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."

January 10, 2008

"When our spirits leave our bodies"

Brigham Young June 22, 1856 In the Book of Mormon, the prophet Alma explained the state of the spirit after death and before resurrection:

Now, concerning the state of the soul between death and the resurrection— Behold, it has been made known unto me by an angel, that the spirits of all men, as soon as they are departed from this mortal body, yea, the spirits of all men, whether they be good or evil, are taken home to that God who gave them life.

And then shall it come to pass, that the spirits of those who are righteous are received into a state of happiness, which is called paradise, a state of rest,a state of peace, where they shall rest from all their troubles and from all care, and sorrow.

And then shall it come to pass, that the spirits of the wicked, yea, who are evil—for behold, they have no part nor portion of the Spirit of the Lord; for behold, they chose evil works rather than good; therefore the spirit of the devil did enter into them, and take possession of their house—and these shall be cast out into outer darkness; there shall be weeping, and wailing, and gnashing of teeth," (Alma 40:11-14).

Similarly, Brigham discoursed on the topic, explaining what it means to be "taken home to God," and that the spirit world itself is a lot closer than we might think. He explains somewhat of an "omnipresent" God, though we also teach that God is an embodied being:
Here the inquiry will naturally arise, when our spirits leave our bodies where do they go to? I will tell you. Will I locate them? Yes, if you wish me to. They do not pass out of the organization of this earth on which we live. You read in the Bible [more accurately, the Book of Mormon] that when the spirit leaves the body it goes to God who gave it. Now tell me where God is not, if you please; you cannot. How far would you have to go in order to go to God, if your spirits were unclothed? Would you have to go out of this bowery to find God, if you were in the spirit? If God is not here, we had better reserve this place to gather the wicked into, for they will desire to be where God is not. The Lord Almighty is here by His Spirit, by His influence, by His presence. I am not in the north end of this bowery, my body is in the south end of it, but my influence and my voice extend to all parts of it; in like manner is the Lord here.

It reads that the spirit goes to God who gave it. Let me render this Scripture a little plainer; when the spirits leave their bodies they are in the presence of our Father and God, they are prepared then to see, hear and understand spiritual things. But where is the spirit world? It is incorporated within this celestial system. Can you see it with your natural eyes? No. Can you see spirits in this room? No. Suppose the lord should touch your eyes that you might see, could you then see the spirits? Yes, as plainly as you now see bodies, as did the servant of Elijah. If the Lord would permit it, and it was His will that it should be done, you could see the spirits that have departed from this world, as plainly as you now see bodies with you natural eyes; as plainly as brothers Kimball and Hyde saw those wicked disembodied spirits in Preston, England. They saw devils there, as we see one another; they could hear them speak, and knew what they said.[1] Could they hear them with the natural ear? No. Did they see those wicked spirits with their natural eyes? No. They could not see them the next morning, when they were not in the spirit; neither could they see them the day before, nor at any other time; their spiritual eyes were touched by the power of the Almighty. They said they looked through their natural eyes, and I suppose they did. Brother Kimball saw them, but I know not whether his natural eyes were open at the time or not; brother Kimball said that he lay upon the floor part of the time, and I presume his eyes were shut, but he saw them as also did bother Hyde, and they heard them speak.

Brigham next described more regarding the circumstances of the one third part who followed Lucifer as found in the Book of Abraham.[2] Interestingly, he makes the distinction that the one third was not a third of all of God's children in total, but a third part of those organized for our particular earth:
We may inquire where the spirits dwell, that the devil has power over? They dwell anywhere, in Preston, as well as in other places in England. Do they dwell anywhere else? Yes, on this continent; it is full of them. If you could see, and would walk over many parts of North America, you would see millions on millions of the spirits of those who have been slain upon this continent. Would you see the spirits of those who were as good in the flesh as they knew how to be? Yes. Would you see the spirits of the wicked? Yes. Could you see the spirits of devils? Yes, and that is all there is of them. They have been deprived of bodies, and that constitutes their curse, that is to say, speaking after the manner of men, you shall be wanderers on the earth, you have got to live out of doors all the time you live. That is the situation of the spirits that were sent to the earth, when the revolt took place in heaven, when Lucifer, the Son of the Morning, was cast out. Where did he go? He came here, and one-third part of the spirits in heaven came with him. Do you suppose that one third part of all the beings that existed in eternity came with him? No, but one third part of the spirits that were begotten and organized and brought forth to become tenants of fleshly bodies to dwell upon this earth. They forsook Jesus Christ, the rightful heir, and joined with Lucifer, the Son of the Morning, and came to this earth; they got here first. As soon as Mother Eve made her appearance in the garden of Eden, the devil was on hand.

