the Holy Ghost, which fills us with charity, which inspires us to love, pray for and serve others, and the cycle continues. Joseph Smith:
While one portion of the human race is judging and condemning the other without mercy, the Great Parent of the universe looks upon the whole of the human family with a fatherly care and paternal regard; He views them as His offspring, and without any of those contracted feelings that influence the children of men (TPJS, p.218).3


[1]Alma 7:21 “And he doth not dwell in unholy temples; neither can filthiness or anything which is unclean be received into the kingdom of God..” D&C 121:37-38 “That they may be conferred upon us, it is true; but when we undertake to cover our sins, or to gratify our pride, our vain ambition, or to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved; and when it is withdrawn, Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man. Behold, ere he is aware, he is left unto himself, to kick against the pricks, to persecute the saints, and to fight against God.1 Thess. 5:19 “Quench not the Spirit.”  

[2]Thomas B. Marsh, the senior apostle of the Quorum of the Twelve, left the Church after losing confidence in the Prophet Joseph Smith. It is likely the rift developed over land deals of which Marsh disapproved. He also felt Joseph was giving more honor to the High Council in Kirtland rather than the Twelve who were supposed to stand "equal" in authority with the First Presidency. Marsh described his feelings later after rejoining the Church:
"I became jealous of the prophet, and then I saw double and overlooked everything that was right and spent my time looking for evil. I got mad and wanted everybody else to be mad. I talked with Brother Brigham and Brother Heber and I wanted them to be mad like myself; and I saw they were not mad, and I got madder still because they were not. Brother Brigham, with a cautious look, said 'Are you the leader of the Church, Brother Thomas?' I answered, 'no.' 'Well then,' said he, 'Why do you not let that alone?'"
Even after this realization, Marsh left the Church and didn't return until almost two decades later. (see Brigham Young, American Moses, Leonard J. Arrington, pg. 65-66). 

[3] I charged the Saints not to follow the example of the adversary in accusing the brethren, and said, “If you do not accuse each other, God will not accuse you. If you have no accuser you will enter heaven, and if you will follow the revelations and instructions which God gives you through me, I will take you into heaven as my back load. If you will not accuse me, I will not accuse you. If you will throw a cloak of charity over my sins, I will over yours–for charity covereth a multitude of sins. What many people call sin is not sin; I do many things to break down superstition, and I will break it down" (Joseph Smith, November 7, 1841.) History of the Church 4:445-446. 

A simple object lesson: -Charity is a gift, it must be bestowed and it fills us. [Moroni 7:47-48; 1 Cor. 13.] -An empty glass represents us. [The glass could even be filled with dirt, representing sin or hate, etc.] -Take a pitcher of water, representing God, and fill the glass. The water is symbolic of the charity. This is a simple way of demonstrating that we must be filled, we cannot create charity; it is a gift. -The water can evaporate, and must constantly be refilled. Also, it can be poured into other glasses and shared, etc.

July 17, 2007

The Privileges and Blessings of the Gospel

Brigham Young Feb. 20, 1853 The latest discourse I read was so great I am having a difficult time trying to provide a synopsis with application. At the outset I simply recommend reading it in its entirety, but it is a long one. Meanwhile, I’ll try to keep my commentary and application to a minimum on this post, and let Brigham do the talking. Brigham started out by thanking God for the awesome blessings the Church was enjoying; that they were living in the last and greatest dispensation when more gospel blessings are made available to more people than at any other time since the beginning. He acknowledged that though other religions and philosophies carry benefits, and a measure of the Spirit of God, the fullness of that spirit is found in the church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and for that, we are glad. He also gave a small side note regarding how we know this is the Lords true Church:

“Nothing short of the power of the Almighty, nothing short of the Holy Spirit of Jesus Christ, can prove to you that this is the work of God. Men uninspired of God cannot by their worldly wisdom disprove it, or prevail against it; neither can they by wisdom alone prove it to be true, neither to themselves or to others. Their not being able to prevail against it does not prove it to be the kingdom of God, for there are many theories and systems on the earth, incontrovertible by the wisdom of the world, which are nevertheless false. Nothing less than the power of the Almighty, enlightening the understanding of men, can demonstrate this glorious truth to the human mind."
Brother Brigham spoke to the congregation about what they might have expected or looked forward to when they first joined the Church. They were looking for peace, forgiveness, acceptance, and other blessings:
"When you were in your native homes in the old countries and in the United States, before you gathered with the people of God, what were your thoughts and expectations, when you looked forward to the period of your being embodied with the Saints? What were the vision of your mind, and the operations of the Spirit upon your understanding? When you were gathered with the Saints of the Most High, and became associated as a brother, a sister, and a neighbor with that blessed society, you expected to enjoy the manifestations of the Lord Jesus Christ, to walk in the light of his countenance, and by the power of the Holy Ghost have the oracles of truth revealed to you continually, and that you would be in heaven, and in the Zion of the Lord. These were your expectations. You did not expect to hear the name of the God we serve blasphemed from morning until evening; you expected to be delivered from hearing the blasphemies of your wicked shop mates, from the tyranny of your ungodly employers, and from the persecutions of the bigoted religionists, who were all united to pick you to pieces, and destroy you both temporally and spiritually... You were annoyed with the ungodly conversation and filthy deeds of your neighbours, your peace was destroyed, and you could not enjoy that happiness held out to you in the Gospel; yet you felt the influence of the spirit of truth burning in your heart, which kindled in you a longing desire to mingle with the Saints; you would exclaim, "Oh! that I could enjoy the society of the Saints, and make my escape from this ungodly place. Oh! that I had means to gather up my little family, and journey to the place of the gathering of the Saints of the Most High." This was your feeling, and this your prayer. You anticipated deliverance from hell, to find a heaven with the Saints; you expected to exchange confusion for a Zion of order and beauty, misery for peace and happiness, blasphemy and tumult for quietness and reverence to the name of God, starvation for plenty; in short, you expected to find a place where all evil had ceased, and iniquity and sorrow were brought to an end, and where you would bask undisturbed in the smiles of the countenance of your Lord from day to day... Now, brethren and sisters, what hinders you from enjoying all you anticipated? The calm reflections of your own minds, and the conclusions of a well balanced judgment, enlightened by the Spirit of the Lord, will give you a correct answer to this question.
I reflected on these expectations, and wondered what, indeed, hinders me from enjoying all the expected blessings. Must we wait for some future millennial day to enjoy these things? Obviously the condition in the world right now plays a part in the confusion and disappointment we still face, even though we have a hope in Christ. But there is more to it than that; the responsibility resides within ourselves; and that is the great secret. Brigham answered his own question:
"If I do not enjoy all I anticipated, if my happiness is not as complete as I anticipated, if the light of the Holy Spirit is not in my heart to that degree which I expected it would be, if I have not obtained all I anticipated…the cause is in myself, in my own heart, in my own disposition, in the weakness of human nature; it is my own will that prevents me from enjoying all I anticipated, and more. It is a mistaken idea to suppose that others can prevent me from enjoying the light of God in my soul; all hell cannot hinder me from enjoying Zion in my own heart, if my individual will yields obedience to the requirements and mandates of my heavenly Master. He has set me a pattern to copy, which, if I imitate faithfully, will yield to me all and more of heaven in my own heart than I can anticipate. This is my answer."
He then urged us to examine ourselves, rather than others, and find how we can improve; then by drawing closer to God we can experience our own anticipatory Zion, and we are responsible to make it so. Salvation, Brigham says, is an individual operation. It’s between you and God:
If you are deceived, who will deceive you? If you are wronged, who wrongs you? If you are cheated out of your crown at last, who has cheated you?...Who has influence over any one of you, to cause you to miss salvation in the celestial kingdom of God? I will answer these questions for myself. If brother Brigham and I shall take a wrong track, and be shut out of the kingdom of heaven, no person will be to blame but brother Brigham and I. I am the only being in heaven, earth, or hell, that can be blamed. This will equally apply to every Latter-day Saint. Salvation is an individual operation.
