Joseph Fielding Smith, Ch. 25: “The Birth of Jesus Christ: Good Tidings of Great Joy.”

This year, the Joseph Fielding Smith manual included 26 chapters and noted that “because the book contains more chapters than can be covered in 12 months, ward and stake leaders may determine which chapters will best meet the needs of the members they serve.”[1] Included in the extra chapters are two that are particularly adapted to the Advent/Christmas season. The first of these is “The Birth of Jesus Christ: ‘Good Tidings of Great Joy,’” specifically devoted to the Christmas story.

Carl Bloch - The Birth of Jesus

Carl Bloch – The Birth of Jesus

The chapter starts out with a “From the Life of Joseph Fielding Smith” section that relates President Smith’s Christmas celebrations with his great-grandchildren, as seen through the eyes of a reporter followed by a statement from the president at Christmastime. Then, section 1 deals with Joseph Fielding Smith’s feelings about the Christmas story and his own reading of it. Section 2 deals with the idea that although Jesus Christ was a god, he was born a mortal and lived a mortal life, growing from grace to grace. Section 3 connects the birth of Christ with his primary role of redeeming mankind. Section 4 declares that we should let the story of Christmas permeate and influence our lives.

Resources

Nativity scene in the reflecting pool on Temple Square

Nativity scene in the reflecting pool on Temple Square

LDS.org has a pleathora of Christmas related resources—too many to cover in one lesson alone. First is, of course, their collection of Christmas devotionals, with both audio and video components, found here. The Bible videos site has depictions of the Christmas story for free, including a Nativity compilation found here. The Mormon messages site also has some Christmas videos available.

When it comes to discussing the importance of Christmas (and other) traditions, I always think of Elder L. Tom Perry’s statements on the matter:

I believe family traditions are like the hewn oak trunks driven into the ground to build the Old Fort House. Make the honoring of family traditions—holiday traditions, birthday traditions, Sunday traditions, dinnertime traditions—and the development of new ones a priority throughout your lives. Honor them, write them down, and make certain you follow them. Studies show that the reason young people join gangs is for the tradition and ritual of belonging to something larger than self. That is what a family should be. Be certain you are creating a rich environment in which your family can look forward to special times of the year when traditions hold you together as a great eternal family unit.[2]

Jumping ahead to section 3 (we’ll come back to section 2 later), the birth of Christ is connected to the Atonement. Alma told the people of his day that:

The Spirit hath said this much unto me, saying: Cry unto this people, saying—Repent ye, and prepare the way of the Lord, and walk in his paths, which are straight; for behold, the kingdom of heaven is at hand, and the Son of God cometh upon the face of the earth. And behold, he shall be born of Mary, at Jerusalem which is the land of our forefathers, she being a virgin, a precious and chosen vessel, who shall be overshadowed and conceive by the power of the Holy Ghost, and bring forth a son, yea, even the Son of God. (Alma 7:9-10.)

Immediately after announcing the future birth of the Savior, he goes on to relate the conditions of the Christ’s life and Atonement:

And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people. And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities. Now the Spirit knoweth all things; nevertheless the Son of God suffereth according to the flesh that he might take upon him the sins of his people, that he might blot out their transgressions according to the power of his deliverance; and now behold, this is the testimony which is in me. (Alma 7:11-13.)

Finally, as he continues along in his sermon, Alma connects this idea with a reformation of life, much as the manual does, going into section 4 of the book: “Now I say unto you that ye must repent, and be born again; for the Spirit saith if ye are not born again ye cannot inherit the kingdom of heaven; therefore come and be baptized unto repentance, that ye may be washed from your sins, that ye may have faith on the Lamb of God, who taketh away the sins of the world, who is mighty to save and to cleanse from all unrighteousness.” (Alma 7:14.)

Walter Rane, the Nativity

Walter Rane, the Nativity

When it comes to discussing the personal influence of the Christmas story and season, our current Church president, President Thomas S. Monson, has spoken on the subject many times. He commented that:

Christmas is a wonderful time of year. It is a season when there are more smiles, more cheerful greetings, more acts of thoughtful kindness, more sweet remembrances of cherished friends and loved ones than are found throughout the rest of the entire year. In the troubled times in which we live, this is truly a miracle.

What is it that brings such love into our hearts, such joy into our lives? It is, of course, the spirit of Christmas. To catch the real meaning of the Spirit of Christmas, we need only drop the last syllable, and it becomes the Spirit of Christ. And one of the ways in which we obtain the Christmas spirit—the Christ spirit—is by willingly giving of ourselves to others.[3]

“The Spirit of Christmas illuminates the picture window of the soul, and we look out upon the world’s busy life and become more interested in people than things.”[4] “There is no better time than now, this very Christmas season, for all of us to rededicate ourselves to the principles taught by Jesus the Christ. It is the time to love the Lord our God with all our heart and our neighbors as ourselves. It is well to remember that he who gives money gives much, he who gives time gives more, but he who gives of himself gives all.”[5]

Another president of the Church who left at least one statement of important suggestions on how the Christmas spirit can permeate our lives was President Howard W. Hunter:

This Christmas, mend a quarrel. Seek out a forgotten friend. Dismiss suspicion and replace it with trust. Write a letter. Give a soft answer. Encourage youth. Manifest your loyalty in word and deed. Keep a promise. Forgo a grudge. Forgive an enemy. Apologize. Try to understand. Examine your demands on others. Think first of someone else. Be kind. Be gentle. Laugh a little more. Express your gratitude. Welcome a stranger. Gladden the heart of a child. Take pleasure in the beauty and wonder of the earth. Speak your love and then speak it again.

Christmas is a celebration, and there is no celebration that compares with the realization of its true meaning—with the sudden stirring of the heart that has extended itself unselfishly in the things that matter most (“The Gifts of Christmas,” in Ensign, December 2002).

Come unto Christ

Walter Rane, Angel Appears to Shepherds

Walter Rane, Angel Appears to Shepherds

In the manual, President Smith states that Jesus “was as much a God when he was born into the world as he was before. But as far as this life is concerned it appears that he had to start just as all other children do and gain his knowledge line upon line.”[6] It is an interesting balancing act between the two—a perfect God living a mortal life—but one that is important to follow.

While he was on the earth, Jesus told his disciples that: “I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you” (John 13:15). St. Peter likewise later wrote that: “Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: who did no sin, neither was there guile found in his mouth” (1 Peter 2:21-22). During Christ’s visit to the Nephites, he told his disciples: “what manner of men ought ye to be? Verily I say unto you, even as I am” (3 Nephi 27:27). Similarly, in our day, Elder Richard G. Scott taught that, “The greatest example who ever walked the earth is our Savior, Jesus Christ. His mortal ministry was filled with teaching, serving, and loving others…. He invites us to follow His perfect example.”[7]

The question may be asked, however: was Christ truly a real example of what we deal with? In other words, did he have a truly human experience that we can pattern our lives around? If he was a perfect God, destined to be the Savior, was he really even capable of sinning and did he deal with the veil as the rest of us do in our lives?

The somewhat chilling but empowering answer is yes. We learn from a section of Doctrine and Covenants that was revealed in order “that you may understand and know how to worship, and know what you worship, that you may come unto the Father in my name, and in due time receive of his fullness” (D&C 93:19, emphasis added) that Christ “received not the fullness at the first, but received grace for grace; and he received not of the fullness at first, but continued from grace to grace, until he received a fullness; and thus he was called the Son of God, because he received not of the fullness at first” (D&C 93:12-14). In his youth, Christ did not have a fullness—that is all power, all knowledge, all wisdom—but grew into it grace by grace as we all must do. Elder B.H. Roberts commented that:

You must remember, in all our consideration of the life of Messiah, one truth, which comes to us from the scriptures in an incidental way, viz., that “In his humiliation his judgment was taken from him.” [Acts 8:33.] As the veil is drawn over our minds when our pre-existent spirits come into this world, and we forget the Father and mother of the spirit world, and the positions we occupied there, so, too, with Jesus; in his humiliation his judgment was taken from him; he knew not at first whence he came, nor the dignity of his station in heaven. It was only by degrees that he felt the Spirit working within him and gradually unfolding the sublime idea that he was peculiarly and pre-eminently the Son of God in very deed.[8]

James E. Talmage likewise observed that:

He came among men to experience all the natural conditions of mortality; He was born as truly a dependent, helpless babe as is any other child; His infancy was in all common features as the infancy of others’ His boyhood was actual boyhood, His development was as necessary and real as that of all children. Over His mind had fallen the veil of forgetfulness common to all who are born to earth, by which the remembrance of primeval existence is shut off.[9]

carpenters-son-39540-gallery

Thus, Christ was subject to the veil and the limitations of a mortal body. The epistle to the Hebrews backs this conclusion up by stating that, “as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same… for verily he took not on him the nature of angels; but he took on him the seed of Abraham. Wherefore in all things it behooved him to be made like unto his brethren . . . for in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted” (Hebrews 2:14, 16-18). Christ was indeed subject to human frailties and the temptations of mankind. Because of this, not only is he able to relate to us and help us more thoroughly than he otherwise could have, but we are better able to relate to him in his experiences.

Other prophets saw the Christ and wrote of how He would experience the same experiences we all would. We already looked at the Alma prophesy that “he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of the people” (Alma 7:11), but there are other prophets who made similar observations. King Benjamin taught that: “And lo, he shall suffer temptations, and pain of body, hunger, thirst, and fatigue, even more than man can suffer, except it be unto death” (Mosiah 3:7). The author of the epistle to the Hebrews wrote that: “We have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feelings of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). Christ is not so distant and set off from our experience—he suffered and felt all that we can, have, and will go through. He was tempted in all things, just like us. He also had to walk by faith, and not by sight. C.S. Lewis observed that:

It is clear that this knowledge [on his death] must somehow have been withdrawn from Him before He prayed in Gethsemane. He could not, with whatever reservation about the Father’s will, have prayed that the cup might pass and simultaneously known that it would not. That is both a logical and psychological impossibility. You see what this involves? Lest any trial incident to humanity should be lacking, the torments of hope—of suspense, anxiety—were at the last moment loosed upon Him—the supposed possibility that, after all, He might, He just conceivably might, be spared the supreme horror. There was precedent. Isaac had been spared: he too at the last moment, he also against all apparent probability… But for this last (and erroneous) hope against hope, and the consequent tumult of the soul, the sweat of blood, perhaps He would not have been very Man. To live in a fully predictable world is not to be a man.[10]

In commenting on this, Tad R. Callister wrote that:

To live a fully predictable life as suggested by C. S. Lewis, a life devoid of anxiety, suspense, and faith, is a pseudo-human life—it is no more than a façade. But this was not the case with the Savior. Never was more faith required of any man, at any hour, than when the Savior faced the terrifying aloneness of the hours surrounding the cross.”[11]

Finally, we note that it wasn’t until after the resurrection that Christ said that “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.” (Matt. 28:18.) It seems that prior to that time, he was indeed a mortal man faced with all the trials that mortality brings, though he was a God before his descent to earth life and remains a God now.

A Deeper Look

star-jesus-birth-154378-gallery

            This leads to another interesting doctrinal point—the Godhood of Christ before his mortal birth. In the manual Joseph Fielding Smith states that: “Our Savior was a God before he was born into this world, and he brought with him that same status when he came here.”[12] Over the years of writing his “Answers to Gospel Questions” series in the Improvement Era (the predecessor of the Ensign magazine), Joseph Fielding Smith was questioned about the nature of the Godhead and of Jesus in the pre-mortal existence. In one of the earliest questions published, he was asked:

Did the Savior and Adam exist on another planet as mortal beings before they came to this earth?

These people say that Brigham Young states that . . . the Savior came with a resurrected body because he said that he had power to lay down his life and power to take it up again, and inasmuch as the Savior states he had helped to create other worlds that he had to be a resurrected being to organize an earth.[13]

President Brigham Young and a few other LDS individuals have indeed made comments to that effect, and there is some room for that belief in a Mormon context. The questioner and Joseph Fielding Smith, however, sided with the idea that we may only have one body and can only undergo one resurrection, following which our spirit is inseparably connected with our body, thus Christ could not have had a body before his birth. In his response to this particular question, Joseph Fielding Smith noted that Christ created the world and that “these great works and this wonderful experience all came before our Savior had a physical body.” He went on to write (in standard, blunt Joseph Fielding Smith style) that:

This work was done by him when he was a Spirit. It is an erroneous notion without any foundation in truth to think that Jesus had to be clothed with a body of flesh and bones before any work could be performed by him. . . .

. . . The only physical body of flesh and bones he ever had was the body born of Mary in the village of Bethlehem, which in his resurrection became inseparably connected with his spiritual body.

The Prophet Joseph Smith said the doctrine of reincarnation is a doctrine of the devil.[14]

The basis for the discussion seems to be the importance of the body and the nature of God. As Latter-day Saints, we place great importance on having a body, since “the spirit and body are the soul of man,” (D&C 88:15) and “when separated, man cannot receive a fulness of joy.” (D&C 93:34.) We also believe that to become like God—the ultimate goal of our existence—we need physical bodies. Yet, we teach that prior to the birth of Christ, two out of three members of the Godhead did not have bodies and that they were able to manipulate physical matter to organize worlds. This has created a disconnect for some individuals. Beyond looking at what Joseph Fielding Smith wrote, as cited above, or by looking at the other side of the discussion, all that can really be said at this point is that Jesus was a God who organized the world before he was born on earth, whether or not he had a body before that time.

Nephi's Vision of the Birth of Christ

Nephi’s Vision of the Birth of Christ

Perhaps more importantly, this idea of the premortal godhood of Christ emphasizes what Nephi called “the condescension of God” (see 1 Nephi 11:14-33). In summary, Jesus the Christ left his high and holy station as the second member of the Godhead to live in the frustrating and painful limitations of mortality so that he could redeem and reach out to mankind. As President John Taylor wrote: “It was . . . necessary that He should descend below all things, in order that He might raise others above all things; for if He could not raise Himself and be exalted through those principles brought about by the atonement, He could not raise others; He could not do for others what He could not do for Himself.”[15] An interesting article in the Ensign on the subject a few years ago (available here) drove this idea home to me by taking the hymn “Jesus, Once of Humble Birth” and reversing the order of the concepts in each couplet:

Once in glory o’er all the earth;

Now He comes of humble birth.

Once in heaven did He reign,

Now He suffers grief and pain.

Once, the Lord, the great I Am;

Now a meek and lowly Lamb.

Once His chariot was the cloud;

Now upon the cross He bows.

Once in glory He appeared;

Now He groans in blood and tears.

Once their King He was known;

Now rejected by His own.

Once exalted to a throne;

Now forsaken, left alone.

Once the great Anointed Heir;

Now all things He meekly bears.[16]

To me, this beautifully illustrates the true power of the Christmas story and the life of Christ, as well as the depths of his sacrifices for us. Perhaps that is why Joseph Fielding Smith felt the way he did when he stated: “How can anyone read this touching story of the birth of Jesus Christ without wishing to forsake his sins?”[17]

Merry Christmas, everyone. Happy teaching.

Carl Bloch, "Shepherds Abiding in the Fields."

Carl Bloch, “Shepherds Abiding in the Fields.”

[1] Joseph Fielding Smith, Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Fielding Smith (Salt Lake City: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2013), v.

[2] L. Tom Perry, “The Tradition of Light and Testimony,” Ensign, December 2012.

[3] Thomas S. Monson, Teachings of Thomas S. Monson, comp. Lynne F. Cannegieter (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2011), 49.

[4] Monson, Teachings, 50.

[5] Monson, Teachings, 48.

[6] Joseph Fielding Smith, Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Fielding Smith (Salt Lake City: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2013), 318.

[7] Richard G. Scott, “I Have Given You an Example,” CR April 2014.

[8] B. H. Roberts, The Mormon Doctrine of Deity: the Roberts-Van Der Donckt Discussion (Salt Lake City: The Deseret News, 1903), 196.

[9] James E. Talmage, Jesus the Christ, (Salt Lake City: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1978), 111.

[10] C.S. Lewis, Joyful Christian (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1996), 171-172.

[11] Tad R. Callister, The Infinite Atonement, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2000), 112-113.

[12] Smith, Teachings, 314.

[13] Joseph Fielding Smith, Answers to Gospel Questions, 5 vol. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1957-1966), 1:5.

[14] Smith, Answers, 1:8-9.

[15] John Taylor, The Mediation and Atonement (1892), 144.

[16] David L. Frishknecht, “The Condescension of Jesus Christ,” Ensign, December 2011. https://www.lds.org/ensign/2011/12/the-condescension-of-jesus-christ?lang=eng

[17] Smith, Teachings, 316.

Joseph Fielding Smith, Ch. 20: “Love and Concern for All Our Father’s Children.”

We cannot truly love God if we do not love our fellow travelers on this mortal journey. Likewise, we cannot fully love our fellowmen if we do not love God, the Father of us all. The Apostle John tells us, “This commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also.” We are all spirit children of our Heavenly Father and, as such, are brothers and sisters. As we keep this truth in mind, loving all of God’s children will become easier.

Actually, love is the very essence of the gospel, and Jesus Christ is our Exemplar.[1]

"Actually, love is the very essence of the gospel, and Jesus Christ is our Exemplar."

“Actually, love is the very essence of the gospel, and Jesus Christ is our Exemplar.”

These words, spoken by President Thomas S. Monson this spring are reflective of the theme of this lesson built from quotes from another president of the Church. In chapter 20 of Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Fielding Smith, President Smith teaches us to love and serve all of God’s children. In the “From the life of Joseph Fielding Smith” section, three examples of loving service are given by Joseph himself. Section 1 focuses on the idea that we are all children of God, and should love each other because we’re spiritual siblings. Section 2 focuses on working together and caring for each other, with a special focus on Church contexts. Section 3 encourages us to serve and help each other. Section 4 has a charming story about a horse President Smith took care of as a child with the message that we ought not to judge, but take the good in everyone and make room for a few faults. Section 5 focuses on the doctrinal necessity to love God and our fellow humans.

