September 14, 2007

The Spirit of Christ Is Given To Everyone

Brigham Young
December 3, 1854


The scriptures are unequivocal in teaching that the atonement of Jesus Christ wasn't a local incident; it was for everyone. Elder Dallin H. Oaks compiled some scriptures on this point:

"He suffereth the pains of all . . . , both men, women, and children. . . . And he suffereth this that the resurrection might pass upon all men" (2 Nephi 9:21–22).
"The atonement . . . was prepared from the foundation of the world for all mankind, which ever were since the fall of Adam, . . . or who ever shall be" (Mosiah 4:7).
"And because of the redemption of man, which came by Jesus Christ, . . . all men are redeemed" (Mormon 9:13). 
"Hath he commanded any that they should not partake of his salvation? . . . Nay; but he hath given it free for all men; and . . . all men are privileged the one like unto the other, and none are forbidden" (2 Nephi 26:27–28).
It would follow that God's concern for everyone would include...everyone. I've spoken with people who tell me there isn't "one true Church" simply because people of many different religions believe they have spiritual experiences. This made me question: why do people think the spiritual experiences of those of different faiths somehow negate my own spiritual experiences? We know the "Spirit of Christ is given to every man" who enters mortality (Moroni 7:16). As Christ's atonement extends over everyone, so does His influence to do right. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints recognizes the ability of Christ's atonement to cover all, as well as the Spirit of Christ to influence all.

Brigham Young spoke about the light of Christ, expressing the belief that, even during the great apostasy, God maintained some influence over His children:
Many people believe that the Spirit of the Lord has not been upon the earth when the Gospel was not among men in its purity; they believe the Spirit of the Lord has been entirely taken from the earth since the apostasy of the Church. I do not believe for one moment that there has been a man or woman upon the face of the earth, from the days of Adam to this day, who has not been enlightened, instructed, and taught by the revelations of Jesus Christ.

"What! the ignorant heathen?"

