November 8, 2007

Salvation: The Object vs. The Means

Amasa Lyman December 20, 1855 In an upcoming post I will be discussing ritual, rites, ordinances, and their role in salvation according to the restored gospel. As an introductory piece, Amasa Lyman gave an outstanding discourse regarding the method and means of being born again. An attempt was made to slice this sermon up and distribute it throughout several posts, but it is better served in as a whole first. Amasa Lyman, as one of the Twelve Apostles, told the saints he had learned very little of the gospel thus far in his life, and anticipated much more learning to be done. Rather than being apathetic in believing he had a testimony and need go no further, Amasa encouraged the saints to keep pressing forward for further light and knowledge[1]:

We use to think that a man could preach the Gospel in one sermon, and explain all the prophecies, besides making a great many new ones. But I have learned better as I have grown older. I have found out to my astonishment, that instead of having preached all the Gospel, I have learned but very little of it yet; consequently I could not preach it all. I am a pupil in the school, but I have also been engaged by Him who teaches me, to teach those of my fellow pupils, in the school, who have not advanced farther than I have.
Amasa knew "it is impossible for a man to be saved in ignorance" (see D&C 131:6), and described how we overcome ignorance by gaining knowledge just as the apostles of Christ's day had done:
Well, is this what it takes to become the sons and daughters of God? Yes. Then, how did the Apostles obtain this knowledge? I will tell you: Jesus said unto them, “Follow me;” and he took them up into the mountains, and there in secret he taught them the principles of truth. And as evidence that he thought they were learning, he inquired of Peter, and the other Apostles... "who do men say that I am?" "Why," said they, “Some say that thou art John, others one of the prophets.” "But," said Jesus, "Who do you say that I am, ye disciples of mine who have been laboring in the vineyard?" Says Peter, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God." Then said He to Peter, "Thou art blessed, for flesh and blood has not revealed this unto thee, but my Father who is in heaven" [see Matthew 16:13-18]. The Apostles acquired knowledge as the result of their application to searching for is not merely the labor that you can perform that will give you eternal life. I want you to understand that if you have eternal life, it will be when you comprehend the truth, so that it becomes your property; so that you can apply it... You may sing, or pray, or just do what you please, but if you do not learn the truth, and fully comprehend it, you will fail to obtain salvation. I want you to understand this, that you may not waste yourselves away.
Elder Lyman didn't want the saints to confuse the means with the ends, and he didn't want them to rely on their past so-called "righteousness." He knew that simply going through the motions wouldn't save anyone; we aren't saved by those works:
I want to have you discriminate between that which is salvation, and that which is not salvation. There is such a thing in the world as means, and the object that the means effect. The object and the means are two different things.... "But," says one, "I thought it was the doing of my duty that would save me. For instance, I am required to pay my tithing, whether ecclesiastical or municipal, or any other; besides this, I have to labor a considerable portion of my time; and I have to go and preach the Gospel, and call upon sinners to obey the truth; I verily thought that this had something to do with my salvation." Well, this has something to do with your salvation, but I do not want you, because you have been preaching the Gospel, and have returned again, to think that you are saved. If there is not developed in us the comprehension and correct practice of the truth, we shall fail to be saved. Our baptism for the remission of sins, followed by the laying on of hands, and our washings and anointing will not avail anything, if they are not followed by this development. If the lamp of eternal truth is not lighted in us—is not planted here—does not receive its strength here, all our efforts will be in vain. If the knowledge and light of eternal truth does not follow as the result of our toil, the ordinances that we receive, and all that is done to us will not save us.
Elder Dallin H. Oaks underscored this concept in his conference address of October 2000. Conversion requires the grace of Christ to interact with us and change our very natures; the natural man is "put off" and we become children of Christ:
...[T]he Final Judgment is not just an evaluation of a sum total of good and evil acts--what we have done. It is an acknowledgment of the final effect of our acts and thoughts--what we have become. It is not enough for anyone just to go through the motions. The commandments, ordinances, and covenants of the gospel are not a list of deposits required to be made in some heavenly account. The gospel of Jesus Christ is a plan that shows us how to become what our Heavenly Father desires us to become.[2]
Both men would remind the saints that ordinances play a part in salvation, but they are not the be all end all automatic magic converting tools; they are the means to the end. These views reminded me of Christ's scathing rebuke of the Pharisees:
But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in.
Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense make long prayer: therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation.
Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves.
Woe unto you, ye blind guides, which say, Whosoever shall swear by the temple, it is nothing; but whosoever shall swear by the gold of the temple, he is a debtor!
Ye fools and blind: for whether is greater, the gold, or the temple that sanctifieth the gold?...
Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone (Matthew 23:13-17, 23).
Christ mentions the temple, tithes, missionary work, among other things. He says these acts are good; they should "not be left undone," but that more than mere compliance is required. According to the Savior, motive matters. Elder Oaks expounded:
We are challenged to move through a process of conversion toward that status and condition called eternal life. This is achieved not just by doing what is right, but by doing it for the right reason--for the pure love of Christ. The Apostle Paul illustrated this in his famous teaching about the importance of charity (see 1 Cor. 13). The reason charity never fails and the reason charity is greater than even the most significant acts of goodness he cited is that charity, "the pure love of Christ" (Moro. 7:47), is not an act but a condition or state of being. Charity is attained through a succession of acts that result in a conversion. Charity is something one becomes. Thus, as Moroni declared, "except men shall have charity they cannot inherit" the place prepared for them in the mansions of the Father (Ether 12:34).
Rather than viewing our obedience to commandments such as tithing and temple work as brownie-point earning devices, we should see them as what Elder Lyman called "guide-boards."
There is a great difference between the guide-board which leads to salvation, and salvation itself. Says one, "I guess we understand it pretty well." I hope you do…. Perfection is not at the guide-board, but we can read it there, that this is the way that leads to it. But supposing you were to stay there, what would you accomplish? You would be perfectly bewildered, without any possibility of ever getting right. How foolish it would be for us to stay there and say, why, I cannot leave this; it first pointed out to me the way of life; and can I leave it now? No, I will live by it, and die by it.
Elder Lyman said people who focus only on the guide-boards are "puckered up;" they seem to be stuck looking at the guide-boards and comparing their place on the trail to where others are. Finally, Amasa told the saints how to tell whether or not they "live in truth," and reminded them they would get what they give:
Do you know how much you would give for the truth last year? Says one, "I would give a tenth last year." Would you give any more now? "I do not really know. Why, I thought they only asked me for my tithing, and that that was all it was worth." Then you do not think it worth more now than you thought it worth last year. Well, now, what are you going to do? Are you going to swindle somebody out of nine-tenths of their salvation? You gave a tenth. What for? Why, you thought "Mormonism" worth that much; you considered it worth your tithing. Well, what are you going to get? You are going to get a tenth. I came into this kingdom to identify myself with all that I have, and all that I expect to have. You have given a tenth, and you expect to get a dollar, do you? Now, is there any good hard sense about that? "Well," says one, "what do you mean by treating the subject in this way?" Why, I want you to think of this, and not deceive yourselves by thinking that you will get a full salvation for paying a tenth; if you devote yourselves and all that you have for the cause of truth, you will merit the whole.

