August 29, 2007

Funeral Address

Orson Pratt June 30, 1855 According to the introduction of this discourse, Orson Pratt delivered this funeral sermon at the:

Council House, Great Salt Lake City, over the Mortal Remains of the Honorable Leonidas Shaver, Associate Justice of the Supreme, and Judge of the First Judicial District Courts of the United States, in and for the Territory of Utah.
There have been several funeral sermons recorded in the Journal thus far, I believe all of them given by Elder Pratt. The doctrinal nature of the discourse is interesting when compared with a talk we might hear at a funeral today. This doctrinal approach calls to mind the so-called "King Follett discourse," one of the Prophet Joseph Smith's most powerful sermons, which was given at the funeral of Follett. Elder Pratt begins:
Friends and Brethren, we have assembled ourselves together on this solemn occasion to commemorate one of our departed friends, who has suddenly been taken from our midst. It is customary among most of the nations of the earth, on an occasion of this kind, to deliver what is termed a funeral sermon. I have been called upon quite unexpectedly this forenoon to perform this office. I do not expect to be lengthy in my remarks, but shall endeavor to say something in relation to the present condition of man, and his future state.
He first discusses the doctrine of death: that as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive (see 1 Cor. 15:22), and that resurrection from the dead is a free gift of Christ; nothing must be done on our part to receive resurrection (see Romans 5:18). In Pratt's typical approach, he describes the doctrine in his own fluid way:
The redemption of our bodies from the grave is brought about through the atonement of Jesus Christ; hence we have had no agency in bringing death into our world, and we have no agency in the redemption of our world. One man brought death into the world, and one man brought redemption from death.
In speaking of the resurrection, he refers to Paul and Joseph Smith's explanation that resurrected bodies differ in glory as one star differs from another (See 1 Cor. 15:41; D&C 76). He mentions a small but interesting observation:
Here, then, are three distinct classes of beings in the eternal world, all of whom partake of happiness, each to be rewarded according to their works: one is represented by the sun, another by the moon, and a third by the glory of the stars, that is, by the apparent glory of the stars, or as they appear to us, and not as they would appear to individuals who are in their immediate vicinity.
Pratt discusses the heaven/hell dichotomy common to "mainstream" Christendom, that the good go to heaven, the bad to hell, and calls this view "uncharitable." Rather than dying and going straight to a heaven or hell, the Spirit world is our next destination; and Pratt describes it as best he can, suggesting we may even meet the Savior there. I am not aware of a scripture specifically promising a meeting with the Savior face to face in the Spirit world[1] , but here is Pratt's description:

for the spirit world is, in some respects, like the world we live in.

Beings that enter the spirit world find there classes and distinctions, and every variety of sentiment and feeling; there is just as much variety in the spirit world as in this; consequently, they have to grapple with those powers and influences that surround them.

Spirits have their agency between death and the resurrection, just as much as we have here. They are just as liable to be deceived in the spirit world as we are here. Those who are deceived may assist in deceiving others, for they have their classes, their theories, and their opinions. Almost everything that we see here is the same in the spirit world. They are mixed up with every variety, and are as liable to be deluded there as here.

Although the righteous enter into a state of rest and peace, and enjoy happiness in a great degree, yet their happiness is not complete, they are not perfected in glory. It is only, their spirits that are there, and they will have to mingle more or less with inferior minds, and different dispositions; but still they will enjoy a great degree of happiness, for their own consciousness of having done right imparts pleasure, consequently it is a state of rest, of peace, free from the imperfections of mortality; but to say that they will be free from all association with beings that are sinful and inferior to themselves, we do not believe.

It is true, they will go back to where Jesus is; they will have communion with him, and behold his face, but they will not always remain in one particular place or position; they will have their works to perform, as we in this life."

