Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Come Follow Me: D&C 3-5

 Come Follow Me: D&C 3-5

In section 3, Joseph Smith is again chastised for not having his "eye single to the glory of God" and "fearing man more than God." 

The Lost 116 Pages of manuscript were probably as much as 300 pages, according to Don Bradley in his book, "The Lost 116 Pages." It contained the writings of Lehi and everything that Mormon had abridged of the large plates of Nephi from Lehi through the ministry of King Benjamin. Our current Book of Mormon has just over 500 pages. Imagine losing half of that amount, due to not listening to the Lord!

 No wonder the Lord called Martin Harris a "wicked man." Yet, how often have we done something similar? Many of us have given in to the temptations of the world at least once in a while. One of the major lessons here is we can repent. Martin Harris would repent and become one of the Three Witnesses. He would bear a solid testimony of the gold plates and the angelic visit for the rest of his life.

 Background for Section 5, Lucy Harris took Joseph to court, claiming him to be a fraud, swindling money from her husband Martin. Martin wanted proof to bring to the court. As with the 116 lost pages of manuscript, he sought to have something in his hand that he could show the court. However, the Lord was not giving anything to Martin this time, he would have to provide his own evidence: a solid and unwavering testimony. This would occurred prior to his becoming one of the Three Witnesses, but certainly became a solid step for him in becoming such a witness. His faith and belief were the witness to be provided in court. His wife, Lucy, lost her case.

The Book of Mormon is the "keystone" to our religion. I'm not sure if we fully understand all that means, as it is a revelatory book with layers of understanding.

Out of all the revelations given in the last days, the Book of Mormon is the most important.  Many see the Book of Mormon as simply a rip off of Isaiah, Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, and Solomon Spaulding.  However, there are so many intricate things within the book that continually reveals itself in new and important ways to us.

First, it witnesses that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. From the very first chapter, we find Lehi in vision, seeing God on his throne and learning about the coming Messiah. In the final chapter, Moroni invites us to "come unto Christ and be perfected in him." In a world that grows ever more disbelieving, materialistic, and contentious, the Book of Mormon can recenter us on the Savior.

Second, the Book of Mormon teaches us that God still speaks to mankind.  The heavens are open!  Revelation still occurs.  This is a big part of the "new covenant" of the Book of Mormon - God speaking to man in all times and places. In Alma 29:8, we read that God gives to all nations and peoples the amount of truth they are ready to receive.  But if people do not believe God can speak with them or send new prophets, then they severely limit the truth God wishes to give them.

Third, the Book of Mormon teaches us the "doctrine of Christ".  In 2 Ne 31 and 3 Ne 11.  The doctrine of Christ is that the Father, Son and Holy Ghost are "one God" or one in all things, and we are to learn to be one with them and each other.  It is a process.  We begin to develop faith in Christ.  We recognize our sins and repent.  We receive baptism or other ordinance, as it is through the ordinances that the "mysteries of  godliness" are revealed (D"&C 84:19-21). Finally, we receive the Holy Ghost, which sanctifies us to a higher level of righteousness.  Then we repeat the process, growing in faith and righteousness, until we become one with the Godhead.

Fourth, it warns us of secret combinations and the enemies of God. God's primary enemy is Satan, the father of contention. Those groups or organizations or people who seek to get gain by any means are the enemies of God.  They can include secret signs and oaths, and involve getting gain by using violence or other criminal means.  When such combinations take control of government, the righteous become the enemies of the state, or are punished for their testimony of Christ; while the wicked are viewed as popular and good by society. We learn that eventually, these combinations lead to the destruction of society, often to genocide or mutual annihilation.