Yes, every human being who has possessed a sane mind. I am far from believing that the children of men have been deprived of the privilege of receiving the Spirit of the Lord to teach them right from wrong. No matter what the traditions of their fathers were, those who were honest before the Lord, and acted uprightly, according to the best knowledge they had, will have an opportunity to go into the kingdom of God. I believe this privilege belonged to the sons and daughters of Adam, and descended from him, and his children who were contemporary with him, throughout all generations.
The Book of Mormon expresses the same sentiment:
[Christ's] blood atoneth for the sins of those . . . who have died not knowing the will of God concerning them, or who have ignorantly sinned (Mosiah 3:11).1
As this scripture implies, and Brigham explains, people won't be damned for following their honest beliefs. Honesty of heart is the most important factor. With this in mind, allowing men the privilege of "worshiping God according to the dictates of their own conscience," (Article of Faith 11) tolerance, is easier2:
No matter whether we are Jew or Gentile, as the two classes of people are called; though Gentile signifies disobedient people; no matter whether we believe in the Koran as firmly as we now believe in the Bible; no matter whether we have been educated by the Jews, the Gentiles, or the Hottentots; whether we serve the true and the living God, or a lifeless image, if we are honest before the God we serve…
People who fall down beneath the wheels of Juggernaut, and are crushed to death; who sacrifice their children in the worship of idols; if they act according to the best of their knowledge, there is a chance for their salvation, as much as there is for the salvation of any other person...It is what we have been taught, and what we verily believe; they have been taught the same idea, and believe it with all their hearts; then don't cast them down to hell for their honest belief.
As the atonement is universal, so is the ability of all to access God through prayer, receiving inspiration from Him:
Christ manifesteth himself unto all those who believe in him, by the power of the Holy Ghost; yea, unto every nation, kindred, tongue, and people, working mighty miracles, signs, and wonders, among the children of men according to their faith (2 Nephi 26:13).
Spencer W. Kimball, in a message from the First Presidency, spoke of the inspiration given to nations of the world:
The great religious leaders of the world such as Mohammed, Confucius, and the Reformers, as well as philosophers including Socrates, Plato, and others, received a portion of God´s light. Moral truths were given to them by God to enlighten whole nations and to bring a higher level of understanding to individuals…. Our message therefore is one of special love and concern for the eternal Welfare of all men and women, regardless of religious belief, race, or nationality, knowing that we are truly brothers and sisters because we are sons and daughters of the same Eternal Father ("Statement of the First Presidency," Feb. 15, 1978).
Brigham continued his discourse, speaking of the principle of "lesser law," including governments, religion, etc. All are encompassed by Celestial Law, and all true principles, if followed, will lead to Celestial law:
The Spirit of the Lord, in teaching the people, in opening their minds to the principles of truth, does not infringe upon the laws God has given to mankind for their government; consequently, when the Lord made man, He made him an agent accountable to his God, with liberty to act and to do as he pleases, to a certain extent, in order to prove himself. There is a law that governs man thus far; but the law of the celestial kingdom, as I have frequently told you, is, and always will be, the same to all the children of Adam.
When we talk of the celestial law which is revealed from heaven, that is, the Priesthood, we are talking about the principle of salvation, a perfect system of government, of laws and ordinances, by which we can be prepared to pass from one gate to another, and from one sentinel to another, until we go into the presence of our Father and God. This law has not always been upon the earth; and in its absence, other laws have been given to the children of men for their improvement, for their education, for their government, and to prove what they would do when left to control themselves; and what we now call tradition has grown out of these circumstances.
In providing laws, God has said it is "not meet that [He] should command in all things," (see D&C 58:26). It is important for His children to learn the difference between good and evil, and act upon that knowledge:
Suffice it to say, the Lord has not established laws by which I am compelled to have my shoes made in a certain style. He has never given a law to determine whether I shall have a square-toed boot or peaked-toed boot; whether I shall have a coat with the waist just under my arms, and the skirts-down to my heels; or whether I shall have a coat like the one I have on. Intelligence, to a certain extent, was bestowed both upon Saint and sinner, to use independently, aside from whether they have the law of the Priesthood or not, or whether they have ever heard of it or not. "I put into you intelligence," saith the Lord, "that you may know how to govern and control yourselves, and make yourselves comfortable, and happy on the earth; and give unto you certain privileges to act upon as independently in your sphere, as I do in the government of heaven."
Acting independently in our sphere isn't a license to do anything we want. There are eternal laws to learn and abide by, and the nearer we get to God, the more we understand about His will. Couple the concept of "acting independently in our sphere" with the concept of the Light of Christ. If we follow the light, direction from God, it grows "brighter and brighter until the perfect day," (see D&C 50:24). Thus, any nation, kindred, tongue or people, when following the light as best they can, should act on the light of Christ as presented in the gospel, should they have the opportunity to learn of it. Brigham Young:
But when the light of the knowledge of God comes to a man and he rejects it, that it is his condemnation. When I have told all I have been authorized to declare to him in the name of the Lord, if he does not have the visions of eternity, it is all nonsense to him. To know the truth of my testimony he must have the visions and revelations of God for himself. And when he gets them, and turns aside, becoming a traitor to the cause of righteousness, the wrath of God will beat up on him, and the vengeance of the Almighty will be heavy upon him.
This comes, not because their fathers lived in darkness before them, and the ancestors of their fathers before them; not because the nations have lived and died in ignorance; but because the Lord pours the spirit of revelation upon them, and they reject it. Then they are prepared for the wrath of God, and they are banished to another part of the spirit world, where the devil has power and control over them.
Both the Doctrine and Covenants and Book of Mormon describe this process:
Behold, here is the agency of man, and here is the condemnation of man; because that which was from the beginning is plainly manifest unto them, and they receive not the light. And every man whose spirit receiveth not the light is under condemnation (D&C 93:31-32).
And now Alma began to expound these things unto him, saying: It is given unto many to know the mysteries of God; nevertheless they are laid under a strict command that they shall not impart only according to the portion of his word which he doth grant unto the children of men, according to the heed and diligence which they give unto him.

