This is the part seven of the fifteen-part discussion on Joseph's teaching on the Second Comforter. The topic of today is "living by every word of God".
Before we venture into today's topic, I have to recommend this post, which is a definitive must read!
Why this discussion on the Second Comforter is so important
In "The Words of Joseph Smith" (Ehat & Cook), we find the following footnote (nr 9):
”Joseph Smith asked rhetorically how the Lord’s restatement (D&C 84:98) of Jeremiah’s prophecy on the last days (Jer. 31:31-34) was to be fulfilled. He answered that it will be fulfilled when the Saints’ callings and elections are made sure and when they receive the Second Comforter. (p. 19; emphasis added)
(On the right, what Joseph reportedly said is highlighted. It should be noted that this part on ”The Doctrine of Election” immediately preceeds the quote that is the main focus of this series.)
In D&C 84, we read:
”And plagues shall go forth, and they shall not be taken from the earth until I have completed my work, which shall be cut short in righteousness—Until all shall know me, who remain, even from the least unto the greatest, and shall be filled with the knowledge of the Lord, and shall see eye to eye, and shall lift up their voice, and with the voice together sing this new song” (D&C 84:97-98; emphasis added)
Jeremiah prophesied in the following manner:
”Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah[. T]his shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” (Jer. 31:31-34; emphasis added)
Those who want to be a part of the house of Israel need to seek to have their calling and election made sure and to receive the Second Comforter. In order to ease up on the anxiety this might cause anyone, all things are to be done in wisdom and in order and no one are required to run faster than they have strength to.
Now, today’s subject!
If we are to live by every word of God, we need to understand how God dispenses his words, where we can find it, what characterizes a true messenger and how we can see beyond and through attributes which give a nice impression but are nothing more than sounding brass, tinkling cymbals and a cover for the ravenous wolf lurking inside of a false messenger.
Honestly, how good are we at searching out and recognizing truth? Against what measuring stick should someone’s message be measured? I've grown up believing that the standard works (OT, NT, BoM, D&C and PofGP) is the standard of truth. In 1844, Joseph (or whoever wrote the piece that ended up in the Times & Seasons) seems to have agreed.
"If any man writes to you, or preaches to you, doctrines contrary to the Bible, the Book of Mormon, or the book of Doctrine and Covenants, set him down as an impost[o]r. […] Try them by the principles contained in the acknowledged word of God; if they preach, or teach, or practice contrary to that, disfellowship them; cut them off from among you as useless and dangerous branches[.]" (Times & Seasons, 5:490-491, April 1, 1844; emphasis in the original)
Here, I need to let you know that I doubt the authenticity of D&C 132. I believe Brigham wrote/added unto it and that it teaches doctrines that contradicts the standard works. Therefore I reserve myself the right to follow the admonition of Joseph and proclaim that it is the work of an imposter and not the word of God.
No one can be given a free pass when it comes to carry the message of the Lord. Joseph said that “a prophet [is] a prophet only when he [is] acting as such." (History of the Church, 5:265) This is such an important concept. It puts the burden on us. We can't sit in thoughtless stupor and accept whatever comes out of someone's mouth, just because they sometime in the past have shared a message from God.
|by Jason Crislip|
What's even more thoughtless is to put this trust in a man because his predecessor was a messenger from and prophet of God. It's not a hereditary thing. It's about being called and chosen because of "your prayers and your righteousness" (compare to Mosiah 3:4). Just because Joseph was a prophet, which I believe, it’s not necessarily true that any of his successors where prophets of God. And, it should be noted that it doesn’t matter that we call them ‘prophets’.
This opens up a can of worms, I know. Even though it might be a road less traveled, we can't leave it alone since it leads us to more truth!
The can of worms: the danger of putting your trust in the arm of flesh!
