November 1, 2007

Independence and Eternal Progression

Amasa Lyman December 9, 1855 Know this, that ev'ry soul is free To choose his life and what he'll be; For this eternal truth is giv'n: That God will force no man to heav'n. He'll call, persuade, direct aright, And bless with wisdom, love, and light, In nameless ways be good and kind, But never force the human mind.[1] The restored gospel has an inspired view of freedom and responsibility. Joseph Smith taught that humans exist eternally as independent intelligences; that God, finding Himself greater than the other intelligences, developed a way to help them advance according to eternal principles. Thus, while we have our agency, there are some restrictions to freedom if we wish to progress: we must follow the eternal law. We often think in terms of "freedom from." Freedom from debt, freedom from the law, freedom from rules, freedom from sin. The gospel also reminds us to consider "freedom to." Freedom to choose, freedom to advance and develop, and the more-neglected: freedom to obey. There are some specific things we are not free to do. For example: we can only advance according to the eternal principles of progression. We aren't free to choose the consequences of our choices. Eternal law gives freedom, but does not excuse responsibility. Elder Lyman followed this line of thought to conclude the gospel doesn't damn people; only people damn people. The opportunity for salvation is around us like water from a well, and if we die of thirst it is only because we wouldn't drink. The water doesn't kill; the lack of drinking it kills:

The Gospel was sent into the world by the Saviour of mankind to place the means of salvation within the reach of mortals; to give to those who should believe the power to become the sons of God. That was the object of this proclamation throughout the earth, and was the reason why it was taught in that simplicity that marked the teachings of the ministers of truth. The Scriptures promise salvation to those who believe; and those who do not, we are informed, shall be damned. What damns them that do not believe? The same thing that damned them before they heard the Gospel. They were in darkness, and what was their condition afterwards? They were in darkness. Then the object of this Gospel being sent unto the world was, simply, to give men a knowledge of the truth, and open their eyes, it was to cause the light to shine in the midst of the darkness that surrounded them; that in that light they might discover things as they exist around, that they were before ignorant of, and entertain conceptions of things that before did not reach or occupy their minds at all; all this was to effect man's salvation. From what? From the fall, or any other of the evils that surround him. I do not care whether you regard them as the consequences of the fall or not, I care not what you name the ills that afflict men, and keep them from the enjoyment of a fulness of happiness and glory; from them mankind have need to be saved. They constitute the chains with which men are bound-the clouds of darkness which obscure the light of truth, that prevents the sunlight of truth from rendering the whole sphere of man's being radiant, glorious, and resplendent. In what? In that which the great architect of nature has placed there, and made all creation rich with.

We live in the midst of it and are insensible to the beauties around us; to the excellencies within our reach. We tread the blessings that cluster around our path like the flowers of spring under our feet, not appreciating their worth, instead of feasting upon the glory, power, skill, and judgment that are manifested in their [creation].

Well, so it is with truth and its excellency in all the various departments of nature's works and its glory. We live in the midst of it, and are starving. We are a poor, starving, miserable, wretched, beggarly set of creatures in the midst of plenty.

Now it is from these chains that bind us in this condition that the Gospel proposes to set us free. The plan of salvation is to snap [them] asunder, and give unto us an abundant deliverance, and a correspondingly abundant entrance into the kingdom of God, and to make our future as glorious, as luminous, and as broad, as the path in which we have walked has been dangerous, dark, and gloomy. This is what the Gospel proposes to do for us.

How is it to be effected? Upon this simple principle: by learning us the truth. To know the only living and true God and Jesus Christ whom He has sent is eternal life.