And therefore, he that will harden his heart, the same receiveth the lesser portion of the word; and he that will not harden his heart, to him is given the greater portion of the word, until it is given unto him to know the mysteries of God until he know them in full. [The "perfect day"?]

And they that will harden their hearts, to them is given the lesser portion of the word until they know nothing concerning his mysteries; and then they are taken captive by the devil, and led by his will down to destruction. Now this is what is meant by the chains of hell (Alma 12:9-11).
These verses from Alma practically parallel this discourse.3 As Brigham explained, Christ invites all of us to partake of His goodness, and denies none that come unto Him: "black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile" (2 Nephi 26:33; see also Alma 5:49).
No matter what the traditions of their fathers were, those who were honest before the Lord, and acted uprightly, according to the best knowledge they had, will have an opportunity to go into the kingdom of God (Brigham Young, JD 2:136-139).
FOOTNOTES
[1]
The Book of Mormon also mentions one of God's methods of teaching His children, including the use of angels, and doesn't limit that use to "members of the LDS Church."
And after God had appointed that these things should come unto man, behold, then he saw that it was expedient that man should know concerning the things whereof he had appointed unto them; Therefore he sent angels to converse with them, who caused men to behold of his glory. And they began from that time forth to call on his name; therefore God conversed with men, and made known unto them the plan of redemption, which had been prepared from the foundation of the world; and this he made known unto them according to their faith and repentance and their holy works (Alma 12:28-30).
[2]
Joseph Smith encouraged us to be tolerant, and realize that good truths can come from many sources: "We should gather all the good and true principles in the world and treasure them up, or we shall not come out true "Mormons," (History of the Church 5:517). Ecumenism isn;t a recent phenomena among certain LDS leaders.

Elder Orson F. Whitney said the gospel "embraces all truth, whether known or unknown. It incorporates all intelligence, both past and prospective. No righteous principle will ever be revealed, no truth can possibly be discovered, either in time or in eternity, that does not in some manner, directly or indirectly, pertain to the Gospel of Jesus Christ" (Elders´ Journal 4, no. 2 [Oct. 15, 1906]:26).

Parley P. Pratt emphasized that good men would be found under all creeds: The question is often asked: "Are there any honest people among this sect, and the other party?" I tell you there are honest men in every sect of religionists, and if you try to classify men, you will have a difficult job, for you will find honest men in this class and the other, and, in fact, among all classes and sects of men. You need not suppose that honesty depends upon our traditions, or upon where a man was born; but there are honest people in every community, and in every sect under heaven, and there are those that hate the truth, and that would not aid in the spread of light and truth, nor lend their influence to any servant of God under the heavens (Journal of Discourses 3:177).

Joseph Smith emphasized that he believed others had truth, and that we ought to encourage them to embrace that which they have regardless of whether they will accept ours: "The inquiry is frequently made of me. 'Wherein do you differ from others in your religious views?' In reality an essence we do not differ so far in our religious views, but that we could all drink into one principle of love. One of the grand fundamental principles of 'Mormonism' is to receive truth, let it come from whence it may. We believe in the Great Elohim who sits enthroned in yonder heavens. So do the Presbyterians. If a skilful mechanic, in taking a welding heat, uses borax, alum, etc., and succeeds in welding together iron or steel more perfectly than any other mechanic, is he not deserving of praise? And if by the principles of truth I succeed in uniting men of all denominations in the bonds of love, shall I not have attained a good object? If I esteem mankind to be in error, shall I bear them down? No. I will lift them up, and in their own way too, if I cannot persuade them my way is better; and I will not seek to compel any man to believe as I do, only by the force of reasoning, for truth will cut its own way. Do you believe in Jesus Christ and the Gospel of salvation which he revealed? So do I. Christians should cease wrangling and contending with each other, and cultivate the principles of union and friendship in their midst; and they will do it before the millennium can be ushered in and Christ takes possession of His kingdom....Have the Presbyterians any truth? Yes. Have the Baptists, Methodists, etc., any truth? Yes. They all have a little truth mixed with error. We should gather all the good and true principles in the world and treasure them up, or we shall not come out true 'Mormons'" (TPJS, 313, 316).

