December 21, 2007

Utah: "Saint-raising country"

Brigham Young June 22, 1856 Three women accompanied the vanguard pioneer train to Utah. An old legend holds that when Brigham arrived in the valley one of the women told him "I've walked one thousand miles to get here, and I'll gladly walk one thousand more if we don't have to stop here." The first few years, especially, were difficult. Brigham explained his feelings on the unique trials faced by the early Saints:

If the troubles of this people from the commencement of this work, from the early history of the Prophet, and the persecutions of the Saints, could be presented before this congregation you would be astonished, you would marvel at them. You would not believe that a people could endure so much as this people have endured, you would think it an impossibility for men and women to endure and pass through what a great many in this Church have. Truly it is a miracle that we are here.

Perhaps some would have hoped for a miracle involving a more hospitable climate. Brigham continued:
Taking these things into consideration, and viewing our present circumstances and the privileges we enjoy, there is not a heart that fully realizes what we have passed through and the blessings we now enjoy, without praising God continually and feeling to exclaim, "O praise the name of our God."
Praising God for hard times?
True, many think and feel that we have hard times here, that it is a hard country to live in. We have long cold winters, and we have a great many difficulties to encounter-the Indian wars, the cricket wars, the grasshopper wars, and the drouths. What we have suffered during the two years past comes before us, and now the prospect is gloomy pertaining to sustenance for man. How many are there who feel and say like this? "Were it not for 'Mormonism' I should know at once what to do; I know the course I would pursue." What would you do, brother? "I would pick up my duds and leave; I would sell what I have here, if I could, and if I could not I would leave it." These are the feelings of some. I will tell you what my feelings are, they are, praise God for hard times, for I feel that it is one of the greatest privileges to be in a country that is not desirable, where the wicked will pass by.