Extra-Manual Resources and Quotes

Perhaps the most obvious choice for a supplementary talk to this lesson is the general conference address by President Thomas S. Monson cited above, and available in full here. Beyond that, however, there are a plethora of quotes and comments available on the subject of love, service, and charity. Another great talk from a few years ago on friendship and love is Marlin K. Jensen, “Friendship: A Gospel Principle,” General Conference, April 1999. Another useful resource related to the story of President Smith’s horse is a clip taken from a short documentary that relates the story of going out with his mother in the middle of the night. It could be used to introduce the section and break up the lesson just a little, and is available here.

President Thomas S. Monson

President Thomas S. Monson

I also have several quotes from sisters, most of which, though directed to the Relief Society, are applicable to men. For example, Lucy Mack Smith taught the Relief Society in 1842 that: “We must cherish one another, watch over one another, comfort one another and gain instruction that we may all sit down in heaven together.”[2] Sister Clarissa Smith Williams, Relief Society President, taught in 1922 that: “The greatest thing in the world is love. And if we keep that always in our hearts, and give it as a message to those about us, we will be blessed and will be instruments in blessing those with whom we associate.”[3] Mary Ellen Smoot, Relief Society President, taught in 2000 that: “When we unitedly serve each other and all of our Father’s children, we can be instruments in the hands of God, not only to relieve physical suffering but, more importantly, to succor those who are in need spiritually.”[4]

Yet another wonderful address on the subject came in 2006 from President Gordon B. Hinckley: Gordon B. Hinckley, “The Need for Greater Kindness,” General Conference, April 2006. A few excerpts are as follows:

I have wondered why there is so much hatred in the world. We are involved in terrible wars with lives lost and many crippling wounds. Coming closer to home, there is so much of jealousy, pride, arrogance, and carping criticism; fathers who rise in anger over small, inconsequential things and make wives weep and children fear.

Racial strife still lifts its ugly head. I am advised that even right here among us there is some of this. I cannot understand how it can be….

Throughout my service as a member of the First Presidency, I have recognized and spoken a number of times on the diversity we see in our society. It is all about us, and we must make an effort to accommodate that diversity.

Let us all recognize that each of us is a son or daughter of our Father in Heaven, who loves all of His children….

Why can’t all of us reach out in friendship to everyone about us? Why is there so much bitterness and animosity? It is not a part of the gospel of Jesus Christ.”[5]

President Gordon B. Hinckley

President Gordon B. Hinckley

When it comes to serving and caring for others, a great sermon given in general conference a few years ago by President Henry B. Eyring entitled “Opportunities to Do Good,” comes to mind. If I could, I would place the entire talk here as the essential quotes from it, but I will simply encourage the reader to click the hyperlink to read or view the talk on their own. From the most recent general conference, we have Elder Jeffrey R. Holland’s talk, “Are We Not All Beggars?” There is also, of course the classic quote from Gordon B. Hinckley: “Generally speaking, the most miserable people I know are those who are obsessed with themselves; the happiest people I know are those who loose themselves in the service of others…. By and large, I have come to see that if we complain about life, it is because we are thinking only of ourselves.”[6]

The Ready Resources for Relief Society book I have lists several websites that are handy for discovering service opportunities in the area.[7] A few sites that are currently still existent are as follows:

www.volunteermatch.org

www.idealist.org

www.serve.gov

www.nationalservice.gov

In addition the following Church-sponsored sites have some service resources to look into:

www.ldsphilanthropies.org

www.ldscharities.org

https://vineyard.lds.org/

Come unto Christ Moment

"And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me." Image courtesy LDS.org.

“And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”
Image courtesy LDS.org.

Towards the end of his earthly ministry, Jesus Christ taught the following to his disciples:

When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.

Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?

And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.

Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee?

Then shall he answer them, saying, verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me. And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal. (Matthew 25: 31-46.)

The Lord makes it clear that the dividing line between those beings who are saved and those who are not is the service provided to fellow humans in this life’s journey, which in turn reflects on relationships with Himself. King Benjamin likewise taught that: “when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God,” (Mosiah 2:17) and stated, in effect, there is no way we can directly repay God Himself for all that He blesses us with:

I say unto you, my brethren, that if you should render all the thanks and praise which your whole soul has power to possess, to that God who has created you, and has kept and preserved you, and has caused that ye should rejoice, and has granted that ye should live in peace one with another—I say unto you that if ye should serve him who has created you from the beginning, and is preserving you from day to day, by lending you breath, that ye may live and move and do according to your own will, and even supporting you from one moment to another—I say, if ye should serve him with all your whole souls yet ye would be unprofitable servants. (Mosiah 2:20-21.)

Thus, we serve and repay God in some degree by serving our fellow humans. To King Benjamin, as it was to Christ, to neglect other human beings in need was to neglect God. To serve and impart substance to the poor was to serve God and a necessary part of the process of “retaining a remission of sins from day to day.” (Mosiah 4:26.) Elder B.H. Roberts once expressed this idea succinctly: “About the only way in which men can effectively express their love for God is through service to the children of God, to men.”[8]

"When ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God.”

“When ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God.”

God places a premium upon the human soul, revealing to Joseph Smith that “the worth of souls is great in the sight of God; for, behold, the Lord your Redeemer suffered death in the flesh; wherefore he suffered the pain of all men, that all men might repent and come unto him. And he hath risen again from the dead, that he might bring all men unto him, on conditions of repentance.” (D&C 18:10-11). Elsewhere, it was revealed by God that, “This is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” (Moses 1:39.) This being God’s purpose, He is pleased when we work together to help rather than hinder each other in the process of gaining eternal life. That is why James wrote that: “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction and to keep himself unspotted from the world.” (James 1:27.) At its heart, religion is for shaping us into beings that partake of the divine nature and giving us opportunities to develop right relationships with God and with our fellow humans.  The Prophet Joseph Smith, in addressing social righteousness, once stated that, “Righteousness is not that which men esteem holiness. That which the world call righteousness I have not any regard for. To be righteous is to be just and merciful. If a man fails in kindness justice and mercy he will be damed.”[9] Once more, righteousness is equated with how we treat each other.

Christ is not only pleased when we serve each other, but he showed the example we need to follow in how we treat each other, for, as President Monson observed: “Love is the very essence of the gospel, and Jesus Christ is our Exemplar. His life was a legacy of love. The sick He healed; the downtrodden He lifted; the sinner He saved. At the end the angry mob took His life. And yet there rings from Golgotha’s hill the words: ‘Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do’—a crowning expression in mortality of compassion and love.”[10]

A Deeper Look

I’ve discussed this idea in my other blog,[11] but in all the recorded sermons and writings of Joseph Smith, Jr. available to us today, only three principles were ever given the lofty title of being a “grand, fundamental principle of Mormonism” or even simply the “fundamental principles.” If taken as the pillars of Mormonism, these principles could be considered the definitive essence of Mormonism, comparable to the “Five Pillars” of Islam or the “Four Noble Truths” and “Eightfold Path” of Buddhism. Yet, while most Mormons would be familiar with, for example, the 12 Articles of Faith or the threefold purpose of the Church, they probably could not list the grand fundamental principles of Mormonism enumerated by Joseph Smith in the latter end of his life.

Joseph Smith, Jr. laid down a few fundamental principles of Mormonism in his final years.

Joseph Smith, Jr. laid down a few fundamental principles of Mormonism in his final years.

What, then, are these pillars of Mormonism? In 1838, Joseph wrote that, “The fundamental principles of our religion are the testimony of the Apostles and Prophets, concerning Jesus Christ, that He died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven; and all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it.”[12] Then, in the summer of 1843, Joseph declared that, “the grand fundamental principles of Mormonism is to recieve thruth let it come from where it may,”[13] and that “friendship is the grand fundamental principle of Mormonism.”[14] While each of these three principles deserves a good look, the principle of friendship is the most pertinent to this chapter in the Joseph Fielding Smith manual.

In August of 1842, the Prophet wrote that, “How good and glorious it has seemed unto me, to find pure and holy friends, who are faithful, just, and true, and whose hearts fail not.”[15] On another occasion, he wrote that, “There are many souls whom I have loved stronger than death. To them I have proved faithful—to them I am determined to prove faithful, until God calls me to resign up my breath.”[16] Amidst all the trials and betrayals he had experienced, and perhaps because of those things, Joseph put great value on true friendship. He also felt that friendship could create a heaven wherever it was held: “Animation, virtue, love, contentment, philanthropy, benevolence, compassion, humanity and friendship push life into bliss.”[17] “Let me be resurrected with the saints whether to heaven or hell or any other good place—[where they are is] good society. what do we care if the society is good?”[18]

Beyond the friendships that played important roles in his life, friendship with its consequent brotherhood and sisterhood played an important role in the Prophet’s religious thought. In the Book of Mormon, the foundational document of Mormonism, the Nephite people are visited by the resurrected Christ, who (among other things) declared that, “verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another.” (3 Nephi 11:29.) Contention—the opposite of friendship and unity—was of the devil. Building on the teachings of a series of visits from the Christ, the people of the Book of Mormon built a utopian society where “there were no contention in the land, because of the love of God which did dwell in the hearts of the people…. And surely there could not be a happier people among all the people who had been created by the hand of God.” (4 Nephi 1:15-16.) Tribal divisions that had formerly existed among the people faded away during this time, being replaced by unity in Christianity: “There were no… Lamanites, nor any manner of ites’ but they were in one, the Children of Christ, and heirs to the kingdom of God.” (4 Nephi 1:17.) After hundreds of years, this utopian society collapsed, but this was not the last time such a society would appear in Joseph Smith’s restoration scriptures. In his inspired translation of Genesis, Joseph spoke of the people of Enoch, who were called “Zion, because they were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them” (Moses 7:18). These people built a city that was called “City of Holiness, even Zion” which was so righteous, that God took it up into heaven. (Moses 7:19-21.)

City of Enoch, or Zion

City of Enoch, or Zion

Together, this dynamic duo of societies demonstrated the ideal that Joseph tried to have the Saints in his day live as they sought to build their own Zion on earth—a people, united in love and friendship. Among the commands given in the voice of the Lord to prepare the Saints to go to the land that Joseph designated as Zion are imperatives such as, “let every man esteem his brother as himself, and practice virtue and holiness before me…. I say unto you, be one; and if ye are not one ye are not mine.” (D&C 38:24, 27.) When Zion failed and the Saints were driven out of the land, it was declared to be at least partly because, “there were jarrings, and contentions, and envyings, and strifes, and lustful and covetous desires among them; therefore by these things they polluted their inheritances.” (D&C 101:6.) Although the Saints had lost their chance to build the city called Zion for the time being, they still strove to build stakes or outposts of Zion wherever they ended up—a process that, though spiritualized in many way, still continues today.[19]

In addition to the idea of building a physical kingdom of believers united in bonds of love, friendship manifests itself in other core aspects of Mormonism. Salvation, in Joseph Smith’s view, was obtained through covenants and related ordinances, and these covenants of salvation were not only to be made between humans and God, but also between human beings. Most explicit of all covenants of friendship revealed by Joseph Smith, perhaps, was the covenant members of the School of the Prophets made, in which participants greeted each other and declared that, “I receive you to fellowship, in a determination that is fixed, immovable, and unchangeable, to be your friend and brother through the grace of God in the bonds of love, to walk in all commandments of God blameless, in thanksgiving, forever and ever.” (D&C 88:133.) Baptism, for another example, not only involved taking the name of Christ upon an individual but also the covenant to “bear one another’s burdens… mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort hose that stand in need of comfort.” (Mosiah 18:8-9.) In addition, the crowning ordinance to be performed for most Mormons in mortality was and is the marriage ordinance performed in the temple, which not only involves covenants with God, but binds a man and wife as well any children they have or may have together eternally by priesthood authority as well as with covenants to each other.

Fellowship among the Saints was also prerequisite to gain power and reconciliation with God. Joseph told the Relief Society that, “it grieves me that there is no fuller fellowship—if one member suffer all feel it[.] by union of feeling we obtain pow’r with God”[20]  and that, “If you would have God have mercy on you, have mercy on one another.”[21] Likewise, in the version of the Sermon on the Mount preached by the risen Christ in the Book of Mormon, the Christ states that, “Therefore, if ye shall come unto me, or shall desire to come unto me, and rememberest that thy brother hath aught against thee—go thy way unto thy brother, and first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come unto me with full purpose of heart, and I will receive you.” (3 Nephi 12:23-24.) To reconcile with Christ, the Saints must reconcile with each other.

"By union of feeling we obtain pow'r with God.”

“By union of feeling we obtain pow’r with God.”

Part of Joseph Smith’s vision for this grand principle of Mormonism, at least by the end of his life in 1844, was to bridge ecclesiastical differences and build friendships with people who believed than the Mormons. In 1842, the Prophet wrote that:

The Mussulman condemns the heathen, the Jew, and the Christian, and the whole world of mankind that reject his Koran, as infidels, and consigns the whole of them to perdition. The Jew believes that the whole world that rejects his faith and are not circumcised, are Gentile dogs, and will be damned. The heathen is equally as tenacious about his principles, and the Christian consigns all to perdition who cannot bow to his creed, and submit to his ipse dixit [dogma].

But 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, causes “His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.”[22]

Like the God Joseph portrayed here, Joseph taught that Mormons were to reach out, care for, and befriend men and women of other faiths. He declared that, “If it has been demonstrated that I have been willing to die for a Mormon I am bold to declare before heaven that I am just as ready to die for a presbyterian. a baptist or any other denomination.”[23] Further, in July of 1843—a time when Mormonism was becoming more distant from mainstream Christianity and its teachings—Joseph offered this interesting statement in a sermon that was noted as “a conciliatory address to Strangers & all”:

“Wherein do you differ from other in your religious views?” In reality & essence we do not differ so far in our religious views but that we could all drink into one principle of love One the grand fundamental principles of Mormonism is to recieve thruth let it come from where it may.—we belive in the great Eloheim. who sits enthroned in yonder heavens.—so do the presbyterians. If as a skillful mechanic In taking a welding heat I use a borax & allum &c. an succeed in welding you all together shall I not have attained a good object.

if I esteem mankind to be in error shall I bear them down? No! I will will lift them up. & in his own way if I cannot persuade him my way is better! & I will ask no man to believe as I do. Do you believe in Jesus Chrst &c? So do I. Christians should cultivate the friendship with others & will do it.[24]

“But how truly magnanimous this declaration is,” observes writer Don Bradley, “cannot be appreciated without knowing the origin within scripture of the phrase ‘drink into one.’” Bradley continues:

Outside of the 9 July 1843 sermon, the phrase appears in LDS literature only in 1 Corinthians 12:13, where Paul uses the expression to explain the mystical or metaphorical “body of Christ”:

For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ. For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit. (1 Corinthians 12:12–13)

Invoking this passage, Joseph Smith conveyed the radical idea that the Latter-day Saints and those of other traditions jointly comprise the body of Christ….

Joseph envisioned a Christendom united by faith in God and Jesus Christ and by mutual love, a contemplated unity which might best be understood on the model offered by Freemasonry. Freemasons have long sought cross-denominational unity, without ecclesiastical integration, based on belief in God, brotherhood, and a commitment to truth and to relieving the needs of the poor.

While advocating Christian unity, however, Joseph clearly did not envision the institutional unification of Christendom, the merging of all church structures into one. He continued to maintain Mormonism’s exclusive claims to authority to perform ordinances or sacraments. Sandwiched between his ecumenical 9 July and 23 July sermons, for instance, Joseph dictated and taught a revelatory text declaring that the sacrament of marriage was eternally binding only if performed by the priesthood of Elijah and that Joseph himself was the one man on earth holding the keys of this priesthood.[25]

"If as a skillful mechanic In taking a welding heat I use a borax & allum &c. an succeed in welding you all together shall I not have attained a good object?"

“Friendship [is] like Bro Turley [in his] Blacksmith Shop [welding iron to iron; it unites the human family with its happy influence].”

In a sermon preached later in the month, Joseph continued the thought of welding all religions together in bonds of friendship by teaching that:

Friendship is the grand fundamental principle of Mormonism, [it is designed] to revolution[ize and] civilize the world.—pour forth love. Friendship [is] like Bro Turley [in his] Blacksmith Shop [welding iron to iron; it unites the human family with its happy influence]…. [If the] Presbyterians [have] any truth. embrace that. [Same for the] Baptist. Methodist &c. get all the good in the world. [and you will] come out a pure Mormon.[26]

Friendship is on the of grand fundamental principles of Mormonism and ought to be a defining force in all interactions that Mormons have with those inside their families and faith communities as well as with those of other faiths. If applied more fully, as Joseph Smith taught it should be, it would not only revolutionize and civilize the world, but would turn Mormonism into a veritable heaven on earth.

[1] Thomas S. Monson, “Love—the Essence of the Gospel,” CR, April 2014.

[2] Susan Christiansen, et. al (editors), Words of Wisdom: A Collection of Quotes for LDS Women, (Lulu, 5.

[3] Words of Wisdom, 5.

[4] Words of Wisdom, 63.

[5] Gordon B. Hinckley, “The Need for Greater Kindness,” General Conference, April 2006

[6] Gordon B. Hinckley, Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1997), 589.

[7] Boice, Trina (2013-11-13). The Ready Resource for Relief Society Teaching: Joseph Fielding Smith (Kindle Locations 2330-2333). Cedar Fort, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

[8] B.H. Roberts, CR, April 1914, 101.

[9] Cook, Lyndon W. (2009-09-03). The Words of Joseph Smith (Kindle Locations 4052-4053). Deseret Book Company. Kindle Edition.

[10] Thomas S. Monson, “Love—the Essence of the Gospel,” CR, April 2014.

[11] The full essay that this comes from is available here.

[12] Joseph Smith, Jr., Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2007), 49.

[13] Cook, Lyndon W. (2009-09-03). The Words of Joseph Smith (Kindle Locations 4598-4604). Deseret Book Company. Kindle Edition

[14] Cook, Lyndon W. (2009-09-03). The Words of Joseph Smith (Kindle Locations 4714-4719). Deseret Book Company. Kindle Edition

[15] Joseph Smith, Jr., Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints), 461.

[16] Smith, Teachings of the Presidents, 463

[17] Smith, Teachings of the Presidents, 342

[18] Cook, Lyndon W. (2009-09-03). The Words of Joseph Smith (Kindle Locations 4714-4719). Deseret Book Company. Kindle Edition

[19] For further reading on the idea of Zion in Mormonism, I have a four-part series of blog posts starting here.

