March 31, 2008

Parable of the candlestick

Jedediah M. Grant August 3, 1856 In discussing what makes the LDS Church unique often times the subject of continuing revelation is mentioned. Sometimes arguments are over-simplistic, implying that every other Christian religion denies revelation, or believes that the Bible is perfect, complete, and infallible. In Joseph Smith's day, as well as in our own, there are Christians who believe they receive revelation, and there are some who recognize there are certain errors in the Bible.[1] Still, the majority of Christian denominations believe that despite any errors the Bible is "sufficient" and that no new revelation will be added to the canon. Reformers such as Martin Luther noted differences between doctrines they saw in the Bible and practices they saw in the Church, and thus made corrections as they saw fit. As President Grant pointed out, with Joseph it was not a reformation alone, it was revealed anew. No new wine in old bottles for the Latter-day Saints:

We did not merely have the Bible circulated among us; Joseph Smith did not merely tell us that he was a missionary sent to proclaim that which was proclaimed and believed in the Garden of Eden, or the testimony that was given to Noah before the flood; or that he was sent simply to bring the books of Moses with the writings of the ancient Apostles and Prophets; or alone to inform us of the works of Jesus Christ when upon the earth. This was not alone the work of the Prophet, but it was that he had received a commission from the Almighty, that he had been ordained by Peter, James and John, who were sent unto him as messengers or ministers from the heavens with proper authority, and had given him the legal authority of God—for what? To build up the kingdom of God upon the earth, to organize it and set it in order, and to ordain proper officers to execute the law. This Apostle of Jesus Christ told the people that if they would obey the Gospel, if they would repent of their sins, if they would be baptized for the remission of their sins, they should receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, by the laying on of hands, which he was authorized to administer. Many complied with the teachings of the Prophet, and what was the result? Much the same as we read of in the Bible and the Book of Mormon. The Prophet translated the Book of Mormon, and therein found the subject of salvation set forth as it is in the Bible, only more plainly and fully. The Book of Mormon and the Prophet Joseph taught repentance the same as the Bible, therefore they agreed; and the Prophet never limited that instruction, neither did he limit any of the teachings of the ancients.
According to Latter-day Saints, the Bible is not final and complete. It represents the accounts of those who experienced miracles, visions, and revelations, and the Bible stories are to continue. Reading isn't being or seeing.
If Joseph had merely sold the people the Bible and Book of Mormon, would they have received the gift of the Holy Ghost? It was, and I presume still is, a favorite theme with Mr. Alexander Campbell, of the United States,[2] that “the word is the Spirit and the Spirit is the word,” in short that there is no Spirit to be received separate from the word of God. His logic amounts virtually to this—“Simply preach the Bible, the word of God and salvation as printed in the Bible; and all who purchase the Bible thereby purchase eternal life.” Who that is rational and possessed of a disposition to scan the subject can believe such a doctrine? Doubtless Moses heard the thunder of the Almighty on Mount Sinai, and saw the lightnings, but would you say that I was reasoning correctly, if I were to say that I heard that thunder and saw those lightnings simply through reading the history thereof in the Bible? Again, would I be reasoning correctly to say, because I have read the account of what transpired on the day of Pentecost, when the Spirit was poured out upon the people and Peter spoke as he was moved upon by the Holy Ghost, that I, therefore, have seen the day of Pentecost? That because I have read the history of some of the operations of the Holy Ghost, therefore I have the Holy Ghost? Or that I heard them speak in tongues, because I have read the history of persons speaking in tongues? Certainly not... Brethren and sisters, we understand the difference between enjoying and reading of enjoyment, between the history of a feast and the feast itself; also between the history of the law of God and the law itself.
Joseph Smith had touched on this theme with exactness in an 1832 newspaper editorial called "TO THE HONORABLE MEN OF THE WORLD":
To the honorable searchers for truth: Therefore to be obedient to the precepts of our divine Master, we say unto you--Search the Scriptures--search the revelations which we publish, and ask your Heavenly Father, in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, to manifest the truth unto you, and if you do it with an eye single to His glory, nothing doubting, He will answer you by the power of His Holy Spirit. You will then know for yourselves and not for another. You will not then be dependent on man for the knowledge of God; nor will there be any room for speculation. No; for when men receive their instruction from Him that made them, they know how he will save them. Then again we say: Search the Scriptures, search the Prophets, and learn what portion of them belongs to you and the people of the nineteenth century. You, no doubt, will agree with us, and say that you have no right to claim the promises of the inhabitants before the flood; that you cannot found your hopes of salvation upon the obedience of the children of Israel when journeying in the wilderness; nor can you expect that the blessings which the Apostles pronounced upon the churches of Christ, eighteen hundred years ago, were intended for you. Again, if others' blessings are not your blessings, others' curses are not your curses; you stand then in these last days, as all have stood before you, agents unto yourselves, to be judged according to your works. Every man lives for himself... Wherefore, we again say search the revelations of God; study the prophecies, and rejoice that God grants unto the world Seers and Prophets. They are they who saw the mysteries of godliness... And, fellow sojourners upon earth it is your privilege to purify yourselves and come up to the same glory, and see for yourselves, and know for yourselves. Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.[3]