Fifth, the Book of Mormon defines and shows the pathway to a personal theophany, or visitation of God to the individual.  From Lehi's seeing God on his throne in 1 Nephi 1, to the Vision of the Tree of Life, to Alma's suffering in hell and then being redeemed into the presence of God's throne, to the Brother of Jared seeing the finger of God, we see the purpose of the Book of Mormon: to show us how to become like Christ, so we can return into the presence of God.  Today, Latter-day Saints practice the theophany in the temple endowment, as the temple and Book of Mormon are closely linked by this new covenant and purpose.

There are other truths in the Book of Mormon, but these are definitely among the most important concepts.  Without the Book of Mormon, there would be no second witness of Christ and his divinity. There would be no understanding of modern revelation.  We would not understand fully the process to become one with the Godhead, and we would not understand the importance of entering into the presence of the Lord.

 

 

 

Don Bradley, The Lost 116 Pages: https://gregkofford.com/products/the-lost-116-pages

My Book Review on Don Bradley's "The Lost 116 Pages"  https://www.millennialstar.org/book-review-the-lost-116-pages/

 

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Come Follow Me: D&C 2; JSH 1:27-65

 Come Follow Me: D&C 2; JSH 1:27-65

 

In this lesson, we learn more of the early history of the Church and Joseph Smith. It had been three years since the First Vision. Joseph spend the time using a seer stone.  He found the stone at the bottom of a well, after looking into someone else's stone, which only allowed him the ability to find his own stone.

This was a time when society was beginning to move from magical items to know God (such as seer stones and divining rods) to the era of Science and Reason. Over time, Joseph would learn to straddle the line between a vertical relationship with God (revelation) and a horizontal one (using reason). It was during this time that he worked for Josiah Stowe, looking for hidden treasure, and encountering his beloved Emma Hale.

His worldly life led him again to question his standing before God. He knew he again needed forgiveness of sins. At the age of 17, he pondered that divine relationship. It was while laying in bed thinking on these things that Joseph was visited by an angelic messenger, Moroni.

Moroni

Moroni was the last of the prophets in the Book of Mormon. He took the compilation of scripture his father Mormon made, and kept them safe for decades, until he was able to travel from the last battle place of the Nephites (probably in Mesoamerica) to what is now upper state New York. In his forty year travel, he dedicated future temple sites, like the one now in Manti, Utah.  

As he finished up his record, Moroni focused much of his writings (including the Jaredite story) on the gifts God wishes to give us. In his new book on "Moroni," David F. Holland notes:

"Moroni's theology--embodied in his ministry and expressed in his writing--unmistakably points us to the generosity of God. A giver leads us to the Giver." (Moroni: a brief theological introduction, David F. Holland, Maxwell Institute).

Now Moroni was giving the world God's greatest gifts: the eternal gospel of Jesus Christ, the Restoration, the Book of Mormon, eternal covenants, modern revelation.

Among the great gifts shared by Moroni was the promise of the return of Elijah (D&C 2). The promise of Elijah's return is found in all four volumes of Latter-day Scripture (Bible, Book of Mormon, D&C, PoGP). It is the only scripture basically quoted in all four. It would be more than a decade (1836) when this promised would be fulfilled.  In a future lesson, we'll study D&C 110, where the Lord appears in the newly dedicated Kirtland temple to accept it. In a series of succeeding visions, Joseph and Oliver Cowdery would see Moses, Elisha, and Elijah, all restoring priesthood keys to the earth. Elijah's keys would be the sealing keys, which includes sealing families together for the eternities and bind them to the divine family of God. This was the door that would not only open the Celestial Kingdom (which comes through baptism of water and the Holy Ghost), but to become divine. 

As Joseph would learn through the Book of Mormon and later revelations, man can become divine as children of God through Christ, by obedience and entering into holy covenant with God. In doing this, mankind would receive the greatest of all the gifts of God, eternal life (D&C 14:7).

The Plates

It would take Joseph four years to obtain the plates from Moroni. The new book, "Saints, vol 1" well explains why it took so long: Joseph needed to learn strict obedience. In his first attempt, Joseph's mind was on the prospect of having gold in his possession. Shocked several times in trying to take the plates out of its stone box, Moroni had to reiterate to Joseph the importance of obedience and keeping his mind firm.