When the rich young ruler asked Christ what he needed to do to gain eternal life, Christ told him to keep the commandments. The young man responded that he had been doing so his whole life, and asked a poignant question:
What lack I yet? Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me. But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions (Matthew 19:20-22).
The rich young ruler was not ready for eternal life as his heart still pined for possessions; consecration was not on his calendar yet. Elder Lyman concluded his remarks:
I want you to learn that "Mormonism" is worth everything; that it is all there is of life-that it is all there is of truth-that it is all there is of everything that is worth having; and you will then comprehend, as I do, that to merit it, you will have to throw in all that you have got... May God bless you and me with His Holy Spirit, that we may be led into all truth, and fully comprehend and appreciate that salvation which we seek, is my prayer, in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen (Journal of Discourses 3:213-221).
Footnotes: [1] Brigham Young similarly discussed his own need for further knowledge in a post titled "The Mysteries of The Kingdom."
"But I am proud to say of my religion, I have studied it faithfully for twenty-two years, day and night, at home and abroad, upon the rivers, and upon the lakes, when traveling by sea and by land; have studied it in the pulpit; from morning till night; whatsoever might be my pursuit, I have studied it with as close an application any college student ever did any subject he wished to commit to memory; and I can say I have only just got into the A B C of it; it leads the vision of my mind into eternity (Journal of Discourses 1:41).