With this in mind it is significant that the Mormon conversion experience is shaped around personal revelation, dialog with Deity. Every person is encouraged to ask God for enlightenment, and promised that after careful pondering, with real intent, the truth will be manifested (see Moroni 10:3-5). This process is sometimes referred to as "Moroni's promise," and is found at the close of the Book of Mormon. Terryl Givens points out this experience of revelation is "vouchsafed in a private, rather than public manner...Personal revelation in the Book of Mormon's model had the advantage of following upon, rather than substituting for, thoughtful consideration of the book." Givens noted how this approach was not seen by early converts as hostile to rationalism. This is involved revelation, and it doesn't rely solely upon the word of others. Each is asked to ask.[4] Jedediah took this general argument and formed it into a succinct parable:
Should you light a room with gas, and should an artist take a sketch of the light, and some author write a history of the affair, and at a subsequent date some other man writes history, and should the two accounts be placed together, describing the beauty thereof and benefit thereof, would the history of the light and the benefit that had been derived therefrom, and the abundance of that light that was said to have existed, light up a hall? If it would, do not buy any more candles, but read the history of candles, and stick that history in your candlesticks; read the history of oil and wick, and stick that in your lamp, and see how much light you will get.
The restored gospel invites all to experience the light for themselves without eliminating prophets and leaders from the equation. Joseph Smith's revealed views establish the principle of authority while still maintaining the agency of each individual. Obedience to leaders can confidently occur when individuals receive personal revelation confirming the inspiration of direction.
You have the history of the light, and you have received the virtue and power which are in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and it is for you to obey your leaders and the intelligence which is in you, which may the Lord grant, in the name of Jesus. Amen.
Footnotes: [1] Sometimes the belief in personal revelation is defined differently, however. Most Protestant denominations view the Bible as complete; that no scripture will be added to the canon. The Catholic faith couples "tradition" with the Bible. Tradition includes the correct interpretation of the scriptures and is not seen as "adding to" the Bible. [2] Alexander Campbell was a contemporary preacher who held some similar restorationist views. Alexander followed his father Thomas from Scotland to America in the early 1800s. After being dismissed from the Presbyterian ministry Thomas formed the "Christian Association of Washington" in 1809 with the purpose of restoring "simple original form of Christianity." The Campbell's joined the Redstone Baptist Association in 1813, though eventually they split from the association and held to their restoration ideas throughout. While acknowledging that error had crept into the Bible, Alexander still held that it was sufficient and that no new revelation would be added. Among Alexander's followers was Parley P. Pratt and Sidney Rigdon. See Milton V. Backman, American Religions and the Rise of Mormonism, 211-217. [3] This editorial was printed in the Church organ, the Evening and Morning Star in 1832. This excerpt was drawn from HC 1:282-283. [4] Terryl Givens, By the Hand of Mormon, 238. [5] The sketch of the candle is from Harpers Weekly, March 16, 1861. "Major Anderson's Candlestick." It has nothing to do with the rest of the post, I just thought it was a nice image.


Anonymous said...

This sounds pretty good to me. I rather enjoy reading the journals myself. Have to stop by more often.

G. R.

LifeOnaPlate said...

Please do; thanks for stopping by.

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