December 14, 2007

The Devil's Microscope

Orson Pratt
April 6, 1856

We've heard of the Devil's looking glass, and Orson, the scientist-philosopher added his unique perspective to this parable. In his description of apostasy, Orson is a bit short-sighted, but nevertheless raises an important aspect. He believed those who received and recognized the blessings of the gospel ought not let doubt overcome their faith:

Who are there under the sound of my voice that doubt the divine authenticity of the great work in which they have enlisted? Who are there that doubt the divine authenticity of the Priesthood organized in this Church and kingdom? Are there any that doubt the divine authenticity of the Book of Mormon? You that have searched into the history of this Church1; you that have read the sacred, pure, and heavenly principles contained in the Book of Mormon, and in the Book of Doctrine and Covenants; you that have heard the sacred principles proclaimed from Sabbath to Sabbath by the mouths of the servants of God, holding the authority of heaven, the living Priesthood in your midst-you that have seen the power of the Almighty working with an invisible hand among the nations of the earth, but very visible to you in bringing about His purposes, establishing you as a free people, organizing you according to the laws of the land, breaking off your yokes and enabling you to worship God according to the great revelations and commandments that He has given; you, that have been so highly blessed, ought never to doubt. What Latter-day Saint with all these things before him can be justified in doubting the divine authenticity of this work?
No one can.
Here Orson presents his view on those who allow doubt to lead them from the gospel:
I will tell you what makes people doubt; it is when they fall into wickedness; when the devil begins to enshroud their minds with a veil of darkness; when the devil presents to their eyes the great microscope that he has had in existence ever since the fall of man; when he magnifies the faults of their neighbors, and enlarges the weaknesses and imperfections of those holding the Priesthood, then they exclaim, "Oh; this cannot be the latter-day work, it is not the work of the Lord the Priesthood must be in transgression, they are all wrong." [Here it is recorded that President Young interjected: "that is the devil's looking glass." Orson then Prattifies the metaphor.]
Such is the devil's looking glass or microscope that is calculated to magnify everybody's faults but the individual's looking in it: and when he wishes him to see his own, he turns the glass the other way, so that his own faults can scarcely be seen. You know that when you look through the big end of a telescope, or when you look into a convex mirror you see objects diminished, and it is just so, when the devil presents your own faults and your own imperfections. It is then, Latter-day Saints, that you doubt; it is then that you feel miserable, and it is then that you are almost ready to apostatize and deny the faith.
It seems one signal that someone is teetering in their faith is fault-finding and criticism. Historian Richard D. Poll noted this attitude in regards to members who would like to see changes in the Church. Some exercise their desires by following appropriate channels, seeking to make a change rather than to merely make a point. Changers have, in fact, been made, Poll points out. Others respond to Church authority by "griping to peers or engaging in passive resistance." Poll continues:
While censuring these negative activities in a thoughtful address on "Criticism," Apostle Dallin H. Oaks recently endorsed the private communication of concerns and suggestions about church policies and programs to those who are in a position to act upon them.
"Our Father in Heaven has not compelled us to think the same way on every subject or procedure. As we seek to accomplish our life's purposes, we will inevitably have differences with those around us—including some of those we sustain as our leaders. The question is not whether we have such differences, but how we manage them.… By following these procedures, Church members can work for correction of a leader or for change in a policy."2

Without going into too much detail, I believe there are ways to appropriately disagree with Church authorities without apostatizing.3 Rather than using the devil's microscope, Orson suggests using the Lord's:
But when you can get the Lord's microscope and look into your own conduct instead of the conduct of others, and see your own imperfections and your own faults and can have a realizing sense of your own follies, of your own unworthiness before God, and begin to humble yourselves and repent and turn away from sin, then your doubts are gone; they have fled; they trouble you no more; you have an abiding witness in your own hearts, a greater witness than prophecy and its fulfillment, greater than the printed word, greater than the testimony of the servants of God. You have the testimony that assures you every moment that this is the work of God; you feel it; think it in every thought; your whole souls are swallowed up in the work in which you are engaged; you feel that there is nothing that you own or possess, nothing upon the face of the whole earth to be compared with the greatness of the value of the principles which dwell within your own bosoms. I am speaking to men and women who know by their own experience that these things are true; everyone of you can bear testimony of them, who have ever tasted the good Spirit of the Lord, and that have felt its influences upon your hearts. You very well know, that when you enjoy this good Spirit, you have no trouble, let what will take place, it is no trouble to you, so far as you are concerned. You feel resigned; you are in the hands of that Being who placed you here upon the earth; you feel strong in the midst of weakness; you feel that God is your help, and that He will succor you; you know that He lives and that He loves and cherishes you, and that He has a good feeling towards you, like that which dwells in the bosom of a tender parent towards his own child; you know that the Almighty God has this tender feeling towards you, when you do right; and therefore, you have no trouble.4 If you go hungry, you are not troubled; if called to sacrifice your own lives, you will not be troubled, but you would say, "Father, I have done thy will; if my work is finished let me come into thy presence; let me behold thy face in peace; let me dwell in the society of the sanctified; let me go where my works shall be continued, where I can accomplish more good, and do more for thy cause." These are the feelings of a righteous man and of a righteous woman (JD 3:299-307).


