November 2, 2007

Daily Conversion Through Christ

Parley P. Pratt August 26, 1855 Today you might expect your phone to ring a few days or weeks in advance when the Bishop calls and asks you to speak in Church. It wasn't always so; at early meetings of the Church the presiding elder would call upon different people to speak during the meeting. Parley P. Pratt described one such occurrence:

Before I came here this morning, I was thinking: what shall I say to the brethren and sisters, if called upon to speak; and after a moment's reflection I said, I will preach the Gospel, and when brother Kimball called upon me to address you, he said, "Brother Parley, we want you to preach the Gospel to us."
You might have experienced a similar premonition when you were given a new calling, or were simply asked to say the prayer in a meeting. Parley stood and delivered his testimony on the first four principles and ordinances of the gospel, beginning with a powerful testimony of Jesus Christ:
The Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is the only system whereby man can be saved, and his being the only name whereby we can approach our Father in heaven with acceptance, the only name in which remissions of sins can be obtained, and the only name whereby man can have power over unclean spirits, over devils, over diseases, over the elements, and over everything this side the celestial kingdom and its influences. It is of the highest importance, therefore, that this message of life should be declared to all the world. This Jesus Christ, the Son of God, was once born in Bethlehem, crucified on Calvary, risen again from the dead, and having ascended to his Father and to our Father to lead captivity captive, and give gifts unto men, his name has become the only name under heaven through which man may be saved-receive everlasting life and exaltation. It is the only name by which man can get remission of sins, the gift of the Holy Spirit, and all its attendant blessings. It is the only name by which we may approach our Father in heaven and invoke His blessings-the only name by which we may control disease, and the very elements, by the power of His Spirit and the authority of His Priesthood. This same Jesus, after having risen from the dead, after having received all power in heaven and on the earth, gave a mission to his Apostles, Peter and others, to go into all the world, preach the Gospel to every creature, baptize them in the name of the Father, Son, and of the Holy Ghost, and gave commandments that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name, in all the world, beginning at Jerusalem. Having given these commandments, and instructed his Apostles that they should teach all things whatsoever he commanded, he ascended up on high, and took his seat upon the right hand of God his Father, and he then shed forth the gift of the Holy Ghost, and bestowed gifts upon men.

Parley demonstrated the apostles began preaching the simple aspects of the gospel in Acts chapter 2, where they say all men are commanded to repent and be baptized in the name of Christ that they might receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. Parley wanted to warn the elders not to overlook preaching repentance:
Mind you do not forget, when we preach this Gospel, that it is a Gospel of repentance; do not slip over part of it, but while summing it up, look at it item by item. It is the Gospel of repentance, not a mere Gospel of baptism, but a Gospel of repentance, and remission of sins, to be preached in all the world. …obedience to the Gospel implies repentance, which means nothing more nor less than putting away all our evils, and ceasing to do them. I say, as repentance is an essential part of the Gospel; that the man who has not put away his sins has deceived himself, because this repentance is one of the first principles of salvation. If I have other sins, and then add the sin of neglecting repentance, my case is still worse than it was before.
Teaching repentance can be hard, especially when we are aware that we are as in need of repentance as those we teach. We are commanded in the Doctrine and Covenants:
Say nothing but repentance unto this generation; keep my commandments, and assist to bring forth my work, according to my commandments, and you shall be blessed (D&C 6:9; see also Mosiah 18:20).
Repentance encompasses the entire gospel; it indicates the change of conversion; the cessation of evil and the beginning and continuing of righteousness. Elder Neal A. Maxwell said both aspects of repentance are key:
Wickedness is not the only mortal failure. Yes, the avoidance of wickedness remains ever important, but the sins of omission also represent a haunting failure. How often, may I ask you, do we speak about the need for repentance concerning our sins of omission? Or how often do we make personal confessions of them to God? There is a memorable scriptural phrase about our need to have "faith unto repentance" (see Alma 34:15-­16). Faith unto repentance covers both sins of commission and sins of omission (Neal A. Maxwell, The Pathway of Discipleship, BYU Speeches of the Year, January, 1998).
Repent: stop doing the bad and start doing the good. Soon, the good will be the natural fruit of what Christ has created within us. Usually,this conversion through repentance and faith in Christ is a life-long process; becoming takes time, and as we seek to know God's will and follow it, he will change our very natures:
And Jesus said, "Be ye as I am, and I am as the Father." He contrasts himself and them with the Father, and then says, "What manner of men ought ye to be? Verily I say unto you such as I am, and I am as the Father is." It is for this purpose that we came into the world, that we might become like the Father; and that we may become like Him, we need converting every day, or at least until we are free from all evil, even if it be five hundred times-not to turn away from the truth, but keep going on to perfection (JD 3:187-191).
President Ezra Taft Benson encouragingly described this gradual conversion:
We must be careful, as we seek to become more and more godlike, that we do not become discouraged and lose hope. Becoming Christlike is a lifetime pursuit and very often involves growth and change that is slow, almost imperceptible. The scriptures record remarkable accounts of men whose lives changed dramatically in an instant, as it were... But we must be cautious as we discuss these remarkable examples. Though they are real and powerful, they are the exception more than the rule. For every Paul, for every Enos, and for every King Lamoni, there are hundreds and thousands of people who find the process of repentance much more subtle, much more imperceptible. Day by day they move closer to the Lord, little realizing they are building a godlike life. They live quiet lives of goodness, service, and commitment. They are like the Lamanites, who the Lord said were baptized with fire and with the Holy Ghost, and they knew it not' ("A Mighty Change of Heart," Ensign, October 1985, p. 5).