Moroni told Joseph that he could get the plates on the second trip, if he were to bring his brother Alvin. Alvin was a very serious and dedicate person. Though old enough to live on his own, he stayed to help his parents and family succeed, who had gone through many financial difficulties over the years. He was the type of person who could help Joseph protect the plates and stay focused on the divine purpose of Joseph's divine mission. 

Alvin died. Joseph's hope to obtain the plates the second year were dashed. Why would God, through Moroni, give Joseph direction to bring Alvin, if Alvin wasn't going to survive? Some possibilities include:

1. Joseph needed to learn patience and diligence on his own.The death of his brother would teach Joseph to endure for another year, and gain more experience under Moroni's guidance.

2. Some believe that God does not know the future in detail, but only all things knowable up to the mom ent. Events can surprise God, but not frustrate his eternal purposes, as he can be as a master chess master and prepare several paths to success, in case circumstance and agency occur differently than he expected. It may be that Alvin got sick and died, simply because many people unexpectedly get sick and die. 

3. Alvin's unexpected death would cause Joseph much wondering and pondering over the years. Later, he would see a vision of the heavens, wherein he would see Alvin in paradise. Marveling over this, as Alvin had not been baptized, the Lord explained that those who would have accepted the gospel in mortality but didn't get the chance, were blessed to still be saved. This would lead to more revelations on baptism for the dead, and the temple ordinances.

It would take 4 years for Joseph to obtain the plates.A few more years to have the chance to translate them. In them would be amazing stories about prophets, kings, warriors, and at its core: Jesus Christ. It is a gift that would change the lives of millions over the last 190 years. It is a second witness of Jesus Christ. In this time of pandemic and political chaos, its teachings on faith in Christ, hope, charity, forgiveness, miracles, revelation, and the dangers of contention and anger, are very needed today more than ever.




Sunday, January 03, 2021

Come Follow Me: JSH 1:1-26

 Come Follow Me: Joseph Smith History 1:1-26



The Great Apostasy and the Reformation

What is the Great Apostasy? Apostasy is defined as the abandoning of what one believed in. It comes from the Greek words: apo -"away" and stasis - "a standing." In other words, to stand away from what one once stood by. An apostate is someone who does more than just stops going to church. It is someone who once strongly believed in a cause, then vehemently opposes it and fights for its destruction. Noted apostates in the Bible include: Cain (Genesis 4:1-16); the people in Noah's day (Genesis 6-8); Tower of Babel (Genesis 11); Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 18-19); Korah, Dathan and Abiram (Numbers 16:1-35); fallen Israel (Isaiah 1, 3, etc.); Hymenaus and Alexander (1 Timothy 1:19, 20); Anti-Christs (1 John 2) and wicked Judah (Matthew 24).

The idea behind the Great Apostasy is a "falling away" of not just a nation, but the entire earth from accepting the fulness of the gospel. They accept portions of it, but reject key points of Celestial law and covenant. In the Book of Mormon, the Nephite covenant with God was constantly at the forefront. If they obeyed and followed God, they would prosper in the land. However, if the Nephite nation forsake the covenant, they would be cast out of God's presence.

History is full of the terrors of the Dark Ages, a period when faith in the covenant was at its lowest. "Christian" leaders were corrupt, often enriching themselves, engaged in the politics of the day, while most floundered in extreme poverty. The idea that no growth or advancement really occurred in the Christian world for more than a millennium is exemplified by the plow being used in Christ's day was the same one used a thousand years later.

Not until God prepared the world for the Restoration, did the Light of God instill in the minds of men to question the current situation and seek for a higher truth. This came about in the Reformation, when knowledge, both secular and spiritual came bursting forth on a world which had loitered in shadows for centuries.

