November 12, 2007

"We see through a glass darkly"

Brigham Young January 27, 1856 In an earlier post I discussed some imperfect aspects of revelation, namely, that God cannot yet give us a full understanding, and that many revelations the Church possesses are not perfect[1]. In this sermon, Brigham told the saints though they had accepted the restored gospel, they still only beheld a small portion of its light:

As individuals, we enjoy Zion at present, but not as a community; there is so much sin, darkness, and ignorance, and the veil of the covering which is over the nations of the earth is measurably over the Latter-day Saints. The same unrighteous principles which becloud the minds of men universally, more or less becloud the minds of the Latter-day Saints. Though the veil is partially broken to the Saints, though it becomes thin, as it were, and the twilight appears like the dawning of the day, yet we may travel for many years before the sunshine appears. It does not yet appear to this people; they are merely in the twilight. As one expressed it in ancient times: "We see through a glass darkly"-through a smoked or dim glass-through which we cannot behold objects clearly with the natural eye [see 1 Corinthians 13:12].
Brother Brigham believed we often fail at receiving revelation because we don't have sufficient faith.[2] Still, he rejoiced in this imperfect state; saying it is our "joy and salvation" to receive revelation from God. We could do better, however. Through the medium of the Priesthood, we could keep learning more:
If we could understand the nature of the Priesthood—could comprehend it fully, this people, as a community, the Elders, as Elders of Israel, quorums, as quorums, when they present themselves before the Lord, would possess keys to unlock the treasury of heaven, and we could receive as one person receives from another. To us, as a people, the keys of the rich storehouse of the Lord are committed, yet we do not fully know how to unlock and receive. We receive a little here and there, and the hearts of the people are comforted by the very Priesthood we are in possession of, which has been given to this people for the express purpose of their receiving that which God has given them, though not yet to possess it independently, but as means for trial.
This Priesthood is given to the people, and the keys thereof, and, when properly understood, they may actually unlock the treasury of the Lord, and receive to their fullest satisfaction. But through our own weaknesses, through the frailty of human nature, we are not yet capable of doing so.
Brigham saw the saints on the same ground as any religious people; humility, effort, study, and many other things are required to seek revelation. If we fully understood the principle of revelation it would become easier to receive it:
We have to humble ourselves and become like little children in our feelings—to become humble and childlike in spirit, in order to receive the first illuminations of the spirit of the Gospel, then we have the privilege of growing, of increasing in knowledge, in wisdom, and in understanding. This is a great privilege, while the world, excepting this people who inhabit these valleys, and those that are associated with us in different parts of the earth, are destitute of this principle and privilege. Still, many of us, and I may say comparatively all of us, are upon the same ground, situated precisely like other professors of religion, in order that we may struggle, wrestle, and strive, until the Lord bursts the veil and suffers us to behold His glory, or a portion of it.
If we did fully understand the principles of the Gospel—the keys of the Priesthood, it would be familiar with us, and be easy to be understood and to act upon and perform, and be no more of a miracle to know how to receive the things of God by revelation, than it is now a miracle to cast seed into the ground, after it is prepared, and reap our crops.