Next, he discussed the tendency some have to rely on others, rather than themselves. They cannot abide a Celestial glory. But who can?
Now those men, or those women, who know no more about the power of God, and the influences of the Holy Spirit, than to be led entirely by another person, suspending their own understanding, and pinning their faith upon another's sleeve, will never be capable of entering into the celestial glory, to be crowned as they anticipate…They cannot rule themselves, to say nothing of ruling others, but they must be dictated to in every trifle, like a child…They never can hold sceptres of glory, majesty, and power in the celestial kingdom. Who will? Those who are valiant and inspired with the true independence of heaven, who will go forth boldly in the service of their God, leaving others to do as they please, determined to do right, though all mankind besides should take the opposite course. Will this apply to any of you? Your own hearts can answer.
A good time to let our “own hearts answer” is while partaking of the sacrament. That is a time to evaluate our condition in the eyes of God, to seek forgiveness. You will find a time in your day, whether it be driving in the car, or drifting off to sleep, when you will be especially open to the Spirit of God, and He will let you know if you need a course correction. Be open to those promptings. Meanwhile, working on the little things every single day is simply the way we progress. Brigham said it's easy: do all the good you know how to do and shun all the evil you recognize. We won't be perfect right now but we can keep moving toward that goal by the grace offered by Christ's atonement. It makes up the large gap for us, and also carries us across that gap. The subject of his sermon then changes. Brigham remembers all the hardships he and the saints have seen; mob violence, being driven from homes, losing loved ones, and all manner of trials. The situation the saints found themselves in back East was much different from the lovely and free Zion they had yearned for. We look at the trials they endured and the sacrifices they made, and perhaps are grateful we have been spared those experiences. Brother Brigham saw it differently:
You that have not passed through the trials, and persecutions, and drivings, with this people, from the beginning, but have only read of them, or heard some of them related, may think how awful they were to endure, and wonder that the Saints survived them at all. The thought of it makes your hearts sink within you, your brains reel, and your bodies tremble, and you are ready to exclaim, "I could not have endured it." I have been in the heat of it, and I never felt better in all my life; I never felt the peace and power of the Almighty more copiously poured upon me than in the keenest part of our trials. They appeared nothing to me. I hear people talk about their troubles, their sore privations, and the great sacrifices they have made for the Gospel's sake. It never was a sacrifice to me. I was as ready to pass through the scenes of mobbing and driving in Jackson County, as I was to pass through the troubles in Kirtland, Ohio; in Davis and Caldwell Counties, Missouri; in Illinois; and up to this place. And what of it? I have not known or seen a single sacrifice that this people have made. There has not been one such providence of the Almighty to this people, that was not calculated to sanctify the pure in heart, and enrich them with blessings instead of curses-enrich them not only with earthly blessings, but with crowns of glory, immortality, and eternal lives in the presence of God. Where, then, is the sacrifice this people have ever made? There is no such thing-they have only exchanged a worse condition for a better one, every time they have been moved-they have exchanged ignorance for knowledge, and inexperience for its opposite."
Brother Brigham closed with two points. The first: When anticipating a foreseeable hardship, we have the tendency to blow it out of proportion. The second: we expect the good times to be much better than they can be, also blowing them out of proportion, and are often left disappointed:
I know this people have suffered more by the contemplation of trouble, than they have when actually passing through it. As they have magnified future trouble almost infinitely beyond its real dimensions, so they have imagined to themselves a greater heaven than they can find in Zion, at its present stage of progression. You do not enjoy the Zion you anticipated. That mankind make mistakes in these two ways must be apparent to those who have felt the workings of hope and fear in their nature. Those who are apt to go to one extreme, are almost sure to go to the other, which always causes disappointment, either agreeably, or disagreeably. These two extremes have caused the Saints much trouble, and some, for want of patience, and a little reasonable thought, have laid the blame of their disappointments in the wrong quarter, and have apostatized from the Church, never thinking the blame was in themselves. Upon these weaknesses of human nature the devil works sometimes very successfully (Journal of Discourses 1:309-316).
As for the second point about expecting more than we should, some people expect perfection from Church leaders, members, and all things Mormon. We are in the midst of our probation; all of us. An old edition of the LDS Hymnal contained a song by Eliza R. Snow on this topic:

Think not, when you gather to Zion, Your troubles and trials are through-- That nothing but comfort and pleasure Are waiting in Zion for you. No, no; 'tis design'd as a furnace; All substance, all textures to try -- To consume all the "wood, hay and stubble," And the gold from the dross purify.

Think not, when you gather to Zion That all will be holy and pure -- That deception, and falsehood are banish'd; And confidence wholly secure. No, no; for the Lord our Redeemer Has said that the tares with the wheat Must grow; until the great day of burning Shall render the harvest complete.

Think not, when you gather to Zion, The Saints here have nothing to do But attend to your personal welfare, And always be comforting you. No, the Saints who are faithful are doing What their hands find to do, with their might; To accomplish the gath'ring of Israel They are toiling by day and by night.

Think not, when you gather to Zion, The prize and the victory won -- Think not that the warfare is ended, Or the work of salvation is done. No, no; for the great Prince of Darkness A tenfold exertion will make' When he sees you approaching the fountain Where the truth you may freely partake.

("Think not, When You Gather to Zion," Hymns (1948), no. 21, vv. 1, 3.)

So in summary: Anticipated blessings can be had now, if we purify our lives. We do this by doing all the good we can while avoiding all the evil we can, relying upon Christ to fully account for any slips along the way. By doing this, we will have the proper perspective; avoiding false fear, but also false hope, giving us an inner peace through the trials and sacrifices, which, in the end, bless us. This inner peace is our own Zion, and then we can share that with others by loving them. It won’t be a perfect road, because perfection is the destination. You can read the full discourse here. Also see the post Trials and Happiness.

July 16, 2007

What is 'Mormonism'?

Parley P. Pratt
July 10, 1853

Some companies traveling through Salt Lake on the trail to California would visit the Tabernacle to hear what the curious Mormons were preaching and discover if the rumors they'd heard were true concerning this strange new religion.1 The summer months brought a larger influx of visitors and Elder Parley P. Pratt took one occasion to address the visitors on the question “What is Mormonism:"

They might as well have called them, Abrahamism, Enochism, or Isaiahism; because the ancient Prophets, Patriarchs, and Apostle, held to the same truths in general terms, only differing in circumstances, in distant countries and ages of the world, and acted upon the same general principles, according to the particular circumstances that surrounded them. But the world, out of all the ancients, have selected one called Mormon, and all the principles held by all good, inspired men of all ages and countries they have seen fit to sum up, and call "Mormonism." Well, it is as well as anything else, for aught I know; the name does not affect the principles.
Elder Pratt could be a little more long-winded than the Prophet Joseph Smith, who simply defined ‘Mormonism’ like this:
"Mormonism is the pure doctrine of Jesus Christ, of which I myself am not ashamed" (The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, p. 547-548).
Elder Pratt proceeded to expound on some of the differences between the restored gospel and the Christian denominations of the time to see if there was anything new introduced with the restoration. He showed how the ministering of angels, authority given directly from God, and the method of baptism and reception of the gift of the Holy Ghost were all part of the restored gospel, but denied by the other Christian sects, though they are all found in the Bible. It should be noted, however, that Mormonism shared much in common with various other sects; millennialism, restorationism, health codes, communal living, belief in visions, among other things were all spread across a spectrum of denominations. The Latter-day Saints still viewed themselves as distinctive, and some have posited the Book of Mormon was the biggest separator.2