They believed they'd found a unique place that wouldn't be coveted by others where they could live without fear of being driven from their homes once again.[1] If they would reflect on the past persecutions, they'd thank God for Utah:
Now, do we all realize this? No, we do not; though I have no doubt but that some do. I will tell you what will make you realize it; to suffer the loss of all things here by the enemy's coming along and driving you out of your houses, from your farms and fields, and taking your horses, cattle, farming implements, and what little substance you have, and banishing you from this place and sending you off five or six hundred miles, bereft of all you possessed, without suitable clothing and provisions for the journey. Then you go to work, and toil and labor with all your might, for a few years, to get another home, and then let another set come and drive you out of that place, taking your cattle, your farms, and all you have, telling you that they want your possessions, and by the time they had thus driven you four or five times, as they have many of us, and made you leave every thing you have, and threatened you with death, and watched for you by day and by night, to get a chance to kill you, and they suffered to go at large with impunity, and would kill you in open daylight if they dare, after having passed through fifteen or sixteen years of this kind of persecution, you would thank God for hard times, for a country where mobs do not wish to live... Here we are in the valleys of these mountains, and I say that there is not a people on the earth that would live here but the Latter-day Saints, and it seems almost more than they can do to stay here. Now if they would be as swift to hearken to counsel as they are to get rich, and as they are in pleasing their own dispositions, we should not see the hard times that we now see.
Some immigrants didn't have the experience of being driven from their homes; some had likely left better climate. Brigham knew the valley wasn't a Garden of Eden, but he wanted the people to enjoy their new home. He saw all these experiences as part of the education God intends for His children, and he believed it takes time to learn. We're all in this together, so have compassion on others as you would want compassion:
I look upon the people, and as I frequently say, I have compassion upon them, for all have not experience. It was told you this morning that you could not be made perfect Saints in one day, that is impossible. You might as well undertake to learn a child every branch of English literature during its first week's attendance at school, this cannot be done. We are not capacitated to receive in one day, nor in one year, the knowledge and experience calculated to make us perfect Saints, but we learn from time to time, from day to day, consequently we are to have compassion one upon another, to look upon each other as we would wish others to look upon us, and to remember that we are frail mortal beings, and that we can be changed for the better only by the Gospel of salvation.
Through our experiences in life we are given choices between good and evil, and everything in between. Brigham felt our duty is to learn God's will and discern between the good and evil. The valley seemed calculated to provide excellent experiences for the Saints to learn:
A man, or a woman, desiring to know the will of God, and having an opportunity to know it, will apply their hearts to this wisdom until it becomes easy and familiar to them, and they will love to do good instead of evil. They will love to promote every good principle, and will soon abhor everything that tends to evil; they will gain light and knowledge to discern between evil and good. The person that applies his heart to wisdom, and seeks diligently for understanding, will grow to be mighty in Israel...
All I ask of you is to apply your hearts to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and be Saints. I will not ask anything else on this earth of you only to live so as to know the mind and will of God when you receive it, and then abide in it. If you will do that, you will be prepared to do a great many things, and you will find that there is much good to be done... I wish to be tyrannical enough, if that is the proper term, to make you good men and good women. Go to with your might this year, and see if we cannot prepare for another. This is a great Saint raising country; we have seen wheat grow here almost spontaneously, and there could not be a better Saint raising country...
It is our business to live our religion, and it is all that we have to do. "But," says one, "I thought we had got to raise grain." I have told you, many a time, that I would not give you anything for your faith, without you add works. How are you going to work to build up the kingdom (JD 3:362-375).[2]
The earth itself is great "Saint-raising country." Our mortal probation here parallels that of the Saints; the strange wanderers in a strange lane; as Jacob expressed in the Book of Mormon:
And it came to pass that I, Jacob, began to be old; ...wherefore, I conclude this record, declaring that I have written according to the best of my knowledge, by saying that the time passed away with us, and also our lives passed away like as it were unto us a dream, we being a lonesome and a solemn people, wanderers, cast out from Jerusalem, born in tribulation, in a wilderness, and hated of our brethren, which caused wars and contentions; wherefore, we did mourn out our days (Jacob 7:26).
The motif repeats again and again, at the beginning with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, cast out to the wilderness; the children of Israel seeking the promise land through the wilderness for forty years, our spirits leaving the presence of God to come to earth as wanderers and pilgrims, our experiences calculated to teach us, and get us back to the paradise again. We're all in Saint-raising country. It is our business here, as Brigham declared, to live our religion, and that is all we have to do. Footnotes: [1] Six days later, Heber C. Kimball echoed these sentiments while talking about the grain shortage and encouraging Saints not to sell grain to Gentiles. Not only did the Saints need to save grain for themselves, but for Saints on the way to the valley:
The hand-carts are rolling, and those with them can sleep at night and be up in the mornings, and the carts will jingle through the day... Brethren and sisters, take care of your grain; do not waste any of your grain, for you will need it all; and do not make an unwise or unsaintly disposition of it. I beg of you to attend to this counsel, for I have told it three or four times; not because I profess to be a Prophet, but because I naturally see the necessity for so doing... Suppose all this people had been wise and taken counsel, would they have suffered the present destitution? No, they would not. Much of our grain has been consumed by our enemies... In addition to our present number, according to accounts that I see, there are five thousand Saints ready for the Plains at one place, and five thousand more at another... I speak of these things to warn and forewarn you to take care of your grain and save it, and it will be better for you to do this, even though in so doing you have to go bare-footed. .. I do firmly believe that our bread has been blest and multiplied this season, for I know there was not enough in the Territory to sustain the people. However, the present scarcity is one of the best things that ever happened to this people, for it will teach them wisdom. This is one of the poorest countries for occupancy for Gentiles that I have ever seen, though for the same reasons it is at present the very best for the Saints, for we can get along in it better than any other people (JD 4:1).
[2] Brigham would return to the "saint-raising country" theme several times. On August 17, 1856 he lighted on the subject:
My soul feels hallelujah, it exults in God, that He has planted this people in a place that is not desired by the wicked; for if the wicked come here they do not wish to stay, no matter how well they are treated, and I thank the Lord for it; and I want hard times, so that every person that does not wish to stay, for the sake of his religion, will leave. This is a good place to make Saints, and it is a good place for Saints to live; it is the place the Lord has appointed, and we shall stay here until He tells us to go somewhere else (JD 4:32).