We are free to accept eternal life; but in rejecting it the responsibility lies with us. In one of the most remarkable revelations of all time, freedom and responsibility are clearly outlined:
He that keepeth his commandments receiveth truth and light, until he is glorified in truth and knoweth all things.
Man was also in the beginning with God. Intelligence, or the light of truth, was not created or made, neither indeed can be.
All truth is independent in that sphere in which God has placed it, to act for itself, as all intelligence also; otherwise there is no existence.
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 93:28-32).
We are free to be exalted if we follow the correct principles; otherwise we are damned, or "stopped." When you damn a river you prevent its progression. We can't change these eternal laws, we are not free to dictate to law, as Elder Lyman taught, comparing the law with mathematics:
[T]wo multiplied by two makes four, is [a principle] that we cannot change, or conceive of a principle by which it could be changed... It is all the time the same in every land, country or place. It is the same whether we apply the principle to determine the number of apples in the market basket, or whether we apply it in more extended calculations, in determining the magnitudes, times, and distances of the planets. Here is a principle to which we must yield; to which we must bow. Why? Simply because [truth] is greater than we; it defies our efforts to change it. It controls our actions, influences our being. It determines things, and we with other things are determined by it. What can we say to it? Can we treat it with indignity? No; for it will rule us; it governs us. What is it? It is the light that is within us. The revelation says "It is the light of our eyes that enlighteneth our understandings." And what is this? It is the God we see in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars, for He is the light thereof, and the power by which they were made.
Thus our progression depends on our willingness to submit our will to God's will; to willingly "give back" our agency, so to speak. Because following eternal law s required for eternal progression, we should learn and follow it. In doing so, we run the risk of following our own ideas about what God wants. Men can believe they are following God when they are actually following their own beliefs, as the Lord warned in the first section of the Doctrine and Covenants:
They seek not the Lord to establish his righteousness, but every man walketh in his own way, and after the image of his own god, whose image is in the likeness of the world, and whose substance is that of an idol, which waxeth old and shall perish in Babylon, even Babylon the great, which shall fall (D&C 1:16).
It seems easier and more comfortable to think we already know what God wants us to do, but we may be wrong. The Lord continued, saying in order to save the world from such confusion he would send prophets:
Wherefore, I the Lord, knowing the calamity which should come upon the inhabitants of the earth, called upon my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., and spake unto him from heaven, and gave him commandments;
And also gave commandments to others, that they should proclaim these things unto the world; and all this that it might be fulfilled, which was written by the prophets—(D&C 1:17-18).
Elder Lyman cautioned the saints, saying they must be willing to receive counsel from inspired leaders sent from God. Prophets and scripture provide a check on our own personal views, helping to prevent self-idolatry:
Well then, should we be subject to counsel, and be advised? Yes. Men here stick up their noses, and complain because they are required to be subject to counsel. Says one, "I know enough to attend to my own business; I don't wish any man to manage for me, I cannot endure it; I am too independent." Now you poor independent soul, you that are too independent to learn the truth, to be taught your duty; what independence have you got? "O I have the privilege of moving round in this breathing world as I please; and I wont be controlled?" You wont; but I say you will, and you are controlled, and that is the very reason you say as you say, and do as you do, you are controlled every moment of your lives and still you say you are not. You are not independent, you never was, and you never will be. That being does not exist within the range of man's history. The very principles upon which we exist make us the objects of dependence.
The danger of following our own beliefs, ignoring counsel, and projecting our own will onto God is real but comfortable, as Marxist historian and writer Eugene D. Genovese chillingly described:
For if God is a socially conscious political being whose views invariably correspond to our own prejudices on every essential point of doctrine, he demands of us no more than our politics require. Besides, if God is finite, progressive, and Pure Love, we may as well skip church next Sunday and go to the movies. For if we have nothing to fear from this all-loving, all-forbearing, all-forgiving God, how would our worship of him constitute more than self-congratulation for our own moral standards? As an atheist, I like this God. It is good to see him every morning while I am shaving.[2]
