January 11, 2008

Improving the Gifts of God: Individuality in the Gospel

Brigham Young June 22, 1856 All the gifts of God are given for us to develop righteously, or be condemned by their misuse. Brigham listed a few gifts of God that ought to inspire gratitude, as well as a sense of the responsibility we have to use them correctly:

The gift of seeing with the natural eyes is just as much a gift as the gift of tongues. The Lord gave that gift and we can do as we please with regard to seeing; we can use the sight of the eye to the glory of God, or to our own destruction. The gift of taste is the gift of God, we can use that to feed and pamper the lusts of the flesh, or we can use it to the glory of God. The gift of communicating one with another is the gift of God, just as much so as the gift of prophecy, of discerning spirits, of tongues, of healing, or any other gift, though sight, taste, and speech, are so generally bestowed that they are not considered in the same miraculous light as are those gifts mentioned in the Gospel. We can use these gifts, and every other gift God has given us, to the praise and glory of God, to serve Him, or we can use them to dishonor Him and His cause…
Brigham believed the proper use of these gifts is directly related to our exaltation:
These principles are correct in regard to the gifts which we receive for the express purpose of using them, in order that we may endure and be exalted, and that the organization we have received shall not come to an end, but endure to all eternity. By a close application of the gifts bestowed upon us, we can secure to ourselves the resurrection of these bodies that we now possess, that our spirits inhabit, and when they are resurrected they will be made pure and holy; then they will endure to all eternity.
As Orson Pratt taught before[1], Brigham believed these gifts would gradually increase as we continue through our eternal existence:
But we cannot receive all at once, we cannot understand all at once; we have to receive a little here and a little there. If we receive a little, let us improve upon that little; and if we receive much, let us improve upon it. If we get a line today, improve upon it; if we get another tomorrow, improve upon it; and every line, and precept, and gift that we receive, we are to labor upon, so as to become perfect before the Lord. This is the way that we are to change ourselves, and change one another, pertaining to the principles of righteousness (JD 3:364-365).
As King Benjamin reminds us, as we improve our gifts, we are eternally indebted to God for even the very opportunity to advance:
And now, in the first place, he hath created you, and granted unto you your lives, for which ye are indebted unto him. And secondly, he doth require that ye should do as he hath commanded you; for which if ye do, he doth immediately bless you; and therefore he hath paid you. And ye are still indebted unto him, and are, and will be, forever and ever; therefore, of what have ye to boast? And now I ask, can ye say aught of yourselves? I answer you, Nay. Ye cannot say that ye are even as much as the dust of the earth; yet ye were created of the dust of the earth; but behold, it belongeth to him who created you. And I, even I, whom ye call your king, am no better than ye yourselves are; for I am also of the dust. And ye behold that I am old, and am about to yield up this mortal frame to its mother earth (Mosiah 2:23-26).
I don't believe Benjamin is reminding us of our eternal indebtedness in order to discourage us, but rather, to instill the gratitude we ought to feel, which let's us know what we do with what we have matters, and that we ought to do the best we can with the gifts we have to "improve" the gifts of God. We all have different degrees of ability and opportunity. As Paul taught, there are many members of the body, none can tell another "I have no need of thee" (see 1 Corinthians 12:21). God is not out to create an army of robotic replicas, as we learn in the temple, variety is a part of beauty. Brigham would say the same:
As brother Joseph observed this morning, "Joseph must be Joseph; Brigham must be Brigham; Heber must be Heber; Amasa must be Amasa; Orson must be Orson; and Parley must be Parley;" we must be ourselves...and not anybody else. We do not wish to be any body else, neither do we wish to be anybody but Saints. We wish the Gospel to take effect upon each one of us; and we can change in our feelings, in our dispositions and natures...
Being unique we can all work together for the same end; to help all improve. The gifts of God differ, and we use them to benefit the whole:
What should we be, and what are we? I will take the liberty of saying a few words upon this. We were created upright, pure, and holy, in the image of our father and our mother, in the image of our God. Wherein do we differ? In the talents that are given us, and in our callings. We are made of the same materials; our spirits were begotten by the same parents; in the begetting of the flesh we are of the same first parents, and all the kindreds of the earth are made of one flesh; but we are different in regard to our callings.
We are somewhat different even from our mortal birth, without taking into account premortal experiences. While we inherit some traits from our parents (nature), we are still affected by "nurture" including our own choices; we learn to use the gifts correctly and put off the "natural man"(Mosiah 3:19):
In the first place, we may vary with regard to our organizations pertaining to the flesh… If the whole of the father and mother in all their acts is devoted to the building up of the kingdom of God on the earth, if they have no desire but to do right, if righteousness reigns predominant, then the spirit that is within them controls, to a certain extent, the flesh in their posterity. Yet every son and daughter have got to go through the ordeal that you and I have to pass through; they must be tried, tempted and buffeted, in order to act upon their agency before God and prove themselves worthy of an exaltation. Though our children are begotten in righteousness, brought forth in holiness, they must be tried and tempted, for they are agents before our Father and God, the same as you and I. They must bring this agency into action; the passions and appetites must be governed and controlled: the eye, the speech, the tastes, the desires, all must be controlled. If the people would thus control themselves in their lives, it would make a great alteration in the generations yet to come. But we cannot clear ourselves from the power of Satan; we must know what it is to be tried and tempted, for no man or woman can be exalted upon any other principle, as was beautifully exhibited in the life of the Savior.
It is the power of the Atonement, the grace of Christ, that allows us, encourages us, and helps to enhance these gifts from God; the gospel changes us:
You can discern that we have to control ourselves, that by the Gospel we can actually do so and reform. Each man and woman, by the spirit of truth, can conform to that principle to improve until we will know and understand the things of God, so as to save ourselves by the commandments and will of God.

In this way, the mysteries of the gospel deal with the changing of our nature; the real and most vital mysteries are in us:
The Gospel is simple, it is plain. The mystery of godliness, or of the Gospel, is actually couched in our own ignorance; that is the cause of the mystery that we suppose to be in the revelations given to us; it is in our own misunderstanding-in our ignorance. There is no mystery throughout the whole plan of salvation, only to those who do not understand.
The greatest gift, according to Paul, is Charity; Moroni calls it the "pure love of Christ" (1 Corinthians 13:13; Moroni 7:47). All other gifts of God should result from this ultimate gift, and for that, we rely wholly upon the merits of Christ, who is mighty to save. Make the most of the gifts.
Footnotes: [1] Orson Pratt believed this gifts would be greatly enhanced, enlarged, and added upon in the future. See "The Increased Powers and Faculties of the Mind In a Future State."