In Times & Seasons, the members of the Church in 1844 was taught that no man or woman is exempt from the absolute requirement to comply with "the acknowledged word of God" when writing, teaching or preaching. This included bishops, stake presidents and every other leader in the Church, all the way to the top. Not even the president of the Church, not even Joseph himself, and his closest associates were exempt. Each and everyone of them could potentially be an imposter. To me, it's a sobering, but also liberating thought. Today, we are taught the opposite (see here, here and here; the last article is the "best"). In my view, this is troubling, false, problematic and not worthy of a Church proclaiming to be Jesus’ own.
When it comes to the challenge of searching out and recognizing truth, we can't, in good conscience, put our trust in someone just because they happen to occupy a certain position in the hierarchy and claim authority to act in Gods name. The challenge of searching out and recognizing truth is vertical in nature (that is, it's between you, your divine nature and God). In some instances, we might be led to the truth by trusting someone in authority, but that's definitely not a given–even a broken clock shows the right time twice a day.
Trusting in the religious hierarchy and holders of the priestly authority of our community is, in my mind, seldom a great idea. At the time of Christ, it would have made you reject and crucify your Savior.
When Christ started his ministry, the religious hierarchy was comprised of the scribes and pharisees. They held the priestly authority. In more modern and mormonesque vernacular, they were the General Authorities of the day.
Jesus was sent from the Father to preach the gospel to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised and to preach the acceptable year of the Lord. (Luke 4:18-19). Jesus challenged the authority of the ancient General Authorities, and in return, they questioned him in every way. They pushed back, and in the end, they, together with the orthodox Jews, pushed Jesus onto the cross. There, He graciously plead that His Father would forgive them for their ignorant act.
Today, I'd say that the rhetoric of “follow the prophet” and the "never lead you astray"-doctrine of the Church has caused the same blindness and ignorance among the Latter-Day Saints. Many members have, fully trusting the Church, been placed knee deep in the mud of horizontal worship and obeisance. It’s extremely difficult to get out of this mud, because most members have invested so much in it–family, friends, reputation, social standing, worldview and hopes for eternity. Real faith is needed for anyone who dares to open this can of worms. Even though some reach a different conclusion than I do, I greatly admire their courage and desire for truth.
(Here you can find a compilation of scriptures and quotes teaching that we should NOT trust in man or any other kind of arm of flesh!)
Not long ago, I heard in Sunday school that, "The bishop and the stake president are called to help us come to Christ and if we stand by them, we are safe." I felt great uneasiness at this remark. If I would have been Stake President, or bishop, and present when that comment was made, I would've hade to put both my hands in the air an exclaim "Oh no! Don't you ever follow me! If I hope to accomplish any thing at all, it would be to help you receive the Holy Ghost and be born of Christ. So, don't follow me!"
The interesting thing is, that the Stake President was present when the comment was made, but he didn't say a word. I had to say something, so I raised my hand and said that we are all humans, we all make mistakes and we need to firmly build our foundation on the Rock of Christ, that we need to enter through His gate where he doesn't keep any servants and that it doesn't matter by whom we stand, if we don't stand by Christ.
Between my response and the comment that provoked it, there's a certain tension. At the core of that tension lies, what I call, the difference between horizontal and vertical worship. Vertical worship, as I use the term, is when we worship God and through his grace try to find the divine within and without ourselves and strive to help others do the same. When we espouse the belief that we are to follow our leaders instead of looking inward and upward, we are guilty of horizontal worship, that is, we worship someone who's no better or more saved than us and exchange God for the arm of flesh, thus cursing ourselves (2 Ne. 4:34-35).
Horizontal worship is telestial. In D&C 76:99-102 (read all the way through v. 111 for a fuller image of these people), we read the following about those that inherit a telestial glory:
“For [the telestial] are they who are of Paul, and of Apollos, and of Cephas. These are they who say they are some of one and some of another—some of Christ and some of John, and some of Moses, and some of Elias, and some of Esaias, and some of Isaiah, and some of Enoch; But received not the gospel, neither the testimony of Jesus, neither the prophets, neither the everlasting covenant. Last of all, these all are they who will not be gathered with the saints, to be caught up unto the church of the Firstborn, and received into the cloud.”
