October 31, 2007

Faith, Works, and Revelation

Brigham Young May 6, 1855 The subject and faith and works has caused controversy in Christianity. The strong emphasis on works within the Church of Jesus Christ has caused some to accuse the saints of believing they can "save" themselves, or "work their way to heaven," thus denying or cheapening the atonement of Christ. Latter-day saints are firm in saying we take an active part in salvation, though it is only through the grace of Christ our works amount to anything. Many Evangelicals insist man is saved by grace alone, and our works are useless. The difference between these views is actually closer than it appears at face value. In this sermon, Brigham lighted upon the subject of faith and works:

...when I exhort the brethren to have faith, I really had rather that they would have good works; I do not care half so much about their faith as I do about their works. Faith is not so obvious a principle, but in good works you see a manifestation, an evidence, a proof that there is something good about the person who is in the habit of doing them. Now, if the people will only be full of good works, I will insure that they will have faith in time of need. I wish the brethren to he diligent in their affairs here, to he honest, faithful, prudent, and upright, and try to receive the spirit of the Gospel. I am ready to acknowledge that this people have the Gospel, that they are a good people; they are the best we know of upon the earth. At the same time there is a great lack with regard to the sentiments of many of them, with regard to their understanding, their views, the proportions, the degree and quality of the spirit they are in possession of.

It can seem from these words that Brigham was placing works over faith, but closer inspection reveals his understanding that faith leads to works. Works are the fruit of faith, and the absence of good works usually indicates a lack of true faith in God. We believe that faith in God includes a desire to know His will, and works result from knowing His will. In doing so, we bless others as well as ourselves, but in reality, these blessings are granted directly from God:
All ought to seek to know the mind and will of the Lord, and when they know it, they will be taught that the interest of this people is the interest of the Lord, and that all we do is for His glory. This is not all, it is likewise for our own benefit, and when we learn the principles of the Gospel perfectly, we shall learn that our interest is one, that we have no correct individual interest separate from this kingdom; if we have true interest at all, it is in the kingdom of God. If we truly possess and enjoy anything, it is in this kingdom; if we build it up, we shall be built up; if we neglect so to do, we shall fail to sustain ourselves.
Brigham believed true faith led to works, which in turn, increased faith. For example, he mentioned their struggles with harvests. He believed if the Saints sat back and expected God to given them a huge harvest with no work on their part, they would be mistaken. To be brief, faith the size of a seed can move a mountain, but you should be willing to grab your shovel and help that mountain along, if necessary:
Good works will produce good faith, and good faith will produce good works...In all the labor of the Saints, when faith springs up in the heart, good works will follow, and good works will increase that pure faith within them.
We are led and inspired to good works through our faith; the works are a fruit of our faith. The balding Heber C. Kimball put it succinctly:
It does not matter if you hold out till your hair is as thin as mine, you will have to acknowledge that it is God who gives us wisdom and furnishes us unto good works (JoD 3:51).
The Bible isn't silent on the issue; the book of James is clear in teaching the same principle Brigham and Heber explained:
What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him?
If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food,
And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit?
Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.
Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works (James 2:14-18).[1]
We exercise faith in God by believing that He exists, and this belief is bolstered by seeing evidence of God at work. Seeing the wonders of creation can inspire one to faith in God, and even more so, feeling the Spirit change your very nature can be proof that God exists, and that He is interested in you. Revelation is the way we learn about God:
What the Lord has done for this people would convince any man in the world, upon rational principles, that it is not the wisdom of man, nor his power or might, nor the power or might of this people unitedly, that has accomplished what has been done, but that it has been brought to pass by an invisible power. Still a person, unless he has the light of the Spirit within him, will attribute the work of the Lord to the wisdom of man, or...the power of the devil. Again, a person may see the power of the devil displayed, and mistake it for the power of God, for without the light of the Spirit one cannot tell the difference between the power of the Lord and the power of the devil. We must have the testimony of the Lord Jesus to enable us to discern between truth and error, light and darkness, him who is of God, and him who is not of God, and to know how to place everything where it belongs.
How can we rightfully discern between the power of man, God, and the Devil? Revelation from God.
You may ask, "How shall we know, brother Brigham, whether you are telling us the truth or not? "Get the spirit of revelation, then you will know, and not without. Will you take my counsel? (though you may do as you please with regard to that) if you will, I can tell you what to do, and what all the Latter-day Saints-whom I have preached to from the first of my preaching, from the first of my testimony that Joseph Smith was a Prophet of God, and that the Book of Mormon is true-would have done if they had followed my counsel, and that is, to seek unto the Lord your God until He opens the visions of your minds, and lets the rays of eternity shine within you. If you would take my counsel you never would cease to plead with the Lord, until He opened the eyes of your understanding and revealed eternity to you, that you might know for yourselves how things are, and when you know and keep in that spirit, you will never be deceived, but the spirit of truth will always be with you, and if you cleave to that, it will lead you into all truth and holiness. Without it, you are constantly liable to be deceived, to receive evil, false reports, and false testimony, through the evil power and arts which have been upon the earth from the days of Adam until now.
How do works ultimately intertwine? Do all you can, trust in God to bless your efforts, and your faith will lead to works which will increase your faith in turn. There is no other way to come to know God. Not everyone who says "Lord, Lord" will enter the kingdom, only those who do the will of God (See Matthew 7:21-26).

Pay attention to what the Lord requires of you and let the balance go. He will take care of that if you will acknowledge His hand in all things. Then you will rejoice that your names are written in heaven-that you have the privilege of being able to discern between the right and wrong, to recognize the goings forth of the Lord...
Footnotes: [1] This brought to mind Brigham's sermon on the morning he was told there were handcart companies stranded on the plains in the cold. He simply stood and told the congregation to go bring them home if they wanted to practice their religion. For more on Faith and Works, see Setting Belief Apart From Faith.


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