January 2, 2008

"Can you remember good?"

Brigham Young June 15, 1856 At General Conference we can usually expect to hear talks regarding personal revelation, obedience, improved family time, admonitions to read the scriptures and be prayerful. It has become an unwritten article of faith that repetition is a big part of learning. Brigham would agree:

As I have frequently remarked,[1] it seems that the people need a great deal of preaching; they require to be preached to continually to put them in mind of their duties, and to stir them up to perform the works which they know that they ought to do. This at first appears strange, and then again it is not so strange. Our organization is such, we are subject to so many spirits and influences that are in the world, that it is not strange that our minds require stirring up to remembrance, and our physical powers to diligence.
We have very little knowledge, comparatively, though we seem impatient to have it all now. Perhaps that unwritten article of faith on repetition could fit comfortably within the 9th article of faith:
We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal [repeatedly], and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.
Line upon line is the way we are taught:
As Saints in the last days we have much to learn; there is an eternity of knowledge before us; at most we receive but very little in this stage of our progression. The most learned men that have ever lived on the earth have only been able to obtain a small amount of knowledge, in comparison to the vast store of information that exists for the faithful Saints. It cannot be understandingly exhibited by any individual, not even by an angel, to the people any further than they are able to receive and comprehend it; consequently the Lord has to descend to our capacities and give us a little here and a little there, line upon line, and precept upon precept, as the Prophet has said [see Isaiah 28:10,13].
This should be discouraging enough to keep us humble about what we do know, and exciting enough to keep us searching for more:
But we are so organized, and it is so ordained, that we can receive that little, and still continue to receive a little and a little more, and treasure up and retain in our memories that which we have received, so that it will be ready when it is necessary to bring it forth. What we learn to day does not prevent our learning more to-morrow, and so on. This principle is inherent in the organization of all intelligent beings, so that we are capable of receiving, and receiving, and receiving from the inexhaustible fountain of knowledge and truth.
Of all the lessons, Brigham believed obedience to the will of God should be among the first learned:
It has been frequently stated to us, and is a doctrine we understand, that this people have got to become of one heart and one mind. They have to know the will of God and do it, for to know the will of God is one thing, and to bring our wills, our dispositions, into subjection to that which we do understand to be the will of God is another. We might say that this is the first lesson we have to learn and one of the easiest, one that is calculated and adapted to the capacity of the child, to learn to be submissive to our Father in heaven. Parents require this duty of their children, when they have become intelligent enough to understand that the parent is superior in point of government, and strict obedience is required by that authority. That the parent is his superior is one of the first lessons that the child learns; that he is his dictator to measure and guide his steps, as soon as he comes to an understanding of what is required.
Unity is a critical lesson; one that Christ prayed we could al learn, that we might be one with Him as He is one with the Father:
If we are obedient to the will of our Father in heaven it accomplishes one grand object, namely, our being the disciples of Christ, for he observed to his disciples: "Except ye are one ye are not mine" [D&C 38:27]. "I am in my Father and ye in me, and I in you," [John 17:21] one eternal principle governing and controlling the intelligence that dwells in the persons of the Father and the Son. I have these principles within me, Jesus has them within him, and you have them within you. I am governed and controlled by them, my elder brother, Jesus, is governed and controlled by them, and his Father is governed and controlled by them. He learned them, Jesus learned them, and we must learn them in order to receive crowns of glory, immortality, and eternal lives. The principle of eternal life that sustains all intelligent beings, that governs and controls all things in eternity, the principle by which matter does exist, the principle by which it is organized, by which it is redeemed and brought into celestial glory, is the principle that is in you and me, that is in our heavenly Father. It is life, it is the life of Christ and of every Saint; in this capacity they are in us and we in them. We must be possessed of the spirit that governs and controls the angels, we must have the same spirit within us that our Father in heaven is in possession of.
Godhood itself is unity with God the Father; there is no other way. Through all eternity He will be our Father, we will be His children, and never independent of Him. There will be no warfare among "gods," because unity is the principle upon which godhood exists. As we grow in this life the things of God will become second nature to us; or as Brigham says, we will return to the "first nature":
That spirit must rule you and me, it must control our actions and dictate us in life, we must cling to it and imbibe it until it becomes a second nature to us. We are accustomed to saying second nature, but in reality it is the first nature that we had, though sin has perverted it. God planted it there as the predominant principle, but our giving way to temptation has frustrated the plan and driven it from us.
The natural man, being an enemy to God, prevents us from being one with God. He has offered, through His Son, the opportunity to put that natural man off, to become...
...a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father (Mosiah 3:19).
Brigham called this "throwing off" our sinful nature:
How easy it is for people to understand and do the will of God, if they will throw off their unrighteous traditions and let truth stand for truth, light for light, and let that which is of God be received as such.
Brigham believed a large part of putting off the natural man was putting on truth; or acting on the good as we are prompted by the Holy Ghost:
When truth comes, receive it as from the Lord, and let everything be simplified to us as unto children, for the Lord has ordained that we may grow in grace, and in the knowledge of the truth, and be able to receive more knowledge, wisdom, and understanding, and it is not possible for us to receive it any other way, only as we apply our hearts strictly to overcome every evil and cleave to that which is pleasing to the Lord-to that which tends to life and salvation. This is the only channel in which we can become of one heart and of one mind.