If we stand by someone else than God and Jesus, we have not received the gospel, neither the testimony of Jesus, neither the prophets, neither the everlasting covenant. In short, we will come short of salvation into the Kingdom of God.
Horizontal worship is one of many different kinds of idolatry we can engage in. For many, it's really hard to recognize this (self-awareness is, after all, a virtue not possessed by all mankind). The most insidious idolatry is the one where the idol stands so close to God and maybe even, in our mind, represents God that the distinction between them is almost impossible to make.
Learning how to recognize a messenger from God
As I've thought about the Sunday school lesson I mentioned earlier, I would've liked to have the time, and the assignment to teach a lesson about how to recognize a messenger from God. It's a lesson, which, for those with ears to hear and eyes to see and hearts to understand, could've dispelled some of the misunderstanding about the role of our leaders, or of any of the leaders God and Jesus employs in their service and what the mission of a messenger of God is.
The story about king Benjamin and his people is a good illustration of how "the preaching of the word [*] had a great tendency to lead the people to do that which was just—yea, it had had more powerful effect upon the minds of the people than the sword, or anything else, which had happened unto them—therefore Alma thought it was expedient that they should try the virtue of the word of God." (Alma 31:5)
* Alma later defines the 'word' in these words: "believe in the Son of God, that he will come to redeem his people, and that he shall suffer and die to atone for their sins; and that he shall riseagain from the dead, which shall bring to pass the resurrection, that all men shall stand before him, to be judged at the last and judgment day, according to their works. And now, my brethren, I desire that ye shall plant this word in your hearts, and as it beginneth to swell even so nourish it by your faith." (Alma 33:22-23)
King Benjamin received his message from an Angel. He taught the words which the Lord had commanded him to teach (see Mosiah 3) and the people fell to the earth, overcome by their nothingness and carnal state. They cried to God: "O have mercy, and apply the atoning blood of Christ that we may receive forgiveness of our sins, and our hearts may be purified; for we believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who created heaven and earth, and all things; who shall come down among the children of men." (Mosiah 4:2) The Spirit of the Lord came upon them and they were born again (v. 3).
King Benjamin was desirous to know if the people believed "the words which he had spoken unto them". He got the following response, which is a key to understand how we can recognize a true message from God.
"Yea, we believe all the words which thou hast spoken unto us; and also, we know of their surety and truth, because of the Spirit of the Lord Omnipotent, which has wrought a mighty change in us, or in our hearts, that we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually. And we, ourselves, also, through the infinite goodness of God, and the manifestations of his Spirit, have great views of that which is to come; and were it expedient, we could prophesy of all things. And it is the faith which we have had on the things which our king has spoken unto us that has brought us to this great knowledge, whereby we do rejoice with such exceedingly great joy. And we are willing to enter into a covenant with our God to do his will, and to be obedient to his commandments in all things that he shall command us, all the remainder of our days, that we may not bring upon ourselves a never-ending torment, as has been spoken by the angel, that we may not drink out of the cup of the wrath of God." (Mosiah 5:2-5)
Just like Alma said, the word of God has a "more powerful effect upon the minds of the people than [anything else]." When a true messenger from God writes, teaches or preaches the word of God, the message becomes "mighty even as [Jesus], unto the overpowering of man to read them" (Ether 12:24) and it causes people to work righteousness, and obtain heaven and seek for the city of Enoch (JST Genesis 14:33-34). Or, as in the case of the people of king Benjamin, they were born again and ready to enter into an everlasting covenant with Jesus. Entering into this covenant was a preparation for them to be sealed His, and thereby "be brought to heaven, that [they] may have everlasting salvation and eternal life, through the wisdom, and power, and justice, and mercy of him who created all things, in heaven and in earth, who is God above all." (Mosiah 5:15)
(It should be noted that those of the telestial kingdom received not the everlasting covenant.)
The charge to seek truth, and follow it once found, is given to us individually. We need to learn to master this art, for our salvation depends on it. Let’s not entrust this sacred responsibility to someone else.