Lucifer and his hosts were to be denied physical bodies. Having them on hand would help God's children learn between good and evil:
You cannot give any person their exaltation, unless they know what evil is, what sin, sorrow, and misery are, for no person could comprehend, appreciate, and enjoy an exaltation upon any other principle. The devil with one third part of the spirits of our Father's Kingdom got here before us, and we tarried there with our friends, until the time came for us to come to the earth and take tabernacles; but those spirits that revolted were forbidden ever to have tabernacles of their own.

As Brigham said before, we can't even get an endowment without the adversary;[3] so he repeated here:
Could we do without the devils? No, we could not get along without them. They are here, and they suggest this, that, and the other.

Next Brigham provides a quick synopsis on the spirit world in classing Brigham "call-and-response" fashion:
When you lay down this tabernacle, where are you going? Into the spiritual world. Are you going into Abraham's bosom. No, not any where nigh there, but into the spirit world. Where is the spirit world? It is right here. Do the good and evil spirits go together? Yes, they do. Do they both inhabit one kingdom? Yes, they do. Do they go to the sun? No. Do they go beyond the boundaries of this organized earth? No, they do not. They are brought forth upon this earth, for the express purpose of inhabiting it to all eternity. Where else are you going? Nowhere else, only as you may be permitted.[4]

Brigham went as far as to tell the Saints that even Joseph may be nearby:
When the spirits of mankind leave their bodies, no matter whether the individual was a Prophet or the meanest person that you could find, where do they go? To the spirit world. Where is it? I am telling you. The spirit of Joseph, I do not know that it is just now in this bowery, but I will assure you that it is close to the Latter-day Saints, is active in preaching to the spirits in prison and preparing the way to redeem the nations of the earth, those who lived in darkness previous to the introduction of the Gospel by himself in these days.

As we learn in D&C 137, missionary work continues on the other side:
He has just as much labor on hand as I have; he has just as much to do. Father [Joseph] Smith [Sr.] and Carlos and brother [Edward] Partridge, yes, and every other good Saint, are just as busy in the spirit world as you and I are here. They can see us, but we cannot see them unless our eyes were opened. What are they doing there? They are preaching, preaching all the time, and preparing the way for us to hasten our work in building temples here and elsewhere, and to go back to Jackson County and build the great temple of the Lord. They are hurrying to get ready by the time that we are ready, and we are all hurrying to get ready by the time our Elder Brother is ready.

As the Book of Mormon teaches, death won't make a radical change to your spirit, per se:
...that same spirit which doth possess your bodies at the time that ye go out of this life, that same spirit will have power to possess your body in that eternal world (Alma 34:34).

So said Brigham:
The wicked spirits that leave here and go into the spirit world, are they wicked there? Yes.

Even the good are buffeted "to a certain extent":
The spirits of people that have lived upon the earth according to the the best light they had, who were as honest and sincere as men and women could be, if they lived on the earth without the privilege of the Gospel and the Priesthood and the keys thereof are still under the power and control of evil spirits, to a certain extent. No matter where they lived on the face of the earth, all men and women that have died without the keys and power of the Priesthood, though they might have been honest and sincere and have done every thing they could, are under the influence of the devil, more or less. Are they as much so as others? No, no. Take those that were wicked designedly, who knowingly lived without the Gospel when it was within their reach, they are given up to the devil, they become tools to the devil and spirits of devils.

