August 21, 2007

Are the Scriptures Perfect? Thoughts On Revelation

Brigham Young 
July 8, 1855

In 1971 Elder Bruce R. McConkie gave an address discussing personal revelation. He compared the revelations of God to television and radio frequencies. All around the people in attendance, he said, floated words and music. Handel's Messiah, political speeches, news programs—none of which were being heard by those in attendance because they were not tuned to the proper broadcast frequencies. Elder McConkie explained:
And so it is with the revelations and visions of eternity. They are around us all the time. This Tabernacle is full of the same things which are recorded in the scriptures and much more. The vision of the degrees of glory is being broadcast before us, but we do not hear or see or experience because we have not tuned our souls to the wave band on which the Holy Ghost is broadcasting. Joseph Smith said: "The Holy Ghost is a revelator." And, "No man can receive the Holy Ghost without receiving revelations."1
...How this is done we do not know. We cannot comprehend God or the laws by which he governs the universe. But that it does happen we know because here in the valley below, when we attune our souls to the Infinite, we hear and see and experience the things of God...the only way to gain true religion is to receive it from the Lord. True religion is revealed religion; it is not a creation of man’s devising; it comes from God...Religion is something which must be experienced.2
In an earlier post I discussed Brigham Young on the "mysteries of the Kingdom." These mysteries are best understood, perhaps only truly understood, by revelation. Even then it can be difficult to express them in words. Brigham described the difficulty in expressing the infinite to the finite mind. To record the visions of eternity in scripture is nearly impossible. The scriptures contain hints and pieces:
I do not even believe that there is a single revelation, among the many God has given to the Church, that is perfect in its fulness. The revelations of God contain correct doctrine and principle, so far as they go; but it is impossible for the poor, weak, low, grovelling, 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.
When angels appear to instruct mortals they "condescend" to explain their message in a way we can understand; they use the imperfect language of humans to convey perfect truth:
If an angel should come into this congregation, or visit any individual of it, and use the language he uses in heaven, what would we be benefited? Not any, because we could not understand a word he said. When angels came to visit mortals, they have to condescend to and assume, more or less, the condition of mortals, they have to descend to our capacities in order to communicate with us. I make these remarks to show you that the kingdom of Heaven is not yet complete upon the earth. Why? Because the people are not prepared to receive it in its completeness, for they are not complete or perfect themselves.
The Book of Mormon account of Christ visiting the Nephites describes his prayer with the people, but the words of that prayer weren't recorded because—according to the record—they couldn't be:
And after this manner do they bear record: The eye hath never seen, neither hath the ear heard, before, so great and marvelous things as we saw and heard Jesus speak unto the Father; And no tongue can speak, neither can there be written by any man, neither can the hearts of men conceive so great and marvelous things as we both saw and heard Jesus speak; and no one can conceive of the joy which filled our souls at the time we heard him pray for us unto the Father (3 Nephi 17:16-17; cf. 3 Nephi 26).
Who can circumscribe eternal truth? God leads his children along line upon line, precept upon precept, Brigham continued:
The laws that the Lord has given are not fully perfect, because the people could not receive them in their perfect fulness; but they can receive a little here and a little there, a little to-day and a little to-morrow, a little more next week, and a little more in advance of that next year, if they make a wise improvement upon every little they receive; if they do not, they are left in the shade, and the light which the Lord reveals will appear darkness to them, and the kingdom of heaven will travel on and leave them groping. Hence, if we wish to act upon the fulness of the knowledge that the Lord designs to reveal, little by little, to the inhabitants of the earth, we must improve upon every little as it is revealed.
Reading about various subjects can enlighten and can invite the Spirit, but Joseph Smith declared that direct revelation trumps reading the experience of others practically every time:
Could you gaze into heaven five minutes, you would know more than you would by reading all that ever was written on the subject....The best way to obtain truth and wisdom is not to ask it from books, but to go to God in prayer, and obtain divine teaching.3
Brigham said the things God has revealed are a "drop in the bucket" compared to the "ocean yet to be revealed." These glimpses of eternity "made our hearts leap for joy, and we felt that we could forsake everything for the knowledge of Jesus Christ and the perfections that we saw in his character." The best truths of heaven, when revealed, made them desire to be better. Such truths are exalting in nature; they reach down to us and cause us to reach upward. This desire to improve—and in the process, to help others improve—is a natural effect of the Holy Ghost:
Has the Lord taught you how to consecrate yourselves to His service, build up His kingdom, and send forth the Gospel to the uttermost parts of the earth, that others may rejoice in the same Spirit that you have received, and enjoy the same things you enjoy? Yes, He has; and what more? A great deal more.
He has taught you how to purify yourselves, and become holy, and be prepared to enter into His kingdom, how you can advance from one degree to another, and grow in grace and in the knowledge of the truth, until you are prepared to enter the celestial kingdom; how to pass every sentinel, watchman, and gate keeper.
Brigham ties the higher learning to the Temple—a place where personal revelation may come through stronger. The "radio waves" of the Spirit that Elder McConkie referred to decades later seem to be clearer there:
Then go on and build the Temples of the Lord, that you may receive the endowments in store for you, and possess the keys of the eternal Priesthood, that you may receive every word, sign, and token, and be made acquainted with the laws of angels, and of the kingdom of our Father and our God, and know how to pass from one degree to another, and enter fully into the joy of your Lord. Latter-day Saints, do you live to this, do you seek after it with all your heart? You are aware that the Lord is able to reveal all this in one day, but you could not understand it.
As the Saints live according to the light they already have, more will be given. Preconceived notions can hinder growth because it takes time to throw off the yoke of bondage handed down through "false traditions" be they religious, social, scientific, or otherwise.4 But Saints can be assured, because the Holy Ghost is a revelator, that he will teach "all things," and bring all things to one's remembrance (John 14:26). As Elder McConkie, Brigham, and Joseph Smith taught, it is the privilege of every Latter-day Saint (and every child of God) to seek God and receive His truths personally. Or, as Brigham concludes:
He would be glad to send angels to communicate further to this people, but there is no room to receive it, consequently, He cannot come and dwell with you. There is a further reason: we are not capacitated to throw off in one day all our traditions, and our prepossessed feelings and notions, but have to do it little by little. It is a gradual process, advancing from one step to another; and as we layoff our false traditions and foolish notions, we receive more and more light, and thus we grow in grace; and if we continue so to grow we shall be prepared eventually to receive the Son of Man, and that is what we are after (JD 2:309-318).
Joseph Fielding Smith, ed., Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, Deseret Book (1977), p. 328; hereafter TPJS.