[2] Dallin H. Oaks, "The Challenge to Become", Conference Report, October 2000.

November 7, 2007

"Never deny the faith in a dark day"

Jedediah M. Grant January 27, 1856 Almost ten years after entering the Salt Lake Valley to establish their new Zion community, the Saints still faced drought, famine, crickets, poor weather and other trials to their faith in the new location. This sermon gives us an interesting insight into what a Latter-day Saint might hear on Sunday at Church in 1856 Utah. The Church leadership was becoming aware of religious apathy on the part of many saints, much of which was likely caused by the physical conditions of the time. While addressing the impending crisis the saints were facing, President Grant asked the saints to avoid casting judgment on others as they faced the difficult times together:

I hope the Saints will treasure up the remarks they have heard to-day, and profit by them. I am satisfied that we should bear with each other weaknesses, for we are ourselves subject to the same infirmities as our brethren; we are subject to the same temptations as those who are similar in their nature; we should, therefore, be willing to look with the same complacency on the weaknesses of others, as we would wish them to look upon ours.
He encouraged the saints to remember to call on God for support. The hard-working pioneers may have had a tendency to rely too much on their own efforts:
I am aware of the feelings that exist in the community through darkness and unbelief; many neglect their duty as Saints, and they grow dark in their minds.
I have doubts of that man who neglects his prayers, and I have also doubts of some who attend to their prayers. I have great doubts of those who profess to be Saints, have all the privileges of Saints, and participate in the enjoyments of Saints, yet do not consider that the duty of prayer is obligatory on them.
They think they can have around them, their wives, and children, and friends, and engage in the duties of life and take great responsibility upon them, and yet slide along and lay aside their duty as a Saint of God in regard to praying.
If a person is in trouble, or in want, he should seek unto the Lord by prayer, and obtain from Him aid, assistance, and light, and by that Divine Spirit he may overcome his weakness, break through the cloud of darkness, and walk in the light of the Lord.
President Grant admonished the Bishops of the Church to look after the poor, and the saints to be frugal with their food usage. He spoke encouragingly, reminding the saints that things could be worse, and that the current conditions would improve. He believed the saints would learn from their temporal trials. Additionally, he viewed the current situation as a way to keep the saints isolated for a little while longer:
I for one am glad that our crops failed. Why? Because it teaches the people a lesson, it keeps the corrupt at bay, for they know that they would have to starve, or import their rations, should they come to injure us in the Territory of Utah.
In the middle of that particular thought he made an outstanding remark; giving the secret to avoiding apostasy:
I do not look for much trouble myself; I do not look for the people to suffer as they did the first winter we came here. The winter is cold and the cattle are dying, but ere long the weather will break, the people will get employment, and feel better. Do not be discouraged in a hard time, be patient until spring comes, when you will feel pleasant and happy, and then is the time to deny the faith, if you are inclined to do so; never deny the faith in a dark day.
Just doing one's duty can carry a person through the difficult times. The dark days are ahead; the "mists of darkness" mentioned in Lehi's dream affected those holding to the rod as much as anyone else. Heber C. Kimball emphasized the same point, and recommended we be submissive to God:
I expect to see close times, and so will you. I expect to see scores of you take the back track, that is, many of you will deny the faith. Why do I say this? Because you do not do right; you do not all keep the commandments of God; you do not all pray and humble yourselves in the hands of the Lord, like clay in the hands of the potter. You are not all subject to the authorities, whom the Lord has placed to counsel and direct you. For this reason, many are losing the good Spirit and are going into darkness (Journal of Discourses 3:253-254).

November 6, 2007

The Devil's Looking Glass

Brigham Young
January 27, 1856

When Christ appeared among the Nephites one of the first things he taught was the need to avoid contention:

For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another.
Behold, this is not my doctrine, to stir up the hearts of men with anger, one against another; but this is my doctrine, that such things should be done away (3 Nephi 11:29-30).

