July 6, 2007

Taking Safety in Prophetic Counsel

George A. Smith Oct. 7, 1853 George A. Smith, or as most people called him, George A., was a cousin of the Prophet Joseph Smith. The Walker War (discussed in yesterdays entry) occurred while he was the presiding leader over the affected area. He stood before the saints and told them the Indian war could have been avoided had the saints followed the prophetic counsel of Brigham Young. Brigham had told the saints to build their communities as fortifications, to stay close, and protect themselves from the Indians. George A. explains: Numbers were counseled to go to Iron County, and make there a strong settlement, sufficiently so to enable the people to protect themselves... Last spring, when President Young made his visit through the settlements...men were living...with the same security and carelessness as heretofore the people have done in the State of New York, where they need not fear the attacks of hostile Indians. The President had previously counseled them to settle in forts, and not scatter asunder so as to render themselves in a state of helplessness in the case of attack... Forts had accordingly been surveyed, and cities had been surveyed, where the people could gather together and fortify themselves; yet the great mass...scattered all over the valley...When President Young was...in Utah County, he bore testimony, in the name of the Lord God of Israel, that if the people did not gather into cities and forts, and fortify themselves, they could be driven out of these mountains. Disobeying this counsel from the prophet put the people in danger. The Indians took full advantage and attacked the scattered settlers. George A. estimated the loss of over one hundred thousand dollars worth of property, all in the name of "freedom":

