December 6, 2007

Swearing Elders

PART 3 Brigham Young March 23, 1856 Following a parable about being patient and non-judgmental, Brigham makes sure the Saints don't use his words to justify relaxing their efforts to choose the right; especially those who know better:

Many of our boys who play in the streets, and use profane language, know not what they are doing, but there are old men, members of the High Priests' Quorum, and of the High Council, who, when they get into a difficulty in the kanyon and are perplexed, will get angry and swear at, and curse everything around them. I will insure that I can find High Priests who conduct in this manner. But on their way home their feelings become mollified, and they wish to plead with the Lord to forgive them. Could you place yourselves in some of our kanyons, or in some other difficult places, out of sight but within hearing, and hear some of the brethren curse and swear at their cattle and horses, you would not have the least idea that they had ever known anything about "Mormonism," but follow them home and you may find them pleading with the Lord for pardon. There are just such characters in our midst. Do you think they should be cut off from the Church? I think that if the Presidents of Quorums would chastise them it might be beneficial, at any rate it would not hurt them, and if that will not do, disfellowship them, and let them know that they must observe the laws of this kingdom, or eventually be cut off. If you do not wish to disfellowship them, you who are without sin, take such men into the kanyon, where they may bellow and bellow in vain, and give them a good cowhiding, until they will remember, and be ashamed of themselves when they take the name of God in vain, or lie... No unrighteous person, no person who is filthy in their feelings will ever enter into the kingdom of God.
Brigham wanted it to be known, that we should live as best we can. Brigham believed in chastising people; something we likely do less of today in lieu of a more sensitive approach:
I know that the inquiry is often made, “What shall we do with such men?” I say chastise them. I have reprimanded some of the brethren severely, and made them first-rate men; it brought them to their senses. You may chastise them or take any judicious course to bring them to their senses, that they may know whether they wish to be Saints or not.
Temperance should be exercised in their behalf, however. As God told Joseph Smith after the loss of the 116 manuscript pages:
But as you cannot always judge the righteous, or as you cannot always tell the wicked from the righteous, therefore I say unto you, hold your peace until I shall see fit to make all things known unto the world concerning the matter (D&C 10:37).
The wheat and the tares often grow up together. Brigham lamented those who wouldn't listen to counsel, even some Church leaders:
What a pity it is that men who do not know how to govern themselves in the kingdom of God, do not know enough to observe the counsel of those who do know. A pity it is that men and women of mature age, but who have not got a fair stock of good sense, do not know how to control and apply what they do know. Such persons do not know enough to sit still and hear from others, but they must always be indulging in their own gabble; their tongues are like a flutter wheel in rapid motion, and their chatter flows in a continual stream. We have men here who will come into this stand, and preach you and I perfectly blind, figuratively speaking, and when they are through they do not know themselves from a side of sole leather, with regard to the things of God; they are all gab. What a pity it is!
At this point, Brigham turns the discourse to the subject of eternal matter, philosophy and science. But he returns to the subject at hand; and refers to his parable of the tree again:
Still, do not go to cutting off twigs before they ought to be cut off, but if they prefer it, let them go to California and put their gold and silver into the hands of the devil, for I ask no odds of them, and expect I could buy the whole of them, so far as property is concerned. However, be merciful to them. I say to those men and women who cannot stay here because famine threatens the land, because we are threatened with being distressed, and through fear that we shall all die, just go, won't you? For you are nothing but hindrances.
Brigham talked a lot about chastising and laying righteousness to the line, etc. But in his actions he spoke sermons of mercy. When Brigham was making a second trip from Council Bluffs to the Salt Lake Valley his company crossed paths with a small group of Saints who were headed back east, unsatisfied with the harsh life of the new Territory; they were leaving the Church behind. Brigham clearly disagreed with their actions, even criticized them for it. But before the companies parted ways he pulled the leader of the dissenters aside and provided him with extra meat and provisions- a rare and needed commodity. That is a small example of the paradoxical nature of the President. As he said above: "be merciful to them." Brigham firmly believed they would stay in the Salt Lake Valley until the Lord would direct otherwise. Though they hoped one day to get back to Jackson County, Brigham didn't want the Saints to worry about rumors of US Troops invading, or being driven from their homes again:
You had better stay here and die, if die it is. California is not the gathering place for the Saints; here is the gathering place, and here we will gather and stay until God says, "Go somewhere else." If that is back to Jackson County, do not be scared, for as the Lord lives this people will go back and build a great temple there. Do not be frightened because a few rotten, corrupt scoundrels in our midst cry out, "O, the troops are coming, and that will be the end of 'Mormonism...'"