Bruce R. McConkie, “The Lord’s People Receive Revelation,” Ensign, Jun 1971, 77.

TPJS, pp. 191, 324. Joseph Smith emphasized God answers prayers according to the capacity of the petitioner: "This is the principle on which the government of heaven is conducted—by revelation adapted to the circumstances in which the children of the kingdom are placed. Whatever God requires is right, no matter what it is, although we may not see the reason thereof till long after the events transpire," (Joseph Smith, Jr., History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, B. H. Roberts, ed., vol. 5, pp. 134-136). Brigham Young taught the same concept: "When God speaks to the people, he does it in a manner to suit their circumstances and capacities. He spoke to the children of Jacob through Moses, as a blind, stiffnecked people, and when Jesus and his Apostles came they talked with the Jews as a benighted, wicked, selfish people. They would not receive the Gospel, though presented to them by the Son of God in all its righteousness, beauty and glory. Should the Lord Almighty send an angel to rewrite the Bible, it would in many places be very different from what it now is. And I will even venture to say that if the Book of Mormon were now to be rewritten, in many instances it would materially differ from the present translation. According as people are willing to receive the things of God, so the heavens send forth their blessings. If the people are stiffnecked, the Lord can tell them but little (Journal of Discourses 9:311).

For more on true and false traditions, see BHodges, "Traditions: True and False,", 22 October, 2007. Also see Andrew [last name unknown], “Our False Traditions and Foolish Notions,”, 24 January 2008, who said: "President Young’s explanation goes beyond saying we need to learn spiritual arithmetic before we can learn spiritual algebra. What’s holding us back from from further light and knowledge is not just what we haven’t learned yet, it’s what we haven’t unlearned yet, i.e., 'our false traditions and foolish notions.' President Young’s quote has enduring relevance today considering the unending discussions about the priesthood ban that was initiated during his administration, which was subsequently lifted in 1978 during President Kimball’s leadership. A growing consensus among students of this issue is that President Young’s ban resulted from his mistaken adherence to common Protestant doctrines that thousands of 'good Bible-believing, God-fearing Christians' used to justify slavery for centuries. In short, the theory is that President Young’s priesthood ban was the result of his bringing 'Protestant baggage' along with him when he joined the Church, and that–despite his greatness and inspiration on so many other issues–he failed to recognize it. President Young’s quote above may lend credibility to this theory. If we believe his words, it seems possible that what held back the 1978 priesthood revelation for so long was our collective failure to layoff our false traditions and foolish notions' concerning that issue until that time. That possibility does not in any way weaken my testimony of President Young or the Church. Rather, it simply reflects an inescapable aspect of the human condition." The image is "Radio Tower Town Top of the World," by Strata Rose Chalup, 23 October, 1999.


solopoesie said...

Good afternoon. I introduce myself I call Ange… Linen
They are in yours blog. Much beautiful one said. But I have not been able to read yours written because I do not know the language. Uoi not to believe like me dispiace, because I love the letturo very. they are Italian s I understand only a P2o English.
Mine blog in blogger and only poetries, I understand that not to all piacciono poetries. I cross poetries
I express my spirit. If you want to come to carry your salutes to me, of I would be happy….You come, I waited for you Lina

LifeOnaPlate said...

Haha, thanks for the comment.

You, Tom and my wife are the only ones who care to leave one, and apparently you aren't sure exactly what you are commenting on! Thanks for the visit, anyway!

ralleyclimber said...

Keep up the good work!

LifeOnaPlate said...

Indeed, Micah. How could I stop? Word is really getting around; even the Italians are digging it!

RubyHunter said...

You don't know me. I'm from the MADB and go by Ruby hunter. I wanted you to know that your insight is refreshing, your understanding is immense, and I have enjoyed many of the articles you have posted.

When it comes to the things you have written, I can only hope to one day be as knowledgeable as you are.

Thanks for the awesome information. I'm going to go read some more.

LifeOnaPlate said...

Thanks for the kind words, I'm glad you have enjoyed it thus far.

BHodges said...

Also, note to self: I need to find and check and possibly add the quote from the JS editorial that says we don't rely on the revelations given to others only insofar as we get revelation ourselves as well.

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