Then Pratt turned to a common point of discussion: the need for new scripture. He said when someone asks to see a Mormon Bible, they might be surprised when they are handed a King James Version. Of course, the inquirer is really wondering about the Book of Mormon. Elder Pratt pointed out that most denominations have some kind of extra-Biblical books to which they refer, study guides, etc. so to be sure, the other churches have extra books as well. But he conceded the Book of Mormon is something different than those books; it claims to be scripture. He concluded it is consistent with the Bible that God can and does reveal His will to mankind, the same now as he did before, which includes the possibility of further scripture:
"Well," says one, "to be plain with you, Mr. Speaker, we have been taught to believe that the one book, called the Bible, contains all the revelations that God ever revealed to man, therefore it is an innovation to offer anything else to the world as a revelation."
This is a tradition of your own, so I have nothing to do with it. The Bible never taught that to you, nor angels, neither did any minister of God ever teach it to you; and if it is a modern sectarian tradition, it is calculated to bind men into cast iron creed, and the sooner you break the fetters the better; burst them asunder, and come out into liberty and freedom, and know and understand that there is no such doctrine in the broad principles of eternal truth, that heaven is full of knowledge, and the earth ought to be full of Prophets, heaven and earth full of angels, and both full of inspiration; and if the inhabitants of all the worlds of the universe were scribes, every blade of grass a pen, and every ocean ink, they could not write all the doings of the Almighty, of His servants, and of His angels.
If I were to live for millions of years to come, and then millions of millions more, I expect there would always be some being ready to reveal something new, and somebody would write it…yet man may have been traditionated to believe that one small book contains all that God ever said or did. Such persons are to be pitied, and not to be reasoned with.
Latter-day Saints thus may find it remarkable that some believing Christians won’t so much as attempt to see if God has revealed more than what we find in the Bible. Some have sought to justify the belief that the Bible is a closed canon by quoting Revelations 22:18-19:
For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.
I believe this argument is severely flawed for several reasons. First, the verses are clearly not referring to the Bible itself, but to John’s revelation, which was written before the Bible canon was compiled. It warns against changing this "book," not the books, as "biblia" means, literally, “the books.”3 Furthermore, these verses forbid men from adding or taking away from John’s words, but say nothing about God adding anything.

Another scripture commonly cited to support a 'closed canon' theory is 2 Timothy 3:16:
All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness…
As with the Revelation verses, there is no mention of the Bible in this verse. It mentions some reasons we need scripture, but says nothing about how much scripture, etc. That people would reject the Book of Mormon because they already have the Bible was foreseen by prophets in the ancient Americas as recorded in 2 Nephi 29:1-9:
But behold, there shall be many—at that day when I shall proceed to do a marvelous work among them, that I may remember my covenants which I have made unto the children of men, that I may set my hand again the second time to recover my people, which are of the house of Israel…and my words shall hiss forth unto the ends of the earth, for a standard unto my people, which are of the house of Israel; 
And because my words shall hiss forth—many of the Gentiles shall say: A Bible!! A Bible! We have got a Bible, and there cannot be any more Bible. But thus saith the Lord God:.. 
Thou fool, that shall say: A Bible, we have got a Bible, and we need no more Bible. Have ye obtained a Bible save it were by the Jews? Know ye not that there are more nations than one? Know ye not that I, the Lord your God, have created all men, and that I remember those who are upon the isles of the sea; and that I rule in the heavens above and in the earth beneath; and I bring forth my word unto the children of men, yea, even upon all the nations of the earth? 
Wherefore murmur ye, because that ye shall receive more of my word? Know ye not that the testimony of two nations is a witness unto you that I am God, that I remember one nation like unto another?... 
And I do this that I may prove unto many that I am the same yesterday, today, and forever; and that I speak forth my words according to mine own pleasure. And because that I have spoken one word ye need not suppose that I cannot speak another; for my work is not yet finished; neither shall it be until the end of man, neither from that time henceforth and forever.
Indeed, this prophecy has been fulfilled in my own ears countless times. Consider a brief parable for any who don’t want to accept more scripture from God:
The College Student
A young man was excited for his first semester of college, but he was even more excited to be moving far from home in order to attend said college. He packed up all the necessities and waved goodbye to his parents.
After a few weeks he received a letter from his parents. It seemed to arrive just in time; the young man was having difficulty adjusting to life on his own. The letter contained excellent information from cooking advise, to cleaning instructions, to heart-warming anecdotes of what had been going on at home in his absence. He loved the letter and read it often.
The next week another letter from home arrived, but knowing he already had a letter from home he promptly tossed the second letter into the wastebasket…
Latter-day Saints place a high value on accepting all that God sees fit to reveal, and to learn and then remember what he already has revealed. Latter-day Saints, rather than saying “we already have a Bible,” may say something like “we’ve already read the Bible,” or “we’ve already read the Book of Mormon.” These words of God teach that believers must do the most with what they’ve been given in order to be given more; otherwise they stand to lose it all. Early saints were told they were under condemnation for neglecting the Book of Mormon (D&C 84:57). The book has a power that changes lives by inviting the Spirit of God.