The doors were being opened for the Restoration. The printing press was invented. Tyndale translated the New Testament into English at the cost of his own life. The Bible was being distributed in many languages to the masses. A middle class was forming, taking power from the royalty and religionists of the day to themselves. Literature and new scientific discoveries were leading people from superstition to in depth inquiry into the facts. New worlds were discovered, allowing a nation based upon religious freedom to be established for the first time in history. Such intense growth and change have only been matched in our own day, in preparation for the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.

Biblical Foretelling of the Great Apostasy

The Bible contains many predictions of a Great Apostasy. Earlier apostasies foreshadowed and typified  the Great One to follow the murders of Christ and his apostles.

Isaiah discusses the apostasies of Israel in his day, but also of the last days. He warns of their changing the ordinances and breaking the everlasting covenant (Isaiah 24:5). In chapter 29, he predicts the falling of a people whose words would later come from the ground (Mormons contend these were the people of the Book of Mormon), but only after an obvious apostasy occurs-

"this people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear toward me is taught by the precept of man....And the multitude of all the nations that fight against Ariel, even all that fight against her and her munition, and that distress her, shall be as a dream of a night vision. It shall even be as when an hungry [man] dreameth, and, behold, he eateth; but he awaketh, and his soul is empty: or as when a thirsty man dreameth, and, behold, he drinketh; but he awaketh, and, behold, [he is] faint, and his soul hath appetite: so shall the multitude of all the nations be, that fight against mount Zion. Stay yourselves, and wonder; cry ye out, and cry: they are drunken, but not with wine; they stagger, but not with strong drink. For the LORD hath poured out upon you the spirit of deep sleep, and hath closed your eyes: the prophets and your rulers, the seers hath he covered." (Is. 29:7-10).


This is followed by a prediction of the Restoration. More on that in Predictions of a Restoration of the Gospel.

The prophet Amos tells us:

And it shall come to pass in that day, saith the Lord GOD, that I will cause the sun to go down at noon, and I will darken the earth in the clear day: And I will turn your feasts into mourning, and all your songs into lamentation; and I will bring up sackcloth upon all loins, and baldness upon every head; and I will make it as the mourning of an only [son], and the end thereof as a bitter day. Behold, the days come, saith the Lord GOD, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD: And they shall wander from sea to sea, and from the north even to the east, they shall run to and fro to seek the word of the LORD, and shall not find [it]. (Amos 8:9-12).

Christ predicts it in his parable of the wheat and tares, where the enemy sows tares among the wheat at night (Matthew 13:25). And in his great prophecy of the last times, the Savior tells us of the following things:

Then if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here [is] Christ, or there; believe [it] not. For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if [it were] possible, they shall deceive the very elect. (Matthew 24:23-24).

And the Apostle Paul was very busy predicting the Great Apostasy:


For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. (Acts 20:29-30).

NOW we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and [by] our gathering together unto him, That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand. Let no man deceive you by any means: for [that day shall not come], except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition; Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God. (2 Thes 2:1-4).


So, there will be a falling away (in other versions of the Bible, the word apostasy is used) prior to the Second Coming of Christ! Satan will set himself up as a pretender to God's throne, and won't be fully revealed until he is consumed at the Coming of the Lord (2 Thes 2:8).

Paul specifically tells us when these things will happen, and what wicked things will occur:

THIS know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away. For of this sort are they which creep into houses, and lead captive silly women laden with sins, led away with divers lusts, Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. Now as Jannes and Jambres withstood Moses, so do these also resist the truth: men of corrupt minds, reprobate concerning the faith. But they shall proceed no further: for their folly shall be manifest unto all [men], as theirs also was. (2 Timothy 3:1-9)

For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away [their] ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables. (2 Timothy 4:3-4).

John the Beloved receives this counsel to give to one of the 7 remaining churches in Asia (had all the rest apostatized already?):

I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth. Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked. (Revelation 3:15-17).