Our ultimate exemplar, the Savior, demonstrated that we must submit to the Father as He did, allowing His will to be "swallowed up" in the will of the Father (see Mosiah 15:7). Elder Lyman explained:
Jesus Christ never declared his independence at all. He said he came into the world-on his own business? No, but he came to do the will of his Father. In this we have an example of what we should seek for, and how we should value the principles we should cherish within us. The truth is before us, and it is for us to learn it.
Elder Neal A. Maxwell said this doctrine of submission is one of the most difficult and important aspects of mortality- it is involved in everything we do:
I am going to preach a hard doctrine to you now. The submission of one's will is really the only uniquely personal thing we have to place on God's altar. It is a hard doctrine, but it is true. The many other things we give to God, however nice that may be of us, are actually things He has already given us, and He has loaned them to us. But when we begin to submit ourselves by letting our wills be swallowed up in God's will, then we are really giving something to Him. And that hard doctrine lies at the center of discipleship. There is a part of us that is ultimately sovereign, the mind and heart, where we really do decide which way to go and what to do. And when we submit to His will, then we've really given Him the one thing He asks of us. And the other things are not very, very important. It is the only possession we have that we can give, and there is no resulting shortage in our agency as a result. Instead, what we see is a flowering of our talents and more and more surges of joy. Submission to Him is the only form of submission that is completely safe. (BYU Speeches of the Year, January 1999).
As Christ said in the Garden of Gethsemane, so should we echo: "not my will, but Thine be done" (Luke 22:42). As Elder Maxwell explained in a stunning paradox, this submitting of one's will is the only way to reach true freedom. It is the only path to becoming "one" with Christ and the Father, as he so prayed in the great High Priestly prayer (see John 17:11, 21-22). The welding link between us will be the Holy Ghost:
When we have this Spirit dwelling in us, to be our constant companion and our instructor, we will grow in grace and in the knowledge of the truth; because it will each day unfold to us new treasures of truth. Our field of truth will become broader and broader, and consequently will embrace more of the facts in nature...and in this way we will add knowledge to knowledge, truth to truth, to make up that sum that will constitute us equal to the accomplishment of all that is requisite to our happiness, until it may extend to a vast illimitable infinitude.
By submitting to God's will our natures are changed until His will and our will are inseparable. Elder Lyman concluded saying the gospel becomes a part of everything we do in this life by encompassing everything. As we come to know God's will we develop a love of God and His truth; that love of truth will keep us on the straight and narrow:
"Mormonism" extends to a boundless infinitude; there is no place where it is not; no existence that does not exist by its influence and power. If it has life, it is enlivened by it. If it possesses light, it is enlightened by it. I will continue with "Mormonism;" though I know but little of it, I have learned enough to satisfy me that there is no room for anything else. All I have to do is to live, and extend my acquaintance with it; increase my explorations through its various ramifications... You want a love of the truth, which is the only thing that will ensure you success as Latter-day Saints, for if you have not the love of it in you, you cannot appreciate it; and if you do not appreciate it, you would give it away for a little sweet cake, or some trifling thing, because the love of it was never fixed in your affections... Do not stay the work of improvement and reform to pay attention to small things that are beneath your notice, but let it extend through the entire circle of your being, let it reach every relationship in life, and every avocation and duty embraced within your existence (Amasa Lyman, Journal of Discourses 3:164-177).
Footnotes: [1] Hymns of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, no. 240 Know Then That Every Soul Is Free (or The Freedom of the Will) was first published in Elias Smith and Abner Jones's 1805 camp-meeting collection, Hymns Original and Selected for the Use of Christians, and was included by Emma Smith in the first LDS Hymnal in 1835. [2] Eugene D. Genovese, "Pilgrim’s Progress," The New Republic, 11 May 1992, page 38; as found in “Popularity and Principle,” Neal A. Maxwell, Ensign, Mar 1995, 12. Rough outline of topics: -Freedom and Responsibility -Eternal Law -Progression vs. damnation -Self-idolatry -Accepting counsel -Importance of prophets -Submitting your will to God's -Universality of the gospel


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