Part 2 of "The Great Gospel Sermon"
August 8, 1852
A fundamental teaching of the Church of Jesus Christ regards prophets. God will send us prophets, apostles, teachers, etc. for the "perfecting of the saints." Since the followers of Christendom don't seem to be perfect yet, it follows that God will send prophets, and this has been part of the message of the Restoration since the beginning. But while we tell people we believe in prophets are we sure they understand what we mean? What is a prophet?
It's a strange thing when you start talking to any random man on the street and ask the question. Usually the answer [if you can get an answer, that is] entails something about predicting the future. Many have come to think of a prophet as someone who foretells, predicts, sees the future. This is fine, many prophets have "foretold" of things to come, often things conditioned on circumstances. "If this happens, then this will happen." Foretelling the future is only one role of a prophet, however, and it becomes us to let people know what we mean when we say we believe God calls prophets today.
Basically, a prophet is one who speaks with the tongue of angels, that is, one who speaks by the power of the Holy Ghost (see 1 Samuel 10:10; 1 Peter 1:21; 2 Nephi 32:3; D&C 20:26). In other words, God communicates to man through the Holy Ghost by giving him or her ideas, impressions, sometimes a direct voice, the instruction by angels, or even occasionally, instruction by God in person. This instruction is then communicated to others, and is "prophecy," making the communicator a "prophet." We can listen to the words of the prophet, think about them, pray about them, and receive confirmation of their truth by inspiration of the Holy Ghost. This way, we aren't to blindly follow a prophet, but to receive our own "prophecy" that what the prophet told us is right, correct, or "true."
Additionally, the very testimony of Jesus Christ is the spirit of prophecy, thus whatever testifies of Him or of His teachings, when directed by the Holy Ghost, is prophecy, making the one speaking a prophet. All true prophets testify "more or [please note: sometimes] less" of the Christ (see Revelation 19:10; Mosiah 13:33). With this in mind, Moses' words make sense:
...would God that all the LORD’s people were prophets, and that the LORD would put his spirit upon them! (Numbers 11:29).Moses wanted everyone to know for themselves, to have the spirit of prophecy, to communicate and learn from God, rather than merely expecting Moses to do it for them so they could just do whatever he said. (Often they wouldn't even do that, though.) Brigham Young longed for the same thing: that all Latter-day Saints would be prophets:
Is [being a prophet] the privilege of every person? It is. Permit me to remark here-this very people called Latter-day Saints have got to be brought to the spot where they will be trained (if they have not been there already,) where they will humble themselves, work righteousness, glorify God, and keep His commandments. If they have not got undivided feelings, they will be chastised until they have them; not only until every one of them shall see for themselves, and prophesy for themselves, have visions to themselves, but be made acquainted with all the principles and laws necessary for them to know, so as to supersede the necessity of anybody teaching them.In other words, the Latter-day Saints are learning to be prophets unto themselves. Meanwhile, a living prophet and apostles help guide the saints until they are perfected in prophecy, as Paul told the Ephesians:
And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;
For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:
Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ (Ephesians 4:11-13).Having the spirit of prophecy, as Brigham said we could, will unite everyone. As we strive to become prophets ourselves, we are also commanded to invite others to do likewise. This is missionary work, the sum and substance of which is to teach people of Christ and to encourage them to receive the Holy Ghost that they, too, will become prophets. (There's that unity thing again; God is concerned with the whole family.)
Brigham returned to the theme that the "Gospel sermon" continues before and after an elder gets up to preach. It started in the beginning and will continue to the end:
There is only one Gospel sermon, recollect, brethren and sisters, and the time that is required to preach it is from the day of the fall, or from the day when Adam and his wife Eve came here upon this planet, and from that time until Jesus Christ has subdued the last enemy, which is death, and put all things under his feet, and wound up all things pertaining to this earth.
Then the Gospel will have been preached, and brought up and presented, and the effects thereof, to the Father. With regard to doctrine, rules, customs, and many sacraments, they are meted out to the inhabitants of the earth severally as they stand in need, according to their situations and what is required of them.This is a large and long sermon, and missionaries tend to think once they've mentioned the gospel to someone who subsequently rejects it, they are going off to damnation. Brigham corrects this view:
I will tell you a practice of the Latter-day Saint Elders generally. For instance, I get up here, and preach the fulness of the Gospel, perhaps to individuals who never heard it before in their lives, and I close by saying, you that believe this which I have told you, shall be saved; and if you do not, you shall be damned. I leave the subject there.
"But," says one, "don't the Bible say so? You ought to explain yourself."
"I only said what the Savior taught-he says, go into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature; he that believeth and is baptized, shall be saved; and he that believeth not, shall be damned. Don't I say the same?"
"You leave it there, don't you? "
"Yes; the Apostle left it there, and so do I."
I wish to explain it a little more, according to the plain, simple, English language. The sum of this practice is this: when I preach a gospel sermon, and they don't believe what I say, I straightway seal their damnation.
Brethren, do you believe in such a thing as that? I do not; yet there are many of the Elders just so absurd.Ah, so there is hope! This calls to mind Lehi's explanation:
And the days of the children of men were prolonged, according to the will of God, that they might repent while in the flesh; wherefore, their state became a state of probation, and their time was lengthened, according to the commandments which the Lord God gave unto the children of men (2 Nephi 2:21).Brigham, Lehi and others have stressed that just being a baptized member of the Church is not going to save anyone; salvation is through Christ by being born again. Truly we believe baptism is a necessary step, but it isn't always the thing that is or must be done first, before someone comes close to Christ.
