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:
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 it...it 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.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!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).
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).
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:  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). Dallin H. Oaks, "The Challenge to Become", Conference Report, October 2000.