August 14, 2007

Faithfulness and Apostasy

Brigham Young April 6, 1855

I recollect many times when brother Joseph, reflecting upon how many would come into the Kingdom of God and go out again, would say, 'Brethren, I have not apostatized yet, and don't feel like doing so.' Many of you, no doubt, can call to mind his words. Joseph had to pray all the time, exercise faith, live his religion, and magnify his calling, to obtain the manifestations of the Lord, and to keep him steadfast in the faith.
On my mission we heard an address by Elder Holland. He asked the hypothetical question: if the Gospel is true, why isn't missionary success more rapid? Why isn't the only risk in missionary work that of pneumonia from being in a baptismal font all day? His answer was powerful, especially from a special witness of Christ:
Because salvation is not a cheap experience....If you wonder if there isn't an easier way, you should remember you are not the first one to ask that. Someone a lot greater and a lot grander asked a long time ago if there wasn't an easier way (Jeffrey R. Holland, “Missionary Work and the Atonement,” Ensign, March 2001, 15; emphasis in original).
Certainly, we must rely on the grace of Jesus Christ, and we shouldn't make life unduly difficult. When we are baptized and covenant with Christ we promise to be willing to keep His commandments; to do the best we can. We take upon us his yoke. He promises that his yoke is easy and His burden, light, (see Matt. 11:28-30). Notice that by being yoked with the Savior some pulling on our part is still required! Certainly there are a number of reasons a person might leave the Church of Jesus Christ, remove the yoke, and be "free" of the responsibility. Essentially, in all cases, they have given up, as Brigham said:
When I call to mind the multitudes with whom I have been acquainted in this kingdom, and reflect how few there are who have stood firm and how many have apostatized, I often at first think it is strange, but again, it is no marvel, realizing as I do that every person who lives in this Church must be faithful. They cannot run by sight, but must actually exercise faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, in order to enjoy the light of the Holy Ghost. When they neglect this, the spirit of the world takes possession of them, and they become cold and fruitless, and pine away into darkness and spiritual death, and finally leave us. Will this continue? Yes."
The key to maintaining the faith, then, is keeping the influence of the Spirit in our lives. Brigham continues:
If you wish to know the reason why they apostatize, it is because they neglect their duty, lose the Spirit of the Lord, and the spirit of the holy Gospel that they received when they first embraced it. Many receive the Gospel because they know it is true; they are convinced in their judgment that it is true; strong argument overpowers them, and they are rationally compelled to admit the Gospel to be true upon fair reasoning. They yield to it, and obey its first principles, but never seek to be enlightened by the power of the Holy Ghost; such ones frequently step out of the way.
I am reminded of the parables of the sower, where Jesus describes the different types of soil where the seed is planted. Some seeds fell among stony places, took root- but not deep enough; when the sun came up they were scorched. Shallow faith, shallow effort, will yield a shallow testimony, (see Matt. 13:3-30; see also Alma 32). Brigham talked about the "fish and loaves" converts, who were attracted to the miracles of Christ, but when they were expected to change their lives they "walked no more with him," (John 6:66):
It is not for me to say how many embrace the Gospel for the sake of the loaves and fishes; but I really think, from their conduct, that many have embraced the Gospel to see if they cannot make gain of it; to see if there is any temporal advantage in it.[1]
No matter where else our testimony is rooted, it will fail if it does not become rooted in Jesus Christ. In addition, mere belief isn't enough:
A great many say, 'I believe the Gospel,' but continue to act wickedly, to do that which they know to be wrong. I wish you to fully understand that merely believing the Gospel, that Jesus is the Christ, in the Old and New Testaments, that Joseph Smith was a Prophet sent of God, and that the Book of Mormon is true, does not prepare you to become angels of light, sons and daughters of God, and joint heirs with Jesus Christ to a divine inheritance. Nor does mere belief entitle you to the possession of the crowns and thrones that you are anticipating. No, such preparation can be made, and such objects attained only by doing the work required of us by our Father in heaven, by obeying Him in all things, letting our will, dispositions, and feelings fall to our feet, to rise no more, from this time henceforth, and actually operating upon the principle that we will do the will of our Father in heaven, no matter what comes upon us. Then, if you are going to be killed by your enemies, or destroyed by the adversary, you can say, 'Kill away, destroy away.'"
Certainly we will be tested along the path of our discipleship, but Brigham provides a key to resist temptation, in one of my all-time favorite Brigham Young quotes:
Recollect, brethren and sisters, every one of you, that when evil is suggested to you, when it arises in your hearts, it is through the temporal organization. When you are tempted, buffeted, and step out of the way inadvertently: when your are overtaken in a fault, or commit an overt act unthinkingly; when you are full of evil passion, and wish to yield to it, then stop and let the spirit, which God has put into your tabernacles, take the lead. If you do that, I will promise that you will overcome all evil, and obtain eternal lives (Journal of Discourses 2:248-259).
I don't believe Brigham is talking about the Holy Ghost, here, although He plays a vital role. Brigham is talking about our own eternal spirit knowing, deep down what we ought to do. Listen to yourself, the Spirit of God will bring your spirit to the surface. Brigham concluded by telling the Saints none of them were safe from apostatizing from the Church, using Oliver Cowdery as an example. In a subsequest discourse he spoke of light either increasing or decreasing:

