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
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. 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.
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 , 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.
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.
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.” “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.” “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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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,” 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.
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.” 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.” 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.”
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.”
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.” 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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
- The canonical scriptures, or standard works.
- Official declarations and proclamations by leading counsels of the Church
- Statements from General Conference or other official gatherings
- General handbooks or current curricula
- Other published sources
- Hearsay and unpublished sources
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.”
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.
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.
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):
- Recent History (1990-2014)
- Correlation and Consolidation (1960-1990)
- Early Modern Mormonism (1930-1960)
- Mormonism in Transition (1890-1930)
- Pioneer Mormonism (1844-1890)
- The Josephian Nauvoo Era (1839-1844)
- The Ohio-Missouri Era (1831-1839)
- Early Mormonism (1820-1831)
- Pre Mormonism (pre-1820)
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.” 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.” 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.
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
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. 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.” 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.
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.
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.
Come unto Christ Moment
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.
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.
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.
The love of Christ, especially as shown in laying down his life for us, should move us to honor and obey him.
 Lorenzo Snow, Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Lorenzo Snow (Salt Lake City: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2012), 84.
 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.
 DHC 2:11-12.
 Joseph Smith, Jr., Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2007), 210.
 The Gospel: An Exposition of its first principles; and Man’s Relationship to Deity (3rd ed.; Salt Lake City: Desert News, 1901), 208.
 B.H. Roberts, CR, April 1905, 45.
 B.H. Roberts, “Brigham Young: A Character Sketch,” Improvement Era, June 1903, 574.
 Dallin H. Oaks, “The Challenge to Become,” CR October 2000.
 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.
 Bonnie D. Parkin, “With Holiness of Heart,” Ensign, Nov. 2002, 103.
 Jeffrey R. Holland, “An Ensign to the Nations,” CR April 2011.
 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
 “Excerpts from Three Addresses by President Wilford Woodruff Regarding the Manifesto,” Official Declaration 1, Doctrine and Covenants.
 David O. McKay, in CR, April 1907, 11-12.
 Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 2nd ed. (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1966), 608.
 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.
 “Race and the Priesthood.” LDS.org topics, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Web. Accessed 15 January 2014.
 Clark, “When are the Writings,” 75.
 Brigham Young, JD 9:150
 Clark, “When are the Writings,”72.
 Hugh B. Brown and Edwin B. Firmage (ed.), An Abundant Life, 2nd ed. (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1999), 123-125.
 Robert L. Millet, “What is Our Doctrine?” The Religious Educator, 4, no. 3 (2003): 19.
 Brigham Young, JD 2:314
 Millet, “What is Our Doctrine,” 19, 23.
 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.
 Neil L. Anderson, “Trial of Your Faith,” CR October 2012.
 Spencer W. Kimball, “Our Own Lianhona,” General Conference Report, October 1976.
 Orson Pratt, JD, 7:157.
 “A Conversation with Gordon B. Hinkcley, President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, CNN Larry King Live, 26 Dec 2004.
 Brigham Young, Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young (Salt Lake City: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1997), 23.
 Young, Teachings of the Presidents, 31.
 B.H. Roberts, “Relation of Inspiration and Revelation to Church Government,” IE 8 (March 1905): 365-369.
 Joseph Fielding Smith, Teachings of the Presidents, 231-232.
 Sterling McMurrin, The Theological Foundations of the Mormon Religion (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1965), 89.
 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.