[20] Cook, Lyndon W. (2009-09-03). The Words of Joseph Smith (Kindle Locations 2607-2608). Deseret Book Company. Kindle Edition

[21] Cook, Lyndon W. (2009-09-03). The Words of Joseph Smith (Kindle Location 2621). Deseret Book Company. Kindle Edition

[22] Times and Seasons, 15 April 1842, 758

[23] Cook, Lyndon W. (2009-09-03). The Words of Joseph Smith (Kindle Locations 4592-4596). Deseret Book Company. Kindle Edition

[24] Cook, Lyndon W. (2009-09-03). The Words of Joseph Smith (Kindle Locations 4598-4604). Deseret Book Company. Kindle Edition

[25] Bradley, “Grand Fundamental Principles,” 37

[26] Cook, Lyndon W. (2009-09-03). The Words of Joseph Smith (Kindle Locations 4714-4719). Deseret Book Company. Kindle Edition. The brackets are added from clarity, and the longer sections added are taken from the History of the Church rendition of the sermon.

Joseph Fielding Smith, Ch. 19: In the World, but Not of the World

O Babylon, O Babylon, we bid thee farewell;

We’re going to the mountains of Ephraim to dwell.[1]

These words from a hymn sung by LDS members capture the literal quest of Mormons in the 1800s—to flee from the world and come to the Mormon refuge in the Great Basin region of the United States. While many hymns in our current hymn book capture this feeling of desire to gather to Utah so well that their modern relevance is questionable, this particular hymn also captures the figurative quest of Mormons to day—to leave the worldly ways and seek to live a more divine standard. As Elder Jeffery R. Holland taught in 2012:

One of the many unique characteristics of our dispensation, this the dispensation of the fulness of times—the last and greatest of all dispensations—is the changing nature of how we establish the kingdom of God on earth. You see, one of the truly exciting things about this dispensation is that it is a time of mighty, accelerated change. And one thing that has changed is that the Church of God will never again flee. It will never again leave Ur in order to leave Haran, in order to leave Canaan, in order to leave Jerusalem, in order to leave England, in order to leave Kirtland, in order to leave Nauvoo, in order to go who knows where. No, as Brigham Young said for us all, “We have been kicked out of the frying-pan into the fire, out of the fire into the middle of the floor, and here we are and here we will stay.”

Of course, that statement wasn’t a comment about the Salt Lake Valley only or even the Wasatch Front generally; it became a statement for the members of the Church all over the world. In these last days, in this our dispensation, we would become mature enough to stop running. We would become mature enough to plant our feet and our families and our foundations in every nation, kindred, tongue, and people permanently. Zion would be everywhere—wherever the Church is. And with that change—one of the mighty changes of the last days—we no longer think of Zion as where we are going to live; we think of it as how we are going to live.[2]

"We no longer think of Zion as where we are going to live; we think of it as how we are going to live."

“We no longer think of Zion as where we are going to live; we think of it as how we are going to live.” Image courtesy of LDS.org.

Lesson 19 of the Joseph Fielding Smith manual is about living in the world, but not being of the world—another way of expressing creating Zion while dwelling in Babylon. The theme of the lesson is found in the opening paragraph of section one of the manual: “We are living in an evil and wicked world. But while we are in the world, we are not of the world. We are expected to overcome the world and to live as becometh saints.”[3]

The lesson in the manual is introduced by observing Joseph Fielding Smith’s interactions with Mormons serving in the US military and how impressed he was that they lived their religion in the conditions of worldliness. Then, in section 1 (which is a very long section), President Smith outlines the basic idea behind being “in the world, but not of the world,” then goes into a few specific principles of our religion that consist of being in the world but not of the world: keeping the Sabbath day holy, obeying the Word of Wisdom, respecting the name of Deity, and dressing modesty and keeping the law of chastity. Section 2 addresses the concern that those who are of the world tend to prosper in the world while Saints may not. His response is, essentially to say, “Well, of course they prosper—they control the world and play by its games. The world won’t last as it is however, and someday the tables will be turned.” Section 3 focuses on blessings that come from being not of the world, and the ability that our example can have in conversion.

Extra-Manual Resources and Quotes

For the “from the life of Joseph Fielding Smith” section, a fun little insight into Joseph Fielding Smith’s life that relates to the military is that he loved flying:

One biographer wrote of his experience finding out about Joseph Fielding Smith’s hobby of flying in jet planes “at an age when many men are tucked safely away in a nursing home absorbing liniment”:

“I remember my surprise one day when I called at his office in Salt Lake City. His secretary, Rubie Egbert, said, ‘Step to the window here and maybe you can see him.’ Curious, I walked to the window. But all that I could see was a jet streaking through the blue sky high above the Great Salt Lake. Its trail of white vapor clearly marked some steep climbs, loops, dives, rolls and turns. …

“‘You mean he’s in that plane?’ I asked incredulously.

“‘Oh yes, that’s him all right. He’s very fond of flying. Says it relaxes him. A friend in the National Guard calls him up and says, ‘How about a relaxing?’ and up they go. Once they get in the air he often takes over the controls. Flew down to Grand Canyon and back last week, 400 miles an hour!’

I could not resist driving to the airport to be there when he landed. As the two-place T-Bird roared down the runway to a stop, from the rear cockpit, in suit and helmet, climbed this benign old gentleman, then about 80, smiling broadly. ‘That was wonderful!’ he exclaimed. ‘That’s about as close to heaven as I can get just now.’

At age 92 he was advanced in the National Guard to the honorary rank of brigadier-general. ‘But they still didn’t want me to fly alone.’ Later he limited his flying to commercial jetliners. … ‘The big planes are not so exciting as the T-Bird, but at my age it’s a real comfort to be able to move faster than sound,’ he said at 95.[4]

Joseph Fielding Smith in a Jet, c. 1954. Image courtesy LDS.org.

Joseph Fielding Smith in a Jet, c. 1954.
Image courtesy LDS.org.

As for section 1, there are several sub sections that apply specific principles, one thing that struck me about the subjects emphasized by President Smith reflect the time period in the Church’s history that his ministry took place. Although all those principles are eternal, the emphasis placed upon them and other doctrines to be separate from the world has shifted according to the needs of the times. During the pioneer era the gathering, building up the literal kingdom of God in the Great Basin region, and polygamy were strongly emphasized. After those aspects of Mormonism became unviable in the 1890s, there was a shift in emphasis towards church and temple attendance, living by the Word of Wisdom (a principle not fully enforced between the Kirtland Era and the 1920s), and living in more publically respectable ways (i.e., not swearing).[5] That is, for example, why Elder J. Golden Kimball (1853-1938) is often portrayed as having problems with swearing and living by the Word of Wisdom—he grew up in an earlier era of Mormonism where those weren’t a big deal and survived into a time where they were, but already had habits from the earlier times. One also catches glimpses of this in the chapters present in the Teachings of the Presidents of the Church manuals within certain time periods—asides from Brigham Young, all the chapters devoted entirely to the Word of Wisdom come from men who served as presidents in the first half of the 20th century—Joseph F. Smith, Heber J. Grant, George Albert Smith, David O. McKay. Asides from Joseph F. Smith, all the chapters devoted entirely to the Law of Chastity come from the era of the Sexual Revolution in the 1960s-1980s—Harold B. Lee, Spencer W. Kimball, and Ezra Taft Benson. Joseph Fielding Smith stands as sort of a transitional figure between the two eras, with both topics covered in this chapter.

In speaking of Sabbath day observance, President Gordon B. Hinckley taught the following:

I mention the Sabbath day. The Sabbath of the Lord is becoming the play day of the people. It is a day of golf and football on television, of buying and selling in our stores and markets. Are we moving to mainstream America, as some observers believe? In this I fear we are. What a telling thing it is to see the parking lots of the markets filled on Sunday in communities that are predominantly LDS.

Our strength for the future, our resolution to grow the Church across the world, will be weakened if we violate the will of the Lord in this important matter. He has so very clearly spoken anciently and again in modern revelation. We cannot disregard with impunity that which He has said.[6]

As for the Word of Wisdom, when it comes to Joseph Fielding Smith’s declaration that “The Word of Wisdom is a basic law. It points the way and gives us ample instruction in regard to both food and drink, good for the body and also detrimental. If we sincerely follow what is written with the aid of the Spirit of the Lord, we need no further counsel,”[7] President Boyd K. Packer had the following to say:

We get strange letters asking if this or that is a part of the Word of Wisdom. Marijuana is not listed in section 89! And neither is strychnine or arsenic listed! But, of course, they are not habit-forming….

People write asking what is the position of the Church on the Word of Wisdom, for instance, on soft drinks or something. And we think, “Why do they have to ask?” It is a principle, and you have the freedom to do as you will. You do not have to be commanded in all things. Without having to have the Church deliver a statement on it, you should know what the Lord’s position is.[8]

Consider also the following story from Joseph F. Smith (Joseph Fielding Smith’s father, and 6th president of the Church): “From my childhood—for twenty years and upwards I chewed the filthy weed [tobacco]. I never saw the moment during the whole time that I was not inwardly ashamed of it.” After a meeting where President Brigham Young learned that he chewed, Joseph recalled that, “When I went out I was resolved that I who so hated hypocricy—now thoroughly hating myself—would conquer my appetite for tobacco or know the reason why. I tried with it in my pocket, but it was no use. My hand would involuntarily find and put it in my mouth, and it seemed when at last it was all gone, and I vowed I would not touch again.” He found that trying to quit nicotine made him “cross and crabbed,” but finally: “I conquered—and now, when I think of it, I feel ashamed that I was so weak, and strange to say the appetite, though still with me and perhaps as strong as ever, it is at my command. It is no longer the master, but a subdued, conquered enemy ever on the alert to revolt, but daily growing weaker and more faint.” (Joseph F. Smith to J. D. T. McAllister, 23 August 1875.)

Joseph Fielding Smith with Joseph F. Smith

Joseph Fielding Smith with Joseph F. Smith

David O. McKay taught that: “One of the most practical teachings of the Church regarding [self-control] is the Word of Wisdom. It is true. It deals principally with the appetite. You show me a man who has complete control over his appetite, who can resist all temptations to indulge in stimulants, liquor, tobacco, marijuana, and other vicious drugs, and I will show you a youth or man who has likewise developed power to control his passions and desires.” (CR, April 1968, 8.)

As for respecting the name of Deity, we have the following general advice on swearing from President Gordon B. Hinckley: “Be clean in language. There is so much of filthy, sleazy talk these days. I spoke to the young women about it. I speak to you [men] also. It tells others that your vocabulary is so extremely limited that you cannot express yourself without reaching down into the gutter for words. Dirty talk is unbecoming any man who holds the priesthood, be he young or old.”[9]

When it comes to discussion of modesty, it is interesting to note that this comes up in a year where there was such a furor about an Ensign article written by Brother Tad Callister on the subject (for more on that subject, click here). In addressing the role of men in modesty, I appreciated President Smith’s words that made it clear there are things men must do to be modest. This extends both from dress as well as thoughts and actions. At its root, modesty means freedom from exaggeration or self-control, with such ideas as a sense of honor and correctness of conduct playing into its origins. The following quote from Elder Jeffrey R. Holland adds further insight into modesty, double-standards, and men:

I have heard all my life that it is the young woman who has to assume the responsibility for controlling the limits of intimacy in courtship because a young man cannot. Seldom have I heard any point made about this subject that makes me more disappointed than that. What kind of man is he, what priesthood or power or strength or self-control does this man have, that lets him develop in society, grow to the age of mature accountability, perhaps even pursue a university education and prepare to affect the future of colleagues and kingdoms and the course of the world, but yet does not have the mental capacity or the moral will to say, “I will not do that thing?” No, this sorry drugstore psychology would have us say, “I just can’t help myself. My glands have complete control over my life–my mind, my will, my entire future.”

To say that a young woman in such a relationship has to bear her responsibility and that of the young man too is one of the most inappropriate suggestions I can imagine.… [I] refuse to accept the feigned innocence of some young man who wants to sin and call it psychology.[10]

Jeffrey R. Holland

Jeffrey R. Holland

Going back to the idea of emphases, while not mentioned in the manual, in our day a problem that is increasingly addressed in general conference is overuse and abuse of virtual reality and cyberspace—being, as Elder D. Todd Christofferson once said, “of the world while not being in the world.”[11] One recent address given in the April 2014 general conference can be found here. Another BYU speech by Elder David A. Bednar (and perhaps the single greatest sermon I’ve seen on the subject) may be found in text form here and in audio-visual form here.

One final thought relates to Joseph Fielding Smith’s statement in section 2 that, “Life never was intended to be easy, but the Lord has promised that he will cause all trials and difficulties to result in our good. He will give us strength and ability to overcome the world and to stand firm in the faith despite all opposition.” I was reminded of the following quote from Terryl and Fiona Givens about the role of trials and difficulties in spiritual growth:

Darwin had much to teach us, not just about physical evolution, but about spiritual evolution as well. This is especially true in his account of the honeybee, which well serves as a parable for our ascent into mortal life. The honeybee, Darwin points out in his Origin of Species, has a glaring defect as a creature. Its poison is effective in killing prey, enabling it to defend itself and its nest. But delivery of that poison can only come at the cost of its own life. Darwin speculates that this is because the bee’s stinger was originally “a boring and serrated instrument,” probably used for extracting food from fibrous sources. It was therefore, in his words, “not perfected for its present purpose” of defense.

The question, of course, is why has the stinger not evolved into something more perfect in the millions of years since? Why did the evolutionary process cease? Why did natural selection not accomplish its end of making the bee as perfect as possible? Certainly, a bee that can kill without sacrificing its life is an improvement over one that cannot. A simple smoothing of the bee’s serrated edge would do the trick quite nicely and efficiently. Why was the bee’s progress toward species perfection aborted so precipitously and—in the case of myriad individuals and even hives—calamitously?

This is Darwin’s explanation: “Natural selection tends only to make each organic being as perfect as, or slightly more perfect than, the other inhabitants of the same country with which it comes into competition. And we see that this is the standard of perfection attained under nature.” And then he adds this declaration: “Natural selection will not produce absolute perfection.” What he means is this: the law of natural selection, what Herbert Spencer will call the principle of survival of the fittest, ensures that any competition for limited resources will favor those who are in any way advantaged over their competitors. It will weed out those who are inferior or even mediocre, and allow to prevail those who have greater strength, agility, speed, or survival skills.

The long-term effect of this principle is to breed creatures that are, in Darwin’s terms, “more perfect than their peers.” But the law of natural selection also has a striking limitation, and this is what he means by saying it can never produce absolute perfection. This limitation is perfectly illustrated by the common honeybee. In the struggle for survival, the bee’s development, even with a flawed stinger, was sufficient to securely establish its position in the natural world. Once it achieved species equilibrium, and lacking conflict and opposition to further challenge, stimulate, and refine its development, its progress was essentially halted. As William Blake said, in one of the greatest insights of the modern age, “without contraries, is no progression.” We are apparently made of the same stuff as Darwin’s honeybee. We need the continuing spiritual friction of difficulty, opposition, and hardship, or we will suffer the same stasis as the bee.[12]

"We are apparently made of the same stuff as Darwin’s honeybee. We need the continuing spiritual friction of difficulty, opposition, and hardship, or we will suffer the same stasis as the bee."

“We are apparently made of the same stuff as Darwin’s honeybee. We need the continuing spiritual friction of difficulty, opposition, and hardship, or we will suffer the same stasis as the bee.”

Come unto Christ Moment

The Come unto Christ moment for the week reflects on the situation from which the phrase “in the world but not of the world” comes from. The author of the Gospel of John and the epistles from John brought out Christ’s theme that there must be a difference between the world and Christ’s followers, and that we will suffer, if only in part, the experiences Jesus had during his ministry because we follow the example of one who declared: “I am not of this world” (John 8:23) in a corrupted, fallen existence. In teaching the parable of the true vine, the Christ taught that, “If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.” (John 15:18-19.) During the great Intercessory Prayer, Christ prayed that his disciples (“the men which thou [God] gavest me [Christ] out of the world” [John 17:6]) would “be one, as we are” but also prayed, “not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that shouldest keep them from evil. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth. As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world.” (John 17:11, 15-18.)

It seems, from what Christ prayed for, that the elect, given to Christ by God must remain in the world to carry on the ministry of our Lord, redeeming the world and pushing back the darkness. Returning the true vine lesson, Christ taught, “He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father.” (John 14:12.) Jesus lived only a short time on earth. His ministry was only about three years, his life less than 35 years. Although He still works within the world by revelation and by His grace, for the most part we are His hands—His representatives on earth. At baptism and every time we partake of the sacrament, we declare that we “are willing to take upon [us] the name of [the] Son, and always remember him” (Moroni 4:3). By so covenanting, it becomes our responsibility and duty to us to minister and enrich the lives of those around us in the way that the Savior would—particularly to minister to those in need, both physically and spiritually. By doing so, we may collectively do greater works in changing the world than Christ was able to accomplish in the short time He was on the earth. It will not, however, always be easy to do so, as there is stiff opposition to the cause. Yet, it will be worth it, since the gospel of Jesus Christ is, in the words of President George Albert Smith, “be a panacea [cure-all] for all their ills” and “the only thing that will bring them peace while they remain upon the earth.”[13] In the words of President David O. McKay, “What the sun in the heavenly blue is to the earth struggling to get free from winter’s grip, so the gospel of Jesus Christ is to the sorrowing souls yearning for something higher and better than mankind has yet found on earth.”[14]

"He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father."

“He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father.”