December 19, 2007

Brigham's Dream: The Parable of the Sheep

Brigham Young April 20, 1856 We might look around at the world today, focus on all the problems, and wonder "why all the trouble?" It's a question that has bothered theologians for centuries; why God allows evil. If God was all powerful, and could create anything He wanted, why even allow the possibility of evil? Either God knowingly created evil or even allowed for the possibility of such when He could have avoided it, making God the Father of evil, or He couldn't avoid evil, making God less than "all-powerful." The restored gospel offers a persuasive view on the subject of God and evil which overcomes these objections. Many Christian thinkers have come to justify or understand evil as part of life, that it can help us learn and grow, that it can't always be avoided, but there are eternal principles to be considered; that God is King of Kings through the mastery of law, not the capricious creation of law. Thus comes the rallying cry of Lehi, there must needs be "opposition in all things" (2 Nephi 2:11). Brigham saw the necessity for opposition:

When I was among the wicked, they looked to me as do the wicked, and when I saw devils possessing the bodies of the children of men I knew that God permitted it, and that He permitted them to be on the earth, and wherein would this be a state of probation, without those devils? We cannot even give endowments without representing a devil. What would we know about heaven or happiness were it not for their opposite? Consequently we could not have got along so well and so rapidly without those mobocrats. And if mobbers should happen to come here do not look too sour at them, for we need them. We could not build up the kingdom of God without the aid of devils, they must help to do it. They persecute and drive us from city to city, from place to place, until we learn the difference between the power of God and the power of the devil.
This seems awful indulgent of the prophet, who is sometimes thought of as a rather unbending individual. Brigham explained he wasn't out to indulge evil, or condone those who persecute the Saints. He wished the Saints to profit from opposition rather than let it turn them into bitter, intolerant individuals. He also knew we must hold sacred the individual rights to make choices (without infringing upon the choices of others, of course.) While we should love our enemies and do good to them that curse us, should we embrace their habits, or causes as well?
But does it then follow that we should say to them, “Come on here, we are good fellows well met?” By no means, care must be observed that we do not overrun the rule; we only need enough of them to help do up the work. If we should get too many here they would overcome the good, and the Saints would have to flee. Some of our Elders desire all the time to say, as I plainly phrase it, “How do you do brother Christ, and how do you do brother devil? Walk in and take breakfast with me.”
Brigham recalled when the Saints first arrived in the valley they thought they could usher in the Millennium through righteousness, and keep themselves "unspotted from the world."[1] The gold rush, which brought all sorts of characters through Utah, showed them otherwise. Especially at first, Brigham saw the diversity as somewhat of a threat, likely based on prior experiences where the Saints had been driven from their homes. However, he said he learned that such men, even those who didn't wish to live the gospel, could be "useful" in their place. As gold fever captured the attention of the nation, Brigham had a dream:
This fact [that 'gentiles' were a part of God's plan] was very clearly exemplified to me in a dream which I had while so many were going to California, at a time when many of the brethren were under quite an excitement about the Saints going there to dig gold. At that time I dreamed that while I was a little below the road and just north of the Hot Springs, about four miles from here, I saw brother Joseph coming and walked up to the road to see him, and asked him where he was going? He replied, "I am going north." There were two or three horsemen along, and some men were riding with him upon a few boards placed loosely upon the running gears of a wagon, upon which were also a tent and camp utensils. I wished to talk with him, but be did not seem inclined to conversation, and it occurred to me that he was going to Captain James Brown's to buy all his goats. I had been promised ten or a dozen of them, but I thought that he was going to buy every one, and that I should not get a single goat to put with my sheep, and I laughed in my sleep. Pretty soon he came back, with a large flock of sheep and goats following the wagon, and as I looked upon them I saw some sheep that were white, pure, and clean, and as large as a two year old cow, with wool from ten to twenty inches in length, as fine as silk and as white as the driven snow. With them were all lesser sizes down to the smallest goat or sheep I ever saw, and all mixed up together. I saw some sheep with hair like that of goats, and goats of all colors, red, black, white, &c., mixed with the sheep; and their sizes, colors, and