July 10, 2007

"Many of the noble and great ones..."

On Priesthood and Heir-ship Parley P. Pratt April 10, 1853

It may seem a paradox that we are told “God is no respecter of persons,” and at the same time learn that God selected “many of the noble and great ones” in the pre-mortal life and foreordained them to be rulers on earth (see Acts 10:34; Abraham 3:22-23).

Was God playing favorites, then? I believe all mankind are equal, but I need to qualify that remark, defining what I mean by “equal.”

Parley P. Pratt stood in a general conference and did just that:

In the first place, if all men were created alike, if all had the same degree of intelligence and purity of disposition, all would be equal. But, notwithstanding the declaration of American sages, and of the fathers of our country, to the contrary, it is a fact that all beings are not equal in their intellectual capacity, in their dispositions, and in the gifts and callings of God. It is a fact that some beings are more intelligent than others, and some are endowed with abilities or gifts which others do not possess.

Intelligence, the substance our spirits are comprised of, is uncreated, and has its own characteristics.[1] God embodied this intelligence, becoming the Father of our spirits. The exact details of this process haven’t- to my knowledge- been revealed, but it seems any equality among God’s children, then, is based in opportunity, rather than ability.

The purposes of God in foreordaining certain intelligences to be rulers seems to be affording the best possible opportunity to everyone; placing them in the position in which they will most likely excel and most likely bless others.

Parley continued:

It is a fixed law of nature that the higher intelligence presides over, or has more or less influence over, or control of, that which is less… Although some eternal intelligences may be superior to others, and although some are more noble, and consequently are elected to fill certain useful and necessary offices for the good of others, yet the greater and the less may both be innocent, and both be justified, and be useful, each in their own capacity; if each magnify their own calling, and act in their own capacity, it is all right.

This is consistent with the point Paul was making in an epistle to the Corinthians:

But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him. And if they were all one member, where were the body? But now are they many members, yet but one body. And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you (1 Corinthians 12:18-21).

We all need each other:

The Lord, in surveying the eternal intelligences which stood before Him, found some more noble or intellectual than others, who were equally innocent. This being so, He exercised the elective franchise upon wise principles, and, like a good and kind father among his children, He chose those for rulers who were most capable of benefiting the residue. Among these was our noble ancestor, Abraham...

If the choices we make in this life effect our condition in the next, it is consistent to understand the choices we made in the pre-mortal life effect of condition in the current life. Being foreordained, however, does not imply we lose our agency, or that our fate is fixed; the foreordination promises us the opportunity; but we must make the most of it:

But, notwithstanding this pre-election in passing the veil, and entering a tabernacle of flesh, [Abraham] became a little child, forgot all he had once known in the heavens, and commenced anew to receive intelligence in this world, as is the case with all. He therefore was necessitated to come up by degrees, receive an experience, be tried and proved. And when he had been sufficiently proved according to the flesh, the Lord manifested to him the election before exercised towards him in the eternal world. He then renewed that election and covenant, and blessed him, and his seed after him.

Abraham grew from “grace to grace,” just as the Savior did, and we are to “do the works of Abraham,” and also follow Christ.[2] He was promised that through his seed, his posterity, his descendants, the entire world would be blessed. Many noble and great ones were chosen to enter the world through a righteous family, or where the gospel would reach them:

Now, Abraham…brought upon his posterity, as well as upon himself, that which will influence them more or less to the remotest generations of time, and in eternity… It is with a view of the noble spirits of the eternal world coming through their lineage, and being taught in the commandments of God. Hence the Prophets, Kings, Priests, Patriarchs, Apostles, and even Jesus Christ, were included in the election of Abraham, and of his seed, as manifested to him in an eternal covenant.

Truly this shows that God plays favorites; but all are favorites:

What is more natural, more useful, or just, than for a father who discovers the several abilities or adaptations of his children, to appoint them their several callings or occupations?... Dressing a vine, ploughing a field, harvesting, or building is just as necessary as teaching, or administering the ordinances of salvation; one acts in one capacity, and the other in another, but they are mutually blessed and benefited by their separate callings and endowments.