It wasn't until I experienced the death of someone close to me that I realized in a more concrete way how real the spirit is; how death really is like walking into another room; you remain who you are. You retain hopes, fears, habits, beliefs, and you can still pray and feel the Holy Ghost there. As Amulek explained in the Book of Mormon:
...for that same spirit which doth possess your bodies at the time that ye go out of this life, that same spirit will have power to possess your body in that eternal world (Alma 34:34).
While it is a "place or rest," we probably shouldn't picture it as a nice, relaxing beach where we sit about and lounge all day; it seems there is work to be done. Elder Pratt:
We perceive that the Priesthood does not die with their bodies, the kingly authority does not cease with the mortal bodies: it is an office that continues for ever, that continues in the spirit world, as well as after the resurrection. Those that receive their authority from heaven, will have to magnify it, and set a good example; and every person receiving an office in this Priesthood, and afterwards dying, will have to perform all the duties and exercise the functions thereof, in order that they may be useful to those spirits in an inferior state. If they hold the Priesthood before the resurrection, do we suppose that they will sit down and have nothing to do? No: there will be other individuals that will not hold the Priesthood, and that have not had the Gospel, and they will be sent to them, to enlighten their minds, and enable them, who will, to rise in the great scale of moral and intellectual excellence."
As other prophets had described before him[2], Joseph F. Smith described this work from a vision he had in October of 1918:
I beheld that the faithful elders of this dispensation, when they depart from mortal life, continue their labors in the preaching of the gospel of repentance and redemption, through the sacrifice of the Only Begotten Son of God, among those who are in darkness and under the bondage of sin in the great world of the spirits of the dead (D&C 138:57).
Pratt reasoned [which seems to be one of his favorite things to do] that the work of preaching the gospel to the dead is done as we follow the example of the Savior, who "opened the mission" in the Spirit world, so to speak:
Jesus himself set the example and pattern for others. While his body lay in the silent tomb, his noble spirit was not idle; hence, Peter says, that Jesus, being put to death in the flesh; was quickened by the spirit, by which also he went and preached to the spirits in prison that were sometime disobedient in the days of Noah, &c. Jesus entered the prison house of those persons who were destroyed in the mighty flood, and preached to them. Those antedeluvian spirits had suffered in the prison some two thousand years, and upwards; they needed some information, and Jesus went to enlighten them (see John 5:25; 1 Peter 3:19).
Pratt described the message Christ brought to the spirits in prison:
Jesus went and preached to the antediluvian spirits. What did he preach? Did he preach, ‘You must remain here to endless ages without hope of redemption?’ If this were the proclamation, what was the use of going to proclaim it? What would be the use of telling those beings that they were to remain in misery, and that there was no chance of escape? No use of proclaiming such news in the ears of any one. Peter tells us why he preached to them: he said, 'For, for this cause was the gospel preached also to them that are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, and live according to God in the spirit' [see 1 Peter 4:6].
The gospel is preached to the dead; Pratt delineates it as faith in Jesus Christ, repentance, baptism, and receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost. We help in this work of preaching the gospel to the dead by performing the necessary ordinances in their behalf; they being free to accept or reject this offer. Pratt beautifully calls this work a "mission of mercy":
And we believe that the spirits of the just will be sent on missions of mercy to those in prison, who had not in this life the opportunity of obeying those principles that I have referred to.
It appears Pratt ran short on time, and thus mentioned the three degrees of glory only in passing, and concluded his funeral sermon as follows:
We are called upon on this solemn occasion as a Territory to mourn the loss of one who has occupied a distinguished position among us, one whose course has been an exemplary one to all mankind, that is, so far as we are acquainted with him. He has now left us, but we expect to meet with him again and see his face. And it it is not long before all now present will again meet with this distinguished individual. May God bless us and enable us to be prepared to meet with each other in the eternal worlds, and to receive according to the justice and mercy of God. Amen.