History in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been controversial for years. Charges of institutional white-washing and antagonistic over-exaggeration have been discussed on each side. It seems the Church is on a historical "up-swing" right now, which deserves fuller discussion elsewhere.  

Dallin H. Oaks, "Criticism," Ensign, Feb.1987, 68.

 Richard D. Poll discusses institutional changes, and the lack of a historical understanding of the Church in many Latter-day Saints as part of his essay "The Happy Valley Syndrome," History and Faith: Reflections of a Mormon Historian, 41-53.  

This concept ties in with Brigham's admonition to "weed your own garden." 

[5] Pratt concluded the sermon, mentioning he was about to embark on another mission abroad:
Perhaps this will be the last opportunity that I shall have as an individual of meeting in a general conference with you for-I was going to say, for a long period of time, but I will say, for the short period of two or three years. I know not how long it may be, before I shall have the privilege of meeting again with the Saints in these Valleys of the mountains, whether I ever shall, I do not know of a certainty, but I feel that I shall again behold the faces of the Saints in Utah; I feel that I shall again lift up my voice upon the mountains and in these Valleys and bear testimony of the great and important truths which we have received; I feel that I shall again meet with you to rejoice in the flesh, in this mortal tabernacle. [President Young interjects: Prophesy!] I could almost prophesy that I shall, but when it comes to prophesying about myself, I feel a little delicate in doing so; but if the Lord will, I wish to live upon the earth to do much good.

He prophesied and fulfilled the prophesy.
This remarkable man, after all he had done for the gospel thus far, still believed he could have done more:
I have been in the Church almost twenty-six years, lacking about four months, and I have endeavored to do some little good; but really when I look back upon the twenty-six years of my life, or nearly that, which I have spent in this Church, when I look back upon my feeble labors, and my feeble endeavors, they seem to have been very small.
And although I have traveled much, and preached much, and written much, and tried to do some little good, yet after all, when I compare that which I have done, with that which it seems to me I ought to have done, in days gone by, I feel very weak, and am anxious that I may not be taken from the earth, until I have done more. I feel willing to perform any mission, whenever the First Presidency of this Church require it of me. If they say go to China, East Indies, Australia, Europe, England, or wherever it may be upon the face of the whole earth, I hold myself in readiness. These have been my feelings from the commencement; I do not know that I have ever backed out from any mission that was given to me; but have always rejoiced in every mission up to this time.
I am sometimes troubled lest I may not be able to retain a sufficiency of the Spirit of the Lord and the power of the Priesthood, to accomplish the work required of me acceptably before God. I believe that I am troubled about that more than anything else, and especially when there is a mission which places a great weight of responsibility upon me, where it is expected that my brethren will require a great deal at my hands. But inasmuch as you have lifted your hands to sustain me, in connection with my brethren that have been appointed to various nations, I feel to say before you, brethren and sisters, with uplifted hands, God being my helper, that I will endeavor with humility and untiring obedience to the commandments of God, to do some little good; I will try to carry out the counsels and instructions of the First Presidency of this Church, as they shall give them from time to time.
And inasmuch as I feel to bear this humble testimony, not in my own strength, not in my own name, but in the name of the Lord, I feel also to crave your assistance and your prayers and supplications that the Spirit of the Lord may be poured out upon brother Benson, and upon the other brethren who are appointed as missionaries, and upon your humble servant, that we may perform a good work—a work that shall be acceptable to you, to the Presidency of this Church, and to God, and return heavily laden with sheaves, which is my earnest prayer, in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.
Pratt gave one more discourse on April 13, 1856 in the Tabernacle before departing on his mission to preside over the England mission. He returned to the valley in 1858, addressing the congregation on January 24 of that year.

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