[3]
As is typical for a Brigham Young discourse, a few tangential points deviate from the main topic as outlined in this post. One tangent described the redemption of the Jews who will gather to Jerusalem. According to Brigham, they will be fully restored to their lands without the specific aid of missionary work by the Church:
"Jerusalem is not to be redeemed by our going there and preaching to the inhabitants. It will be redeemed by the high hand of the Almighty. It will be given into the possession of the ancient Israelites by the power of God, and by the pouring out of His judgments," (Brigham Young, JD 2:136-145).

8 comments:

ralleyclimber said...

Thanks Blair.

ralleyclimber said...

Oh and do you have the whole set of books?

LifeOnaPlate said...

I wish. I'm reading them online at JournalofDiscourses.org.

I appreciate you taking time to read this stuff, man.

koakaipo said...

interesting things to read-thanks!

LifeOnaPlate said...

I wanted to add, the H.G. bears witness of truth. What if truth is taught from a baptist pulpit, or from a monk in a monestary? Does the Holy Ghost avoid giving a witness because it wasn't spoken by the right person, or in the right phraseology? Truths can be found in so many different religions.

Anonymous said...

Here are some thoughts concerning others responding to my spiritual witnesses.

When the intent of such a response (I received a spiritual answer that the BofM is not true) is to invalidate my experience (I received a witness that it is true), then I will question that critic's particular experience.

Indeed, there is a difference between the two approaches. I have had too many people tell me that they had received a "spiritual" witness that what I had experienced (witnesses of the Church, Joseph Smith, the BofM, etc.) was false. Upon further exploration of why they said what they said, it became apparent that it was more of a debate technique (trying to defuse my witness) than an actual witness on their part.

When someone non-LDS says that they have seen Christ work in their lives, they have felt the joy of the Spirit, and seen the hand of God preserving them, I see no particular reason to disbelieve or contradict them. It may or may not be true, but it's not my place to judge those particular things. In fact, I do believe that such things happen quite often.

On the other hand, when I say that I have seen Christ work in my life, I have felt Him speak in the pages of the BofM and the Bible, I have felt Him and the Spirit in the temple, at Church, and in my life in the context of me being a Latter-day Saint, many critics of the Church will not accept that. And one of the methods they use is to claim that they have a "witness" that Christ has nothing to do with the BofM, or the temple, or the Church, or the mission of Joseph Smith, etc.

There's a difference between the two types of experiences. And when someone claims to have an experience whose sole purpose appears to be to counteract mine, then it is appropriate for me to question the motivations of such experiences.

I do not invalidate spiritual experiences others claim to have for themselves. However, not everything that is claimed to be a spiritual experience falls under the "hands off" category, especially when its motivation appears to be to counteract the positives that I have experienced.

It really doesn't matter, for instance, to me if someone says that they feel through the Spirit that the BofM is false, and they don't want to follow it. That's their choice and they can choose whatever path they want. But when they then use that claim to try to invalidate my experience through debate or argument, then I feel it appropriate to respond in kind.

- jwhitlock

David Stoker said...

I enjoyed the post, you have a wonderful collection of quotations that show the unique understanding of the Mormons. Similar to my post over at thoughtsofaseeker.net, I think this shows that the mormons have answers where other religions have nothing to point to to answer the difficult questions. Mormonism has the doctrine to be truly the most inclusive, tolerant religion while still claiming to be the one true church of God.

BHodges said...

Alma 29 is a key here, as well, I should add.

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