A Deeper Look

In the Joseph Fielding Smith manual, he notes that, “Do not get the impression from what I have said that I feel that we should keep aloof from everybody outside of the Church and not associate with them. I have not said that, but I do want us to be consistent Latter-day Saints, and if the people of the world walk in darkness and sin and contrary to the will of the Lord, there is the place for us to draw the line.”[15] I have been rereading Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix recently, and was reminded of the line given in a discussion between Harry Potter and his godfather, Sirius Black. In the discussion, they speak of an evil woman (Dolores Umbridge), and Harry, linking evil with his arch-enemy Voldemort, muses whether she is one of Voldemort’s servants, known as Death Eaters. Sirius responds that he’s “sure she’s no Death Eater,” and while she’s foul enough to be one, “the world isn’t split into good people and Death Eaters.”[16] While this comes from a work of fiction, and a somewhat controversial work at that, there is value in this lesson—the world is too complex to split people into neat categories. In this case, one cannot split the world into being wicked or Mormon, worldly or LDS. There are good people outside of the Church and some bad people within. We can work with people outside of the Church to bring to pass God’s purposes in the earth. As Elder Dallin H. Oaks taught in the October 2014 Semiannual General Conference:

We are to live in the world but not be of the world. We must live in the world because, as Jesus taught in a parable, His kingdom is “like leaven,” whose function is to raise the whole mass by its influence (see Luke 13:21; Matthew 13:33; see also 1 Corinthians 5:6–8). His followers cannot do that if they associate only with those who share their beliefs and practices. But the Savior also taught that if we love Him, we will keep His commandments (see John 14:15)….

… I will speak of how those principles should apply in a variety of familiar circumstances in which the Savior’s teachings should be followed more faithfully.

I begin with what our young children learn in their play activities. Too often non-Mormons here in Utah have been offended and alienated by some of our members who will not allow their children to be friends with children of other faiths. Surely we can teach our children values and standards of behavior without having them distance themselves or show disrespect to any who are different.

Many teachers in church and school have grieved at the way some teenagers, including LDS youth, treat one another. The commandment to love one another surely includes love and respect across religious lines and also across racial, cultural, and economic lines. We challenge all youth to avoid bullying, insults, or language and practices that deliberately inflict pain on others. All of these violate the Savior’s command to love one another.[17]

"We must live in the world because, as Jesus taught in a parable, His kingdom is “like leaven,” whose function is to raise the whole mass by its influence."

“We must live in the world because, as Jesus taught in a parable, His kingdom is “like leaven,” whose function is to raise the whole mass by its influence.”

In an inspiring general conference address given in 1906, Elder B.H. Roberts of the Seventy addressed this theme as well. After discussing the First Vision and the Restoration of the Gospel, he noted that:

[Although] the Lord has opened the heavens and has given a new dispensation of the Gospel, it does not follow that His servants or His people are to be contentious; that they are to make war upon other people for holding different views respecting religion. Hence this caution to the Elders of the Church that they should not contend against other churches, make war upon their tenets, or revile even the revilers. At an earlier date still, the Lord had said to Oliver Cowdery and David Whitmer:

“If you have not faith, hope and Charity, you can do nothing. Contend against no church, save it be the church of the devil. Take upon you the name of Christ, and speak the truth in soberness.” (Dc. & Cov. Sec. 18, 19-21.)

“The church of the devil” here alluded to I understand to mean not any particular church among men, or any one sect of religion, but something larger than that—something worldwide—something that includes within its boundaries all evil wherever it may be found; as well in schools of philosophy as in Christian sects; as well in systems of ethics as in systems of religion—something that includes the whole empire of Satan—what I shall call “The Kingdom of Evil.”

In speaking of the Church of the Devil, Roberts addressed a common Mormon assumption, drawn from the writings of Nephi in the Book of Mormon, that the Catholic Church is the Church of the Devil and the LDS Church is the Church of the Lamb. He noted that, “I would not like to take that position, because it would leave me with a lot of churches on my hands that I might not then be able to classify,” and even extolled the virtue and truth found in the Catholic Church as superior to many Protestant Sects. He then went on to draw this conclusion about the Church of the Devil and the Church of the Lamb:

I would not like, therefore, to designate the Catholic church as the church of the devil. Neither would I like to designate any one or all of the various divisions and subdivisions of Protestant Christendom combined as such, church; nor the Greek Catholic church; nor the Buddhist sects: nor the followers of Confucius; nor the followers of Mohammed; nor would I like to designate even the societies formed by deists and atheists as constituting the church of the devil. The Book of Mormon text ought to be read in connection with its context—with the chapter that precedes it and the remaining portions of the chapter in which It is found—then, I think, those who study it in that manner will be forced to the conclusion that the Prophet here has In mind no particular church, no particular division of Christendom, but he has in mind, as just stated, the whole empire of Satan; and perhaps the thought of the passage would be more nearly expressed if we use the term “the kingdom of evil” as constituting the church of the devil.

I understand the injunction to Oliver Cowdery to “contend against no church, save it be the church of the devil,” to mean that he shall contend against evil, against untruth, against all combinations of wicked men. They constitute the church of the devil, the “kingdom of evil, a federation of unrighteousness; and the servants of God have a right to contend against that which is evil, let it appear where it will, in Catholic or in Protestant Christendom, among the philosophical societies of deists and atheists, and even within the Church of Christ, if, unhappily, it should make its appearance there. But, let it be understood, we are not brought necessarily into antagonism with the various sects of Christianity as such.… Our relationship to the religious world is not one that calls for the denunciation of sectarian churches as composing the church of the devil. All that makes for untruth, for unrighteousness constitutes the kingdom of evil—the church of the devil. All that makes for truth, for righteousness, is of God; it constitutes the kingdom of righteousness—the empire of Jehovah; and, in a certain sense at least, constitutes the Church of Christ. With the latter—the kingdom of righteousness—we have no warfare. On the contrary both the spirit of the Lord’s commandments to His servants and the dictates of right reason would suggest that we seek to enlarge this kingdom of righteousness both by recognizing such truths as it possesses and seeking the friendship and co-operation of the righteous men and women who constitute its membership.[18]

B.H. Roberts of the Presidency of the Seventy.

B.H. Roberts of the Presidency of the Seventy.

I find this viewpoint a wonderful approach to the subject—when speaking of worldliness, we must recognize that Satan has reached his out and found footholds everywhere, including within our own Church, and must be fought wherever he is found: “against evil, against untruth, against all combinations of wicked men.” To fight this influence, we must join with all others who stand for righteousness—wherever they may be found, “seeking the friendship and co-operation of the righteous men and women.” This will involve some ecumenical outreach—cooperation and coordination with other religious groups outside of our own. They must be respected for the good that is in them, and not looked upon with condescension, for, “as in the drama the actor bearing the title role does not alone develop the thought of the poet’s mind, so we as the Church of Latter-day Saints, though bearing the honor of the position assigned to us, do not constitute the only force that God is using in bringing to pass His great and mighty purposes.”[19]

We must live in the world, but not be of the world.

We must live in the world, but not be of the world.

[1] LDS Hymns, 319

[2] Jeffrey R. Holland, “Israel, Israel, God is Calling,” CES Broadcast.

[3] Joseph Fielding Smith, Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Fielding Smith (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2013), 241

[4] Presidents of the Church Student Manual (Salt Lake City: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2012), 174.

[5] See, for example, Thomas G. Alexander, Mormonism in Transition 3rd ed. (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2012), 273-287.

[6] Discourses of President Gordon B. Hinckley Volume 1: 1995-1999 (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 2005), 155-156.

[7] Smith, Teachings, 244.

[8] Boyd K. Packer, “The Instrument of Your Mind and the Foundation of Your Character”, BYU Speeches, 2 Feb 2003.

[9] Discourses of President Gordon B. Hinckley Volume 1: 1995-1999 (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 2005), 76.

[10] Jeffrey R. Holland, Of Souls, Symbols, and Sacraments [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2001], 22-24.

[11] D. Todd Christofferson, “Brethren, We Have Word to Do,” CR, October 2012.

[12] Givens, Terryl; Fiona Givens (2012-10-01). The God Who Weeps: How Mormonism Makes Sense of Life (Kindle Locations 1000-1022). Deseret Book Company. Kindle Edition.

[13] George Albert Smith, Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: George Albert Smith (Salt Lake City: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2011), 124.

[14] David O. McKay Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: David O. McKay (Salt Lake City: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2003), 7.

[15] Smith, Teachings, 243.

[16] Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (New York: Scholastics Inc., 2003), 302.

[17] Dallin H. Oaks, “Loving Others and Living with Differences,” CR, Oct 2014.

[18] B.H. Roberts, G.C. April 1906, 14-15.

[19] B.H. Roberts, CR, April 1903, 13.

Joseph Fielding Smith, Ch. 18: Living by Every Word That Proceeds from the Mouth of God

This lesson is, at its heart, a “keep the commandments” lesson. In the manual, it is split into a historical introduction and five sections over the course of slightly less than ten pages. The historical introduction talks about Joseph Fielding Smith’s experiences in encouraging people to repent and keep the commandments. Section one outlines that God rules by law, and as such, humans have laws we must follow. Section two talks about reverence and showing our love for the Lord by keeping the commandments. Section three is a section telling us that God will not help us if we don’t keep the commandments. Section four focuses on the commandments guiding us to partake of the divine nature. Section five focuses on the blessings that come in this life and the eternities that come from keeping the commandments.

The 2014 manual

The 2014 manual

There are sections of this lesson I really like and some that I’m not quite comfortable in how President Smith addresses things. Like Lorenzo Snow, the idea of partaking of the divine nature—or, as he put it, “As man now is, God once was:/ As God now is, man may be”—is a “constant light and guide” and a “bright, illuminating star” in my life that makes the gospel sensible to me.[1] As such, the sections (1, 4 and parts of 5) that bring in that idea connect really well with me, and would be sections I would focus in on in preparing the lesson. The historical introduction was also important in reconciling myself to Joseph Fielding Smith after years of not fully appreciating him—it helped me see that he was a sincere, good man who very much believed in what he was doing and believing, even if I do not always agree with him and even if he wasn’t as tactful about it as he could have been at times. I also loved how President Smith focused on keeping the commandments as a sign of our love and reverence for God.

I wasn’t as comfortable with the section 3 of this chapter, especially when he focused on the idea that God may ignore our prayers because we have ignored Him at times. While we do indeed have scriptural precedent of that, focusing on the idea too much could breed the perception that if we have sinned, we shouldn’t even bother trying to pray or turn to God because He won’t care about us anymore. That smacks too much of Jonathan Edwards’s God of whom he (Edwards) declared:

The wrath of God is like great waters that are dammed for the present. . . .The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you…. When God beholds the ineffable extremity of your case, and sees your torment to be so vastly disproportioned to your strength, and sees how your poor soul is crushed, and sinks down, as it were, into an infinite gloom; He will have no compassion upon you,. . . there shall be no moderation or mercy.[2]

Anyway, my inclination would be to minimize that section or to focus on making our hearts right before God and not telling Him what to do when we won’t receive counsel from Him, but always encouraging prayer no matter what. Perhaps to balance the manual out, we could emphasize that God did eventually hear the prayers of Lamoni’s people in the land of Nephi, even if it took a while, or use the parable of the unjust judge in the New Testament (Luke 18:1-8) to emphasize that we need to work and keep at it to have our prayers answered. As Joseph Smith would say, “God is not a respecter of persons, we all have the same privilege. Come to God weary him until he blesses you &c we are entitled to the same blessings” ([recorded in Willard Richards Pocket Companion, 78–79] cited in The Words of Joseph Smith: The Contemporary Accounts of the Nauvoo Discourses of the Prophet Joseph, comp. Andrew F. Ehat and Lyndon W. Cook [1980], 15).

It should also be noted that if there are times when the Lord isn’t answering prayers, it isn’t necessarily because of wickedness. President Lorenzo Snow acknowledged that, “Every man and woman who serves the Lord, no matter how faithful they may be, have their dark hours; but if they have lived faithfully, light will burst upon them and relief will be furnished.” (Lorenzo Snow, Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Lorenzo Snow, [Salt Lake City: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2012], 107.) Beyond the trials of life, Elder Richard G. Scott taught that God sometimes has a great purpose in mind in not answering prayers:

It is a mistake to assume that every prayer we offer will be answered immediately….

We are here on earth to gain experience we can obtain in no other way. We are given the opportunity to grow, to develop, and to gain spiritual maturity. To do that, we must learn to apply truth. How we face challenges and resolve difficult problems is crucially important to our happiness….

When He withholds an answer, it is to have us grow through faith in Him, obedience to His commandments, and a willingness to act on truth. We are expected to assume accountability by acting on a decision that is consistent with His teachings without prior confirmation. We are not to sit passively waiting or to murmur because the Lord has not spoken. We are to act (Richard G. Scott, “Learning to Recognize Answers to Prayer,” CR October 1989).

Extra-Manual Resources and Quotes

            As per the idea of becoming or partaking of the divine nature (see sections 1 and 4 of the manual chapter), there are a huge number of sources and quotes available to assist teaching that idea. Some of my favorites are as follows:

From the Prophet Joseph Smith, we have the following statement::

God has in reserve a time, or period appointed in His own bosom, when He will bring all His subjects, who have obeyed His voice and kept His commandments, into His Celestial rest. This rest is of such perfection and glory, that man has need of a preparation before he can, according to the laws of that kingdom, enter it and enjoy its blessings. This being the fact, God has given certain laws to the human family, which, if observed, are sufficient to prepare them to inherit this rest. This, then, we conclude, was the purpose of God in giving His laws to us: if not, why, or for what were they given? If the whole family of man were as well off without them as they might be with them, for what purpose or intent were they ever given? Was it that God wanted to merely show that He could talk? It would be nonsense to suppose that He would condescend to talk in vain: for it would be in vain, and to no purpose whatever: because, all the commandments contained in the law of the Lord, have the sure promise annexed of a reward to all.[3]

Joseph Smith, Jr.

Joseph Smith, Jr.

Also, in the King Follett Discourse, the Prophet stated that:

God himself, finding he was in the midst of spirits and glory, because he was more intelligent, saw proper to institute laws whereby the rest could have a privilege to advance like himself. The relationship we have with God places us in a situation to advance in knowledge. He has power to institute laws to instruct the weaker intelligences, that they may be exalted with himself, so that they might have one glory upon another, and all that knowledge, power, glory, and intelligence, which is requisite in order to save them in the world of spirits.[4]

Another General Authority who taught this idea quite beautifully is Elder B.H. Roberts. Here are several quotes from him on the subject: “Salvation is a matter of character-building under the Gospel laws and ordinances, and more especially with the direct aid of the Holy Spirit.”[5] “Our lives through the gospel may be made to touch the life of God, and by touching the life of God partake somewhat of His qualities.”[6] “The man who so walks in the light and wisdom and power of God, will at the last, by the very force of association, make the light and wisdom and power of God his own—weaving those bright rays into a chain divine, linking himself forever to God and God to him. This the sum of Messiah’s mystic words, ‘Thou, Father, in me, and I in thee’—beyond this human greatness cannot achieve.”[7]

A more recent conference address that has a great parable in it is Elder Dallin H. Oaks, “The Challenge to Become.” It might even be good to show a clip from this address during the lesson. The parable that I love from this talk is as follows:

A wealthy father knew that if he were to bestow his wealth upon a child who had not yet developed the needed wisdom and stature, the inheritance would probably be wasted. The father said to his child:

“All that I have I desire to give you—not only my wealth, but also my position and standing among men. That which I have I can easily give you, but that which I am you must obtain for yourself. You will qualify for your inheritance by learning what I have learned and by living as I have lived. I will give you the laws and principles by which I have acquired my wisdom and stature. Follow my example, mastering as I have mastered, and you will become as I am, and all that I have will be yours.”

This parable parallels the pattern of heaven. The gospel of Jesus Christ promises the incomparable inheritance of eternal life, the fulness of the Father, and reveals the laws and principles by which it can be obtained.[8]

Terryl and Fiona Givens wrote about the subject in their book, The God That Weeps: How Mormonism Makes Sense of Life. A quote from that book that I liked is this one:

Commandments are the expression of those eternal laws that will lead us to a condition of optimal joyfulness. They are the beacon lights of greater realities that define the cosmic streams in which we swim. Operating in harmony with those realities, as a swimmer who works with the current rather than against it, empowers and liberates us to fill the measure of our creation. We may ignore them in the illusion of utter self-sufficiency and independence. But we are then no more than a swimmer thrashing furiously, confident of our powerful strokes, but swept along nevertheless, a captive of the prevailing tides.[9]

If one wishes to tie the idea into section 5 of the book, there is Joseph Fielding Smith quote about how the endowment ceremony gives us protection and that obedience to the covenants made there will “save us now and they exalt us hereafter.” The following quote from former Relief Society President, Bonnie D. Parkin supplements that idea quite nicely, I think:

Covenants—or binding promises between us and Heavenly Father—are essential for our eternal progression. Step-by-step, He tutors us to become like Him by enlisting us in His work. At baptism we covenant to love Him with all our hearts and love our sisters and brothers as ourselves. In the temple we further covenant to be obedient, selfless, faithful, honorable, charitable. We covenant to make sacrifices and consecrate all that we have. Forged through priesthood authority, our kept covenants bring blessings to fill our cups to overflowing. How often do you reflect that your covenants reach beyond mortality and connect you to the Divine? Making covenants is the expression of a willing heart; keeping covenants, the expression of a faithful heart.[10]

As far as President Smith’s quotes in this chapter of the manual on not picking and choosing which Gospel Principles to live by, the following quote from Elder Holland comes to mind:

Obviously as the path of discipleship ascends, that trail gets ever more narrow until we come to that knee-buckling pinnacle of the sermon of which Elder Christofferson just spoke: “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” What was gentle in the lowlands of initial loyalty becomes deeply strenuous and very demanding at the summit of true discipleship. Clearly anyone who thinks Jesus taught no-fault theology did not read the fine print in the contract! No, in matters of discipleship the Church is not a fast-food outlet; we can’t always have it “our way.” Some day every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is the Christ and that salvation can only come His way.[11]

A Deeper Look

            Statements like the one listed above, and ones in the manual, such as “I haven’t the privilege of discarding some of the principles of the gospel and believing others, and then feel that I am entitled to the full blessings of salvation and exaltation in the kingdom of God…. We are commanded to live by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God,”[12] raise an important question, especially in today’s world: How do we know what words proceeded from the mouth of God and what came strictly from the men who are serving as General Authorities of the Church? There is Wilford Woodruff’s semi-canonical statement that:

The Lord will never permit me or any other man who stands as President of this Church to lead you astray. It is not in the programme. It is not in the mind of God. If I were to attempt that, the Lord would remove me out of my place, and so He will any other man who attempts to lead the children of men astray from the oracles of God and from their duty.[13]