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

October 31, 2007

Faith, Works, and Revelation

Brigham Young May 6, 1855 The subject and faith and works has caused controversy in Christianity. The strong emphasis on works within the Church of Jesus Christ has caused some to accuse the saints of believing they can "save" themselves, or "work their way to heaven," thus denying or cheapening the atonement of Christ. Latter-day saints are firm in saying we take an active part in salvation, though it is only through the grace of Christ our works amount to anything. Many Evangelicals insist man is saved by grace alone, and our works are useless. The difference between these views is actually closer than it appears at face value. In this sermon, Brigham lighted upon the subject of faith and works:

...when I exhort the brethren to have faith, I really had rather that they would have good works; I do not care half so much about their faith as I do about their works. Faith is not so obvious a principle, but in good works you see a manifestation, an evidence, a proof that there is something good about the person who is in the habit of doing them. Now, if the people will only be full of good works, I will insure that they will have faith in time of need. I wish the brethren to he diligent in their affairs here, to he honest, faithful, prudent, and upright, and try to receive the spirit of the Gospel. I am ready to acknowledge that this people have the Gospel, that they are a good people; they are the best we know of upon the earth. At the same time there is a great lack with regard to the sentiments of many of them, with regard to their understanding, their views, the proportions, the degree and quality of the spirit they are in possession of.

