December 18, 1853
"Nobody's perfect." Of course. But this shouldn't discourage us from doing the best we can. Brigham Young took up Matthew 5:48 as his text for a sermon in 1853:
We all occupy diversified stations in the world, and in the kingdom of God. Those who do right, and seek the glory of the Father in heaven, whether their knowledge be little or much, or whether they can do little or much, if they do the very best they know how, they are perfect...
It may appear strange to some of you, and it certainly does to the world, to say it is possible for a man or woman to become perfect on this earth. It is written "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect…"
This is perfectly consistent to the person who understands what perfection really is...If the first passage I have quoted is not worded to our understanding, we can alter the phraseology of the sentence, and say, "Be ye as perfect as ye can," for that is all we can do, though it is written, be ye perfect as your Father who is in heaven is perfect. To be as perfect as we possibly can, according to our knowledge, is to be just as perfect as our Father in heaven is. He cannot be any more perfect than He knows how, any more than we.
When we are doing as well as we know how in the sphere and station which we occupy here, we are justified in the justice, righteousness, mercy, and judgment that go before the Lord of heaven and earth. We are as justified as the angels who are before the throne of God. The sin that will cleave to all the posterity of Adam and Eve is, that they have not done as well as they knew how.Simple enough, right? Sounds mighty comfortable. "Well, I'm doing my best, so hang improvement." This isn't what Brother Brigham is saying; he continues:
Though we may do the best we know how at this time, can there be no improvement made in our lives? There can. If we do wrong ignorantly, when we learn it is wrong, then it is our duty to refrain from that wrong immediately and for ever, and the sin of ignorance is winked at, and passes into oblivion.Brigham goes on to give a nice definition of "sin":
Sin consists in doing wrong when we know and can do better, and it will be punished with a just retribution, in the due time of the Lord.Ah, so there is improvement, then. Christ expressed it similarly:
If ye were blind, ye should have no sin, but now ye say, We see; therefore your sin remaineth (John 9:41).
As did James:
To him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin (James 4:17).We can be perfect in our sphere as far as we understand, but it seems as soon as we get to a "perfect" level of something, the goal on the horizon scoots further away, leaving more for us to learn and do. This improvement should be our "first labor":
We should never have but one desire, but one determination; our will should be perfectly centered upon the one object, viz., to find out the will of God, and do it… This we have to do. It is our business. It is the labor of the Latter-day Saints, which, if carried out, will run through all the various changing scenes of mortal life. It is in every act and dealing, both with ourselves, our families, and strangers. It fills every avenue of human life, from beginning to end. To gain the spiritual ascendancy over ourselves, and the influences with which we are surrounded, through a rigid course of self-discipline, is our first consideration, it is our first labor…If reaching perfection seems impossible that's only because it is; on our own, at least:
Some, when their minds are opened to behold the purity of a God of eternity-the purity of heaven, and understand that no impure thing can enter there; when they can realize the perfection of the redeemed and glorified Zion, and then look at the people now, and their actions, and how they are overcome with their weaknesses, how they cannot go out and come in without coming in contact in some way with their neighbors; when they look at the universal sinfulness of mortal man; are ready to exclaim, "We shall all go to destruction, salvation is impossible." I do not believe a word of it. If we do the best we know how, and yet commit many acts that are wrong, and contrary to the counsel given to us, there is hope in our case… ...[W]hen the vision of our minds is opened to behold the immaculate purity, perfection, light, beauty, and glory of Zion, the heaven of eternity, the place where Saints and angels dwell in the eternal worlds, then salvation for us poor erring mortals seems almost impossible; it seems that we shall hardly be saved. This, however, is verily true, we shall hardly be saved. There never was any person over saved; all who have been saved, and that ever will be in the future, are only just saved, and then it is not without a struggle to overcome, that calls into exercise every energy of the soul.The tendency to feel we are doing "good enough" can impede our progression and make us less dependent upon God. When Brigham Said 'be as perfect as you can," he relieved some stress, but emphasized our desire to cling to some of our sins:
If the brethren who profess to be Saints, and do wrong, would reveal the root of the matter, and tell the whole truth, it would be, "I have a desire to do a great deal of good, but the devil is always at my elbow, and I always like to keep the old gentleman so that I can put my hand upon him, for I want to use him sometimes." That is the reason why men and women are overcome with evil. Again, I can charge you with what you will all plead guilty of, if you would confess the truth, viz., you dare not quite give up all your hearts to God, and become sanctified throughout, and be led by the Holy Ghost from morning until evening, and from one year's end to another. I know this is so, and yet few will acknowledge it. I know this feeling is in your hearts, as well as I know the sun shines.Brigham explained that continual efforts to improve, through the grace of Christ communicated by the gift of the holy Ghost, can lead us to become what Joseph Smith called "fountain of revelation":
…if you cleave to holy, godlike principles, you add more good to your organization…and the good spirit and influence which come from the Father of lights, and from Jesus Christ, and from the holy angels add good to it. And when you have been proved, and when you have labored and occupied sufficiently upon that, it will become, in you, what brother Joseph Smith told Elder Taylor, if he would adhere to the Spirit of the Lord strictly, it should become in him, viz., a fountain of revelation. That is true. After a while the Lord will say to such: "My son, you have been faithful, you have clung to good, and you love righteousness, and hate iniquity, from which you have turned away, now you shall have the blessing of the Holy Spirit to lead you, and be your constant companion, from this time henceforth and forever." Then the Holy Spirit becomes your property, it is given to you for a profit, and an eternal blessing. It tends to addition, extension, and increase, to immortality and eternal lives."Brigham might have had Moroni 10:32 in mind:
Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ; and if by the grace of God ye are perfect in Christ, ye can in nowise deny the power of God.Have mercy on others, ask God for mercy, and you can be perfect today, and you can become perfect in Christ. Brigham concludes::
Let us do the best we can, and if we make a mistake once, seven times, or seventy times seven in a day, and are honest in our confessions, we shall be forgiven freely. As we expect to obtain mercy, so let us have mercy upon each other. And when the evil spirit comes let him find no place in you (Journal of Discourses 2:129-136).