quality of fleeces, seemed to be almost innumerable. I remarked to Joseph that he bad got the strangest flock I ever saw, and looked at him slyly and laughed, and asked him what he was going to do with them. He looked at me in his usual shrewd manner and replied, "They are all good in their places." On awaking I at once understood the dream, and I then said, go to California, or where you please, for goats are as good in their places as sheep, until the time for them to mingle is over. And in striving to guide and improve the flock we sometimes have to cry out, shoo, and at other times to draw them nigh by calling, sheep, sheep. We are trying to train the flock, and to turn the goats into sheep, and the spotted, ring-streaked and speckled into beautiful white, and how shall we succeed? Perhaps we shall see rather a curious flock at last, but we will do the best we can.
Brigham wanted the people to know we ought to reserve judgment, we really can't tell where we will all wind up. Instead of being prone to cast people off as lost causes, or "wicked" sinners, we should seek to overcome the divisive spirit and love everyone. Brigham often referred to this parable:
Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a net, that was cast into the sea, and gathered of every kind: Which, when it was full, they drew to shore, and sat down, and gathered the good into vessels, but cast the bad away (Matthew 13:47-48).
Focusing on our differences, lacking charity, leads us into all kinds of situations calculated to draw us further from God. Similarly, in the parable of the wheat and tares, they are to grow together until the final harvest, because it is too difficult to judge between them at the present time (see D&C 86; Matthew 13:25-30). After denouncing frivolous lawsuits, self-righteousness, and other unfortunate traditions, Brigham mentioned the gospel net:
I have spoken with much plainness concerning several traditions and practices, in order that the Saints abroad may correctly understand that we are not all, as yet, fully sanctified by the truth, and that both they and the world may know that the Gospel net still gathereth fish of every kind, that the flock has some goats intermingled with sheep of various grades, and that the day of separation has not yet arrived. May God bless you. Amen (JD 3:316-327)
In a subsequent discourse, Brigham explained the concept of mercy as follows:
The good and evil are mixed together, the wheat and the tares are growing together, the wise and foolish virgins are traveling on together. Some of the people are actually foolish, and they think that the Lord looks upon sin with a great deal of compassion, and are thinking, "O, if I should do this or that I will be forgiven. Yes, I will go and tell it all to the heads of the Church and get their forgiveness, and pass on in my wickedness." Do you wish your friends to stay here, and all to be Saints indeed? Now some children are wicked and their parents righteous, and again children may be Saints and their parents wicked. There are good people who have wicked brothers and sisters, and they say, "Let us be forgiving, let us hold on to them, if we have compassion, perhaps they will do better and repent of their sins, and yet be Saints." Is this not the feeling of every heart? It is, more or less. Who is there entirely void of these compassionate feelings? Father, save your son if possible; save your daughter, parents, if it is possible; brothers, save your brethren, if it is possible; save your sisters, if it is possible; save this man, or that woman, and let us have mercy on them, we will be compassionate on them.
Brigham cautioned the Saints to avoid the spirit of contention, to extend love, especially to those you may have enmity with:
The spirit of contention divides families as we see some divided. We can hardly associate with some persons, for we have to walk in their midst like walking upon eggs. What is the matter? You do not know the spirit they are led by. Treat them kindly, and, perhaps, by and bye they will come to understanding. What would they do were they of one heart and mind? They would be like little children, would respect their superiors and honor their God and their religion. This they would do, if they understood things as they are. Be careful of them, and treat them kindly.
In Brigham's flock he intended to make sheep's wool from goats hair:
I am not going to undertake to separate the tares from the wheat, the sheep from the goats, but we will try to make you goats produce fleeces of wool instead of hair, and we will keep hammering at you with the word of God, which is quick and powerful, until you become sheep, if possible, that we may not have five foolish virgins in the company. Though in all this I do not expect to even desire to thwart the plans and sayings of Jesus Christ in the least.
He admonished the Saints to avoid being goats, to avoid being foolish virgins themselves:
Let us do all the good we can, extend the hand of benevolence to all, keep the commandments of God and live our religion, and after all there will be five foolish virgins, and if we are not careful, we shall all be on the list of the foolish ones (JD 3:343-344).