It can seem from these words that Brigham was placing works over faith, but closer inspection reveals his understanding that faith leads to works. Works are the fruit of faith, and the absence of good works usually indicates a lack of true faith in God. We believe that faith in God includes a desire to know His will, and works result from knowing His will. In doing so, we bless others as well as ourselves, but in reality, these blessings are granted directly from God:
All ought to seek to know the mind and will of the Lord, and when they know it, they will be taught that the interest of this people is the interest of the Lord, and that all we do is for His glory. This is not all, it is likewise for our own benefit, and when we learn the principles of the Gospel perfectly, we shall learn that our interest is one, that we have no correct individual interest separate from this kingdom; if we have true interest at all, it is in the kingdom of God. If we truly possess and enjoy anything, it is in this kingdom; if we build it up, we shall be built up; if we neglect so to do, we shall fail to sustain ourselves.
Brigham believed true faith led to works, which in turn, increased faith. For example, he mentioned their struggles with harvests. He believed if the Saints sat back and expected God to given them a huge harvest with no work on their part, they would be mistaken. To be brief, faith the size of a seed can move a mountain, but you should be willing to grab your shovel and help that mountain along, if necessary:
Good works will produce good faith, and good faith will produce good works...In all the labor of the Saints, when faith springs up in the heart, good works will follow, and good works will increase that pure faith within them.
We are led and inspired to good works through our faith; the works are a fruit of our faith. The balding Heber C. Kimball put it succinctly:
It does not matter if you hold out till your hair is as thin as mine, you will have to acknowledge that it is God who gives us wisdom and furnishes us unto good works (JoD 3:51).
The Bible isn't silent on the issue; the book of James is clear in teaching the same principle Brigham and Heber explained:
What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him?
If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food,
And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit?
Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.
Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works (James 2:14-18).[1]
We exercise faith in God by believing that He exists, and this belief is bolstered by seeing evidence of God at work. Seeing the wonders of creation can inspire one to faith in God, and even more so, feeling the Spirit change your very nature can be proof that God exists, and that He is interested in you. Revelation is the way we learn about God:
What the Lord has done for this people would convince any man in the world, upon rational principles, that it is not the wisdom of man, nor his power or might, nor the power or might of this people unitedly, that has accomplished what has been done, but that it has been brought to pass by an invisible power. Still a person, unless he has the light of the Spirit within him, will attribute the work of the Lord to the wisdom of man, or...the power of the devil. Again, a person may see the power of the devil displayed, and mistake it for the power of God, for without the light of the Spirit one cannot tell the difference between the power of the Lord and the power of the devil. We must have the testimony of the Lord Jesus to enable us to discern between truth and error, light and darkness, him who is of God, and him who is not of God, and to know how to place everything where it belongs.
How can we rightfully discern between the power of man, God, and the Devil? Revelation from God.
You may ask, "How shall we know, brother Brigham, whether you are telling us the truth or not? "Get the spirit of revelation, then you will know, and not without. Will you take my counsel? (though you may do as you please with regard to that) if you will, I can tell you what to do, and what all the Latter-day Saints-whom I have preached to from the first of my preaching, from the first of my testimony that Joseph Smith was a Prophet of God, and that the Book of Mormon is true-would have done if they had followed my counsel, and that is, to seek unto the Lord your God until He opens the visions of your minds, and lets the rays of eternity shine within you. If you would take my counsel you never would cease to plead with the Lord, until He opened the eyes of your understanding and revealed eternity to you, that you might know for yourselves how things are, and when you know and keep in that spirit, you will never be deceived, but the spirit of truth will always be with you, and if you cleave to that, it will lead you into all truth and holiness. Without it, you are constantly liable to be deceived, to receive evil, false reports, and false testimony, through the evil power and arts which have been upon the earth from the days of Adam until now.
How do works ultimately intertwine? Do all you can, trust in God to bless your efforts, and your faith will lead to works which will increase your faith in turn. There is no other way to come to know God. Not everyone who says "Lord, Lord" will enter the kingdom, only those who do the will of God (See Matthew 7:21-26).

Pay attention to what the Lord requires of you and let the balance go. He will take care of that if you will acknowledge His hand in all things. Then you will rejoice that your names are written in heaven-that you have the privilege of being able to discern between the right and wrong, to recognize the goings forth of the Lord...
Footnotes: [1] This brought to mind Brigham's sermon on the morning he was told there were handcart companies stranded on the plains in the cold. He simply stood and told the congregation to go bring them home if they wanted to practice their religion. For more on Faith and Works, see Setting Belief Apart From Faith.

October 30, 2007

Take a Home Mission

Amasa Lyman December 2, 1955 Yesterday's post, Elder Lyman set the stage for the discussion of two classes of men, those who endure to the end and those who don't. (I should add there are many shades in between, but we'll focus on the two most obvious extremes.) The first class of men receive a true testimony, become converted, and see the gospel as worth everything. The second class end up seeing the gospel as useless. The first class gathers to Zion because he has become like Zion (pure in heart,) the second departs or avoids Zion:

You can readily see, then, how the kingdom of God must be built up in the soul of every individual; Zion must be developed there. What is Zion? It is the pure in heart, so says the revelation. Do you suppose you are going to build up the kingdom of God until the perfection of purity and truth is developed in the hearts of the people of that kingdom? No. You may gather them together by thousands, and tens of thousands, until the concourse swell the congregation in Zion to millions, and what will it amount to until this principle is developed in them?

There will be a corresponding stream of apostasy flowing out, at the same time, at the back door. What is the reason? Simply because this principle is wanted, this important part of the Gospel is omitted, if it has ever been thought of; its harmonizing influences are not felt through the sphere of man's being; his interests are at war with the interests of Zion; he runs after some fanciful notion that is at war with the kingdom of God. He cares not for it, he would exchange it for a piece of bread and cheese, for a farm, or for the glittering treasure of the world. Why, because the principle is not in the heart, that causes him to estimate the real value of the gem which he rejects; he considers it worth but a trifle, consequently he will barter away his chance for it, for a trifle. That is the way men act for "Mormonism." We are going to build up the kingdom of God, and compass sea and land to tell the erring sons of earth the Gospel, and testify that the Lord has set His hand again to build up the kingdom...

