October 23, 2007

Take Away the Stony Hearts

Brigham Young October 8, 1855 As the Fall conference of 1855 came to a close Brigham Young spoke of his anxiety in selecting a topic to speak about:

There are many things I wish to say before this Conference comes to a close, but I labour under the same difficulty as did one of the speakers yesterday, for I would like to touch upon so many subjects that I am at a loss to know where to begin. And when this Conference is over, I presume that I shall think of many things omitted, which it would have pleased me to talk about. When a great number of people are together it affords an excellent opportunity for teaching them the principles of practical religion.

Brigham loved practical religion; applying eternal principles to everyday living and finding meaning in the menial. He was concerned that saints would lose the Spirit in the midst of the day-to-day grind. Making the Utah desert blossom like the rose was hard work, and it could be easy to lose sight of the more eternal aspects of life: In his typically blunt fashion, Brigham warned against complacency:
The inhabitants of this Territory have been taught the ways of life, they have been taught the principles of the Everlasting Gospel and have received them; they have forsaken their former homes, the countries in which they were born, their friends and family connexions, for the Gospel's sake; they are here in the midst of these mountains, and many of them will be damned, unless they awake out of their sleep, unless they refrain from their evil ways. Many are stupid, careless, and unconcerned, their eyes are like the fool's eye, to the ends of the earth, searching for this, that, and the other, they have become greedy, are slow to fulfil their duty, are off their watch, neglect their prayers, forget their covenants and forsake their God, and the devil has power over them.
Brigham recommended that missionaries be assigned to travel and encourage the saints within the Utah territory.[1] He stated the difference between testimony and conversion:
Some people say that they believe the Gospel who never live it, they did not embrace it for the love of it, but because they knew its truth. They will not give up their carnal, selfish, devilish dispositions and traits of character, and if you undertake to choke them off from these dispositions you will have to choke them to death before they will let them go; they will hang on to their evil feelings and evil deeds with greater tenacity than does the terrier dog to his prey, or antagonist; it is almost impossible to separate them from evil. As for making Saints of those characters, we have no such anticipation; we wish to make Saints of those who sincerely desire to be Saints, who are willing to sacrifice their carnal, sinful, devilish feelings, to forsake them altogether, and to strive to become Saints and to establish the principles of honesty within them; we expect that such persons will be Saints, and we feel like doing all that we can to aid them in a righteous course.

Knowing the gospel is true, even declaring it to be true, is different from being "converted." Elder Dallin H. Oaks explained that to testify is to know and declare, whereas to be converted means to do and become. He quoted the apostle Paul saying the purpose of the gospel is to perfect us, to make all people attain "the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ" (Ephesians 4:13). Elder Oaks said:
This process requires far more than acquiring knowledge. It is not even enough for us to be convinced of the gospel; we must act and think so that we are converted by it. In contrast to the institutions of the world, which teach us to know something, the gospel of Jesus Christ challenges us to become something (The Challenge to Become, General Conference, October 2001).
The process of becoming like Christ occurs as we receive both blessings and trials in life. Truly, blessings and trials, in the long run, can be synonymous terms in LDS theology. Brigham said trials make some people shrink, whine, or become hardened in their hearts. He saw the hand of God in everything, noting the famine they were experiencing at the time was at least partially due to ingratitude:
Let us reform, that we may be chastened no more; let us try to profit by the blessing we receive, instead of being made to profit by the things we suffer, for afflictions we shall be obliged to receive, if we do not profit by our blessings. If we are chastened a little, do not worry about it. We think we are chastened, this season, in the failing of our crops, but I receive this as one of the greatest blessings that could be bestowed upon us. I have felt like weeping, since I have been in this Territory, on beholding the ungrateful feelings of many of this people, their ingratitude towards their God, and at seeing them trample grain under their feet as a thing of naught. Now I think what we have received this season is but a small portion of what we will receive, if we do not take care of the things the Lord bestows upon us, and be thankful for them. I look upon it as a prelude, forerunner, or testifier, that afflictions will come upon us, unless we humble ourselves before our God. This, however, is but a very slight affliction. We have plenty here, no person is going to starve, or suffer, if there is an equal distribution of the necessaries of life which are in the country.

Brigham noted the saints had been counseled to store their extra crops in case of famine, but many decided to sell their extra crops at high prices to travelers passing through to California. Now when the famine struck they had little to use, and the welfare storage was stretched thin because few people donated much. Care for the poor was always high on Brigham's priority list:
If I cannot get rich only upon the principle of oppressing my brethren, and depriving them of the comforts of life, I say, may God grant that I may never have another farthing upon earth. I do not want it upon such terms, and if I ever should, I hope the Lord will keep it from me.
Our generosity and general regard for others is an indication of where we are on the path to conversion; the path of discipleship; becoming. Just going through the motions will avail little. Going to Church each week, paying tithing, doing all things required will avail nothing if we neglect the weightier matters, according to Brigham:
It grieves me to see men who have believed the Gospel, forsaken the land of their nativity for the sake of life and salvation, endured all they have in coming here, and then, for a paltry sum of money, sacrifice their salvation. Such men cannot be saved in the celestial kingdom of God; they may receive their endowments, but they will do them no good; they may read over their Patriarchal blessings every day, but they will do them no good. No man or woman can receive life everlasting, only upon the principle of strict obedience to the requirements of the celestial law of heaven, no man can inherit such a blessing upon unholy principles. Men must be honest, they must live faithfully before their God, and honor their calling and being on the earth. You ask if that is possible? Yes; the doctrine which we have embraced takes away the stony hearts.

Our stony hearts give way, the natural man is put off through the effects of the atonement of Christ:
We are naturally prone to wander from that which is good, and to receive every species of iniquity; we must get rid of this disposition, and the Gospel of salvation is expressly for the purpose of changing it, that we may receive the principles which prevail in heaven and are loved by the angels. It is possible for a man who loves the world to overcome that love, to get knowledge and understanding until he sees things as they really are, then he will not love the world but will see it as it is; he will see that it is in the hands of a Superior Being (Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 3:115-123).
As the poet cried out:
Prone to wander, Lord I feel it, Prone to leave the God I love! Here's my heart. Oh, take and seal it, Seal it for thy courts above![2]
Part 2, tomorrow. Footnotes [1] This is the first indication I've seen of the coming "Mormon Reformation" which took place in 1856-57 when missionaries were assigned to visit throughout Utah, to rebatize and recommit saints to the Church. [2] "Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing," Hymns [1948], no. 70

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