It is righteousness to desire unity, and as a result, to cast off selfishness:
All the righteous have desired to see the people governed by principles that will endure, and that will give durability to all who obey them. Their bowels of compassion yearned continually after the sons of men, and they labored to bring them under the control and government of the principles of eternal life, and to cut them loose from the little, selfish, frivolous, trifling, deathly principles that pertain to this flesh. What would be the result of this effort and desire, if accomplished among us? We should be of one heart and of one mind; we should cease to play the hypocrite; we should cease to be slothful servants; we should cease to do evil and do good continually.
Brigham suggested our imperfect ability to remember makes repetitious learning all the more important as we strive to become one; we have a "treacherous" memory, he said, though it differs from person to person. All seem to be able to remember offenses pretty well, though:
We may ask one person, can you remember anything you wish to, and the reply may be, "It is with difficulty that we remember anything." This lack of mental force is found in a large class of mankind, but to search into the causes of this would take us far back, for they pertain to parents as well as to children, to the ancient as well as to the modern inhabitants of this globe. Another peculiarity of memory is, the stronger recollection of an injury than a favor; for instance, take a person of the most treacherous memory and apply a little cayenne pepper to his eyes, and he will remember that act as long as he lives.
We forget a lot of things, why isn't it easier to forgive and forget?
It is an old saying, "That we can forgive (it is man's privilege), but we cannot forget." Can you forget an injury? No, you will always remember it. But on the other hand, suppose that a friend should come, in the hour of your distress, to relieve you from pain and suffering, and by laying his hands upon you your pain is gone; or furnish you food when you have none, and administer to your wants in everything calculated to make you happy and comfortable in body and mind, you will forget those kind acts many times quicker than the act of throwing a little cayenne pepper in your eyes.
Think of that and ask yourselves the cause; reason as to why it is that you can remember an injury better than a kindness; why you can retain hatred longer than love. Is it through your fallen nature? Is it because you were begotten and born in sin? Or is it not rather because the power of the tempter has control over you, and because the world is full of evil principles, and you have adhered to them? Yes, this is the cause, and you must acknowledge it. The whole world is contaminated with a spirit to remember evil and forget the good.
With this in view, Brigham mentioned that we are composed of eternal matter, that we are organized by God to exist eternally, and to become like our Father. We have been organized that we may organize.[2] With all this potential we are easily distracted by trifles, coveting property, becoming angry with others, destroying the unity that would unite us with God. People do wrong, indeed, but Brigham asks, "should we be so provoked about it?" Brigham wanted the Saints to reverse the trend and remember good instead of evil:
Can you remember to do good instead of evil? Do you watch the operations of the spirits upon the people, upon their affections, upon their hearts? Can you not hear some of this congregation, as they leave the meeting, and afterwards, begin to find fault and complain on this wise: "Well, I do not like this, and I do not like that, and I think I shall go back to the States. I wish I was back in England. I will not pay my money for flour, but I will beg it, and send my children to beg it, and spend my money to get away from here." Have I done you any harm since you have been here? Did my brothers who proclaimed the Gospel to you, do you anything but good? "No, O, no." If they have done the least thing to injure you, why will you not tell of it before you leave? But no, you will not, and as soon as you go away your testimony will be, "Brothers Brigham, and Heber, and Jedediah, and the Twelve, and all the brethren at Great Salt Lake are the worst people we ever saw." Can you tell of one thing wherein they have wronged you? They may have fed you, you may have lived here on their bounty and kindness, but as soon as you go away, you partake of the spirit of the world, which I am trying to contrast with the spirit of the Gospel.
Brigham regretted that those who leave tended to be the complainers, faultfinders, the backbiters, and they would act as though no good had ever come from the Church:
As soon as you are overcome by the spirit of the world, you forget every good deed and kindness that has been extended to you, and you only remember the transpiring and infliction of what you deemed to be evil. You imagine a thousand things to be evil that would have resulted in good, had you done right. Can you believe that? "O, yes." Those who have apostatized and left, cannot recollect a kindness that I have done them, but I can say to the praise of a few Gentiles, who have passed through here, they have recollected the kindnesses done to them by this people. Almost universally, after having received the greatest kindnesses they ever received, apostates and some Gentiles after they leave these valleys, vividly remember and proclaim, from Dan to Beersheba, every fancied injury.
Here is a critical point: those who love the light seek and recall the good; those who love the dark seek and recall the evil:
Those who love righteousness and possess the Spirit of God, those who delight to do good can remember good. They can remember every good principle and every good act; and when they read the Bible, the sayings of the Prophets and Apostles will be as near their hearts as lies are to the hearts of the wicked. By this you may know whether you are Saints or not. Can you remember good? If you forget good and remember evil, you may lay it down as a positive fact that you are on the highway to destruction. If you love the truth you can remember it. One may here inquire, "Can I strengthen my memory and bring it into lively exercise?" Yes, by applying your mind to the point you wish to improve upon, and you can learn and remember righteous deeds if you are full of integrity.
To seek the light, have compassion on others:
Forget the imperfections of your brethren; for often the injuries which you imagine to have been done, arise through the weakness of the flesh, and without the individual's being aware that he has done you an injury, and when no evil was designed. Judge not according to the outward appearance, but according to the intentions of the heart. If they designed to injure you, they sinned; if they have injured you without design, you are bound to forgive.
Remember the good by making it a part of yourself, and forget the evil by not allowing it to control your love for others.
Remember good principles, and when you hear the truth, if you have a love for it, you will remember it (JD 3:354-361).
Footnotes: [1] This is some sort of repetitious teaching about repetition, it would seem. [2] Brigham often thumped the tub on the subject of idolatry:
We are organized for the express purpose of controlling the elements, of organizing and disorganizing, of ruling over kingdoms, principalities, and powers, and yet our affections are often too highly placed upon paltry, perishable objects. We love houses, gold, silver, and various kinds of property, and all who unduly prize any object there is beneath the celestial world are idolators. Let every man and woman bring up their children according to the law of heaven. Teach your children from their youth, never to set their hearts immoderately upon an object of this world. Should you train yourselves? Yes, you should (JD 3:357).

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