Footnotes: [1] Unspotted from the world? Well, we are to be a light unto the world. That would seem to preclude complete isolation from the world. On the millennial thinking, Brigham said:
...there had been a feeling abroad among the people that when the Saints got into the mountains “judgment would be laid to the line, and righteousness to the plummet,” that the axe would be laid at the root of the tree, and that every person who did not meet the measure would, in accordance with the iron bedstead rule, be chopped off if too long, and stretched out if too short. Several supposed that this would be the case; and perhaps thought that they would be able to so sanctify themselves, that in one year they could take Great Salt Lake Valley and the regions round about up to Enoch, or have him come here. I did not so view the matter, and did not give any special instructions upon it (JD 3:321).

December 18, 2007

"Walk in the light as fast as you see it"

Parley P. Pratt April 7, 1856 From the Book of Mormon comes a beautiful explanation on the paradox of grace and works. In the vision of Lehi, an iron rod, there by the grace of God, leads us home if we hold to it and walk. Through that process divine aid helps us on the journey, but we are involved in the process. One prophet describes Christ as saving people from, not in, their sins.

...the Lord surely should come to redeem his people, but that he should not come to redeem in them in their sins, but to redeem them from their sins (Helaman 5:10).
Likewise, Parley told the Saints it was not right to indulge in sin, knowing they could be forgiven. If one loves the truth and walks in the light, the Lord will change such an attitude:
A man cannot be righteous of his own will and without the Spirit of the Lord; there is no assurance for men, they cannot have the Spirit unless they determine to walk in the light as fast as they see it. Those who promise to repent, but want to indulge in sin a little longer, do not repent, and their hearts are not fit for the kingdom of God. That man is on the right track who always loved the truth, and lived up to it, as far as he could, with all his exertions, and walked in the light thereof every day, and every time he saw a little more truth obeyed it, and if he did anything at all it was his purpose continually to avoid error and walk in the truth. If he failed at any time it was his weakness, his error of judgment, his mistake, his temptation; it was not because he did not want to do right, or to put it off purposely and choose sin; but it was through his weakness and temptation.
There is hope in this continual imperfection; Christ's atonement is sufficient for it. Our attitude directly affects how the atonement can help us. The sacrament prayers illustrate this principle, as we witness to God while partaking of the bread and water, that we are willing to take upon us Christ's name, that we are willing to keep His commandments; not that we are perfect in those things, but that we truly desire them. We are promised, based on that attitude, the Holy Ghost will be with us to prompt and change us, to fill us with charity (see D&C 20:77-79). A willing attitude is critical:
…it will never do to cry for spilt milk, but try again; and if you cannot overcome at first, try again, and keep trying until you overcome. But when a man is not trying, but loves to live in sin, but still says every day, "I am going to be a good 'Mormon,'" I have but little hope of such a man, and I generally say to him, you will not do it, for the Lord will not give you His Spirit when you please to get ready to repent. But the honest man says, "I have been brought to see the truth, and I will do the best I know, though I have a thousand traditions, and though I make a thousand mistakes, and my brethren have to bear with me, yet I will do the best I can, and will be willing to try again; and if I find myself weak and unable to progress and overcome, I will pray that the good Spirit and the strength of the Lord may help me." When a man talks in this way, there is hope in his case; I don't care how such traditions have been entwined around him, or how many blunders he may make; I say there is hope in those who seek diligently to learn their duties, and endeavor to live up to them; and this makes me have hope for this people and for myself.
Parley knew we need to put God first, and attitude makes all the difference:
But when a man is careless and indifferent to the blessings of providence, and keeps putting off his repentance, and is continually looking after the things of this life, the Lord don't want such a man; he has no use for him, and damnation awaits such a man, and he will have to wait patiently for the return of the good Spirit to again lead him to repentance. Such a man won't prosper, for a man that will fix his own business first, and then serve God, he is not worthy of Him. He has no business with his own business, his business is to serve God, he has no other business; as I said, whether preaching or whatever place he may be in, he should have but one object in view-the kingdom of God. In whatever part of the earth he may be located, whether among the Saints or in the very midst of wickedness, and where the power of the devil holds sway, it is his duty to preach righteousness faithfully before the people.
As Parley said, it becomes us to walk in the light as fast as we see it. (Here I can't help but quote a simple but beautiful children's song. It calls me back to my youth, and likely elicited some of my earliest experiences with the Spirit that I can still remember): Teach me to walk in the light of his love. Teach me to pray to my Father above. Teach me to know of the things that are right; Teach me, teach me to walk in the light. Come little child and together we’ll learn of his commandments, that we may return home to his presence to live in his sight- always, always, to walk in the light. Father in Heaven we thank thee this day for loving guidance to show us the way. Grateful we praise thee with songs of delight! Gladly, gladly, we’ll walk in the light. Words and music: Clara W. McMaster, b. 1964. C 1958 LDS Copyright renewed 1986.