Footnotes [1] Scriptures dealing with the exact time we may meet the Savior after this life are ambiguous, and it must be assumed that, as time differs in this life (the boy Prophet was 14 when he met the Son, whereas Lehi appears to have had his first meeting later in life after establishing a family) it may very well differ in the next. We do know all will be brought into His and the Father's presence at least for the judgment, (see Alma 11:41, among other verses). Two scriptures hint at our future meeting with Christ: 1) Alma 40:11 "Now, concerning the state of the soul between death and the resurrection—Behold, it has been made known unto me by an angel, that the spirits of all men, as soon as they are departed from this mortal body, yea, the spirits of all men, whether they be good or evil, are taken home to that God who gave them life." Brigham Young postulated it is possible to be in God's presence, or home with God, without actually beholding Him: "Where do the spirits of this people go to, when they lay down their tabernacles? They go into the presence of God, and are at the pleasure of the Almighty. Do they go to the Father and the Son, and there be glorified? No; they do not. If a spirit goes to God who gave it, it does not stay there. We are all the time in the presence of the Lord, but our being in the presence of the Lord, does not make it follow that He is in our presence; the spirits of men are understood to go into the presence of the Lord, when they go into the spiritual world," (Journal of Discourses 3:80). The discourse of Pres. Young as quoted above contains more information about the Spirit world, and was given in 1852-- 3 years prior to this funeral sermon. I am not sure why it appears in a later volume of the Journal; the discourses are not serially organized. 2) 2 Nephi 9:41 "O then, my beloved brethren, come unto the Lord, the Holy One. Remember that his paths are righteous. Behold, the way for man is narrow, but it lieth in a straight course before him, and the keeper of the gate is the Holy One of Israel; and he employeth no servant there; and there is none other way save it be by the gate; for he cannot be deceived, for the Lord God is his name." This is one of my favorite scripture verses. It describes a sacred, personal meeting with the Savior, perhaps similar to the one described in 3 Nephi 11 and in the Temple. [2] Wilford Woodruff described meeting the Prophet Joseph after the martyrdom. It seems there was a great and important work keeping him and other elders busy there: "Joseph Smith continued visiting myself and others up to a certain time, and then it stopped. The last time I saw him was in heaven. In the night vision I saw him at the door of the temple in heaven. He came and spoke to me. He said he could not stop to talk with me because he was in a hurry. The next man I met was Father Smith; he could not talk with me because he was in a hurry. I met half a dozen brethren who had held high positions on earth, and none of them could stop to talk with me because they were in a hurry. I was much astonished. By and by I saw the Prophet again, and I got the privilege to ask him a question. 'Now,' said I, 'I want to know why you are in a hurry. I have been in a hurry all through my life; but I expected my hurry would be over when I got into the kingdom of heaven, if I ever did.' Joseph said: 'I will tell you, Brother Woodruff. Every dispensation that has had the Priesthood on the earth and has gone into the celestial kingdom, has had a certain amount of work to do to prepare to go to the earth with the Savior when He goes to reign on the earth. Each dispensation has had ample time to do this work. We have not. We are the last dispensation, and so much work has to be done, and we need to be in a hurry in order to accomplish it.' Of course, that was satisfactory to me, but it was new doctrine to me." (From a discourse delivered at the Weber Stake Conference in Ogden, Utah on Monday, October 19, 1896. See Temples of the Most High, pg. 317–18; 321–22. Lundwall, N.B., ed. 1960.)


Don Kauffman said...

I’ve been interested in this subject for a long time. It’s clear that we had agency and were tested before this life, and will continue to be so in the life to come. So what makes this life so special? Is it just the intensity and range of the testing that has changed? Or is there something fundamentally different about our existence here on Earth? I think the answer in both cases is our physical body. We could be righteous before this life, and we can be righteous after it, but this is the only time when we are able to learn/show that we can be righteous WITH a body. Too often we treat gaining a physical body as a second tier purpose to the Plan of Salvation, but it seems to me that it is central to everything. It’s too bad that we will likely never appreciate the full wonder and power of our bodies until they are taken from us again and we can feel the difference.

LifeOnaPlate said...

A great point; the gaining of a physical body is crucial, and shouldn't be seen as a "second tier" purpose in the plan. I am reminded by your comments of the scripture that says we will look upon the absence of our body as a "bondage," which is, interestingly, the opposite of what "traditional" Christianity has believed through the apostasy.

Post a Comment

All views are welcome when shared respectfully. Use a name or consistent pseudonym rather than "anonymous." Deletions of inflammatory posts will be noted. Thanks for joining the conversation.