Don't worry; you can't stop the Mormons:

Should you see little boys playing with pebbles and small sticks, and hear them say, "Get out of the way, we are going to build a great big structure, that we may climb to the sun, and pull it down," their words and conduct would be just as sensible as it is for the world to tell us that "Mormonism" is going to be destroyed. If we do right we need care no more about them than we do about mosquitoes, for this people will surely go back to Jackson County. How soon that may be, or when it may be, I do not care; but that is not now the gathering place this people (JD 3:277-279).

December 5, 2007

The Parable of the Tree

PART 2 Brigham Young March 23, 1856 Brigham explained how liable we are to "step out of the way," forgetting to do right even as we judge others for not doing what we think is right. Because we are all "prone to wander," what good is it to judge others who do so likewise?

I have often referred to the wickedness of mankind, to how liable they are to step out of the way, how easy it is for them to sin and not know it, and how important it is that we should have compassion upon them; yet mercy is not always to be extended to the people, judgment must claim its right.
Next Brigham gave a wonderful parable:
If we wish this Church and kingdom of God upon earth, to be like a fine, healthy, growing tree, we should be careful not to let the dead branches remain too long. You have seen limbs which you supposed completely dead, yet when the genial influences of spring operate upon them, only a twig or two of the branch proves to be winter-killed.
The entire limb is not dead but still draws sustenance from the trunk, and partly lives and is partly dead. It is so with some of the members of this Church and kingdom, they partly live and partly do not live. Sometimes they enjoy the spirit of the Gospel and feel quite happy, and speak in prayer meetings, and sometimes make confessions of their sins. Their hearts occasionally become a little warmed up, and at times they feel and act as though they wish to bear fruit, and perhaps among the twigs of the limb, you may find here and there a cluster of fruit. Sometimes such members of this kingdom will be found performing good acts and doing their duty, and again they are overcome and turn away, that is for a time, and seemingly enjoy none of the spirit of their religion.
In this manner they pass along, first to the right and then to the left.[1] By and by they will either receive nourishment from the trunk of the tree, shooting forth into the various twigs of the sickly branches, filling them with life and vigor, and turning the diseased into thrifty growing limbs, or the twigs will continue to die until there are none left alive. Who can tell whether a limb is actually dead or not, without proper time to test the matter? This is a point which ought to be closely scrutinized by every Latter-day Saint. You see the failings of your neighbor, he has performed an act today which you know is dishonest and wicked, by and by he does something else which is wrong, and you begin to lose confidence in that person. When you saw no evil and many traits of good in him, then you had a foundation for reposing implicit confidence, but he commits a wrong act and your confidence begins to be shaken. You see him commit another evil and another, but can you yet tell whether that limb is alive or dead? I think that we, as a people, as individuals, have got to learn more and more of the mind of God than we now possess, before we are prepared to judge quickly, distinctly, and truly when limbs are dead and should be severed from the body of the tree.
When we have learned that they are really dead, then there is danger in suffering them to remain too long, for they will begin to decay and tend to destroy the tree. When we are satisfied that a limb is dead we clip it off close to the trunk, and cover up the wound that it may not cause any more injury...But the nice point is, for us to be able to determine when a limb is entirely dead. Twig after twig may die, and you may often see half the limbs of a tree killed by the severity of winter, yet in the course of the summer the living portion begins to rapidly put forth young and tender branches, and the increase may be as great, perhaps, as though no part had died. That proves the soundness of the trunk, even though many twigs and branches have died. It requires great discrimination, to be able to rightly decide upon the condition of persons in their religious views, their honesty and integrity before God.
It simply isn't for us to decide on the outright righteousness of other people. "Are they a saint, or are they a sinner?" To be sure, the answer would be "yes." And some who seem more sinner than saint may very well be the opposite, as Brigham explained:
There are many in this kingdom who are as foolish as men and women can well be, so much so that it would seem as though they never had sensed moral instruction. They give way to wickedness, and outrage the feelings of those who are truly moral, yet in their hearts they go all lengths for the kingdom of God on the earth. They are willing to stand in the front of the battle, to go to the ends of the earth to preach the Gospel, or to do anything they are called upon to perform, yet, when you examine their morality, it highly outrages the feelings of those who are strictly moral and honest in all their ways. Do you believe this? Yes, and many of you know it.
The Latter-day Saints, of all people, ought to recognize the love God has for all His children. No matter the circumstances in one's life, as the Book of Mormon says, "His hand is stretched out still" (see 2 Ne. 20: 4). Despite his emphasis on not passing judgment, Brigham wasn't one to throw softballs at sin. He made it known he had no qualms about chastising and calling people to repentance. In the last part of the sermon, discussed tomorrow, Brigham will lay it on the line. Footnotes: [1] Speaking of moving from the right to the left and so forth, J. Golden Kimball is supposed to have said "I may not walk the straight and the narrow, but I sure in hell try to cross it as often as I can!" (see