By going forth to build the Kingdom, Amasa speaks of missionary work. We must hear and learn the truth in order to accept it, then once we have the truth we'll communicate, and if the truth, or light, is in us, we will not go astray. It not only leads us to love others, it also prevents personal apostasy and discontent:
The light must be in the soul before its benefit can be realized. We have heard our teacher tell us that two and two make four; if we had never heard anything else, if this was all that had been connected with it, would we ever have comprehended the principle? No. The comprehension of it must exist in a man's mind. It must be in the centre of his being, a fountain of light, and consequently of life and glory, from which fountain should proceed life and truth until it is diffused throughout his whole being, until all his affections are sanctified, and his judgment corrected. This [true knowledge] would fix in the soul a principle of contentment that would wear out hardship and toil, and outlive them, and shed the light of peace and harmony throughout the whole field of a man's being and operations in life. He would be contented all the time. Would such a man ever apostatize? No. Was a contented man ever known to apostatize? No. I never saw an apostate yet, but could tell me of some dissatisfied desire that caused him to apostatize.
Amasa told the saints to examine themselves to see which class of men they belong to:
Then if you feel discontented you may know one thing, that you are not as you should be, that you have not within you the principle that should reign there, to influence, govern, and control you; that should dictate your course, and give shape to your actions. I want you to remember this, and become philosophers, and examine yourselves, establish an inquisition at home, within the circle you should control, over that little empire over which each of you should rule, and learn whether the love of truth is reigning there, or gathering strength each day.
Sometimes we are impressed by the growth of the Church, but Elder Lyman wanted the saints to know the most important growth wasn't that of the Church, but their own personal growth:
Then how is the cause of God advanced? Just as fast as those principles are being developed in the people. That tells her strength, power, and durability. If it is not the love of the truth that binds the people of God together, that holds them firmly round the great centre from which they cannot be induced to take their departure, and for which there is no feeling of the soul but would exert its influence to the fullest extent to bind them to it, then what is it? Who is it? It is not Brigham Young and his associates. It is no man or set of men that binds the Saints to the truth, that holds them together, and that maintains the rule and supremacy of the authority of God on the earth, but it is the principle of truth and the love of it developed in the hearts of the people, and the influence it exerts over them. Do the people appreciate it? I do not think they do fully, or to a very great extent… They suppose, with all the strength of the authorities of this kingdom, aided by the strength of God, they have as much as they can do to hold the people together. Such people make no calculation on the influence and strength of truth, but on the influence of frail man, or on the influence of a set of mortals like themselves, who enjoy more of the light of inspiration than they. Does the Lord tell us this? We know He has said it is His business to provide for His Saints. What does He require of you and me? Simply, enough to save ourselves. Says one, "I supposed I had to save nearly half the world to become great in the kingdom of God." If you are able to save yourselves, you will do first rate, because you will get all the reward you need-all that will make you happy, and an abundant entrance will be administered unto you into the everlasting kingdom of God, and to the enjoyment of every thing that is requisite to your happiness. They would not ask you in that state whether you have saved one, two, a hundred, or a hundred thousand souls besides yourself. "What, and I sent you to preach for them?" Why, to save yourself. And the reason why a great many of our Traveling Elders apostatize, and now mingle with that class of sinners, is simply because they fail to apply the principles to themselves which they recommend to others.

We all run the risk of failing to apply the principles we have thus far espoused, and even preached. It is vital that we live these principles in order to keep the influence of the Spirit with us to keep from being led astray. Elder Lyman again recommended all the Saints examine themselves , he told them all to "take a home mission."
Suppose you all individually take a home mission, to examine yourselves, and institute that inquisition I have alluded to, into your own conduct and condition, day by day, week by week, month by month, and year by year. Is it not of importance that it should be set up? To keep this perishable body from starving, you would work day and night; is not the soul of man, that can never die, that must be happy or miserable for eternity, worth your notice? Go to work and examine yourselves for a short time each day, and see how you are getting on. Having made these few scattering remarks, just as they came into my mind, without study or arrangement, I will forbear. If I have said anything wrong, I have no objections that you forget it; I hope you may; and what I have said that is right, I would like you to remember, because I am interested in having you remember it; and in having this people with the Saints everywhere, become a pure, a great and good people, because I am interested in the building up of the kingdom of God, and wherever that people and the interest of the kingdom is represented, there is my interest. And I hope when we have wound up the little routine of duties assigned us here, we shall have secured to ourselves that wealth that shall be to us worth all sublunary considerations, and remain when they have passed away. That we may all obtain this, is my prayer, in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