Wilford Woodruff (in front)

Wilford Woodruff (in front)

Despite this, however, the men who are called to lead the Church are imperfect, mortal beings who have not permanently mind-melded with God as has sometimes been supposed. Those who wish to push for that view of things will quickly run into trouble, since the men who we have sustained as prophets, seers, and revelators have admitted that they are not perfect and that not everything they have said is perfect—thus if everything they say is true, then when they say that some of the things they say are not true, that must be true, but if statements of the sort are true, they might be incorrect and they are perfect, and the loops go round and round. President David O. McKay observed, “When God makes the prophet He does not unmake the man.”[14] Elder Bruce R. McConkie likewise observed that, “With all their inspiration and greatness, prophets are yet mortal men with imperfections common to mankind in general. They have their opinions and prejudices and are left to work out their problems without inspiration in many instances.”[15] In another example, President J. Reuben Clark, Jr. taught us that:

Even the President of the Church, himself, may not always be “moved upon by the Holy Ghost,” when he addresses the people. This has happened about matters of doctrine (usually of a highly spec­ulative character) where a subsequent President of the Church and the people themselves have felt that in declaring the doctrine, the an­nouncer was not “moved upon by the Holy Ghost.”[16]

We see this problem arising, even during Joseph Fielding Smith’s ministry as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve on a few points of doctrine. The most prominent example is that of the “Negro Doctrine.” It was Joseph Fielding Smith who laid out the fullest expression of a doctrinal defense of the policy of denying men and women with black African ancestry the right to receive the priesthood or to attend the temple. Involved in this defense was the declaration that Blacks were descendants of Cain and Ham—both cursed individuals in the Bible, thus beginning a curse of ineligibility to hold the priesthood—and that they were placed into that cursed lineage because they were the least-faithful souls to come to earth from the premortal existence and thus did not qualify for the priesthood or temple blessings in mortality. More recently, the Church has repudiated those teachings, declaring that:

Over time, Church leaders and members advanced many theories to explain the priesthood and temple restrictions. None of these explanations is accepted today as the official doctrine of the Church…. Today, the Church disavows the theories advanced in the past that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse, or that it reflects actions in a premortal life; that mixed-race marriages are a sin; or that blacks or people of any other race or ethnicity are inferior in any way to anyone else. Church leaders today unequivocally condemn all racism, past and present, in any form.”[17]

Joseph Fielding Smith

Joseph Fielding Smith

Many other examples may be given. With this problem in mind, the question arises: Where does it end? How do we know that anything a prophet says is really from God and not just a good man trying the best to act the part without inspiration? Even if they are inspired, how do we know what is the wheat, so to speak, and what is chaff in Church teachings and practice today? This is one of the most difficult problems to navigate in Mormonism, as has been shown by the trials of two very visible individuals in the Mormon community—John Dehlin and Kate Kelly—who have been willing to challenge current Church practice in the public arena while claiming they are doing nothing wrong. The reason they may feel that way is that they have doubts on whether prophets have spoken the will of God rather than the will of man on their particular issues.

The classic spiritual solution posited by Church leaders is to receive a personal witness from the Holy Ghost on what is right and wrong, and that consensus—either in governing counsels or the voice of the Church as a whole—establishes truth. President J. Reuben Clark’s stated that “The Church will know by the testimony of the Holy Ghost in the body of the members, whether the brethren in voicing their views are ‘moved upon by the Holy Ghost’; and in due time that knowledge will be made manifest.”[18] Similarly, President Brigham Young taught that:

I am more afraid that this people have so much confidence in their leaders that they will not inquire for themselves of God whether they are led by Him. I am fearful they settle down in a state of blind self-security, trusting their eternal destiny in the hands of their leaders with a reckless confidence that in itself would thwart the purposes of God in their salvation, and weaken that influence they could give to their leaders, did they know for themselves, by the revelations of Jesus, that they are led in the right way. Let every man and woman know, by the whisperings of the Spirit of God to themselves, whether their leaders are walking in the path the Lord dictates, or not.[19]

So again, the solution posited by these men is that individuals are to pray about what is being taught and receiving a witness through the Spirit whether it’s right or wrong, and that if the Saints all collectively do this, they will be able to sort it out. While ultimately, that is what must happen, there are other controls and check points in place to weigh doctrines and teachings of the Church by. Included in this evaluation is how much weight and authority is given to the source of the doctrine or quote (both the person stating it and the form of publication), how recently it was taught, how consistently it’s been taught, and how relevant the information is to our present existence.

As for the authority of a comment, the first consideration is who the statement comes from. President Clark wrote that:

Some of the General Authorities have had assigned to them a spe­cial calling; they possess a special gift; they are sustained as prophets, seers, and revelators, which gives them a special spiritual endowment in connection with their teaching of the people. They have the right, the power, and authority to declare the mind and will of God to his people, subject to the over-all power and authority of the President of the Church. Others of the General Authorities are not given this special spiritual endowment and authority covering their teaching; they have a resulting limitation, and the resulting limitation upon their power and authority in teaching applies to every other officer and member of the Church, for none of them is spiritually endowed as a prophet, seer, and revelator. Furthermore, as just indicated, the Presi­dent of the Church has a further and special spiritual endowment in this respect, for he is the Prophet, Seer, and Revelator for the whole Church.

Here we must have in mind—must know—that only the President of the Church, the Presiding High Priest, is sustained as Prophet, Seer, and Revelator for the Church, and he alone has the right to re­ceive revelations for the Church, either new or amendatory, or to give authoritative interpretations of scriptures that shall be binding on the Church, or change in any way the existing doctrines of the Church.[20]

J. Reuben Clark, Jr.

J. Reuben Clark, Jr.

Herein we see at least three tiers of authority in the Church hierarchy. At the highest level, there is the President of the Church, who “alone has the right to re­ceive revelations for the Church, either new or amendatory.” The next step down are those General Authorities sustained as prophets, seers and revelators—the First Presidency, the Quorum of the Twelve, and (in times past) the Patriarch to the Church, who “have the right, the power, and authority to declare the mind and will of God to his people, subject to the over-all power and authority of the President of the Church.” In the third tier, we have those General Authorities not sustained as prophets, seers, and revelators (Seventies, and whatever now-defunct offices have been used in the past), auxiliary presidencies, and lay members and leaders that are not given “this special spiritual endowment and authority covering their teaching.” Non-Mormons (who should be considered in this discussion) when considered from an institutional standing would probably constitute a fourth, lower tier in declaring doctrine, though aspects of their writing may give them great value to Latter-day Saints, as has been shown in the case of C.S. Lewis. It should also be noted that statements, letters, proclamations, declarations, etc. given by groups and counsels often carry more weight than statements by individuals.

The next consideration when it comes to authority is where the statement may be found. President Hugh B. Brown had the following to say on the matter:

We… have only to defend those doctrines of the church contained in the four standard works—the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price.… The only way I know of by which the teachings of any person or group may become binding upon the church is if the teachings have been reviewed by all the brethren, submitted to the highest councils of the church, and then approved by the whole body of the church.[21]

BYU Professor Robert Millet added the following parameters as well:

In determining whether something is a part of the doctrine of the Church, we might ask, Is it found within the four standard works? Within official declarations or proclamations? Is it discussed in general conference or other official gatherings by general Church leaders today? Is it found in the general handbooks or approved curriculum of the Church today? If it meets at least one of these criteria, we can feel secure and appropriate about teaching it.[22]

From this, we see that there are certain sources viewed as more dependable than others, and that there are tiered amounts of authority even among those sources. That tiered structure might be constructed as followed:

  1. The canonical scriptures, or standard works.
  2. Official declarations and proclamations by leading counsels of the Church
  3. Statements from General Conference or other official gatherings
  4. General handbooks or current curricula
  5. Other published sources
  6. Hearsay and unpublished sources
The authority given to the sources of materials affects the weight they are given.

The authority given to the sources of materials affects the weight they are given.

When approaching documents at any of these levels, it must be understood that things change and evolve with time, and that no source is perfect or dictated by God Himself. Along these lines, President Brigham Young taught that:

I do not even believe that there is a single revelation, among the many God has given the Church, that is perfect in its fullness. The revelations of God contain correct doctrine and principle, so far as they go; but it is impossible for the poor, weak, low, groveling, sinful inhabitants of the earth to receive a revelation from the Almighty in all its perfections. He has to speak to us in a manner to meet the extent of our capacities.”[23]

It is because of this that there is the need for the next major parameter for judging a teaching or practice: How recently was it taught? As Dr. Millet wrote, “

Not everything that was ever spoken or written by a past Church leader is a part of what we teach today. Ours is a living constitution, a living tree of life, a dynamic Church (see D&C 1:30). We are commanded to pay heed to the words of living oracles (see D&C 90:3-5)…. Thus, it is important to note that ultimately the Lord will hold us responsible for the teachings, direction, and focus provided by the living oracles of our own day.[24]

BYU Professor Joseph Fielding McConkie likewise wrote that:

We have the scholarship of the early brethren to build upon; we have the advantage of additional history; we have inched our way up the mountain of our destiny and now stand in a position to see some things with greater clarity than did they…. We live in finer houses than did our pioneer forefathers, but this does not argue that we are better or that our rewards will be greater. In like manner our understanding of gospel principles should be better housed, and we should constantly be seeking to make it so. There is no honor in our reading by oil lamps when we have been granted better light.[25]

Although we must find our roots in the writings, revelations, and speeches of Joseph Smith, Jr. and other early Brethren of the Restoration, room must be made for evolution and adaptation to the needs of our times and the advances of thought and practice as we learn more about life and the eternities in an iterative process of “line upon line” revelation. If I had to make suggestions of a weighted tier of Church history for drawing doctrine, it would probably come out something like this (in descending order of weight):

  1. Recent History (1990-2014)
  2. Correlation and Consolidation (1960-1990)
  3. Early Modern Mormonism (1930-1960)
  4. Mormonism in Transition (1890-1930)
  5. Pioneer Mormonism (1844-1890)
  6. The Josephian Nauvoo Era (1839-1844)
  7. The Ohio-Missouri Era (1831-1839)
  8. Early Mormonism (1820-1831)
  9. Pre Mormonism (pre-1820)
The Quorum of the Twelve

The Quorum of the Twelve

The next major point of consideration is how consistently a doctrine has been taught. Points included in this category are how often a doctrine is taught, how many individuals teach the doctrine, and whether or not the teachings have or have not been contradicted.

Concerning determining doctrine by frequency of appearance in number of individuals and time, Elder Neil L. Anderson of the Quorum of the Twelve taught that, “There is an important principle that governs the doctrine of the Church. The doctrine is taught by all 15 members of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve. It is not hidden in an obscure paragraph of one talk. True principles are taught frequently and by many.”[26] Considering that that sums up the matter pretty well, I’ll move on to contradictions.

At times, things taught by one Mormon leader may be directly contradicted by another. We have already seen that teachings about men and women of Black African Ancestry taught by Joseph Fielding Smith and many other individuals have been renounced in recent times. In another example, President Spencer W. Kimball directly disavowed Brigham Young’s Adam-God Doctrine, stating that, “We warn you against the dissemination of doctrines which are not according to the scriptures and which are alleged to have been taught by some of the General Authorities of past generations. Such, for instance, is the Adam-God theory. We denounce that theory and hope that everyone will be cautioned against this and other kinds of false doctrine.”[27] At other times, doctrines and teachings may also be implicitly or indirectly contradicted by other teachings and doctrines without direct references to each other.

When these types of breaks in consistency occur, it must be left to the individual to judge which statement holds more weight. In both of the cases above, the time factor would favor the disavowing statements. In the case of the Adam-God theory, that disavowal is further supported by the authority of the pronouncer (a president of the Church) and the publication source (a conference report). In the case of the Black doctrinal statement, it is unclear as to the source of the statement, other than it is published by the Church on the official LDS.org website. Presumably, it was done so under the First Presidency’s direction, but it is difficult to tell. As for consistency, statements by President David O. McKay, Spencer W. Kimball, Dallin H. Oaks, and Gordon B. Hinckley may be found to support the disavowing statement more recently than many of the older teachings.

As a related corollary, doctrines and teachings should have at least a fair amount of consistency with common sense, tangible observations, and the inner moral compass of human beings. Elder Orson Pratt observed that:

The study of science is the study of something eternal. If we study astronomy, we study the works of God. If we study chemistry, geology, optics, or any other branch of science, every new truth we come to the understanding of is eternal; it is a part of the great system of universal truth. It is truth that exists throughout universal nature; and God is the dispenser of all truth—scientific, religious, and political.[28]

Science and intellect can be used in determining truth along with spiritual confirmation and prophetic authority. Granted, this can get into a morass of debate and problems, since each of those can be highly subjective and prone to change over time, however, intellect is an important consideration in accepting teachings and practices of the Church.

The First Presidency

The First Presidency

In connection to tangible observations, it is important to note the relevancy of a doctrine to our current sphere of existence. I once had a retired Catholic priest share the phrase with me that “the scriptures aren’t there to tell us how the heavens go as much as to tell us how to go to heaven.” When we move into speculative subjects, history too far back to verify, and periods of existence outside of mortality it should be noted that while we know some things about them through revelation, we do not know everything about these subjects and what we do say about them may be taken with a grain of salt if experience and reality turn out to be something other than we thought. When President Gordon B. Hinckley was asked in a TV interview in 2004, “What happens when you die?” his initial response was the lighthearted comment: “When you die? Well, I’m not fully conversant with that. I haven’t passed through that yet” before he went on to explain that, “We believe that death is part of an eternal journey,” and so on.[29] Like President Hinckley, our best response to these subjects is probably to admit that we have not experienced these things, but we do have beliefs and opinions on such matters. Mormonism is, as President Brigham Young characterized, “a matter-of-fact religion” that “taketh hold of the every-day duties and realities of this life” and one that “reduce[s] the Gospel to the present time, circumstances and condition of the people.”[30] Elsewhere, President Young observed that:

Many have tried to penetrate to the First Cause of all things; but it would be as easy for an ant to number the grains of sand on the earth. It is not for man, with his limited intelligence, to grasp eternity in his comprehension. . . . It would be as easy for a gnat to trace the history of man back to his origin as for man to fathom the First Cause of all things, lift the veil of eternity, and reveal the mysteries that have been sought after by philosophers from the beginning. What then, should be the calling and duty of the children of men? Instead of inquiring after the origin of Gods—instead of trying to explore the depths of eternities that have been, that are, and that will be, instead of endeavoring to discover the boundaries of boundless space, let them seek to know the object of their present existence, and how to apply, in the most profitable manner for their mutual good and salvation, the intelligence they possess. Let them seek to know and thoroughly understand things within their reach, and to make themselves well acquainted with the object of their being here, by diligently seeking unto a super-power for information and by the careful study of the best books.[31]

Again, the scriptures aren’t there to tell us how the heavens go as much as to tell us how to go to heaven and when we speculate on how the heavens go, it must be done so with the realization that such speculation is tentative.

Brigham Young

Brigham Young

To pull it all back together, prophets, apostles, and other general authorities are not perfect beings and may at times make imperfect statements. The most important weighing of statements is a spiritual confirmation through the Holy Ghost. Other aspects may be weighed as well, including the authority of the pronouncement (in publication and pronouncer), how recently it was stated, how consistently the doctrine has been taught (evaluating frequency, number of people teaching the doctrine, whether it is contradicted, and whether it is consistent with rational thought and human experience), and whether it directly affects our mortal experience. We cannot know for certainty what comes from God, but hopefully, these principles are helpful in deciding what is likely to have come from God. As a closing note to this section, Elder B.H. Roberts once wrote:

As to the matter of attaining certainty in human affairs, that is not to be expected. Is it indeed desirable? “Know ye not that we walk by faith and not by sight,” is the language of Paul to the Saints in his day. By which token I infer that we are placed in this earth-probation to pass through just such experiences as those to which we seem born heirs. Is it not in part the meaning of life that we are here under just such conditions as prevail, in order that we may learn the value of better things? Is not this very doubt of ours concerning the finality of things—finality which ever seems to elude our grasp—the means of our education? What mere automatons would we become, if we found truth machine-made and limited, that is to say, finite, instead of being, as we now find it, infinite and elusive, and attainable only as we beat it out on the anvil of our own experiences? Yet so far as men may be furnished with the means of attaining to certainty concerning the class of things of which we are speaking, the Saints of God are supplied with that means. Their obedience to the gospel brings to them the possession of the Holy Ghost, and it is ”Mormon” doctrine that “by the power of the Holy Ghost we may know the truth of all things.” (Moroni). This spirit takes of the things of God and makes them known to men.… But even with the possession of this Spirit to guide us into all truth, I pray you, nevertheless, not to look for finality in things, for you will look in vain. Intelligence, purity, truth, will always remain with us relative terms and also relative qualities. Ascend to what heights you may, ever beyond you will see other heights in respect of these thing?; and ever as you ascend, more heights will appear, and it is doubtful if we shall ever attain the absolute in respect of these qualities. Our joy will be the joy of approximating them, of attaining unto ever-increasing excellence, without attaining the absolute. It will be the joy of eternal progress.[32]

Come unto Christ Moment

crucifixion-art-lds-453494-gallery

            I have already gone on too long, however, I feel that adding the “Come unto Christ Moment” of the lesson is important, so I will cover it briefly. Joseph Fielding Smith and the curriculum committee provide a ready-made moment in the text of the manual in section 2, where it reads that:

This is the law to members of the Church, in the words of the Savior: “He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me. . . .” (John 14:21.) Again, the Savior said: “If ye love me, keep my commandments.” (John 14:15.) . . .

The Savior never committed any sin nor carried any troubled conscience. He was not under the necessity of repenting as you and I are; but in some way that I cannot understand, he carried the weight of my transgressions and yours. . . . He came and offered himself as a sacrifice to pay the debt for each of us who is willing to repent of his sins and return to him and keep his commandments. Think of it, if you can. The Savior carried that burden in some way beyond our comprehension. I know that, because I accept his word. He tells us of the torment he went through; the torment was so great that he pled with his Father that if it were possible he might not drink the bitter cup and shrink: “. . . nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.” (Luke 22:42.) The answer he got from his Father was, “You have to drink it.”

