July 19, 2007

Cling Close To The Lord

Brigham Young December 5, 1853

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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