…let a man or women who has received much of the power of God, visions and revelations, turn away from the holy commandments of the Lord, and it seems that their senses are taken from them, their understanding and judgment in righteousness are taken away, they go into darkness, and become like a blind person who gropes by the wall. Many of you witness this almost daily. Such will continue to go on the retrograde path until they are decomposed; while those who are faithful will continue to increase, and this is the great blessing the Lord has given to, or placed within the reach of, the children of man, even to be capable of receiving eternal lives."

According to Brigham, this was the design of God, and allows us to freely choose between the good and evil:
He has so ordained it, that by the natural mind we cannot see and understand the things of God, therefore we must then seek unto the Lord, and get His Spirit and the light thereof, to understand His will. And when He is calling us to pass through that which we call afflictions, trials, temptations, and difficulties, did we possess the light of the Spirit, we would consider this the greatest blessing that could be bestowed upon us.
He closed with a key to avoiding apostasy: don't "cling" to the world:
If you cling to the world, and say it is hard for you to do this or that, recollect that the love of the Father is not in you. Let me love the world as He loves it, to make it beautiful, and glorify the name of my Father in heaven. It does not matter whether I or anybody else owns it, if we only work to beautify it and make it glorious, it is all right. Let me do what I am called to do, and be contented with my lot, a and not worry about this, that, or the other. I have spoken long enough. May God bless you. Amen (Journal of Discourses 2:298-309).
Footnotes: [1] "Fish and Loaves" converts were mentioned again in 1856 by Jedediah M. Grant. In discussing why Saints gathered to Utah, he insisted it wasn't for better financial circumstances, but conceded there appeared to be some who may have gathered for that reason: Some may ask, why the Latter-day Saints rejoice? I answer, we rejoice not alone in that we have a claim superior to the claims of others; not alone in that we have houses and lands, and power and authority, and the comforts of this city, but in the privileges given us by the Almighty, through faith and obedience, for being more happy than other people. We have not the facilities that the people of many other cities and parts of the earth possess; indeed, we are deprived of many of the comforts and luxuries which many enjoy in other climes. But suppose we are, did we come here for them? Were they the grand object of our leaving our native soil? Was this the view we had when we left Europe, the United States, or any other part of the earth, or the islands of the sea? Did we come here to obtain a better farm, to obtain the luxuries of life? If this was the object of our pursuit, we have certainly been mistaken. It is possible that some may have been tempted, as they were in the days of Jesus, by the loaves and fishes; but those who understood the truth, and comprehended and loved virtue, had no such idea. They understood that the Gospel of the Son of God, proclaimed and taught by the proper officers, had been brought unto them, and that the scepter of life had been held out to them. And may we not, as Saints of God, rejoice that we have found and received the truth, that we have tasted of its sweetness, and that it has made us happy (JD 4:15-16).

2 comments:

Officer Yates OPD said...

Elder Holland gave a similar talk when I was in the missionary training center. Very powerful speaker. Anyone thinking about going home had a spiritual kick to the booty. Incredible man.

LifeOnaPlate said...

I believe it was the same talk, actually. The Ensign said it was delivered at the MTC in 2001, which is when you were there, my friend.

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