Can I help loving him? No, I cannot. Do you love him? Then keep his commandments.[33]

In this statement, Joseph Fielding Smith expresses a bit of the moral theory of the Atonement—one of the four primary ways the Atonement has been understood in the history of Christianity—in the context of some of the other, legalistic theories of the Atonement. In way of explanation of this theory of the Atonement, I turn to Mormon intellectual Sterling McMurrin, who wrote the following:

[Mormonism] exhibits especially the moralistic interpretation of the atonement that became a hallmark of nineteenth-century liberalism and was a continuation of the heretical doctrine of Abelard in the twelfth century. Abelard had denied the entire substitution-ransom-satisfaction framework and held simply that Christ’s voluntary sacrifice moves sinful man to a consciousness of guilt and so to repentance and a moral change of life. “I think therefore,” he said in a statement condemned in 1141 by the Council of Sens, “that the purpose and cause of the Incarnation was that He might illuminate the world by His wisdom and excite it to the love of Himself.”

The moral impact of Christ’s sacrifice upon the sinner had always been an important factor in the doctrine of the atonement, although never before Abelard had it been made central, even though there was scriptural backing for such an interpretation.… Not until the nineteenth century did Abelard’s heresy produce its full impact. The idea that God’s forgiveness is possible only because man, moved by the sacrifice of Christ, repents and overcomes his sin and thereby eliminates the demand for punishment become then a somewhat common element of dissident and liberal theology.[34]

Michelangelo's Pieta

Michelangelo’s Pieta

While Mormon theology does not generally reject the entire substitution-ransom-satisfaction framework of the Atonement (I apologize for not explaining those theories in this setting), we see the idea that Christ’s sacrifice moves us to repent and overcome sin in President Smith’s statement above, emphasized in the concluding remark that, “Can I help loving him? No, I cannot. Do you love him? Then keep his commandments.” For years, I have found the echoes of this in the following sonnet that Miguel de Guevara wrote both inspiring and thought-provoking:

I am not moved to love thee, my Lord God,

by the heaven thou hast promised me;

I am not moved by the sore dreaded hell

to forbear me from offending thee.

I am moved by thee, Lord; I am moved

at seeing thee nailed upon the cross and mocked;

I am moved by thy body all over wounds;

I am moved by thy dishonor and thy death.

I am moved, last, by thy love, in such a wise

that though there were no heaven I still should love thee,

and though there were no hell I still should fear thee.

I need no gift of thee to make me love thee;

for though my present hope were all despair,

as now I love thee I should love thee still.[35]

The love of Christ, especially as shown in laying down his life for us, should move us to honor and obey him.

portrait-of-christ-carl-bloch-205065-gallery

[1] Lorenzo Snow, Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Lorenzo Snow (Salt Lake City: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2012), 84.

[2] Cited in Givens, Terryl; Fiona Givens (2012-10-01). The God Who Weeps: How Mormonism Makes Sense of Life (Kindle Locations 311-315). Deseret Book Company. Kindle Edition.

[3] DHC 2:11-12.

[4] Joseph Smith, Jr., Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2007), 210.

[5] The Gospel: An Exposition of its first principles; and Man’s Relationship to Deity (3rd ed.; Salt Lake City: Desert News, 1901), 208.

[6] B.H. Roberts, CR, April 1905, 45.

[7] B.H. Roberts, “Brigham Young: A Character Sketch,” Improvement Era, June 1903, 574.

[8] Dallin H. Oaks, “The Challenge to Become,” CR October 2000.

[9] Givens, Terryl; Fiona Givens (2012-10-01). The God Who Weeps: How Mormonism Makes Sense of Life (Kindle Locations 1374-1378). Deseret Book Company. Kindle Edition.

[10] Bonnie D. Parkin, “With Holiness of Heart,” Ensign, Nov. 2002, 103.

[11] Jeffrey R. Holland, “An Ensign to the Nations,” CR April 2011.

[12] Joseph Fielding Smith, Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Fielding Smith (Salt Lake City, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints), 233

[13] “Excerpts from Three Addresses by President Wilford Woodruff Regarding the Manifesto,” Official Declaration 1, Doctrine and Covenants.

[14] David O. McKay, in CR, April 1907, 11-12.

[15] Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 2nd ed. (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1966), 608.

[16] Clark, J. Reuben. “When Are the Writings or Sermons of Church Leaders Entitled to the Claim of Scripture?” in Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought Vol. 12, No. 2 (1978): 73.

[17] “Race and the Priesthood.” LDS.org topics, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Web. Accessed 15 January 2014.

[18] Clark, “When are the Writings,” 75.

[19] Brigham Young, JD 9:150

[20] Clark, “When are the Writings,”72.

[21] Hugh B. Brown and Edwin B. Firmage (ed.), An Abundant Life, 2nd ed. (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1999),  123-125.

[22] Robert L. Millet, “What is Our Doctrine?” The Religious Educator, 4, no. 3 (2003): 19.

[23] Brigham Young, JD 2:314

[24] Millet, “What is Our Doctrine,” 19, 23.

[25] Joseph Fielding McConkie, “The Gathering of Israel and the Return of Christ,” the Sixth Annual Church Educational System Religious Educators’ Symposium, August 1982, Brigham Young University, typescript, 3, 5.

[26] Neil L. Anderson, “Trial of Your Faith,” CR October 2012.

[27] Spencer W. Kimball, “Our Own Lianhona,” General Conference Report, October 1976.

[28] Orson Pratt, JD, 7:157.

[29] “A Conversation with Gordon B. Hinkcley, President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, CNN Larry King Live, 26 Dec 2004.

[30] Brigham Young, Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young (Salt Lake City: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1997), 23.

[31] Young, Teachings of the Presidents, 31.

[32] B.H. Roberts, “Relation of Inspiration and Revelation to Church Government,” IE 8 (March 1905): 365-369.

[33] Joseph Fielding Smith, Teachings of the Presidents, 231-232.

[34] Sterling McMurrin, The Theological Foundations of the Mormon Religion (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1965), 89.

[35] Miguel de Guevara, “I am not moved to love thee, my Lord God,” in Mexican Poetry: An Anthology, Octavio Paz, comp., Samuel Beckett, trans. (New York: Grove Press, 1985), 61-62.

Joseph Fielding Smith, Ch 17: Sealing Power and Temple Blessings

I’m experimenting with different ways to present resources for class discussions on this blog, so most of these blog posts will probably come out different in form, though content will ultimately be similar.

Temples are very important to me, and I am excited to teach about Sealing Power and Temple Blessings (lesson 17, Joseph Fielding Smith manual). The timing of this lesson for us—the week before the Ogden Temple rededication—adds interest to the lesson as well. Speaking of which, I recently attended my parents’ ward in the suburbs of Ogden and a sister in their ward bore her testimony of temple work. She shared that at a meeting for people involved in the temple open house she was told that the goal for the Ogden Temple is for it to be a self-sufficient temple. By that, she explained, they hope that Ogden Temple district members will provide all the names that ordinance work will be performed for in the temple once it is operational. While probably not realistic, the goal is impressive. The sister also shared that when she first heard this, she said, “Well, I guess I’m not going to be attending the Ogden Temple because all my family work is already done.” Another ward member showed her how to do “cousin lines”—researching descendants of direct ancestors rather than just direct ancestors—and she has had tremendous success in finding names to use. My wife has picked up on this cue and has been doing similar work on her ancestry with good results.

The newly renovated Ogden Temple.

The newly renovated Ogden Temple.

As I mentioned, though the goal of a self-sufficient temple is probably not realistic, it is inspiring, and I want my ward to catch some of the spirit of that idea, even though we’re in a neighboring (Logan) temple district. Since most of Utah (at least Northern Utah) will have their church services taken over by the Ogden Temple Dedication on the 21 of September, Joseph Fielding Smith’s quote from the original Ogden Temple Dedication in the manual is particularly suited to the situation: “May I remind you that when we dedicate a house to the Lord, what we really do is dedicate ourselves to the Lord’s service, with a covenant that we shall use the house in the way he intends that it shall be used.”[1] My goal for the lesson is to motivate quorum members to dedicate themselves to hastening the work of salvation for the dead in all aspects of that work.

The Manual

There are six sections in the lesson manual chapter, covering about 10 pages. The historical introduction focused on President Smith explaining the Spirit of Elijah to a non-member with a short conclusion of quotes about the importance of temple work. Section one explains the role of Elijah in restoring the sealing power and some discussion of the sealing power. Section two underscores the necessity of temple work in preparing the world for the Second Coming of Christ. Section 3 teaches that temple ordinances are necessary for salvation in the highest degree of the Celestial Kingdom. Section 4 outlines the doctrines behind proxy work for the dead. Section 5 extols temple service as selfless and wonderful. Section 6 discusses the work of welding families together for eternity that occurs in the temple.

For my purposes, I have chosen to emphasize four themes in my lesson:

  1. Temple work has hastened and grown line-upon line since it was introduced to today.
  2. Understanding the role of Elijah and the Sealing Power.
  3. It is necessary to weld families together in the eternal scheme of things.
  4. By serving in the temple we become more like Christ.

Other teachers may approach it differently according to their styles and the needs of the quorum or class, however, this is how I’ve felt to prepare the lesson based on the manual.

Extra-Manual Resources and Quotes

While the lesson should primarily be drawn from the manual (and I would encourage teachers to focus on preparing the lesson mostly from there before adding additional resources such as those presented here), there is a plethora of conference talks and Church magazine articles that can be used to supplement the lesson. In many of these, the emphasis has been on Church members extracting their own names and attending the temple—particularly the youth of the Church. The four most important examples to my preparation were three conference talks and a First Presidency Letter given over the last five years:

David A. Bednar: “The Hearts of the Children Shall Turn,” CR, October 2011. This talk was useful in explaining the role of Elijah and the Spirit of Elijah in the work for the dead. In fact, I actually plan to use about 5 minutes of this talk instead of the first section of the chapter in the manual.

Richard G. Scott, “The Joy of Redeeming the Dead,” CR, October 2012. Particularly important to me was his statement that, “Temple and family history work is one work divided into two parts. They are connected together like the ordinances of baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost.”

Quentin L. Cook, “Roots and Branches,” CR, April 2014. Again, the emphasis that stood out to me is that, “The doctrine of the family in relation to family history and temple work is clear. The Lord in initial revelatory instructions referred to ‘baptism for your dead.’ Our doctrinal obligation is to our own ancestors. This is because the celestial organization of heaven is based on families.” But his statement that, “What a great time to be alive. This is the last dispensation, and we can feel the hastening of the work of salvation in every area where a saving ordinance is involved,” will serve as a sort of theme for the lesson.

The following First Presidency Letter also formed an important part of the lesson, emphasizing the importance of bringing your own names to the temple, but also just going to do work if you cannot:

1st Pres letter

It is also notable that Dr. Terryl Givens has a few essays up on his website about temple work that may be appropriate. I primarily looked at his essay, “The Heavenly Logic of Proxy Baptism.” Since the lesson I have planned is already too full of extra sources, the only quote that I may use is the following:

Jewish tradition, full of anticipation and yearning, weaves this interpretation [of Elijah’s return]: At the coming of the great judgment day, “the children . . . who had to die in infancy will be found among the just, while their fathers will be ranged on the other side. The babes will implore their fathers to come to them, but God will not permit it. Then Elijah will go to the little ones, and teach them how to plead in behalf of their fathers. They will stand before God and say, ‘Is not the measure of good, the mercy of God, larger than the measure of chastisements? . . . [May they] be permitted to join us in Paradise?’ God will give assent to their pleadings, and Elijah will have fulfilled the word of the prophet Malachi; he will have brought back the fathers to the children.

Another excellent resource I recently got my hands on is Trina Boice’s Ready Resource for Relief Society: Joseph Fielding Smith. The book provides a summary of each lesson, suggestions for hymns, talks and articles from general conference and Church publications as well as quotes to supplement the lesson, and object lessons, videos from lds.org, etc. that can be used in the lesson. An object lesson she suggests for this lesson that I intend to use to start the lesson is as follows:

Have a talent contest to see who can comb their hair without bending their elbows or talk on a cell phone without touching it? Ask two sisters [or brothers] to eat a candy bar without bending their elbows. What’s the punch line? It can’t be done, unless they help each other. Our ancestors need us as much as we needed them. Together, we save each other.[2]

A Deeper Look

In each lesson I prepare (and for the sake of this blog) I like to take a deeper look at one or more topics presented in the lesson, particularly doctrinal or historical issues of interest. In the case of this lesson, there are two points I wanted to investigate.

The first point is the hastening of temple work during Joseph Fielding Smith’s lifetime. Time will not allow an in-depth look either here or in class, so a short summary will have to do. During Joseph Fielding Smith’s lifetime, temple work took on the shape and form that we recognize today. He even had a role in shaping that process at a few points. As per his philosophy on temple work, he declared at the corner stone ceremony of the Ogden Temple that, “Temple building and temple ordinances are at the very heart of our religion…. There is no more glorious work than the perfecting of family units through the ordinances of the house of the Lord.”[3]

President Smith liked to joke that “his first Church assignment came when he was a baby. When he was nine months old, he and his father, President Joseph F. Smith, accompanied President Brigham Young to St. George, Utah, to attend the dedication of the St. George Temple.”[4] The dedication of the St. George Temple and the years immediately surrounding that event constitute one of the most important turning points for temple work in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. According to the excellent work of historian Richard E. Bennett, there were at least four reasons that this was so.

St. George Temple while still under construction

St. George Temple while still under construction

First, with the completion of the St. George Temple the Latter-day Saints had a temple to perform temple work in for the first time since the Nauvoo Temple. Temple work that had occurred since the Saints left Nauvoo took place in a variety of places, including Willard Richard’s Octagon House in Winter Quarters, at least once on Ensign Peak above Salt Lake City, in the Salt Lake City Council House, and mostly in the Temple Pro Tempore known as the Endowment House. In the St. George Temple, however, the Saints had the chance to reengage in temple work on a full scale and to develop temple worship more fully under the Wilford Woodruff’s tutelage as temple president.

While temple work for the living and baptisms for the dead were performed in the various places listed above prior to the St. George Temple’s completion, endowments for the dead were not. Although both Joseph Smith and Brigham Young were both aware that this ordinance was necessary for salvation and that it would one day be performed by proxy for the dead, the Saints had to rush in Nauvoo to perform ordinances for the living—leaving little time to perform higher ordinances for the dead—and after Nauvoo, Brigham Young consistently expressed that the performance of endowments for the dead was reserved for an actual temple. Once the St. George Temple was operational, endowments for the dead began. This gave Latter-day Saints more to do when they came to the temple, a constant chance to review the endowment ceremony, and a need to return again and again to do proxy work.

The third thing that resulted in an increase of temple consciousness during Joseph Fielding Smith’s childhood was the construction of three other temples strategically located in Logan, Manti, and Salt Lake City. Most of the early Utah temples took less than ten years to build, but the monumental Salt Lake Temple—the temple closest to President Smith’s childhood home—took forty years to build, being completed in 1893 when Joseph was 17 years old. He later recalled that, “I used to wonder whether I would ever live long enough to see the [Salt Lake City] temple completed.”[5] The sacrifices in both time and resources that the Saints made to build these temples functioned to keep temples constantly on their minds and to raise expectations of blessings reaped from their sacrifices. And, with the completion of each temple, another region of Mormon settlements was given access to the opportunity to perform temple rites on a more consistent basis.

Mormonism's Pioneer Temples

Mormonism’s Pioneer Temples

The fourth and final reason for the rising temple consciousness among the Latter-day Saints in the late nineteenth century was the canonization of Doctrine and Covenants Section 110 in 1880. This section is a record of the visit of various angels, including Elijah, to the Prophet Joseph Smith in the Kirtland Temple in April 1836 and presented various priesthood keys to the Prophet. Prior to the 1880s, the section was little known—Joseph recorded the visit in his journal around the time he claimed that it happened, but we have no record of the Prophet sharing the vision in public during his lifetime. The journal entry was printed once in the Deseret News in 1852, but was not included in the Doctrine and Covenants until the 1876 edition, prepared by Elder Orson Pratt. After it was included in the Latter-day Saint scripture, this document became the doctrinal and historical cornerstone for discussion of the restoration of the sealing power and the role of Elijah in temple work, as can be seen in the historical introduction and 1st section of this lesson in Joseph Fielding Smith manual.[6]

The next shift in LDS temple theology occurred when Joseph Fielding Smith was a teenager. Prior to the 1890s, for a variety of salvation and dynastic-related reasons, Latter-day Saints were often sealed to (adopted by) priesthood leaders, especially Brigham Young and Joseph Smith. In 1894, however, President Wilford Woodruff declared that the Lord wanted “the Latter-day Saints from this time to trace their genealogies as far as they can, and to be sealed to their fathers and mothers. Have children sealed to their parents, and run this chain through as far as you can get it.”[7] After this proclamation, the Utah Genealogical Society was formed to provide support for temple work by assisting Latter-day Saints in genealogical research so they could be linked to their ancestors. During the 20th century, Joseph Fielding Smith became a “principle force behind the society” and helped the organization’s growth and efficiency by studying the libraries and programs of the eastern United States in 1909 and introducing improved methods of filing and record keeping to the Utah society during a time of great expansion in genealogical and temple work. He went on to serve as president of the society 1934-1961.[8]

Joseph Fielding Smith at work in some archives.

Joseph Fielding Smith at work in some archives.

Once Joseph Fielding Smith was called as an apostle in 1910, he served in other positions that related to temple work. While serving as a de facto secretary to his father, President Joseph F. Smith, in 1918 Joseph Fielding Smith recorded his father’s vision of redemption of the dead, now D&C 138. He also served as a counselor in the Salt Lake Temple Presidency 1919-1935 and as president of the temple 1945-1949. During the era President Smith served as an apostle and as president of the Church, the rapid expansion of temple work initiated by the St. George Temple’s completion continued, even when measured on a per-member basis (see the figure below). As Elder John A. Widtsoe noted in 1921:

There is at present an unusual increased interest in temple activity… [and] the number of temples is also increasing. The Hawaiian temple has only recently been dedicated; the Canadian temple is being rushed to completion, the Arizona temple is being planned, and numerous communities in the Church are anxiously waiting and praying for the time that they may have temples.[9]

Chart of the number of endowment ceremonies performed per member over the course of a number of years. Image taken from David John Buerger, "The Development of the Mormon Temple Endowment Ceremony," Dialogue: A  Journal of Mormon Thought, 20, No. 4, 65.