December 3, 2007

The Practical Part of Religion

Brigham Young March 23, 1856 Brigham Young was less philosophical, systematic or historical in his extemporaneous sermons than one might expect of a "prophet"or religious leader. His opening remarks in this discourse give insight into his reasoning on the subject; he was very much living for eternity in the present:

I rise desiring that what I may say may be instructive, edifying, and beneficial to the people. At times, when I think of addressing you, it occurs to me that strict sermonizing upon topics pertaining to the distant future, or reviewing the history of the past, will doubtless please and highly interest a portion of my hearers; but my judgment and the spirit of intelligence that is in me teach that, by taking such a course, the people would not be instructed pertaining to their every day duties. For this reason, I do not feel impressed to instruct on duties to be performed a hundred years hence, but rather to give those instructions pertaining to the present, to our daily walk and conversation, that we may know how to benefit ourselves under the passing time, and present privileges, and be able to lay a foundation for future happiness.
It wasn't that Brigham disliked hearing of the past or future, or that he believed speaking of such was wrong; he preferred to focus on practicalities of the day:
Still, I love to hear historical narrations, to hear the Elders vividly portray the important events which transpired in the days of the Prophets, the Savior, and the Apostles, and it also cheers my heart to hear the Elders of Israel illustrate the beauties and glory of Zion, in the future. Yet, when I reduce it all to the duties of the religion we profess, I realize that it is of vital importance for us to know how to lay a present foundation for our future destiny, that we may attain that exaltation, happiness, and glory, which we anticipate, hence, I confine my remarks, more particularly, to the practical part of religion.[1]
Brigham said he was aware that many visitors were listening, and that they might expect him to preach sermons in an organized, systematized way. He had other plans, and explained why:
This does not suit my disposition, for I am in favor of that instruction which will enable us, this day, to receive the blessings offered and teach us to appreciate them, that we may be prepared to enjoy the glory that has been revealed. That is my “Mormonism,” my reflections, my judgment, and the spirit in me dictates this course, not to speak merely to gratify those who prefer to hear pleasing, delightful discourses, which sound smoothly to the ear and lull the hearers to sleep.
As far as pleasing sermons go, Brigham was not formerly trained, and as you can probably tell by now, his sermons were what Leonard Arrington called "weak in organization." Still, he could hold an audience captive. "Nevertheless," Arrington noted:
Brigham's messages were well thought-out, suggest remarkable mental power, and were well-adapted to his audiences. They were "fireside chats," an informal "talking things over" with his people, and a reading of the sermons indicates that he knew where he was going and was effective in getting there.[2]
Brigham often taught it was the privilege of every Saint to enjoy the "light of truth," or personal revelation. This was practical religion to Brigham; that everyone would follow the Holy Ghost:
Suppose we should actually enjoy the light of truth, to such a degree that we could always foreknow important events—that we had the spirit of prophecy insomuch that we could foresee our future destiny, would we not lay a foundation to secure our best interests? We most certainly would. It would be the constant aim of our daily conduct, to secure to ourselves and our families that happiness and comfort which we desire. Is it possible for us to do this? It is.
This ability to receive knowledge from the Holy Ghost is a gift of the Spirit, as explained in the Doctrine and Covenants:
To some it is given by the Holy Ghost to know that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and that he was crucified for the sins of the world (D&C 46:13).
But what of those who don't feel that closeness to the Spirit? Or the beginners in the gospel who are still learning to walk by the light of revelation?
There are many who do not know and understand for themselves. Now let each person of that class ask himself this question—“Even though I do not know and understand for myself, is it reasonable that I should have confidence in those who do?”
Brigham believed it was reasonable, at least to begin with, to exercise faith based on the testimony of a trusted person, as is taught in that same D&C revelation:
To others it is given to believe on their words, that they also might have eternal life if they continue faithful (D&C 46:14).
It seems a skeptical nature would be disinclined to be satisfied with someone else's testimony, and sure enough, we are counseled to seek to gain knowledge for ourselves, not living on what Heber C. Kimball called "borrowed light."[3] Some aren't even willing to borrow to begin with, they are too wrapped up in the cares of everyday living to worry about religion as Brigham discussed next:
Now let each person of that class ask himself this question—“Even though I do not know and understand for myself, is it reasonable that I should have confidence in those who do?” and, through the weakness and blindness of fallen nature, he would answer, “No.” Still it would be best could it be so, for those who are blinded to their own interest to have confidence in those who do know and understand what is for their good, to trust in them, take their counsel, and do in all things as they are told. But, no; the spirit of apostasy, the neglect of duty, tend to cast a veil over the minds of people, and when they cannot see and understand for themselves, they say, “I think I know as well how to dictate my own affairs as does brother Brigham, or any other brother.” ...What a pity it is that men who do not know how to govern themselves in the kingdom of God, do not know enough to observe the counsel of those who do know. A pity it is that men and women of mature age, but who have not got a fair stock of good sense, do not know how to control and apply what they do know. Such persons do not know enough to sit still and hear from others, but they must always be indulging in their own gabble; their tongues are like a flutter wheel in rapid motion, and their chatter flows in a continual stream. We have men here who will come into this stand, and preach you and I perfectly blind, figuratively speaking, and when they are through they do not know themselves from a side of sole leather, with regard to the things of God; they are all gab. What a pity it is!
Such is the case when people are confused about who they really are:
They have no confidence in anybody, and can have none in themselves, for they do not know themselves. They do not comprehend their existence, and were it not that they get tired, and wish to rest, they would scarcely realize that they had a body; and when their stomachs become empty and crave food, they are prompted, like the brutes, to seek for something to eat.
Lest anyone think Brigham was only being critical of people outside the Church, he got more specific:
This is the case with some in this congregation, they have but little more idea of what they are, who they are, and what will be their future destiny, than has the stall-fed bullock that is fatted for slaughter.
People would become distracted, (Brigham often used the word "decoy"):
What is the matter with them? The god of this world has blinded their minds, they give way to selfishness, covetousness, and divers other kinds of wickedness, suffer the allurements of this world to decoy them from the paths of truth, forget their God, their religion, their covenants, and the blessings they have received, and become like beasts, made to be taken and destroyed at the will of the destroyer.
In our probationary state we can follow the Light of Christ within as it prompts us and pulls us back home:
That which is of God is light; and he that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day (D&C 50:24).
Or we can follow the entropy that drags us to the things of this world:
For they love darkness rather than light, and their deeds are evil, and they receive their wages of whom they list to obey (D&C 29:45).
This eternal principle was cryptically and paradoxically explained by Christ in the New Testament:
He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it (Matthew 10:39).
"Finding" life would likely include the selfish or distracted things Brigham outlined above, whereas losing life in the sake of the gospel could indicate a certain selflessness. Brigham said we all have more to learn in this regard:
This people have yet much to learn, even the best of them. For one, I am aware that I know enough to do right to-day, as also do very many who are now before me. If sin presents itself to them they know what it is, and know better than to give way to it. I know that it is not right to do wrong, and so do the most of the people, and all may and should, as have all who have received the spirit of the Gospel; and if this knowledge has gone from them, it is because of transgression.
We can be more apt to see the failings of our neighbors than our own. The second half of this sermon has a great parable on the topic, which will be discussed in the next post. Footnotes: [1] Perhaps Brigham's greatest legacy to the Church which still pervades Mormon thinking is the practical nature of religion, which was subsequently buttressed by the Church welfare program among other things. Elsewhere Brigham explained: I want present salvation. I preach, comparatively, but little about the eternities and Gods, and their wonderful works in eternity; and do not tell who first made them, nor how they were made; for I know nothing about that. Life is for us, and it is for us to receive it today, and not wait for the millennium. Let us take a course to be saved today, and, when evening comes, review the acts of the day, repent of our sins, if we have any to repent of, and say our prayers; then we can lie down and sleep in peace until the morning, arise with gratitude to God, commence the labors of another day, and strive to live the whole day to God and nobody else (JD 8:124-125). [2] Leonard Arrington, Brigham Young: American Moses, pg. 196-197. [3] Heber C. Kimball said: "The time will come when no man nor woman will be able to endure on borrowed light. Each will have to be guided by the light within himself. If you do not have it, how can you stand?" (Orson F. Whitney, Life of Heber C. Kimball [Salt Lake City: Kimball Family, 1888], 450). JD 8:124-25