Brigham Young taught one clear evidence that a person has become disconnected from the Holy Ghost is contention; the tendency to argue, be angry, find fault, etc:
Again, when we look around we see many, very many, men and women who profess to know the things of God, to belong to His family, to the Church of the First-Born-the Church of Jesus Christ, who are ofttimes wrought upon by the Holy Spirit of the Gospel which has caused them to rejoice therein, who give thanks to their God, rejoice with joy unspeakable, and you would think they were very near the kingdom of heaven-near the threshold of the gate which opens into the presence of the Father and the Son, and yet, if anything crosses them, will give way to an evil temper; and anything is presented to them which they do not understand, they condemn it at once; they are ready to pass judgment upon that which they do not understand.
If they are crossed by their friends and families they are ready to speak by the spirit of evil, by the spirit of contention; they are ready to receive a little malice in their hearts. They do all this, they turn round and repent of it, they are sorry for it, and they say they will try to do better, will try to overcome their passions, or the temptations of the evil one in their natures. You see them again, have they kept themselves pure?
No they have not, but they have given way to evil, to a little dishonesty, falsifying, shading of sentiment, speeches, sayings, and doings of their neighbors. They have given way to anger, and will remark, "It is true I got angry, I was overcome, true I acted the fool, but I mean to refrain from so doing in the future." And thus they live for a spell, but how long will it be before they are again overtaken in fault?
Then if a delusive spirit, professedly a righteous one, is cast into a neighborhood, how easy such people are decoyed by it, led away by it.
Such a course is said to have been followed by the first president of the original Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Thomas B. Marsh. He had lost confidence in Joseph Smith over money issues, and apparently later, due to an argument over something as trivial as milk strippings. Almost two decades after leaving the Church, Marsh returned and gave an address in the Tabernacle describing his feelings at the time he left the Church:
I became jealous of the prophet, and then I saw double and overlooked everything that was right and spent all my time in looking for the evil ... I felt angry and wrathful; and the Spirit of the Lord being gone, as the Scriptures say, I was blinded, and I thought I saw a beam in brother Joseph's eye, but it was nothing but a mote, and my own eye was filled with the beam; but I thought I saw a beam in his, and I wanted to get it out; I got mad and wanted everybody else to be mad. I talked with Brother Brigham and Brother Heber and I wanted them to be mad like myself; and I saw they were not mad, and I got madder still because they were not (Thomas B. Marsh, September 6, 1857, JD 5:207).
The spirit of apostasy overcame Thomas Marsh through faultfinding. He was paying more attention to what he saw as others' failings than he was to his own. Brigham said such an one would likely leave the Church in the end if the course isn't corrected; their former testimony will seem a farce:
At one time you see them as enthusiastic as mortals can be, in what they call righteous principles, and hear them saying, "I have more light now than I ever had before in my life, I am better now than I ever was, I am filled with the Holy Spirit." This is the way we often find them, they are rejoiced exceedingly and are upon Pisgah's topflaming Latter-day Saints, and, perhaps, when the next day or the next week has passed over they are angry, filled with malice and wrath.
After a while they will say, "That was a delusive spirit, it is true I felt joyful and happy, I thought it was the best spirit and the most light I ever enjoyed in all the days of my life, but I now find I was deceived, I find that if I had continued in that spirit there was a trap laid to catch me, to decoy me away, and destroy my faith in the holy Gospel." Is this the case with the Latter-day Saints?
Yes, with many of them.
Brigham wanted the saints to know their past righteousness and spiritual experiences were not sufficient to keep them on the right path in enduring to the end. Merely obeying the ordinances would mean nothing if one fails to be converted by Christ; the outward ordinances are expressions of what needs to occur on the inside, and daily striving will bring one closer to God.[1]