Chart of the number of endowment ceremonies performed per member over the course of a number of years.
Image taken from David John Buerger, “The Development of the Mormon Temple Endowment Ceremony,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, 20, No. 4, 65.

Partially in response to this growth, the endowment ceremony was codified and reduced in length during the 1920s. While the core spiritual truths, covenants, and ritual aspects of the ceremony have been retained, the endowment ceremony (the means of carrying those core components of the ordinance to the Saints) has changed and been refined to fit the needs of the Saints under the direction of the leading councils of the Church from time to time. In this case, the process took place over the course of about eight years under the direction Salt Lake Temple Presidents and apostles Anthon H. Lund (1919-1921) and George F. Richards (1921-1927). Joseph Fielding Smith sat on the counsel that performed this work, along with David O. McKay, Stephen L Richards, John A. Widtsoe, and later James E. Talmage.[10]

As president of the Church in the early 1970s, Joseph Fielding Smith directed the completion and dedication of the next two temples to be constructed in Utah, and the most efficient temples constructed to date—the Ogden and Provo temples. Thus, Joseph Fielding Smith witnessed and participated in the hastening of temple work throughout his lifetime. If other instructors would like to present this info, I would suggest tying it into the lesson by asking how temple and family history work have been hastened in the class members’ lifetimes.

Come unto Christ Moment

Since a major purpose of the Church is to invite others to come unto Christ, with each lesson, I like to at least plan a portion focused on coming unto Christ or at least speaking of Christ. In this lesson, there are two potential routes I have been considering focusing on—first, the nature of the sealing power and second, the idea of becoming saviors on Mt. Zion.

As for the sealing power and authority, we use the term sealing in a variety of ways in the Church today. It is, however, useful to understand how the terms developed to understand what they mean more fully. In Noah Webster’s 1828 dictionary (removing all references to the mammal known as a seal), a seal is:

A piece of metal or other hard substance, usually round or oval, on which is ingraved some image or device, and sometimes a legend or inscription. This is used by individuals, corporate bodies and states, for making impressions on wax upon instruments of writing, as an evidence of their authenticity. The king of England has his seal and his privy seal. Seals are sometimes worn in rings.

Those familiar with movies may recognize the idea of a seal from the ring the Scarlett Pimpernel wears, the wax stamp the Phantom of the Opera uses to mark his letters, or the wax seal on the back of the letters Harry Potter receives from Hogwarts as seals in this sense, officially marking the letters that are thus sealed as authentic within those stories. Likewise, the seal of the United States may be seen on a dollar bill, marking it as authentic. Signatures are used more often today to authenticate documents in the US, but the idea is similar.

The Scarlet Pimpernel

The Scarlet Pimpernel

The Scarlet Pimpernel's Seal

The Scarlet Pimpernel’s Seal

Continuing the thought, sealed is defined in the 1828 dictionary as “furnished with a seal; fastened with a seal; confirmed closed,” and sealing is “fixing a seal; fastening with a seal; confirming; closing; keeping secret; fixing a piece of wood or iron in a wall with cement.” Here we see two different ideas of sealing—closing off as well as fixing a seal on something to authenticate it, both of which will come into play in Mormon parlance. Finally, a sealer is “one who seals; an officer in chancery who seals writs and instruments.” This idea of a sealer can be seen in the story of Joseph of Egypt—when he placed as second in command to Pharaoh, as part of the process, “Pharaoh took off his ring from his hand, and put it upon Joseph’s hand.” [11] This ring was a signet ring—a finger ring in which was set a stamp seal. By receiving Pharaoh’s signet ring, Joseph was made vizier and seal-bearer of Egypt. A seal bearer in this regard would have authority to act in the place of pharaoh (unless the pharaoh overruled the vizier) and use the pharaoh’s seal to validate things.

In this regard, we see the two basic definitions of sealing being used in Mormonism and gradually developing in their use from these along a few lines. During Joseph Smith’s lifetime we see the following uses of the term sealing occur within Mormonism:

  1. Certifying or validating, as in placing a seal of approval on a teaching or ordinance. Most common was validating or certifying an ordinance, particularly a blessing (especially a Patriarchal Blessing) or ordination to the priesthood, quite often in a second blessing or at the end of the blessing (i.e., “I seal your former ordination and blessings.”)
  2. To hide or to remove from access, such as Joseph being told that, “I have given unto him the keys of the mystery of those things which have been sealed” (D&C 35:18), or the sealed portion of the Book of Mormon.
  3. Sealing up individuals unto eternal life, indicating the assurance that God accepted the recipient and guaranteed eternal life. We see in the Doctrine and Covenants a few examples of this use, including the following: “To them [the elders] is power given, to seal both on earth and in heaven, the unbelieving and rebellious; yea, verily, to seal them up unto the day when the wrath of God shall be poured out upon the wicked” (D&C 1:8-9).
  4. Occasionally people were sealed against the effects of evil in blessings (“I seal you against the power of Satan,” or something along those lines.)
  5. The linking of one person to another such that a familial relationship was assured not only in this life but after the resurrection. Initially, it was the ordinance or marriage that was sealed, or validated, not the people to each other as the term is often used today, though that use of the term did develop fairly quickly.[12]

With all this in mind, the following definition of the sealing power, given by Bruce R. McConkie, becomes more understandable: “This sealing power, restored in this dispensation by Elijah the Prophet is the means whereby ‘All covenants, contracts, bonds, obligations, oaths, vows, performances, connections, associations, or expectations’ attain ‘efficacy, virtue, or force in and after the resurrection from the dead’ (D&C 132:7),”[13] meaning that the sealing power is the authority to validate ordinances eternally. It is God’s authority (which is why this can be used as a come to Christ opportunity) given to man to validate things as if God himself performed the ordinances in the temple, hence it being referred to as the fulness of the priesthood. Since Christ is part of that chain of authority, it is through Christ’s authority that temple work is done. It is His atonement that ransoms us, and He has set the path to the Celestial Kingdom, including the temple ordinances. Further, He has set things in order and given authorization so that we can stand in for those in need of these saving ordinances.

As for the idea becoming saviors on Mt. Zion, Joseph Fielding Smith taught that:

The turning of the hearts of fathers to children and of children to fathers, is the power of salvation for the dead, by means of the vicarious work which the children may perform for their fathers, and is in every sense reasonable and consistent. I have heard it said many times by those who oppose this work that it is impossible for one person to stand vicariously for another. Those who express themselves in this way overlook the fact that the entire work of sal­vation is a vicarious work, Jesus Christ standing as the propitiator, redeeming us from death, for which we were not responsible, and also redeeming us from the responsibility of our own sins, on con­dition of our repentance and acceptance of the gospel. He has done this on a grand infinite scale and by the same principle he has del­egated authority to the members of his Church to act for the dead who are helpless to perform the saving ordinances for themselves.[14]

In this way, we serve as saviors to those we perform temple work for, receiving authority from Christ to stand in by proxy for them in saving ordinances they can no longer perform. We see both the idea of sealing described above here, but we also see that we are given a chance to act as the Savoir would act and become like him by working to save the dead. President Smith also felt that this work purifies those who participate, causing them to take on a more Christ-like nature in general. He taught:

There is no work connected with the gospel that is of a more un­selfish nature than the work in the House of the Lord, for our dead. Those who work for the dead do not expect to receive any earthly remuneration or reward. It is, above all, a work of love, which is begotten in the heart of man through faithful and constant labor in these saving ordinances. There are no financial returns, but there shall be great joy in heaven with those souls whom we have helped to their salvation. It is a work that enlarges the soul of man, broad­ens his views regarding the welfare of his fellowman, and plants in his heart a love for all the children of our Heavenly Father. There is no work equal to that in the temple for the dead in teaching a man to love his neighbor as himself. Jesus so loved the world that he was willing to offer himself as a sacrifice for sin that the world might be saved. We also have the privilege, in a small degree, of showing our great love for Him and our fellow beings by helping them to the blessings of the gospel which now they cannot receive without our assistance.[15]

Conclusion

Hopefully something from this will be of use to those preparing lessons in the upcoming weeks. Always remember that the spiritual feeding of the flock is the most important function of teaching in church settings, not the presentation of information or text. Good luck and God bless.

The Salt Lake City Temple

The Salt Lake City Temple

[1] Joseph Fielding Smith, Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Fielding Smith (Salt Lake City: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2013), 217.

[2] Boice, Trina (2013-11-13). The Ready Resource for Relief Society Teaching: Joseph Fielding Smith (Kindle Locations 1985-1987). Cedar Fort, Inc.. Kindle Edition

[3] Ogden Cornerstone Laying Report, Journal History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 September 1970, Church History Library, Salt Lake City, UT.

[4] Smith, Teachings of Presidents, 117.

[5] Smith, Teachings of the Presidents, 5.

[6] See Richard E. Bennett, “‘Which is the Wisest Course?’ The Transformation in Mormon Temple Consciousness, 1870-1898,” BYU Studies Quarterly, 52, no. 2 (2013).

[7] Wilford Woodruff, Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Wilford Woodruff (Salt Lake City: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2004), 174.

[8] Thomas G. Alexander, Mormonism in Transition, 3rd ed. (Salt Lake City, UT: Greg Kofford Books, 2012), 313-315.

[9] John A. Widtsoe, “Temple Worship,” The Utah Genealogical and Historical Magazine, Vol. XII, 1921, 50.

[10] David John Buerger, The Mysteries of Godliness: A History of Mormon Temple Worship, (Salt Lake City: Smith Research Associates, 1994),  136.

[11] See Genesis 41:39-43.

[12] See Gregory A. Prince, Power from on High: The Development of Mormon Priesthood (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1995), 155-172.

[13] Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 2nd ed. [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1966], 683.

[14] Smith, Teachings of the Presidents, 222

[15] Smith, Teachings of Presidents, 223-224, emphasis added.

Joseph Fielding Smith, Ch 15: Eternal Marriage

One goal of blog is to provide resources for men and women preparing lessons for Relief Society and Elders’ Quorum. As such, I’m going to attempt to put up lesson plans and ideas about a week before I teach the lesson in question. Due to this fact, however, I need to put in a disclaimer that what I may actually teach in the final situation will not necessarily be what is displayed here. Also, due to the varied situations of classroom settings around the world, my situation and the needs of my quorum will be different from many other individuals. As Sister Virginia H. Pierce taught in 1996:

Because the daily life of people varies so much in the 160 different countries where we have organized classes, the stories and examples in the manuals may sometimes confuse the learners. Teachers can prayerfully make adaptations, always taking care that the learning activities chosen truly reflect the doctrine.[1]

My wife and me on our wedding day

My wife and me on our wedding day

My quorum is a married student ward in Logan, Utah. As such, the focus is on members who are all married relatively recently, and generally with zero to two young children. As such, my focus is offering encouragement and doctrine pointing towards the establishment of a successful, long-term marriage. My central thesis for the lesson is “to build a greater respect and desire to live as God would have us live in the marriage covenant.”

Aside from the Chapter 15 of the Joseph Fielding Smith manual, which is the basis of the lesson, I was most strongly influenced by Thomas S. Monson’s talk “Priesthood Power” from the Priesthood Session of General Conference, April 2011; Sister Julie B. Beck’s address, “Teaching the Doctrine of the Family” that was published in the March 2011 Ensign; and BYU professor Eugene England’s essay, “Why the Church is as True as the Gospel.” Each of these provides wonderful supplementary material for this chapter of the manual.

The 2014 manual

The 2014 manual

The biographical section of the lesson focuses on the experiences Joseph Fielding Smith had in his three marriages (he was a widower from each of them) primarily captured my interest as a way to understand that Joseph Fielding Smith had a lot of experience with marriage (and so his advice was not just theoretical) and a way to connect with the man. I included a minute-long audio clip taken from his 1968 BYU address “The Blessings of Eternal Glory” in which he talks about his wives and children being sealed to him for time and all eternity and a slide for each of his three wives.

Although I currently live in the Logan, Utah Temple district, I grew up in the Ogden Temple district and still have family connections in that area. The timing of this lesson as well as lesson 17 (coming next month!) is fortuitously correlated to the open house and rededication of the renovated Ogden Temple. This is significant both as a current event in local Church history that focuses things on temples as well as a historical link to Joseph Fielding Smith, since he dedicated the original Ogden Temple. As quorum members enter, I plan to show a video of pictures and footage of the new temple taken from the Church’s official news article on the subject to focus their attention on temples. After covering the historical introduction, I plan to bring class members’ attention back to the Ogden Temple and bring in a few quotes from the address President Smith gave at the cornerstone ceremony for that temple over forty years ago. Included are the following:

  • “We are a temple building people, and this is one of the things which sets us apart from the world and that enables us to find favor in the eyes of the Lord. Temple building and temple ordinances are at the very heart of our religion.”
  • “This high salvation which we seek is eternal life. It consists in the continuation of the family unit in eternity, and it is in and through the ordinances of the temple that eternal family units are created.”
  • “There is no more glorious work than the perfecting of the family units through the ordinances of the house of the Lord.”[2]
Joseph Fielding Smith and N. Eldon Tanner at the Ogden Temple cornerstone dedication ceremony. Image courtesy LDSCES.org

Joseph Fielding Smith and N. Eldon Tanner at the Ogden Temple cornerstone dedication ceremony.
Image courtesy LDSCES.org

After reading these quotes, I intend to have a small group discussion initiated by the question, “How are temple building and temple ordinances at the heart of our religion?” After a bit of discussion, I plan to narrow the focus by reading the first two paragraphs from section 1 in the manual, which are as follows:

  • “There is no ordinance connected with the Gospel of Jesus Christ of greater importance, of more solemn and sacred nature, and more necessary to [our] eternal joy . . . than marriage.”
  • “The fullness and blessings of the Priesthood and Gospel grow out of Celestial marriage. This is the crowning ordinance of the Gospel and crowning ordinance of the temple.”

Again, as we are narrowing the focus of the discussion above onto eternal marriage, the next question I intend to ask is “What is it about celestial marriage that makes it ‘the crowning ordinance of the temple?’” After some discussion on that question, we will shift to the second part of the lesson—the idea of a school of love.

To transition to discussion marriage as a school of love, I intend to point out President Smith’s statement that, “The fullness and blessings of the Priesthood and Gospel grow out of Celestial marriage,” and tell them to pay attention for similar statements as we read a few more paragraphs from the manual and to ponder how the fulness and blessings grow out of Celestial marriage. From the manual:

  • Section 2, ¶ 1-2, p. 194-195:
    • Marriage is considered by a great many people as merely a civil contract or agreement between a man and a woman that they will live together in the marriage relation. It is, in fact, an eternal princi­ple upon which the very existence of mankind depends. The Lord gave this law to man in the very beginning of the world as part of the Gospel law, and the first marriage was to endure forever. According to the law of the Lord every marriage should endure forever. If all mankind would live in strict obedience to the Gospel and in that love which is begotten by the Spirit of the Lord, all mar­riages would be eternal. . . .
    • . . . Marriage as understood by Latter-day Saints is a covenant or­dained to be everlasting. It is the foundation for eternal exaltation, for without it there could be no eternal progress in the kingdom of God.
  • Section 3, ¶ 3-4, p. 197:
    • Nothing will prepare mankind for glory in the kingdom of God as readily as faithfulness to the marriage covenant. . . .
    • If properly received this covenant becomes the means of the greatest happiness. The greatest honor in this life, and in the life to come, honor, dominion and power in perfect love, are the bless­ings which come out of it. These blessings of eternal glory are held in reserve for those who are willing to abide in this and all other covenants of the Gospel

After we read these paragraphs, I intend to restate the question as follows: “How does eternal marriage give us a fulness of blessings of the Gospel, serve as the foundation for eternal exaltation and eternal progress, and prepare mankind for glory in the kingdom of God?” After more discussion, I intend to state that one way that I think of it is that marriage is a school of love. To emphasize the point, I will bring in a few quotes from the Eugene England essay referenced above, such as: “Martin Luther, with prophetic perception, wrote, ‘Marriage is the school of love’—that is, marriage is not the home or the result of love so much as the school.” And the Michael Novak statements that:

  • Marriage is an assault upon the lonely, atomic ego. Marriage is a threat to the solitary individual. Marriage does impose grueling, humbling, baffling, and frustrating responsibilities. Yet if one supposes that precisely such things are the preconditions for all true liberation, marriage is not the enemy of moral development in adults. Quite the opposite.
  • Being married and having children has impressed on my mind certain lessons, for whose learning I cannot help being grateful. Most are lessons of difficulty and duress. Most of what I am forced to learn about myself is not pleasant. . . . My dignity as a human being depends perhaps more on what sort of husband and parent I am, than on any professional work I am called on to do. My bonds to my family hold me back (and my wife even more) from many sorts of opportunities. And yet these do not feel like bonds. They are, I know, my liberation. They force me to be a different sort of human being, in a way in which I want and need to be forced.
Joseph Fielding Smith with his wife, Jessie Evans Smith. Image from the manual.

Joseph Fielding Smith with his wife, Jessie Evans Smith.
Image from the manual.

The point I will be driving at in this section is that marriage is important not only as a place where love should constant exist but also as a place where we are forced to learn and practice Godlike attributes—particularly loving and forgiving as He does—preparing us for eternal glory in the Celestial Kingdom. After a bit of review of the Novak statements in that light, it will be time to move to the next section of the lesson.