The mysteries of the gospel are unfolded line by line, as Alma explained:
...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 (Alma 12:9-10).
Alma continues with a key verse detailing how to receive revelation:
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 12:30).
As we learn more about God through study and revelation we will occasionally discover some long-held belief was in error. Further light and knowledge, even stemming from academic pursuits, can be confusing if it seems to contradict what we already believe. CES instructor David Bokovoy mentioned the dilemma we might face:
Is there ever a good reason to abandon Mormonism? Not if one has obtained a spiritual witness from God concerning the truthfulness of the Church. Still, throughout our lives, many of us encounter pieces of doctrinal and/or historical information that appears to indicate that we have been deceived, that in fact Mormonism is not true. In these moments, perhaps before doubting our spiritual convictions, we should approach our concerns from the perspective of a paradigm shift, meaning a change in the basic assumptions concerning Mormonism that we hold to be true. In other words, perhaps the only thing that we have encountered that is untrue is our basic assumption concerning the doctrine and/or historical information rather than the Church itself. Rather than abandoning the Church of Jesus Christ, I believe that every issue that ever troubles our members may simply require a paradigm shift.[3]
Through continued efforts, as Alma described, we can grow closer to God, and receive or recognize revelations more frequently. Brigham adds some interesting requirements:
An individual who holds a share in the Priesthood, and continues faithful to his calling, who delights himself continually in doing the things God requires at his hands, and continues through life in the performance of every duty, will secure to himself not only the privilege of receiving, but the knowledge how to receive the things of God, that he may know the mind of God continually; and he will be enabled to discern between right and wrong, between the things of God and the things that are not of God. And the Priesthood-the Spirit that is within him, will continue to increase until it becomes like a fountain of living water; until it is like the tree of life; until it is one continued source of intelligence and instruction to that individual.
Not the mentioning of the "individual." At times, revelation is of a personal matter, and ought not be divulged only by constraint of the Spirit. Our revelations are given to guide our own stewardships. Joseph Smith taught: is contrary to the economy of God for any member of the Church, or any one, to receive instructions for those in authority, higher than themselves; therefore you will see the impropriety of giving heed to them; but if any person have a vision or a visitation from a heavenly messenger, it must be for his own benefit and instruction; for the fundamental principles, government, and doctrine of the Church are vested in the keys of the kingdom (History of the Church, 1:338.)[4]
Receiving divine council from God is a blessing, and should be viewed as such; requests at the throne of grace and mercy rather than demands at the bar of justice:
This is one of the most glorious and happy principles that can be set before any people, or any individual who will be faithful to his God and to his religion. Upon whoever are bestowed the keys of the eternal Priesthood, by a faithful life, will secure to themselves power to see the things of God, and will understand them as plainly as they ever understood anything by gazing upon it with their natural eyes, or as clearly as they ever could distinguish one object from another by their sensations (Journal of Discourses 3:191-194).
Footnotes: [1] See the post "Are the Scriptures Perfect?" In that post, Brigham Young is quoted as saying: The laws that the Lord has given are not fully perfect, because the people could not receive them in their perfect fulness; but they can receive a little here and a little there, a little to-day and a little to-morrow, a little more next week, and a little more in advance of that next year, if they make a wise improvement upon every little they receive; if they do not, they are left in the shade, and the light which the Lord reveals will appear darkness to them, and the kingdom of heaven will travel on and leave them groping" (see Journal of Discourses 2:309-318). [2] Moroni warned that miracles, including revelation, could cease due to lack of faith (see Moroni 7). In Alma [3] David Bokovoy recently discussed this belief, citing some examples, in a thread on the Mormon Apologetics discussion board. [4] The First Presidency released a statement regarding personal revelation as follows:
When visions, dreams, tongues, prophecy, impressions or any extraordinary gift or inspiration, convey something out of harmony with the accepted revelations of the Church or contrary to the decisions of its constituted authorities, Latter-day Saints may know that it is not of God, no matter how plausible it may appear. Also, they should understand that directions for the guidance of the Church will come, by revelation, through the head. All faithful members are entitled to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit for themselves, their families, and for those over whom they are appointed and ordained to preside. But anything at discord with that which comes from God through the head of the Church is not to be received as authoritative or reliable. In secular as well as spiritual affairs, Saints may receive Divine guidance and revelation affecting themselves, but this does not convey authority to direct others, and is not to be accepted when contrary to Church covenants, doctrine or discipline, or to known facts, demonstrated truths, or good common sense. . . . Be not led by any spirit or influence that discredits established authority and contradicts true scientific principles and discoveries, or leads away from the direct revelations of God for the government of the Church. The Holy Ghost does not contradict its own revealings. Truth is always harmonious with itself. Piety is often the cloak of error. The counsels of the Lord through the channel he has appointed will be followed with safety, therefore, O! ye Latter-day Saints, profit by these words of warning (Joseph F. Smith, Anthon H. Lund, and Charles W. Penrose, “A Warning Voice,” Improvement Era, Sept. 1913, pp. 1148–49).

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