He predicts that the enemies of God would make "war with the saints" (Rev 13:7) just a few verses before a prediction of the gospel being restored in the last days! (Rev 14:6).

So, a Great Apostasy was predicted for the Last Days. This does not mean that all things were lost, but many plain and precious parts of the everlasting covenant and gospel were removed or replaced. The results of which were evidently described by Paul and others, as they warned of the false preachers, prophets and Christs which would come into the world.

Statements by the the Early Church Fathers and Great Christian Reformers on the Apostasy

The great Reformers of Christianity also saw the destruction of the Church and the need for a restoration:

John Wesley realized that the gifts of the Holy Ghost were no longer found:

It does not appear that these extraordinary gifts of the Holy Ghost were common in the Church for more than two or three centuries. We seldom hear of them after that fatal period when the Emperor Constantine called himself a Christian;...From this time they almost totally ceased;...The Christians had no more of the Spirit of Christ than the other heathens....This was the real cause why the extraordinary gifts of the Holy Ghost were no longer to be found in the Christian Church; because the Christians were turned Heathens again, and had only a dead form left. (Wesley's Works, vol 7, Sermon 89, pp. 26-27).

Wesley's point is interesting to note, when one considers what the early Christian, Justin Martyr, stated to the Jewish priest, Trypho: that the only difference between the Jews and Christians was that the Christians had revelation; and if the day ever came that the Christians were to cease having revelation, they would be no better than the Jews.

The early Church Father Eusebius of Caesarea also spoke on the apostasy that occurred not long before him:

The Church up to that time [the death of the apostles] had remained a pure and uncorrupted virgin, since, if there were any that attempted to corrupt the sound norm of the preaching of salvation, they lay until then concealed in obscure darkness. But when the sacred college of apostles had suffered death in various forms, and the generation of those that had been deemed worthy to hear the inspired wisdom with their own ears had passed away, then the league of godless error took its rise as a result of the folly of heretical teachers, who, because none of the apostles was still living, attempted henceforth, with a bold face, to proclaim, in opposition to the preaching of the truth, the ‘knowledge which is falsely so-called’ (Eusebius [270-340] quoting Hegesippus [110-180] in Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers, Series 2, 1:164).

For him, he noted the actual attacks which occurred from within the change the early Church by Christian teachers. It was this reason that Paul insisted that prophets and apostles continue until the 2nd Coming of Christ (Ephesians 4:11-14).

Predictions of a Restoration of the Gospel

In predicting the restoration of the gospel, we see both biblical and reformer statements.

Christian Reformer Roger Williams put it this way:

There is no regularly constituted church on earth, nor any person authorized to administer any church ordinance; nor can there be until new apostles are sent by the Great Head of the Church for whose coming I am seeking. (Picturesque America, p. 502).

So, he realised that apostles had to be sent anew. Perhaps he recognized the apostle Paul's words on the importance of having apostles:

Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God; And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner [stone]; In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord (Ephesians 2:19-21).

And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: That we [henceforth] be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, [and] cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive (Ephesians 4:11-14).

Paul stated that apostles and prophets are necessary as the foundation to build the Church of Christ, and are needed until all are unified in faith, are perfected in Christ and know Christ. And why? So we aren't tossed about in the apostasy!

Even the great President, Statesman and Deist, Thomas Jefferson, realized that the Christian Church was severely lacking and awaited the Restoration:

The religion builders have so distorted and deformed the doctrines of Jesus, so muffled them in mysticisms, fancies, and falsehoods, have caricatured them into forms so inconceivable, as to shock reasonable thinkers....Happy in the prospect of a restoration of primitive Christianity, I must leave to younger persons to encounter and lop off the false branches which have been engrafted into it by the mythologists of the middle and modern ages. (Jefferson's Complete Works, vol 7, pp 210, 257).