Becoming a saint takes time, and it is the work of the adversary to divide the saints in order to "decoy" them from achieving Zion within themselves and in their society:
Our religion is a practical and progressive one. It will not prepare a thief, a liar, a sorcerer, a whore monger, an adulterer, a murderer, or a false swearer, in one day, so that he can enter into the celestial kingdom of God. We ought to understand that when our lives have been filled with all manner of wickedness, to turn and repent of our sins, to be baptized for the remission of them, and have our names written upon the Church records, does not prepare us for the presence of our Father, and elder brother. What will?
A continuation of faithfulness to the doctrines of Christ; nothing short of this will do it. The Latter-day Saints should understand this. Do they?
Yes. Do they live to it?
A great many of them do not. All ought to live their religion every day, and there are a great many who do. But there are a great many who do not, who are overcome with evil, get out of the true path of righteousness, and do those things which are wrong. They contend with each other, quarrel, have broils and difficulties in families, and in neighborhoods, law with each other touching property, one saying, "This is mine," and another saying, "It is not yours, but it is mine." One says, "You have wronged me," the other says, "I have not." Thus there are thousands of plans which the enemy of all righteousness employs to decoy the hearts of the people away from righteousness.
Brigham once proclaimed the Mormon Creed was to "mind your own business."[2] He meant it; judging others retards our progress and contracts our feelings. Charity, a gift of the Spirit, has no place in us when we are already filled with malice, anger, or hate. The Lord said if we fail to forgive the sins of others we will not be forgiven:
For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you:
But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses (Matthew 6:14-15).
I submit we won't be forgiven in such a case because we cannot be forgiven. We cut ourselves off from the atoning grace of Christ by not forgiving others. Brigham referred to a dream John Young[3] related to him regarding the devil's looking glass:
It is our privilege, for you and me to live, from this day, so that our consciences will be void of offense towards God and man; it is in our power to do so, then why don't we? What is the matter?
I will tell you what the difficulties and troubles are, by relating brother John Young's dream. He dreamed that he saw the devil with a looking glass in his hand, and the devil held it to the faces of the people, and it revealed to them everybody's faults but their own. The difficulty is neglecting to watch over ourselves. Just as soon as our eyes are turned away from watching ourselves- to see whether we do right- we begin to see faults in our neighbors. This is the great difficulty, and our minds become more and more blinded until we become entirely darkened.
How do we avoid this darkness? Brigham says practical religion overcomes the Pharisaical trickery of the Devil's looking glass. Watch yourself and overcome evil by fleeing from the Devil:
So long as I do the thing the Lord requires of me, and do not stop to inquire what I shall tell to my neighbor as his duty, and pay very close attention to my individual person, that my words are right, that my actions are right before God, that my reflections are right, and that my desires are according to the holy Gospel, I have not much time to look at the faults of my neighbors. Is not this true?
This is our practical religion; it is our duty to stop and begin to look at ourselves. We may have trials to pass through, and when people come to me, and tell me that they are wonderfully tried and have a great many difficulties to encounter-have their troubles on the right and on the left, and what to do they are at a loss to know, I say, "I am glad of it." I rejoice to think that they must have trials as well as other people. And when they say, "It seems as though the devil would overcome me," it is a pretty good evidence that an individual is watching himself.
If you feel evil, keep it to yourselves until you overcome that evil principle. This is what I call resisting the devil, and he flees from me. I strive to not speak evil, to not feel evil, and if I do, to keep it to myself until it is gone from me, and not let it pass my lips... I have nothing particular upon my mind, only to urge all the Latter-day Saints to live their religion (Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 3:90-96).


Ordinances alone don't perfect, as I have discussed before on this blog. For example, see Heber C. Kimball:
"...Some will come with great zeal and anxiety, saying, "I want my endowments; I want my washings and anointings; I want my blessings; I wish to be sealed up to eternal lives; I wish to have my wife sealed and my children sealed to me;" in short, "I desire this and I wish that." What good would all this do you, if you do not live up to your profession and practise your religion? Not as much good as for me to take a bag of sand and baptize it, lay hands upon it for the gift of the Holy Ghost, wash it and anoint, and then seal it up to eternal lives, for the sand will be saved, having filled the measure of its creation, but you will not, except through faith and obedience. Those little pebbles and particles of sand gather themselves together and are engaged, as with one heart and mind, to accomplish a purpose in nature. Do they not keep the mighty ocean in its place by one united exertion? And if we were fully united we could resist and overcome every evil principle there is on earth or in hell" (Heber C. Kimball, Journal of Discourses 3:123-125).
Judging others was discussed by Brigham elsewhere:
I will repeat part of the "Mormon Creed," viz, 'Let every man mind his own business.' If this is observed, every man will have business sufficient on hand, so as not to afford time to trouble himself with the business of other people (Journal of Discourses 2:93).
See "Weed Your Own Garden" for more on this topic. 

The John Young mentioned could have been a brother, nephew, or son of Brigham; all three were named John.