From what Brigham said, it doesn't seem like the spirit world is radically different from our current existence:
Go to the time when the Gospel came to the earth in the days of Joseph, take the wicked that have opposed this people and persecuted them to the death, and they are sent to hell. Where are they? They are in the spirit world, and are just as busy as they possibly can be to do every thing they can against the Prophet and the Apostles, against Jesus and his kingdom. They are just as wicked and malicious in their actions against the cause of truth, as they were while on the earth in their fleshly tabernacles. Joseph, also, goes there, but has the devil power over him? No, because he held the keys and power of the eternal Priesthood here, and got the victory while here in the flesh (Journal of Discourses 3:362-375).
For more commentary on the Spirit World, see the following posts: Thoughts on the Spirit World See You In Prison Funeral Address Footnotes: [1] For more on Heber C. Kimball's experience in England, see "Joseph and the Devil." [2] See Abraham 3:24-28; Revelation 12:9; D&C 29:36-38; Bible Dictionary, War in Heaven. [3] See JD 3:321, and Brigham's Dream: The Parable of the Sheep. [4] Joseph Smith taught that only those who "belong" to our earth minister here:
In answer to the question—Is not the reckoning of God’s time, angel’s time, prophet’s time, and man’s time, according to the planet on which they reside? I answer, Yes. But there are no angels who minister to this earth but those who do belong or have belonged to it (D&C 130:5).

January 7, 2008

Tempted in Proportion to the Light

PART 2 Orson Pratt April 13, 1856 If anything, Orson wanted the Saints to read their scriptures, reminding them that we may not be living up to the blessings God offers. Additionally, he reminded them that greater knowledge brings greater responsibility:

There is much doctrine in the Book of Mormon and Book of Doctrine and Covenants that would be instructive to the Saints, if they would not let them stay upon their shelves. Knowledge of truth would not harm you, though it may be better for some to let their books remain shut, rather than to transgress against greater light, for then greater would be their damnation and punishment. In proportion as we advance in the knowledge of the things revealed from the heavens, and in the powers and keys that are conferred upon us, the greater will be the condemnation, if we fall therefrom. This shows the propriety of every man and woman's habituating themselves, as I have already said, to righteousness.
Here he advanced an interesting thought: that we are tempted by Satan in proportion to the light we have received from God. A scriptural archetype of this idea would be Moses, who, after seeing the Lord in a great vision then encountered the adversary:
If you were, within one week from this time, to be let into all the visions that the brother of Jared had, what a weight of responsibility you would have upon you; how weak you would be, and how unprepared for the responsibility; and after the vision had closed up in your minds, and you left to yourselves, you would be tempted in proportion to the light that had been presented before you. Then would come the trial, such as you never have had. This is the principle upon which the devil is allowed to try us. We have a circumstance in relation to Moses' being tempted; when the vision withdrew, and the heavens closed, the devil presented himself and said, "Moses, son of man, worship me." Moses replied, "Who are you?" "I am the son of God," was the answer. Then said Moses, "You call me the son of man and say that you are the son of God, but where is your glory?" Could Moses have withstood that terrible manifestation, if he had not practiced for many years the principles of righteousness? A mere vision would not have strengthened him, and even to shew him the glory of God in part would not have enabled him to combat with the powers of darkness that then came to him. It was by his knowledge of God, by his perseverance, his diligence and obedience in former years, that he was enabled to rebuke the devil, in the name of Jesus Christ, and drive him from him.
For this reason God gives us light in proportion to what we can currently handle:
So it will be with you, whether you have the necessary preparation or not, for the Lord will say to the powers of darkness: "you are now at liberty to tempt my servants in proportion to the light that I have given. Go and see if they will be steadfast to that light; use every plan so far as I permit you, and if they will yield they are not worthy of me nor of my kingdom, and I will deliver them up and they shall be buffeted. You, Satan, shall buffet and torment them, until they shall learn obedience by the things that they suffer."
As the Lord said in a revelation to Joseph Smith:
For of him unto whom much is given much is required; and he who sins against the greater light shall receive the greater condemnation (D&C 82:3).
By preparing today by drawing closer to God, we can withstand the adversary in our time of trial as Moses did:
Hence the propriety of preparing for these things, that when they come you will know how to conquer Satan, and not want for experience to overcome, but be like Michael, the archangel, who, with all the knowledge and glory that he had gained through thousands of years of experience, durst not bring a railing accusation, because he knew better. And when Moses withstood Satan face to face, he knew who he was and what he had come for. He had obtained his knowledge by past trials, by a long series of preparation; hence he triumphed. So it must be with Latter-day Saints, and if we prepare ourselves we shall conquer. We must come in contact with every foe, and those who give way will be overcome.
Along with Moses, others encountered the power of the adversary in proportion to that which they received from God. One notable example would be Christ, who encountered the adversary after fasting forty days in the wilderness.[1] Using this method, God can truly allow us free agency. Were God to provide absolute irrefutable evidence of His existence, or bless us immediately upon any righteous act and punish us directly after any evil, there would be no growth, no test, no opportunity to actually choose. It has been suggested that in order for Christianity to survive, there must be "an empty tomb" to be filled by faith. While investigating the truth claims of the Book of Mormon, Terryl Givens found evidence both for the authenticity of the book, as well as against. This gave him insight into the nature of faith itself:
I came to the conclusion, in large part through my study of the Book of Mormon, that for faith to operate, and for faith to have moral significance in our lives, then it has to at some level be a choice. It can't be urged upon us by an irresistible, overwhelming body of evidence, or what merit is there in the espousing of faith? And it can't be something that we embrace in spite of overwhelming logical rational evidence to the contrary, because I don't believe that God expects us to hold in disregard that faculty of reason that he gave us. But I do believe that the materials are always there of which one can fashion a life of belief or a life of denial. I believe that faith is a revelation of what we love, what we choose to embrace, and therefore I think [it] is the purest reflection of the values that we hold dear and the kind of universe that we aspire to be a part of. And so it comes ultimately as no surprise to me that the evidence will never be conclusive on one way or the other. I think that there's a purpose behind the balance that one attains in the universe of belief.[2]
Orson urged the Saints in this, his final address before leaving for England, to prepare to overcome evil through Jesus Christ:
If we are to conquer the enemy of truth his power must be made manifest, and the power which will be given of the Lord through faithfulness must be in our possession. Do you wish to prevail-to conquer the powers of darkness when they present themselves? If you do, prepare yourselves against the day when these powers shall be made manifest with more energy than is now exhibited. Then you can say, the evil powers that have been made manifest, the agents that came and tempted me, came with all their force, I met them face to face and conquered by the word of my testimony, by patience, by the keys which have been bestowed upon me, and which I held sacred before God, and I have triumphed over the adversary and over all his associates.
Brethren, pray for me, that I may accomplish the mission that has been given to me acceptably in the sight of the Lord, acceptably to these my brethren that are presiding over me, acceptably to the nations, to the Saints here in Great Salt Lake Valley, that I may be one of the Saints that shall be perfected in righteousness, in long-suffering, in patience, in humility, and return in joy and peace to rejoice again in your midst. I ask the Lord to bless us, one and all, with his Holy Spirit, and to guide us in the way of life. Amen (JD 3:352-354).
Footnotes: [1] I also believe Joseph Smith may have had similar experiences. Some evidence is found in my blog post entitled "Joseph and the Devil." Joseph had counseled Heber C. Kimball as follows:
“When I related to brother Joseph the view I had of certain evil spirits in England, he said, that the closer we observe the celestial law, the more opposition we shall meet.” (Heber C. Kimball, JD 3:263).
Oliver Cowdery described an encounter Joseph had with the adversary with Moroni; more information on that will be added to the Joseph and the Devil post.
[2] Terryl Givens, Interview by Helen Whitney for the PBS documentary The Mormons, 2007.