October 29, 2007

The Day Star Arises In Your Heart

Amasa Lyman December 2, 1855 One of my favorite early apostles was the little-known Amasa Lyman.[1] His magnanimous sermons and years of service have likely been lost in time as a result of Amasa's apostasy and excommunication from the Church in 1867, even though he was posthumously reinstated by Joseph F. Smith in 1909. Incidentally, James E. Faust, former member of the First Presidency, was a great-great grandson of Amasa. Amasa, who was presiding over the saints in California, visited Salt Lake in December of 1855 where he made this address. He viewed his entire life as one long mission, in which he had served many different areas since he was first baptized. From the time of his conversion in 1833 until 1855 his understanding of the gospel had grown considerably:

With the years of experience that have added the contributions to the store of knowledge, I have been able to gain in the short time I have lived in the world, the subject seems to increase in its dimensions and in its extent. That which I thought I knew when I was but a boy-that I thought I understood-that I supposed in the vanity and ignorance of childhood I comprehended-I find in the mature years of manhood that I knew nothing about it, so far as the comprehension of the great truths of the Gospel, in their extent, are concerned.
Our understanding of the world, society, people, and even the gospel will grow through experience; we should always seek and be willing to accept further light and knowledge. Elder Lyman had come to understand the great comprehensiveness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ; he said it "is connected with everything I can think about...There are no depths it does not reach; no heights it does not surmount; no extent which is not filled by it." He admitted he still did not comprehend all there was to comprehend about the gospel, and added that many of the saints have a long way to go in their understanding of the gospel. We expect to receive salvation through the gospel; to overcome sin and death and continue progressing when we return home to God. Often we emphasize the obedience required of us in our pursuit. When we are called to serve we go, and through service we can be converted. However, Elder Lyman explained that service alone cannot convert us:
One might calculate that all the good we expect to realize when we are saved, will be obtained, by doing in all things, as we are told to do, by fulfilling every requisition that is imposed upon us, and thereby securing the fullness of this salvation. What does this obedience lead people to? It leads them to go where they are required to go, and to stay where they may be required to stay; in fine, it leads them to perform every labor that is required at their hands in the building up of the kingdom of God, and the establishing of Zion... We find men crossing the desert, and the ocean, of their own free will; passing through all the contingencies of a journey of that kind; passing through privations, hardships, dangers, and evils that may hang around their path, because they have been commanded to do so... After a while we find those men who have traveled long and far, and suffered much; and what do they tell us? "Why, we have tried Mormonism for twenty years," and now what conclusion do they come to? To the conclusion, that is sometimes vulgarly expressed in this way -"We have not found Mormonism what it is cracked up to be-it has been misrepresented to us." This is simply because they have not realized all their expectations, and hopes, and have not been able to grasp the reward they were seeking after, and which they regarded as constituting the elements of happiness. So now, after twenty year's hard service, they are ready, as we say, to apostatize and go somewhere else to seek happiness, and leave "Mormonism" to go as it may go, to sink or swim. If toiling, and laboring, and suffering privations and hardships were sufficient to save men, and place within their possession the constituent principles of happiness to redeem them from evil, such men would have been redeemed very likely; such men would have been pure. But what does it prove? It simply proves, that if there is anything in a man's experience, in his toiling and labor, it is simply the facts that we see, the outward result that may be calculated, that flows from his labors, such as the building of houses, and cities.
Elder Lyman is saying we often can't tell- based alone upon what people do- whether or not they are really being converted to Christ. How can someone serve God for so long and remain unconverted?
Why is it? Is it because the Gospel is untrue; because He is not faithful that has promised? No. But it is simply because he has been looking where it is not, for the constituent principles of happiness where they do not exist and while he has been laboring and toiling he has failed to gather to himself a store of happiness as the reward of his toil. He supposed if he built this house, performed this mission, or discharged that duty, that this would give him salvation. Says one, "Is it not this which gives men salvation?" What does the Savior say? He once on a time defined what eternal life is; and that is what we all seek; that is the principle without which we as Latter-day Saints calculate that men cannot be happy and be saved in the kingdom of God, which is to know the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom He has sent.
Christ defined eternal life as knowing God:
And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent (John 17:3).
As King Benjamin taught, one way we come to know God is by serving others, thus, serving Him:
For how knoweth a man the master whom he has not served, and who is a stranger unto him, and is far from the thoughts and intents of his heart? (Mosiah 5:13)
Conversion to Christ leading to eternal life is received by knowing God through service, but as Elder Lyman points out, simply going through the motions won't automatically lead to conversion; that service must be done with the proper goal in mind: the goal of loving God and loving one's fellow man. Motive matters[2]:
For behold, God hath said a man being evil cannot do that which is good; for if he offereth a gift, or prayeth unto God, except he shall do it with real intent it profiteth him nothing (Moroni 7:6).
If we serve grudgingly we are profited nothing, and if we serve to be seen of men Christ tells us we have our reward: namely; we are seen of men (see Matthew 6). We need to serve with an "eye single to the glory of God," (see D&C 4:5) we must serve with faith in Christ. Elder Lyman, referring to Paul, said the Saints must emerge from darkness into light:
When a man is in darkness it is necessary he should have a candle, or some borrowed means of light to dissipate the darkness around him. How long? Until the day dawns, and the day star arises. Where? In this man's heart-in your neighbor's heart? No. But give heed unto the sure word of prophecy until the day dawns, and the day star arises in your heart. When the day dawns, we dispense with the light of the candle; when the day star arises in the heart, to use the language of the Apostle, it reflects its light there. Does it wear away? No, it is there continually. The Apostle chose that as a figure, that was as near something immutable and without change, probably, as anything that could occur to his mind, in selecting the dawn of day and the rising of the day star... [T]he great object of the Gospel, and the object of its being preached was the development of its light in the soul of those individuals that are to become heirs of salvation, the sons and daughters of God, who are to be clothed upon with the principles of truth with which God is clothed, that in the comprehension of truth, they may receive capacity to will and do and accomplish those things which are requisite to their happiness and exaltation.
Elder Lyman knew if this day star of testimony did not arise in the hearts of saints, they would soon view Mormonism as false:
And so long as this objective [of developing the light in one's soul] fails to be accomplished-so long the preaching of the Gospel has failed to accomplish its object, as far as those individuals are concerned... This is a point that Latter-day Saints should duly appreciate and consider; because if we do not [develop the light], the consequences are discontent in the mind and dissatisfaction; we shall quarrel with circumstances that are around us, we shall find fault, simply because we are not contented; and because the estimates we place upon truth, and the blessings conferred upon us, lead us to consider that they are not worth the labor we are required to bestow, the money or means we are required to give. The consequence is, we consider it a bad bargain, and we want to rue; and then as Latter-day Saints we apostatize-we quit it-we back out, saying, "We have not found Mormonism what it was cracked up to be."

