December 19, 2007

Brigham's Dream: The Parable of the Sheep

Brigham Young April 20, 1856 We might look around at the world today, focus on all the problems, and wonder "why all the trouble?" It's a question that has bothered theologians for centuries; why God allows evil. If God was all powerful, and could create anything He wanted, why even allow the possibility of evil? Either God knowingly created evil or even allowed for the possibility of such when He could have avoided it, making God the Father of evil, or He couldn't avoid evil, making God less than "all-powerful." The restored gospel offers a persuasive view on the subject of God and evil which overcomes these objections. Many Christian thinkers have come to justify or understand evil as part of life, that it can help us learn and grow, that it can't always be avoided, but there are eternal principles to be considered; that God is King of Kings through the mastery of law, not the capricious creation of law. Thus comes the rallying cry of Lehi, there must needs be "opposition in all things" (2 Nephi 2:11). Brigham saw the necessity for opposition:

When I was among the wicked, they looked to me as do the wicked, and when I saw devils possessing the bodies of the children of men I knew that God permitted it, and that He permitted them to be on the earth, and wherein would this be a state of probation, without those devils? We cannot even give endowments without representing a devil. What would we know about heaven or happiness were it not for their opposite? Consequently we could not have got along so well and so rapidly without those mobocrats. And if mobbers should happen to come here do not look too sour at them, for we need them. We could not build up the kingdom of God without the aid of devils, they must help to do it. They persecute and drive us from city to city, from place to place, until we learn the difference between the power of God and the power of the devil.
This seems awful indulgent of the prophet, who is sometimes thought of as a rather unbending individual. Brigham explained he wasn't out to indulge evil, or condone those who persecute the Saints. He wished the Saints to profit from opposition rather than let it turn them into bitter, intolerant individuals. He also knew we must hold sacred the individual rights to make choices (without infringing upon the choices of others, of course.) While we should love our enemies and do good to them that curse us, should we embrace their habits, or causes as well?
But does it then follow that we should say to them, “Come on here, we are good fellows well met?” By no means, care must be observed that we do not overrun the rule; we only need enough of them to help do up the work. If we should get too many here they would overcome the good, and the Saints would have to flee. Some of our Elders desire all the time to say, as I plainly phrase it, “How do you do brother Christ, and how do you do brother devil? Walk in and take breakfast with me.”
Brigham recalled when the Saints first arrived in the valley they thought they could usher in the Millennium through righteousness, and keep themselves "unspotted from the world."[1] The gold rush, which brought all sorts of characters through Utah, showed them otherwise. Especially at first, Brigham saw the diversity as somewhat of a threat, likely based on prior experiences where the Saints had been driven from their homes. However, he said he learned that such men, even those who didn't wish to live the gospel, could be "useful" in their place. As gold fever captured the attention of the nation, Brigham had a dream:
This fact [that 'gentiles' were a part of God's plan] was very clearly exemplified to me in a dream which I had while so many were going to California, at a time when many of the brethren were under quite an excitement about the Saints going there to dig gold. At that time I dreamed that while I was a little below the road and just north of the Hot Springs, about four miles from here, I saw brother Joseph coming and walked up to the road to see him, and asked him where he was going? He replied, "I am going north." There were two or three horsemen along, and some men were riding with him upon a few boards placed loosely upon the running gears of a wagon, upon which were also a tent and camp utensils. I wished to talk with him, but be did not seem inclined to conversation, and it occurred to me that he was going to Captain James Brown's to buy all his goats. I had been promised ten or a dozen of them, but I thought that he was going to buy every one, and that I should not get a single goat to put with my sheep, and I laughed in my sleep. Pretty soon he came back, with a large flock of sheep and goats following the wagon, and as I looked upon them I saw some sheep that were white, pure, and clean, and as large as a two year old cow, with wool from ten to twenty inches in length, as fine as silk and as white as the driven snow. With them were all lesser sizes down to the smallest goat or sheep I ever saw, and all mixed up together. I saw some sheep with hair like that of goats, and goats of all colors, red, black, white, &c., mixed with the sheep; and their sizes, colors, and quality of fleeces, seemed to be almost innumerable. I remarked to Joseph that he bad got the strangest flock I ever saw, and looked at him slyly and laughed, and asked him what he was going to do with them. He looked at me in his usual shrewd manner and replied, "They are all good in their places." On awaking I at once understood the dream, and I then said, go to California, or where you please, for goats are as good in their places as sheep, until the time for them to mingle is over. And in striving to guide and improve the flock we sometimes have to cry out, shoo, and at other times to draw them nigh by calling, sheep, sheep. We are trying to train the flock, and to turn the goats into sheep, and the spotted, ring-streaked and speckled into beautiful white, and how shall we succeed? Perhaps we shall see rather a curious flock at last, but we will do the best we can.
Brigham wanted the people to know we ought to reserve judgment, we really can't tell where we will all wind up. Instead of being prone to cast people off as lost causes, or "wicked" sinners, we should seek to overcome the divisive spirit and love everyone. Brigham often referred to this parable:
Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a net, that was cast into the sea, and gathered of every kind: Which, when it was full, they drew to shore, and sat down, and gathered the good into vessels, but cast the bad away (Matthew 13:47-48).
Focusing on our differences, lacking charity, leads us into all kinds of situations calculated to draw us further from God. Similarly, in the parable of the wheat and tares, they are to grow together until the final harvest, because it is too difficult to judge between them at the present time (see D&C 86; Matthew 13:25-30). After denouncing frivolous lawsuits, self-righteousness, and other unfortunate traditions, Brigham mentioned the gospel net:
I have spoken with much plainness concerning several traditions and practices, in order that the Saints abroad may correctly understand that we are not all, as yet, fully sanctified by the truth, and that both they and the world may know that the Gospel net still gathereth fish of every kind, that the flock has some goats intermingled with sheep of various grades, and that the day of separation has not yet arrived. May God bless you. Amen (JD 3:316-327)
In a subsequent discourse, Brigham explained the concept of mercy as follows:
The good and evil are mixed together, the wheat and the tares are growing together, the wise and foolish virgins are traveling on together. Some of the people are actually foolish, and they think that the Lord looks upon sin with a great deal of compassion, and are thinking, "O, if I should do this or that I will be forgiven. Yes, I will go and tell it all to the heads of the Church and get their forgiveness, and pass on in my wickedness." Do you wish your friends to stay here, and all to be Saints indeed? Now some children are wicked and their parents righteous, and again children may be Saints and their parents wicked. There are good people who have wicked brothers and sisters, and they say, "Let us be forgiving, let us hold on to them, if we have compassion, perhaps they will do better and repent of their sins, and yet be Saints." Is this not the feeling of every heart? It is, more or less. Who is there entirely void of these compassionate feelings? Father, save your son if possible; save your daughter, parents, if it is possible; brothers, save your brethren, if it is possible; save your sisters, if it is possible; save this man, or that woman, and let us have mercy on them, we will be compassionate on them.
Brigham cautioned the Saints to avoid the spirit of contention, to extend love, especially to those you may have enmity with:
The spirit of contention divides families as we see some divided. We can hardly associate with some persons, for we have to walk in their midst like walking upon eggs. What is the matter? You do not know the spirit they are led by. Treat them kindly, and, perhaps, by and bye they will come to understanding. What would they do were they of one heart and mind? They would be like little children, would respect their superiors and honor their God and their religion. This they would do, if they understood things as they are. Be careful of them, and treat them kindly.
In Brigham's flock he intended to make sheep's wool from goats hair:
I am not going to undertake to separate the tares from the wheat, the sheep from the goats, but we will try to make you goats produce fleeces of wool instead of hair, and we will keep hammering at you with the word of God, which is quick and powerful, until you become sheep, if possible, that we may not have five foolish virgins in the company. Though in all this I do not expect to even desire to thwart the plans and sayings of Jesus Christ in the least.
He admonished the Saints to avoid being goats, to avoid being foolish virgins themselves:
Let us do all the good we can, extend the hand of benevolence to all, keep the commandments of God and live our religion, and after all there will be five foolish virgins, and if we are not careful, we shall all be on the list of the foolish ones (JD 3:343-344).

