July 17, 2007

The Privileges and Blessings of the Gospel

Brigham Young Feb. 20, 1853 The latest discourse I read was so great I am having a difficult time trying to provide a synopsis with application. At the outset I simply recommend reading it in its entirety, but it is a long one. Meanwhile, I’ll try to keep my commentary and application to a minimum on this post, and let Brigham do the talking. Brigham started out by thanking God for the awesome blessings the Church was enjoying; that they were living in the last and greatest dispensation when more gospel blessings are made available to more people than at any other time since the beginning. He acknowledged that though other religions and philosophies carry benefits, and a measure of the Spirit of God, the fullness of that spirit is found in the church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and for that, we are glad. He also gave a small side note regarding how we know this is the Lords true Church:

“Nothing short of the power of the Almighty, nothing short of the Holy Spirit of Jesus Christ, can prove to you that this is the work of God. Men uninspired of God cannot by their worldly wisdom disprove it, or prevail against it; neither can they by wisdom alone prove it to be true, neither to themselves or to others. Their not being able to prevail against it does not prove it to be the kingdom of God, for there are many theories and systems on the earth, incontrovertible by the wisdom of the world, which are nevertheless false. Nothing less than the power of the Almighty, enlightening the understanding of men, can demonstrate this glorious truth to the human mind."
Brother Brigham spoke to the congregation about what they might have expected or looked forward to when they first joined the Church. They were looking for peace, forgiveness, acceptance, and other blessings:
"When you were in your native homes in the old countries and in the United States, before you gathered with the people of God, what were your thoughts and expectations, when you looked forward to the period of your being embodied with the Saints? What were the vision of your mind, and the operations of the Spirit upon your understanding? When you were gathered with the Saints of the Most High, and became associated as a brother, a sister, and a neighbor with that blessed society, you expected to enjoy the manifestations of the Lord Jesus Christ, to walk in the light of his countenance, and by the power of the Holy Ghost have the oracles of truth revealed to you continually, and that you would be in heaven, and in the Zion of the Lord. These were your expectations. You did not expect to hear the name of the God we serve blasphemed from morning until evening; you expected to be delivered from hearing the blasphemies of your wicked shop mates, from the tyranny of your ungodly employers, and from the persecutions of the bigoted religionists, who were all united to pick you to pieces, and destroy you both temporally and spiritually... You were annoyed with the ungodly conversation and filthy deeds of your neighbours, your peace was destroyed, and you could not enjoy that happiness held out to you in the Gospel; yet you felt the influence of the spirit of truth burning in your heart, which kindled in you a longing desire to mingle with the Saints; you would exclaim, "Oh! that I could enjoy the society of the Saints, and make my escape from this ungodly place. Oh! that I had means to gather up my little family, and journey to the place of the gathering of the Saints of the Most High." This was your feeling, and this your prayer. You anticipated deliverance from hell, to find a heaven with the Saints; you expected to exchange confusion for a Zion of order and beauty, misery for peace and happiness, blasphemy and tumult for quietness and reverence to the name of God, starvation for plenty; in short, you expected to find a place where all evil had ceased, and iniquity and sorrow were brought to an end, and where you would bask undisturbed in the smiles of the countenance of your Lord from day to day... Now, brethren and sisters, what hinders you from enjoying all you anticipated? The calm reflections of your own minds, and the conclusions of a well balanced judgment, enlightened by the Spirit of the Lord, will give you a correct answer to this question.
I reflected on these expectations, and wondered what, indeed, hinders me from enjoying all the expected blessings. Must we wait for some future millennial day to enjoy these things? Obviously the condition in the world right now plays a part in the confusion and disappointment we still face, even though we have a hope in Christ. But there is more to it than that; the responsibility resides within ourselves; and that is the great secret. Brigham answered his own question:
"If I do not enjoy all I anticipated, if my happiness is not as complete as I anticipated, if the light of the Holy Spirit is not in my heart to that degree which I expected it would be, if I have not obtained all I anticipated…the cause is in myself, in my own heart, in my own disposition, in the weakness of human nature; it is my own will that prevents me from enjoying all I anticipated, and more. It is a mistaken idea to suppose that others can prevent me from enjoying the light of God in my soul; all hell cannot hinder me from enjoying Zion in my own heart, if my individual will yields obedience to the requirements and mandates of my heavenly Master. He has set me a pattern to copy, which, if I imitate faithfully, will yield to me all and more of heaven in my own heart than I can anticipate. This is my answer."
He then urged us to examine ourselves, rather than others, and find how we can improve; then by drawing closer to God we can experience our own anticipatory Zion, and we are responsible to make it so. Salvation, Brigham says, is an individual operation. It’s between you and God:
If you are deceived, who will deceive you? If you are wronged, who wrongs you? If you are cheated out of your crown at last, who has cheated you?...Who has influence over any one of you, to cause you to miss salvation in the celestial kingdom of God? I will answer these questions for myself. If brother Brigham and I shall take a wrong track, and be shut out of the kingdom of heaven, no person will be to blame but brother Brigham and I. I am the only being in heaven, earth, or hell, that can be blamed. This will equally apply to every Latter-day Saint. Salvation is an individual operation.
Next, he discussed the tendency some have to rely on others, rather than themselves. They cannot abide a Celestial glory. But who can?
Now those men, or those women, who know no more about the power of God, and the influences of the Holy Spirit, than to be led entirely by another person, suspending their own understanding, and pinning their faith upon another's sleeve, will never be capable of entering into the celestial glory, to be crowned as they anticipate…They cannot rule themselves, to say nothing of ruling others, but they must be dictated to in every trifle, like a child…They never can hold sceptres of glory, majesty, and power in the celestial kingdom. Who will? Those who are valiant and inspired with the true independence of heaven, who will go forth boldly in the service of their God, leaving others to do as they please, determined to do right, though all mankind besides should take the opposite course. Will this apply to any of you? Your own hearts can answer.
A good time to let our “own hearts answer” is while partaking of the sacrament. That is a time to evaluate our condition in the eyes of God, to seek forgiveness. You will find a time in your day, whether it be driving in the car, or drifting off to sleep, when you will be especially open to the Spirit of God, and He will let you know if you need a course correction. Be open to those promptings. Meanwhile, working on the little things every single day is simply the way we progress. Brigham said it's easy: do all the good you know how to do and shun all the evil you recognize. We won't be perfect right now but we can keep moving toward that goal by the grace offered by Christ's atonement. It makes up the large gap for us, and also carries us across that gap. The subject of his sermon then changes. Brigham remembers all the hardships he and the saints have seen; mob violence, being driven from homes, losing loved ones, and all manner of trials. The situation the saints found themselves in back East was much different from the lovely and free Zion they had yearned for. We look at the trials they endured and the sacrifices they made, and perhaps are grateful we have been spared those experiences. Brother Brigham saw it differently:
You that have not passed through the trials, and persecutions, and drivings, with this people, from the beginning, but have only read of them, or heard some of them related, may think how awful they were to endure, and wonder that the Saints survived them at all. The thought of it makes your hearts sink within you, your brains reel, and your bodies tremble, and you are ready to exclaim, "I could not have endured it." I have been in the heat of it, and I never felt better in all my life; I never felt the peace and power of the Almighty more copiously poured upon me than in the keenest part of our trials. They appeared nothing to me. I hear people talk about their troubles, their sore privations, and the great sacrifices they have made for the Gospel's sake. It never was a sacrifice to me. I was as ready to pass through the scenes of mobbing and driving in Jackson County, as I was to pass through the troubles in Kirtland, Ohio; in Davis and Caldwell Counties, Missouri; in Illinois; and up to this place. And what of it? I have not known or seen a single sacrifice that this people have made. There has not been one such providence of the Almighty to this people, that was not calculated to sanctify the pure in heart, and enrich them with blessings instead of curses-enrich them not only with earthly blessings, but with crowns of glory, immortality, and eternal lives in the presence of God. Where, then, is the sacrifice this people have ever made? There is no such thing-they have only exchanged a worse condition for a better one, every time they have been moved-they have exchanged ignorance for knowledge, and inexperience for its opposite."
Brother Brigham closed with two points. The first: When anticipating a foreseeable hardship, we have the tendency to blow it out of proportion. The second: we expect the good times to be much better than they can be, also blowing them out of proportion, and are often left disappointed:
I know this people have suffered more by the contemplation of trouble, than they have when actually passing through it. As they have magnified future trouble almost infinitely beyond its real dimensions, so they have imagined to themselves a greater heaven than they can find in Zion, at its present stage of progression. You do not enjoy the Zion you anticipated. That mankind make mistakes in these two ways must be apparent to those who have felt the workings of hope and fear in their nature. Those who are apt to go to one extreme, are almost sure to go to the other, which always causes disappointment, either agreeably, or disagreeably. These two extremes have caused the Saints much trouble, and some, for want of patience, and a little reasonable thought, have laid the blame of their disappointments in the wrong quarter, and have apostatized from the Church, never thinking the blame was in themselves. Upon these weaknesses of human nature the devil works sometimes very successfully (Journal of Discourses 1:309-316).
As for the second point about expecting more than we should, some people expect perfection from Church leaders, members, and all things Mormon. We are in the midst of our probation; all of us. An old edition of the LDS Hymnal contained a song by Eliza R. Snow on this topic:

Think not, when you gather to Zion, Your troubles and trials are through-- That nothing but comfort and pleasure Are waiting in Zion for you. No, no; 'tis design'd as a furnace; All substance, all textures to try -- To consume all the "wood, hay and stubble," And the gold from the dross purify.

Think not, when you gather to Zion That all will be holy and pure -- That deception, and falsehood are banish'd; And confidence wholly secure. No, no; for the Lord our Redeemer Has said that the tares with the wheat Must grow; until the great day of burning Shall render the harvest complete.

Think not, when you gather to Zion, The Saints here have nothing to do But attend to your personal welfare, And always be comforting you. No, the Saints who are faithful are doing What their hands find to do, with their might; To accomplish the gath'ring of Israel They are toiling by day and by night.

Think not, when you gather to Zion, The prize and the victory won -- Think not that the warfare is ended, Or the work of salvation is done. No, no; for the great Prince of Darkness A tenfold exertion will make' When he sees you approaching the fountain Where the truth you may freely partake.

("Think not, When You Gather to Zion," Hymns (1948), no. 21, vv. 1, 3.)

So in summary: Anticipated blessings can be had now, if we purify our lives. We do this by doing all the good we can while avoiding all the evil we can, relying upon Christ to fully account for any slips along the way. By doing this, we will have the proper perspective; avoiding false fear, but also false hope, giving us an inner peace through the trials and sacrifices, which, in the end, bless us. This inner peace is our own Zion, and then we can share that with others by loving them. It won’t be a perfect road, because perfection is the destination. You can read the full discourse here. Also see the post Trials and Happiness.

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