Elder Lyman said other people receive the gospel, receive the light, and become converted so that they are willing to give everything they have for the gospel. While some men may think the gospel is worth his tithing, and nothing more,
...another man considers it worth everything; and more than everything of which he can entertain a perception. He would not refuse to pour out the last dollar; he will hunt the last corner of his pocket to get out the last farthing to give to it. And when it comes to his labor he would not stop to labor one day in ten, but ten whole days, and only wish there were more days to labor to accomplish more; because in so doing he is serving himself and enlarging his own interest, when he is seeking the interest of "Mormonism." Why so? Because he estimates it to be that that is universal in its extent, and intimately associated with every principle of the Gospel, in which the narrow conceptions of men are drowned, they are lost, submerged like a mote cast into the ocean. On taking this view, he does not stop at anything he can do. Does he stand back from pouring out his life's blood? No, but he pours it out as freely as water that glides down from the summit of the snow-clad hills to the valleys below. In what consists the difference between these two classes of men? It is in the estimate they place upon the value of "Mormonism." One class considers it worth what they gave for it, and the other considers it worth more than they can possible give.

These "two classes of men" are manifest in those who join the Church, those who remain in the Church, and those who leave the Church; tomorrow we'll see what Elder Lyman says about them.

Footnotes: [1] A convert resulting from the missionary labors of Orson Pratt, Amasa Lyman was baptized in 1832 and moved from New Hampshire to Hiram, Ohio. He was ordained an elder, then high priest, and by 1835 he was ordained as one of the original members of the Quorum of the Seventy. During this time he served several missions until 1838 when he joined the Prophet Joseph in Far West. There he participated in the Battle of Crooked River. In August of 1842 he was ordained a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, replacing the estranged Orson Pratt- the missionary who had brought him into the Church. Five months later Pratt returned to full fellowship, displacing Lyman, who was subsequently set apart as an extra counselor in the First Presidency. After Joseph Smith was killed he again joined the Quorum of the Twelve in 1844 and subsequently made the trek west with the saints. He was sent to preside over the California saints for years, and sometimes returned to report on matters there and speak in conference. This sermon was preached on one of his return trips. [2] For more on motives and conversion, see The First Great Principle: Improvement.