Footnotes: [1] Unspotted from the world? Well, we are to be a light unto the world. That would seem to preclude complete isolation from the world. On the millennial thinking, Brigham said:
...there had been a feeling abroad among the people that when the Saints got into the mountains “judgment would be laid to the line, and righteousness to the plummet,” that the axe would be laid at the root of the tree, and that every person who did not meet the measure would, in accordance with the iron bedstead rule, be chopped off if too long, and stretched out if too short. Several supposed that this would be the case; and perhaps thought that they would be able to so sanctify themselves, that in one year they could take Great Salt Lake Valley and the regions round about up to Enoch, or have him come here. I did not so view the matter, and did not give any special instructions upon it (JD 3:321).


Don Kauffman said...

I find the contrast references to fixed and changeable natures interesting. On the one hand you have fixed definitions (wheat or tares; goats or sheep, foolish or wise), and on the other you have references to our ability to change our natures (“make you goats produce fleeces of wool…”). It raises mild Calvinist questions. I wish we could hear Bro. Brigham’s tone of voice when he talked about hammering in the word of God into us “until you become sheep, if possible.” (!!)

LifeOnaPlate said...

One of the most lamentable things about the JD is that no extent recordings are available, of course. What I wouldn't give to be able to hear the voice inflections in these early extemporaneous discourses! The meaning of anything could be greatly changed, enhanced, or even sublimated at any given time. With the JD we are reading through a glass, darkly!

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