The Apostle Peter put it this way:

He shall send Jesus Christ, whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began. (Acts 3:20-21).

In other words, God would send Christ for his Second Coming, but only after the gospel is restored!

The apostle John saw it this way, after having beholding the apostasy:

And I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people, Saying with a loud voice, Fear God, and give glory to him; for the hour of his judgment is come: and worship him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters. (Revelation 14:6-7).

It is interesting to note, that when the angel Moroni first appeared to Joseph Smith and told him of the metal plates containing the record of an ancient american people (what is now the Book of Mormon), Moroni told him that the record contained the "fulness of the gospel."

Ezra Stiles, seventh President of Yale University, 1778-1795, predicted the following:


There are three coetaneous events to take place whose fruition is certain from prophecy, the annihilation of the Pontificate, the reassembling of the Jews, and the fulness of the Gentiles. That liberal and candid disquisition of Christianity, which will most assuredly take place in America, will prepare Europe for the first event, with which the other will be connected, when especially on the return of the twelve tribes to the Holy Land, there will burst forth a degree of evidence hitherto unperceived and of efficacy to convert a world. More than three quarters of mankind yet remain heathen. Heaven put a stop to the propagation of Christianity when the church became corrupted with the adoration of numerous deities and images, because this would have been only exchanging an old for a new idolatry. Nor is Christendom now larger than it was nine centuries ago. The promising prospects of the Propaganda fide at Rome are coming to nothing: and it may be of the divine destiny that all other attempts for gospelizing the nations of the earth shall be fruitless, until the present Christendom itself be recovered to the primitive purity and simplicity. At which time, instead of the Babel confusion of contradicting missionaries, all will harmoniously concur in speaking one language, one holy faith, one apostolick religion to an unconverted world. At this period, and in effecting this great event, we have reason to think that the United States may be of no small influence and consideration.

It was of the Lord to send Joseph into Egypt, to save much people, and to shew forth his praise. It is of the Lord that "a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet," and upon "her head a crown of twelve stars," (not to say thirteen) should "flee into the wilderness, where she hath a place prepared of God" (Rev 12:1,6), and where she might be the repository of Wisdom, and "keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus." It may have been of the Lord that Christianity is to be found in such great purity in this church exiled into the wilderness of America; and that its purest body should be evidently advancing forward, by an augmented natural increase and spiritual edification, into a singular superiority--with the ultimate subserviency to the glory of God, in converting the world. ("The United States Elevated to Glory and Honour", Ezra Stiles, 1783.)



In Isaiah 29, the prophet predicts the bringing forth of a book in the last days, describing it a marvelous work and a wonder. The learned would not read the book because it was sealed, but the unlearned would not have such a problem. And in Ezekiel 37, we read of two books being combined: one is the "stick of Judah", or the Bible. The other is called the "stick of Joseph". What is this stick of Joseph? The only book known to man claimed to have been written by descendants of Joseph, Jacob's son who was sold into Egypt, is the Book of Mormon! No other book qualifies. The New Testament was written by Jews (Judah) not Joseph. So it can't be the book. The Dead Sea Scrolls were also written by Jews. Only the Book of Mormon satisfies both Isaiah's and Ezekiel's prophecies. The Book of Mormon will be discussed further in next week's lesson.

The First Vision

For the early Church, the First Vision did not become an important sign of the Restoration until Joseph Smith wrote the official version in 1838.  The earliest version was in 1832, written by Joseph Smith himself. It focused upon Joseph's receiving forgiveness and mentions Joseph seeing Christ, but does not mention the Father. This is likely due to Joseph's focus at the time on his personal need for redemption and that the Father only introduced the Son, then let Jesus respond directly to Joseph.  Sadly, many disbelievers use these other versions to attempt to discredit the Church. The reality is, Joseph described the vision differently at times, because of his purpose in telling it at the time. Also, many of the other retellings were by other people, who may have gotten some events incorrect. His 1832 example (the earliest) still includes a divine visit by the Lord.  Joseph had seen a vision!