To accentuate the LDS-Christian views of marriage and prepare discussion on what pitfalls to avoid in marriage, the next section of the lesson will focus on contrasting the worldly view of marriage to Celestial marriage. While searching for some pitfalls and problems to avoid, we will read the following selections from the manual and Julie B. Beck’s address:

  • Section 2, ¶ 3-5, p. 195:
    • It is very apparent to all of us who read the newspapers, who lis­ten to the news accounts on the radio and who watch what comes over television that all too many do not hold marriage and the family unit in that respect which the Lord intends.
    • Marriage is a sacred covenant, yet in many instances it is made the butt of coarse jokes, a jest, a passing fancy, by the vulgar and the unclean, and, too, by many who think themselves refined but who do not regard the sacredness of this great principle.
    • The Lord has given us his everlasting gospel to be a light and a standard to us, and this gospel includes his holy order of mat­rimony, which is eternal in nature. We should not and must not follow the marriage practices of the world. We have greater light than the world has, and the Lord expects more of us than he does of them.
  • Julie B. Beck:
    • Evidence is all around us that the family is becoming less important. Marriage rates are declining, the age of marriage is rising, and divorce rates are rising. Out-of-wedlock births are growing. Abortion is rising and becoming increasingly legal. We see lower birth rates. We see unequal relationships between men and women, and we see cultures that still practice abuse within family relationships. Many times a career gains importance over the family.
    • We also face the problem that we read about in Ephesians 6:12: “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” Public policies are being made every day that are antifamily, and the definition of family is changing legally around the world. Pornography is rampant. For those who create pornography, their new target audience is young women. Parents are being portrayed as inept and out of touch. Antifamily media messages are everywhere…. Any doctrine or principle our youth hear from the world that is antifamily is also anti-Christ.

To emphasize the point, I will have the class turn to their neighbors and find the problems listed in the statements above and discuss the questions, “What is significant about the contrast between the Gospel’s view on marriage and the world’s views on marriage?” “How do you feel about your eternal family?” “How can you work to avoid the pitfalls of the world in your marriage?” Then, we will bring everything back together and have people highlight what was said in their discussions.

For the final section of the lesson, I intend to emphasize the need to live up to the marriage covenants. To do so, we will turn to the manual and read the following paragraphs:

  • Section 3, ¶ 2, p. 197:
    • I want to plead with those who have been to the temple and have been so married to be faithful and true to their covenants and their obligations, for in the House of the Lord they have made solemn covenants.
  • Section 2, ¶ 6, p. 195:
    • We know what the true order of marriage is. We know the place of the family unit in the plan of salvation. We know that we should be married in the temple, and that we must keep ourselves clean and pure so as to gain the approving seal of the Holy Spirit of Promise upon our marriage unions.

After a brief discussion about the lifelong process of gaining the “approving seal of the Holy Spirit of Promise upon our marriage unions,” if there is time, I intend to show a 10 minute clip from the President Monson talk referenced above where he talks about avoiding divorce. Before turning it on, I intend to tell the class to reflect on the question, “How do my temple covenants affect my marriage today?” as they watch. After the clip, I will restate this question and facilitate discussion. After a bit, I hope to bring out some of what President Smith thought about the question by reading some of the following from the manual:

  • Section 6, ¶ 1-3, p. 199-200:
    • Marriage was ordained of God. It is a righteous principle when in holiness it is received and practiced. If men and women today would enter into this covenant in the spirit of humility, love and faith, as they are commanded to do, walking righteously in the ways of eternal life, there would be no divorce, no broken homes; but a happiness, a joy, beyond expression.
    • I want to impress upon all my good brethren and sisters who have been married in the temple that they should never forget the great blessings which were bestowed upon them: That the Lord has given unto them, through their faithfulness, the right to become his sons and his daughters, joint heirs with Jesus Christ, possessing, as stated here, all that the Father has [referring to Romans 8:13–19 and Doctrine and Covenants 76:54–60].
    • And yet, there are members of the Church who fail to compre­hend this and after they are married for time and all eternity, . . . receiving the promise of the fulness of the Father’s kingdom, they permit things to come into their lives that bring friction and separate them. And they forget that they have made a covenant for time and all eternity with each other; and not only that, but they have made a covenant with their Father in heaven.
  • Final Paragraph, p. 200-201:
    • If a man and his wife were earnestly and faithfully observing all the ordinances and principles of the gospel, there could not arise any cause for divorce. The joy and happiness pertaining to the marriage relationship would grow sweeter, and husband and wife would become more and more attached to each other as the days go by. Not only would the husband love the wife and the wife the husband, but children born to them would live in an atmosphere of love and harmony. The love of each for the others would not be im­paired, and moreover the love of all towards our Eternal Father and his Son Jesus Christ would be more firmly rooted in their souls.

We’ll probably be long out of time by this point, so I will testify, encourage them to reflect on the “so what” of the lesson—what application they will make from the lesson—which will hopefully reflect the central thesis for the lesson of building a greater respect and desire to live as God would have us live in the marriage covenant, then close the meeting.

[1] Virginia H. Pierce, “The Ordinary Classroom—a Powerful Place for Steady and Continued Growth,” Conference Report, October 1996, 12-15

[2] Ogden Cornerstone Laying Report, Journal History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 September 1970, Church History Library, Salt Lake City, UT.

Joseph Fielding Smith, Ch. 14: The Holy Ghost

As reflected in the updated “about” section, this blog has changed its purpose once again. From now on, the main focus will be on presenting resources for teaching from the Teachings of the Presidents of the Church manuals in Elders’ Quorum and Relief Societies based on what I am putting together to teach on the second Sundays in my married student LDS ward.

The 2014 manual

The 2014 manual

The manuals are both simple and difficult to teach from, as reflected by their structure and purpose. Their primary purpose is to function as teaching manuals two times a month for one year (with the exceptions of Joseph F. Smith and Joseph Smith), consisting of approximately 24 chapters, with each chapter focusing in on a specific idea, principle, or doctrine emphasized or taught by the president of the Church in question, filtered by the Church’s current institutional thoughts on the subject. Questions and teaching tips are suggested at the close of each chapter to help instructors in teaching. Difficulties arise, however, from the fact that the Church has to address an international audience from many age groups and situations in life; from the fact that the manuals are also meant to provide long-term, readily-available doctrinal quote books to members of the Church; and that, by their natures, the books are constrained to one man for quotes to teach from. Thus, adaptation is necessary to bring the text home to an individual quorum of Relief Society. To help with this, I hope to provide a view of each chapter that brings it together in a more meaningful way, resources for linking the class to the historical presidents of the Church, and a few quotes and outside resources to add greater emphasis and interest to the manual’s text.

Although I will be mostly teaching from the odd numbered lessons in the texts, ironically my first post will focus on a few comments (mostly focusing on analogies and history) about Chapter 14 of the Joseph Fielding Smith manual, which focuses on “The Gift of the Holy Ghost.”

"And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them" Acts 19:6).

“And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them” Acts 19:6).

While discussing section 1, “The mission of the Holy Ghost is to bear witness of the Father and the Son and of all truth,” a member of my quorum quoted from D&C 130:22-23, which reads as follows:

The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s; the Son also; but the Holy Ghost has not a body of flesh and bones, but is a personage of Spirit. Were it not so, the Holy Ghost could not dwell in us.

A man may receive the Holy Ghost, and it may descend upon him and not tarry with him.

The brother who cited this section stated, as best as I can remember, that the Holy Ghost could not be everywhere if he had a body, and especially could not dwell within us if such was the case. To me, it felt like the brother was describing the Holy Ghost in the mode of thought most prominent in the early Church, when the Holy Ghost was something “spread,” “filled,” “poured,” or “bestowed” upon the righteous—a fluid spiritual essence or ether that filled the immensity of space and carried out the work of God.[1] The 1834 Lectures on Faith discussed the Holy Ghost in this mode, stating that “There are two personages who constitute the great matchless, governing and supreme power over all things . . . The Father and the Son—the Father being a personage of spirit, glory and power, possessing all perfection and fullness, the Son . . . a personage of tabernacle, made or fashioned like unto a man . . . possessing the same mind with the Father, which mind is the Holy Spirit.”[2] In this sense, the Holy Ghost was the “mind” or common essence, the “Spirit of God” and the “Light of Christ,” emanating from the Father and Son. This approach allowed Mormonism to hold onto the traditional concepts of an omniscient, omnipresent, incorporeal deity while also making room for Gods that were embodied, and thus constrained in space and time.
This mode of thought was predominant (though not the only way of thinking) in Mormon theology during the 1800s and early 1900s. For example, President Brigham Young taught, “The Holy Ghost is the Spirit of the Lord, and issues forth from Himself, and may properly be called God’s minister to execute His will in immensity; being called to govern by His influence and power; but He is not a person of tabernacle as we are and as our Father in Heaven and Jesus are.”[3] Likewise, Elder John A. Widtsoe wrote that, “All space is filled with a subtle, though material substance of wonderful properties, by which all natural phenomena are controlled. This substance is known as the Holy Spirit.”[4]  A third example from President Charles W. Penrose: “It is by His Holy Spirit, which permeates all things, and is the life and light of all things, that Deity is everywhere present. * * By that agency God sees and knows and governs all things.”[5]
Since that time, however, a different idea has become the predominant mode of thought in Mormonism. One of the best expositions of this modern approach is included in Elder LeGrand Richards’s famous work A Marvelous Work and a Wonder: “The Holy Ghost is a personage of spirit in the form of a man (see 1 Nephi 11:11) and hence confined in his personage to a limited space.” Elder Richards continues, comparing the Holy Ghost to the Sun—His influence can be felt, even when he is thousands of miles away, even though His personage is not present in the room itself, like a beam of sunlight through a window.[6] In this mode of thought, the Light or Spirit of Christ is often a separate and distinct spiritual essence that takes up the omnipresent, incorporeal aspect of the Godhead and functions as the medium that the Holy Ghost acts through. For example, President Joseph Fielding Smith wrote that,

President Joseph F. Smith has expressed it thus: “The Holy Ghost as a personage of Spirit can no more be omnipresent in person than can the Father or the Son, but by his intelligence, his knowledge, his power and influence, over and through the laws of nature, he is and can be omnipresent throughout all the works of God.” Thus when it becomes necessary to speak to us, he is able to do so by acting through the other Spirit, that is, through the Light of Christ.[7]

Although Joseph Smith spoke of the Holy Spirit in more traditional terms during the Kirtland era, by the Nauvoo era, he had switched to the Holy Ghost being a person. In early 1841, he discussed the Godhead with a small group of brethren: “Joseph said Concerning the Godhead it was Not as many imagined—three Heads & but one body, he said the three were separate bodys—God the first & Jesus the Mediator the 2d & the Holy Ghost.”[8] Here the Holy Ghost is described as having a body, distinct and separate from the other members of the Godhead. A month later, he taught the same group that, “The Son Had a Tabernicle & so had the father But the Holly Ghost is a personage of spirit without tabernacle.”[9] This latter reference—like the passage quoted from the Doctrine and Covenants—is not entirely clear to modern readers, hinging on the use of the word personage. Is a personage an anthropomorphic being or any sort of being? If the latter, then the Holy Spirit could be a fluid essence that fills the immensity of space and yet also dwell in our hearts as the D&C reference suggests. If the former be true, then the Holy Ghost would be confined to a certain portion of space and could not simultaneously dwell, literally, in many people’s hearts. In January 1843, Joseph was more explicit about this nature when he discoursed on the sign of the dove at Christ’s baptism and taught that, “Holy Ghost is a personage in the form of a personage—does not confine itself to form of a dove.”[10]

Returning to the Doctrine and Covenants reference, it is interesting to note that the current text does not reflect the original manuscript of the record. The April 1843 report of the discourse has it that: “The Father has a body of flesh & bones as tangible as mans the Son also, but the Holy Ghost is a personage of spirit.—and a person cannot have the personage of the H G in his heart he may receive the gift of the holy Ghost. it may descend upon him but not to tarry with him.”[11] Here the Holy Ghost’s ability to dwell in hearts is reversed entirely from the edition of the discourse that was published in the Doctrine and Covenants—rather than “a personage of Spirit. Were it not so, the Holy Ghost could not dwell in us” it states “a personage of spirit.—and a person cannot have the personage of the H G in his heart.” This is more consistent with how we view the Holy Ghost today, but it apparently was not so during the 1850s. Lyndon W. Cook and Andrew Ehat wrote that:

Neither the William Clayton Diary, the Joseph Smith Diary here quoted, nor the draft Manuscript History of the Church entry for this date, implies the phrasing of D&C 130:22: “Were it not so [that the Holy Ghost is a spirit], the Holy Ghost could not dwell in us.” Originally the wording in the Manuscript History of the Church entry for this date was the same as in the original draft, but in the 1850s the Church historians reworded it to read the way it appears in the Doctrine and Covenants.[12]

There could be a few reasons for the change—as mentioned above, more most of the 1800s, the Brethren relied on the Kirtland teachings and writings of Joseph Smith, at least as far as the Holy Ghost goes, making the idea of the Holy Spirit dwelling in our hearts more in line to how they understood it at the time. Also, in the manuscript, immediately before the section in question, the report states that Joseph, “again reverted to Elders Hyde mistake. &c.”[13] If not read carefully, the statement about the Holy Ghost as it stood in the original could be seen as a reiteration of what Hyde had said that was wrong. If this was the case, it is conceivable that when George A. Smith and Thomas Bullock were compiling the record and cut out the reference to Elder Hyde, they flipped the meaning to reflect what Joseph was trying to get at, in their eyes. Such a reading, however, would be wrong, since Orson Hyde’s mistake was actually that he had taught that, “It is our privilege to have the father & son dwelling in our hearts.” Joseph’s initial addressing of the idea was to say that, “the appearing of the father and of the Son in that verse is a personal appearance.—to say that the father and the Son dwell in a mans heart is an old Sectarian notion. and is not correct.”[14] When he spoke on the Godhead later, the Prophet was returning to this theme. It is interesting to me that even after the mainstream Mormon conception of the Holy Ghost shifted to match Joseph’s Nauvoo era views of the Holy Ghost, and even after the book Words of Joseph Smith was published with the original text and footnote used above that the section of the Doctrine and Covenants was not revised—even in the 2013 edition of the scriptures. It is conceivable that such a change will happen in the future with the standard disclaimer that, “these changes have been made to bring the material into conformity with the most accurate historical information.” For more reading on the development of Mormon thought on the Holy Ghost, click here.

To return to the Joseph Fielding Smith manual, in discussing sections 2 & 3 (“The Holy Ghost manifests the truth to honest people everywhere,” and “Following baptism, the gift of the Holy Ghost is given by the laying on of hands”) I was reminded of an analogy given by President Smith’s grandson, Joseph Fielding McConkie at a BYU speech. As published in the Ensign:

We frequently speak of our right to the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost. Perhaps an analogy, one my father [Bruce R. McConkie] taught me, will help in distinguishing between receiving a revelation from the Holy Ghost and having the gift of the Holy Ghost.

Imagine yourself traveling in the dark of night through rugged and difficult terrain, seeking a place of safety where you will be reunited with your family. Let us also suppose that a flash of lightning momentarily marks the path of safety before you. This brief flash of light represents a manifestation through the Holy Ghost.

If you then follow the path it marked out, it will lead you to the waters of baptism and to confirmation as a member of the Church. The authority who confirms you will say, “Receive the Holy Ghost,” meaning the gift of the Holy Ghost. The light by which you now walk is the companionship of the Holy Ghost. It is the light of the gospel—or, for some, the gospel in a new light. In either case, it enables you to see that which you could not see before. It now becomes your privilege to walk, as it were, by the light of day. The light is constant, and, in most instances, the path you are called on to travel is clearly marked. When it is not, you are entitled to the visions, impressions, or prodding necessary to assure your arrival at the place of safety.[15]

Lightning

In discussing section 5 & 6 (“The companionship of the Holy Ghost is available only to those who prepare themselves to receive it,” and, “As we remain faithful, the Holy Ghost will give us revelations to lead and direct us throughout our lives”) I was reminded of an analogy I heard in Sunday School once upon a time. In stage acting, there are at least two types of spotlights—fixed and moving. The moving spotlight follows the actor, allowing free movement across the stage. The fixed one, however, focuses on a specific spot, and for cases where that is the lighting being used, the actor needs to learn to feel when the light is on him or her and to stay in the light. The Holy Ghost is, most often, like the fixed spotlight—He has certain parameters that we must live within to have His light in our lives, and we must learn to feel when that light is upon us. If we stray, we need to find our way back into that light, etc.

Anyway, since I did not prepare this lesson, it wasn’t as in-depth as future analyses and suggestions should be, but hopefully it is useful.

[1] Line Upon Line: Essays on Mormon Doctrine, p.90-p.91

The next stage in Mormon concepts of a Holy Ghost

[2] Joseph Smith, Jr., Lectures on Faith (Springville, UT: Cedar Fort, Inc., 2010), 55-56

[3] JD 1:50.

[4] Widtsoe, John Andreas (2011-03-30). Joseph Smith as Scientist A Contribution to Mormon Philosophy (Kindle Locations 157-159).  . Kindle Edition

[5] Cited in Widtsoe, John Andreas (2011-03-30). Joseph Smith as Scientist A Contribution to Mormon Philosophy (Kindle Locations 262-264).  . Kindle Edition.

[6] LeGrand Richards, A Marvelous Work and a Wonder, Missionary Reference Library edition (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1988), 117.

[7] Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1954), 1:40.

[8] Cook, Lyndon W. (2009-09-03). The Words of Joseph Smith (Kindle Locations 1481-1483). Deseret Book Company. Kindle Edition

[9] Cook, Lyndon W. (2009-09-03). The Words of Joseph Smith (Kindle Locations 1512-1513). Deseret Book Company. Kindle Edition

[10] Cook, Lyndon W. (2009-09-03). The Words of Joseph Smith (Kindle Locations 2996-2997). Deseret Book Company. Kindle Edition

[11] Cook, Lyndon W. (2009-09-03). The Words of Joseph Smith (Kindle Locations 3271-3273). Deseret Book Company. Kindle Edition

[12] Cook, Lyndon W. (2009-09-03). The Words of Joseph Smith (Kindle Locations 3281-3284). Deseret Book Company. Kindle Edition

[13] Cook, Lyndon W. (2009-09-03). The Words of Joseph Smith (Kindle Location 3271). Deseret Book Company. Kindle Edition

[14] Cook, Lyndon W. (2009-09-03). The Words of Joseph Smith (Kindle Locations 3215-3222). Deseret Book Company. Kindle Edition

[15] Joseph Fielding McConkie, “Finding Answers,” Ensign February 2011.