Those not born into the lineage of Abraham will still be able to receive every blessing from God, if they obey the same principles:

They are of the royal blood of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and have a right to claim the ordination and endowments of the Priesthood, inasmuch as they repent, and obey the Lord God of their fathers. Those who are not of this lineage, whether they are Gentiles, Edomites or Ishmaelites, or of whatever nation, have a right to remission of sins and the Gift of the Holy Spirit, through their ministry, on conditions of faith, repentance, and baptism, in the name of Jesus Christ. Through this Gospel they are adopted into the same family, and are counted for the seed of Abraham … No matter whether we are descended from Melchizedeck, from Edom, from Ishmael, or whether we be Jews or Gentiles. On the principles of Gospel adoption, the blessing is broad enough to gather all good, penitent, obedient people under its wings, and to extend to all nations the principles of salvation (Journal of Discourses 1:257-264).

Nephi explained God's position thusly:
Behold, the Lord esteemeth all flesh in one; he that is righteous is favored of God (1 Nephi 17:35).
God's ultimate end in this plan is to “bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man,” (see Moses 1:39). We’ve been taught there is a difference between immortality and eternal life. Everyone will live forever, but eternal life is God’s life; it is perfection.[3] This is a stunning truth revealed in our time by the prophet Joseph Smith, and it receives a lot of criticism. Even dreaming that we can become like God, some say, is presumptuous, it is self-aggrandizing, it is selfish. In reality, those characteristics would actually prevent one from becoming like God. Brigham Young once said the Spirit lit up his weaknesses, as well as his strengths. Lorenzo Snow talked about that principle:

…the Priesthood was bestowed upon you, as upon the Son of God himself, for no other purpose than that, through sacrifice, you might be proven, that, peradventure, at the last day, you might stand approved before God, and before perfect and holy beings: and that, in order to merit this divine approval, it may be necessary to forget self and individual aggrandizement and seek the interest of your brethren (Journal of Discourses 18:371).

Even though Lorenzo Snow was, presumably, foreordained to become a prophet in the last dispensation, he realized what the ultimate goal, the ultimate challenge really was, and encouraged all to follow:
“The position which I now occupy is nothing as compared with what I expect to occupy in the future…[our] destiny is to become like [our] Father, a God in eternity…This thought in the breasts of men filled with the light of the Holy spirit, tends to purify them and cleanse them from every ambitious or improper feeling.” (At a meeting of the First Presidency in the council of the Twelve, recorded in BYU Special collections, Microfilm Reel number 1, page 209).

Jesus Christ has shown the way to perfection, and we’ve been given the best opportunity to achieve it, if we follow Him.

Footnotes:

[1] Joseph Smith:

"The intelligence of spirits had no beginning, neither will it have an end…Intelligence is eternal and exists upon a self-existent principle" (TPJS, pp. 353-54). Parley P. Pratt:

“It may be inquired, why God made one unequal to another, or inferior in intellect or capacity. To which I reply, that He did not create their intelligence at all. It never was created, being an inherent attribute of the eternal element called spirit, which element composes each individual spirit, and which element exists in an infinitude of degrees in the scale of intellect, in all the varieties manifested in the eternal God, and thence to the lowest agent, which acts by its own will.” [Heirship and Priesthood, Journal of Discourses, 1:256-264] D&C 93: 29-30, 36:

“Man was also in the beginning with God. Intelligence, or the light of truth, was not created or made, neither indeed can be. All truth is independent in that sphere in which God has placed it, to act for itself, as all intelligence also; otherwise there is no existence…The glory of God is intelligence, or, in other words, light and truth.”

If I read this correctly: you=intelligence, glory of God=intelligence, thus the glory of God=you; in addition to intelligence, speaking of knowledge. [2] D&C 93:12-16:

Christ received “not a fullness at first,” but received “grace for grace,” until He received the “fullness of the Father.” Lorenzo Snow:

"Jesus was a god before he came into the world and yet his knowledge was taken from him. He did not know his former greatness, neither do we know what greatness we had attained to before we came here…” (Office Journal of Lorenzo Snow, 8 October 1900, 181-82, Archives of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah). [3] Truman G. Madsen:

“The atonement was and is perfect because it empowers mankind for a perfect work: perfection.” (“The Highest In Us,” pg 6.) C.S. Lewis:

“There are no ordinary people… [we] live in a society of possible gods and goddesses to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you may talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and corruption such as you now meet if at all only in a nightmare.” (The Weight of Glory, pg 15.) (see also Matt. 5:40; 1 John 3; D&C 93; 132.)