That later revelations were shared experiences by Oliver Cowdery, Sidney Rigdon, the Three Witnesses and hundreds at the Kirtland Temple dedication, show that the visions of Joseph Smith were not a fraud, nor a hallucination. He in fact saw a vision, and went to his death witnessing of the Restoration of the gospel.

Sunday, December 27, 2020

Come Follow Me: D&C 1

 Come Follow Me: D&C 1 - Hearken O Ye People



Section One

A Voice of Warning
This section was written in November 1831, 1 1/2 years after the Church was officially organized. It is a proclamation, not just to the members, but to "ye people from afar; and ye that are upon the islands of the sea, listen together."

Imagine, a church of just a few hundred people, with just a few congregations in New York and Pennsylvania, coming forth with a proclamation to people throughout the world.  Missionary work was just beginning.  The members had yet to gather to Kirtland, or to open the great proselyting mission in England (still several years ahead). For a Church which now has millions of members worldwide, and experienced the "Mormon Moment" (2012-13), this proclamation may not seem so profound.  But for the little church in the woods to call the world to repentance was definitely a foreshadow of what was to come.

This section states that the Lord's servants will go forth with the gospel of repentance to all the earth!  We can see that this prophecy has come to pass. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints now has over 50,000 missionaries. During this period of Covid-19 pandemic, it has also learned to reach out to many people worldwide over social media. Imagine how many people have been touched by "Light the World" during Christmas, or President Russell M. Nelson's invitation to #GiveThanks over social media during Thanksgiving.

The Lord's message is usually not one of sweetness, but is a voice of warning.  Great destruction will come upon the earth, and only the humble who turn to God will ever hope to escape it.  When we consider the technological advances in warfare since Joseph Smith's day, we can already see how the last 2 centuries have been filled with carnage and death.  The American Civil War had more American casualties than WWI and WWII combined.  The technologies developed between 1831 and 1860 included the telegraph, railroad, gatling gun, repeating rifle, etc.  Robert E. Lee developed new 'strategies of war, which allowed an outnumbered South to last years in battle.  Sherman and Grant's final strategy of total destruction of any who opposed them (demonstrated by Sherman's March to the Sea, burning Atlanta and many other cities, and Grant laying siege to a starving Vicksburg Mississippi), are strategies still used in genocidal warfare today.

Hitler slew millions, as did Stalin and Mao Tse Tung.  With the introduction of technology, even a jet airliner can be a weapon of mass destruction, as we saw on 9/11.  Still, the threats increase, as radical nations and groups gain access to more and more potent weaponry.  The Lord's warning in D&C 1 is more true today than it ever was.

"Prepare ye, prepare ye for that which is to come, for the Lord is nigh;

And the anger of the Lord is kindled, and his sword is bathed in heaven, and it shall fall upon the inhabitants of the earth" (D&C 1:12-13).

Not only have humans been afflicted by warfare, but the Lord has withdrawn his protection on many occasions, allowing nature to ravage the world. In 2004, a giant earthquake and tsunami hit the Indian Ocean region, killing more than 100,000 people. Today's Covid 19 pandemic has killed 332,000 Americans, and almost 2 million deaths worldwide, as of this writing. Not included in such a statistic are the numbers that have been seriously affected by the illness, nor the overwhelmed hospitals and medical workers.

The sins and wickedness of humans continue growing. World slavery is at an all time high. There are more people in slavery today than during the entire African slave trade of early American history. Many of the slaves today are children, used both in hard labor and as sex slaves.

And it seems dangers and trials occur more than once.  When D&C 1 states "for the Lord is nigh", does this only mean that the 2nd Coming is near? What does "nigh" mean?  For Christ to have created the earth 4.5 billion years ago means that the term "nigh" could mean centuries. Or even millennia.  Or does it mean that the Lord is near in another way, such as he is watching over the earth and we cannot hide our sins from him?  Or does it mean that each of us will die, and will face him at that time?  Perhaps it means all of these.