If you ask men to build in a fort, they will say, "It is a free country, and we can build there we please." I admit that a man is free to serve the devil if he thinks proper; but let me tell you, it is the cheapest in the end to do right.
George A. said the leaders tried to set the example. The saints needed to organize and gather in, build a protective fort, and as it became strong they could then branch out:
When we first went to Iron County, we went with the same instructions the people had in all the other settlements, and accordingly we laid out forts as well as we were capable of. We will admit that those efforts were not planned as well as they might have been, but they were planned as well as we knew how to plan them at the time. A considerable number of men went to work at building forts, and those who did so were subjected to very little loss. But almost every time I have visited any settlement in Iron County...I have had from one to fifty applicants saying, "Brother Smith, may I not go further, this way or that way, to make me a farm? or, to the other place, to make me a ranch?" And so it would be almost continually; asking for privileges to do things that they knew were contrary to counsel. My answer would be, "Yes, of course, just as soon as the settlements are strong enough to secure to you protection; but it will not do to venture out, and separate far from each other, for two or three years. Until the settlements get strong, we must stay together, lest some evil influence should stir up the Indians, and destroy our settlements entirely.
The obvious implication of this incident is the importance of following counsel from God's chosen leaders. George A. concluded:
The Indian war is the result of our thinking we know better than our President, the result of following our own counsel instead of the counsel of Brigham Young (Journal of Discourses 1:191-198).
But I believe there is a further illustration that can be drawn from this account dealing with the "doctrine" of the church. The core doctrines that we believe are relatively simple: God, Christ, the Holy Ghost, faith, repentance, baptism, the scriptures, the gift of revelation, the restoration, family roles, forgiveness, etc. are simple on the surface and expansive in depth and breadth. These core beliefs are a fortification against false doctrines, against the philosophies of men being mingled with scripture. They are straightforward and can be understood even by a child. As George A. said, the initial fortifications may be slightly lacking, and even require improvement, but we are encouraged by our leaders to establish these fortifications, to gain a firm testimony that the principles are true. Gathering together we learn of these basic essentials gaining precious insight for our own lives. As we establish the fort, the pastures outside beckon, and I believe, as George A. said, it isn't well to "venture out" too far while neglecting the central fort. As we establish sturdy testimonies of the first principles of the gospel, we may learn more, and venture into some nearby pastures containing pearls of knowledge. Many of these can be personal, and aren't to be advanced as doctrine for all, but are taught by the Holy Ghost. The Lord warned the modern Church to be careful about the doctrines they believe, and perhaps, the doctrine they teach. The Lords instructions tell us how to learn while remaining humble enough to learn more:
But ye are commanded in all things to ask of God, who giveth liberally; and that which the Spirit testifies unto you even so I would that ye should do in all holiness of heart, walking uprightly before me, considering the end of your salvation, doing all things with prayer and thanksgiving, that ye may not be seduced by evil spirits, or doctrines of devils, or the commandments of men; for some are of men, and others of devils. Wherefore, beware lest ye are deceived; and that ye may not be deceived seek ye earnestly the best gifts, always remembering for what they are given (D&C 46:7-8).
If we venture too far, "neglecting the fort," spending all our time out on the edges we may find ourselves wandering too far from the Holy Ghost, the still, small voice may become stiller and smaller, until we find ourselves wandering in what Lehi called "strange roads." Once there, we may even beckon others to join us. Elder Henry B. Eyring talks about this danger:
Because we need the Holy Ghost, we must be cautious and careful not to go beyond teaching true doctrine. The Holy Ghost is the Spirit of Truth. His confirmation is invited by our avoiding speculation or personal interpretation. That can be hard to do. You love the person you are trying to influence. He or she may have ignored the doctrine they have been taught. It is tempting to try something new or sensational. But we invite the Holy Ghost as our companion when we are careful to teach [and I might add, when we believe,] only true doctrine. One of the surest ways to avoid even getting near false doctrine is to choose to be simple in our teaching. Safety is gained by that simplicity, and little is lost...We can teach even a child to understand the doctrine of Jesus Christ. It is therefore possible, with God’s help, to teach the saving doctrine simply (Henry B. Eyring, The Power of Teaching Doctrine; Ensign, May, 1999).
Does this instruction forbid members from reading other sources, such as the Journal of Discourses, early Christian writers like Origen or Clement, and other non-official religious works? I don't believe so. Joseph Smith learned a key about such study while translating the Bible. He asked the Lord what to do with the Apocryphal books, scriptures not contained in the King James Version:
Verily, thus saith the Lord unto you concerning the Apocrypha—There are many things contained therein that are true, and it is mostly translated correctly; There are many things contained therein that are not true, which are interpolations by the hands of men. Verily, I say unto you, that it is not needful that the Apocrypha should be translated. Therefore, whoso readeth it, let him understand, for the Spirit manifesteth truth; And whoso is enlightened by the Spirit shall obtain benefit therefrom; And whoso receiveth not by the Spirit, cannot be benefited. Therefore it is not needful that it should be translated. Amen (D&C 91).
It seems we are given some divine sanction to learn from a variety of sources, but also need to keep in mind the authority of the sources and remember to study with the Holy Ghost as guide. Ultimately, the best learning we do within the fort of faith is listening to the word of God through his prophets. Their teachings are generally simple, and when aided by the Spirit of God, keep us safe, and change our very natures. Alma knew this:
And now, as the preaching of the word had a great tendency to lead the people to do that which was just—yea, it had … more powerful effect upon the minds of the people than the sword, or anything else, which had happened unto them—therefore Alma thought it was expedient that they should try the virtue of the word of God. (Alma 31:5)
It's fun to spread out and see the large pastures of doctrine, and often important insights are gained when we do. We must keep in mind the further we get from the fort, the more vulnerable we become to attacks on our faith. With that in mind, we can keep ourselves safe by listening to our living prophet, and by reading the words of prophets of the past in the scriptures. Doing so will give us the guidance of the Holy Ghost, which will testify of truth and light; the light that grows brighter until the perfect day. Footnotes [1] Instructions on building fortifications wasn't the only counsel some saints struggled to keep. During the famine of 1856 Heber C. Kimball told the Saints they ought to have better kept the counsel of Brigham Young to lay up grain in case of famine: I was talking with brother Brigham yesterday about the crops, and he feels that the Lord is about to try this people. Why is this? It is to chastise this people, that they may learn to give heed to counsel. When I see a prospect for scarcity of food stare me in the face, I feel as well as ever I did in my life, and if I was obliged to see either the Saints or was obliged to see either the Saints or the food cut off, I would say let the bread perish and the Saints be preserved; yes, I would pray for this every time. And my prayer to God is, that He will let the fanning mill blow, until it blows out the chaff, that nothing but the pure article may remain. As for my regretting the loss of the crops, I do not one particle; and as for you, you have been told for years, to save your wheat, corn, oats, and all other products, and to increase your stock upon the mountains. You were told that there was a time coming when they would be wanted. Much grain has been wasted and destroyed, much sold at a very low price to feed horses and mules. Brother Brigham, in the beginning, offered a dollar and a half a bushel for all the wheat that people wished to sell, but many sold their grain to others for a dollar and a quarter, lest the tithing should be required if they sold to him. The first season that we came here, I recollect that brother Brigham proclaimed the policy of our laying up grain, and told us to lay up a seven years' supply, and prepare for a famine. If our crops are now cut off, it will be one of the best things that has happened to this Church. When a servant of God counsels you, it is your duty to hear and obey his words. I am fully aware that the world do not like the idea of one man ruling this entire people with his word, but I would not give one farthing for this community if they could not be governed by one man, beloved and chosen of the Lord. You have no salvation only what you get through that source, and every true hearted Latter-day Saint believes so (Journal of Discourses 3:262).


Lynda said...

Mr. Plates,
I just discovered you. What a treat! I'm bookmarking you. Thanks for digging up so many great quotes from days past. The gospel is so rich. You appear to be a miner. Keep it up.
PS How do you feel about the loss of "Come Thou Font of Every Blessing" from the LDS hymnbook. Any insights?f

LifeOnaPlate said...

Thanks, Lynda. If you don't mind my asking, how did you find my blog? I don't really know how to get the word out about it.

The loss of that hymn is really unfortunate. Whether it was removed for copyright reasons or doctrinal issues, [it seems to emphasize a "once saved always saved," or a "free grace" mentality that may be doctrinally confusing, though I don't see it as an issue] it still rings true to me. One of my favorite talks by Elder Neal A. Maxwell included his quoting of a verse, and it was powerful.

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