I submit some of us may come under that same condemnation from time to time, and encourage everyone to spend a little time each day with the Book of Mormon.

Elder Pratt concluded his talk with his testimony of what “Mormonism” really is:
"Mormonism" is a system which was understood and enjoyed by the ancients, and restored unto us by revelation. And if carried out, what will it do? It will simply fulfill the sayings of the Prophets, both ancient and modern, put down all wickedness, abuse, proscription, misrule, oppression, ignorance, darkness, and tyranny, and restore mankind to righteousness, truth, liberty, law, and government, in which the Lord's will [shall] be done on the earth as it is in heaven. That is what "Mormonism" will do, when carried out. May God bless you all. Amen (JD 1:297-309).

Davis Bitton described some of the travelers' reactions to the Mormon preaching style in "'Strange Ramblings': The Ideal and Practice of Sermons in Early Mormonism,” BYU Studies (2002) 41:1, p. 8.  

For example, see Terryl Givens, By the Hand of Mormon: The American Scripture that Launched a New World Religion, NYC: Oxford University Press, 2002, wherein he argues:
Looking at the Book of Mormon in terms of its early uses and reception, it becomes clear that this American scripture has exerted influence within the church and reaction outside the church not primarily by virtue of its substance, but rather its manner of appearing, not on the merits of what it says, but what it enacts. Put slightly differently, the history of the Book of Mormon's place in Mormonism and American religion generally has always been more connected to its status as signifier than signified, or its role as a sacred sign rather than its function as persuasive theology. The Book of Mormon is preeminently a concrete manifestation of sacred utterance, and thus an evidence of divine presence, before it is a repository of theological claims (pp. 63-64).
Or as Brant Gardner put it, many members tended to focus "more on the fact of the book rather than the text of the book," (Gardner, "The Tempest in a Teapot: DNA Studies and the Book of Mormon," FAIR website, accessed 6-17-2008. Steven Harper likewise argued that the Book of Mormon served as a sacred sign of divine intervention, but also included accounts from many converts of the "proofs" found within the book which appealed to Bible believers. He, citing Richard Bushman, believes many converts to Mormonism were products of the Enlightenment rationalism of the time in that they sought for evidence within the text corresponding to their understanding of the Bible. See Harper's "Infallible Proofs, Both Human and Divine: The Persuasiveness of Mormonism for Early Converts," Religion and American Culture, Vol. 10, No. 1, (Winter, 2000), pp. 99-118.  

Biblical scholar Mark Hamilton notes the Greek phrase Ta biblia ("the books") was "an expression Hellenistic Jews used to describe their sacred books several centuries before the time of Jesus," (Hamilton, "From Hebrew Bible to Christian Bible," as found on PBS's site From Jesus to Christ: The First Christians. The LDS Bible Dictionary also notes the etymology of Bible as referring to "the books," suggesting a "divine library" (see "Bible," LDS Bible Dictionary).