Elder Dallin H. Oaks taught this concept after reading the parable of the laborers in the vineyard where those who joined in the work late in the day received the same wage as those who labored all day long. He explained:
We do not obtain our heavenly reward by punching a time clock. What is essential is that our labors in the workplace of the Lord have caused us to become something. For some of us, this requires a longer time than for others. What is important in the end is what we have become by our labors.
Many who come in the eleventh hour have been refined and prepared by the Lord in ways other than formal employment in the vineyard. These workers are like the prepared dry mix to which it is only necessary to "add water"--the perfecting ordinance of baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost. With that addition--even in the eleventh hour--these workers are in the same state of development and qualified to receive the same reward as those who have labored long in the vineyard.
This parable teaches us that we should never give up hope and loving associations with family members and friends whose fine qualities evidence their progress toward what a loving Father would have them become. Similarly, the power of the Atonement and the principle of repentance show that we should never give up on loved ones who now seem to be making many wrong choices (Dallin H. Oaks, "The Challenge To Become," General Conference, Oct. 2000).With this in mind we shouldn't just give up on people or assume they'll be damned because they don't accept the gospel "right now." Such impatience with others is wrong, according to Brigham, who told of one well-meaning, but impatient missionary:
I recollect, in England, sending an Elder to Bristol, to open a door there, and see if anybody would believe. He had a little more than thirty miles to walk; he starts off one morning, and arrives at Bristol; he preached the Gospel to them, and sealed them all up to damnation, and was back next morning. He was just as good a man, too, as we had. It was want of knowledge caused him to do so.
I go and preach to the people, and tell them at the end of every sermon, "he that believeth and is baptized, shall be saved; and he that believeth not, shall be damned." I continue preaching there day after day, week after week, and month after month, and yet nobody believes my testimony, that I know of, and I don't see any signs of it.
"What shall I do in this case, if I am sent to preach there?" you may inquire.
You must continue to preach there, until those who sent you shall tell you to leave that field of labour; and if the people don't manifest by their works, that they believe, as long as they come to hear me, I will continue to plead with them, until they bend their dispositions to the Gospel. Why?
Because I must be patient with them, as the Lord is patient with me; as the Lord is merciful to me, I will be merciful to others; as He continues to be merciful to me, consequently I must continue in long-suffering to be merciful to others-patiently waiting, with all diligence, until the people will believe, and until they are prepared to become heirs to a celestial kingdom, or angels to the devil.Some people have reached the point of being ready for baptism when the missionaries run into them. These "golden investigators" seemed few and far between, but the result of their joining the Church was great joy. Other people take their time; the "eternal investigator," as we called them. Conversion cannot be forced or coerced. Brigham Young was, at one time, an "eternal investigator:"
When the book of Mormon was first printed, it came to my hands in two or three weeks afterwards. Did I believe, on the first intimation of it?
The man that brought it to me, told me the same things; says he, "This is the Gospel of salvation; a revelation the Lord has brought forth for the redemption of Israel; it is the Gospel; and according to Jesus Christ, and his Apostles, you must be baptized for the remission of sins, or you will be damned."
"Hold on," says I. The mantle of my traditions was over me, to that degree, and my prepossessed feelings so interwoven with my nature, it was almost impossible for me to see at all; though I had beheld, all my life, that the traditions of the people was all the religion they had, I had got a mantle for myself. Says I, "Wait a little while; what is the doctrine of the book, and of the revelations the Lord has given? Let me apply my heart to them;" and after I had done this, I considered it to be my right to know for myself, as much as any man on earth. I examined the matter studiously for two years before I made up my mind to receive that book. I knew it was true, as well as I knew that I could see with my eyes, or feel by the touch of my fingers, or be sensible of the demonstration of any sense. Had not this been the case, I never would have embraced it to this day; it would have all been without form or comeliness to me. I wished time sufficient to prove all things for myself.So we are to be missionaries, keeping in mind some people may reject us or be disinterested, all the while recognizing it is God who is in charge of His sheep, and they answer only to Him:
The Gospel of Jesus Christ, must be preached to all nations for a witness and a testimony; for a sign that the day has come, the set time for the Lord to redeem Zion, and gather Israel, preparatory to the coming of the Son of Man. When this Gospel is preached to the people, some will believe, and some will not know whether to believe it, or not. This is the situation of the world; go forth among the people; go among your own neighbors, and you may see it because the Lord has touched your understanding with the spirit of truth, it looks to you as though all the world will believe it, if they can only hear your testimony; you go and preach to them, but, to your astonishment, they seem perfectly uninterested; some go to sleep, and others are dreaming of their farms and possessions.True enough; then won't all these disinterested folks be damned? Brigham says not so fast:
He is compassionate to all the works of His hands, the plan of His redemption, and salvation, and mercy, is stretched out over all; and His plans are to gather up, and bring together, and save all the inhabitants of the earth, with the exception of those who have received the Holy Ghost, and sinned against it. With this exception, all the world besides shall be saved. Is not this Universalism? It borders very close upon it (Brigham Young, JD 3:80-97).Of what does this "salvation" consist? Is it the same for everyone across the board? In the rest of the discourse Brigham addresses these questions, which will be included in the blog tomorrow.
The concept of God meting to every man that which will benefit him to the utmost was discussed here in a post called "The Spirit of Christ is Given to Every Man." Also, I am looking more into the nature of ritual in the process of conversion. The difference between "magic" through knowledge or spells and "power" through priesthood and ordinance. I hope to blog more on that subject in the future.