Voice of the Servants

"And the arm of the Lord shall be revealed; and the day cometh that they who will not hear the voice of the Lord, neither the voice of his servants, neither give heed to the words of the prophets and apostles, shall be cut off from among the people" (vs 4).


Here we get some interesting phrases.  The term "servants" is in addition or separate from "prophets and apostles."  We note that it is the "voice" of the servants and the "words" of the prophets and apostles. This could mean the voice of living servants (whether prophets, apostles, missionaries, etc), or the written words of ancient and perhaps modern prophets and apostles.  Note that when this revelation came out, there was no Quorum of 12 apostles.  Joseph and Oliver were ordained and called apostles, They were the only living prophets.

If the "prophets and apostles" include Joseph and the other leaders of the early Church (or for us, our prophets and apostles today), then who do the "servants" include?  Are they only the missionaries? Or could they also include those of other churches who seek to serve Christ and preach the Bible throughout the world, as well? In Alma 29:8, the Lord made clear through Alma the following:

"For behold, the Lord doth grant unto all nations, of their own nation and tongue, to teach his word, yea, in wisdom, all that he seeth fit that they should have; therefore we see that the Lord doth counsel in wisdom, according to that which is just and true." 


It may be that "servants" may be more than just those found in the Restored Church of Jesus Christ. It may include sincere seekers of truth in other religions and places that share the knowledge and light God has given them.

However, the vast majority of the world does not fit into this description of "servant." Instead, we read:

"For they have strayed from mine ordinances, and have broken mine everlasting covenant;

 They seek not the Lord to establish his righteousness, but every man walketh in his own way, and after the image of his own god, whose image is in the likeness of the world, and whose substance is that of an idol, which waxeth old and shall perish in Babylon, even Babylon the great, which shall fall.
Wherefore, I the Lord, knowing the calamity which should come upon the inhabitants of the earth, called upon my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., and spake unto him from heaven, and gave him commandments;
And also gave commandments to others, that they should proclaim these things unto the world; and all this that it might be fulfilled, which was written by the prophets" (vv 15-18)



The people of the earth have strayed from God's ordinances and broken the covenant.  By Joseph's day, the ordinances of old had been altered or ended.  Infants were being baptized. The Protestant world did not recognize priesthood authority as established in the Bible.  There was no laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.  No temple existed upon the earth.  They had traded Jesus' celestial covenant for something less.

Religions were springing up everywhere, mostly based upon protesting some belief or practice in the church they broke off of.  Each of them focused on different concepts and creeds that created God in their own image and belief, rather than seeking the fullness of the gospel through living prophets and apostles.  With these new religions came the seed for a modern day Babylon.  Many of today's Christian religions ignore the importance of obedience and covenants.  They see no harm in people sinning, as long as their lips profess Christ. There are even some churches today that claim to be Christian, but do not require belief in the Messiah-ship of Christ.  For them, he was a good teacher, who preached love, or whatever their version of "love" is supposed to be.

For others, life's solutions are found in politics, wealth, hobbies, or other pursuits. There are many today, including within the Lord's Church, who seek happiness and solutions through following an earthly "god." Their presidential candidate can save the world. Their new age philosophy can bring hope and peace. Their social justice or political platform can bring the new Utopia.

Which gods are we following?

For this reason, Joseph Smith was called to preach the celestial covenant to the world.  And "others" were also given commandments to preach from the Bible.  Some of these may be Latter-day Saints, but many may also be good god-fearing believers who preach the Terrestrial covenant (like the Mosaic law) to the inhabitants of the earth.  I think that Mother Theresa was one example of the "others" called of God.


That Faith Also Might Increase

"The weak things of the world shall come forth and break down the mighty and strong ones, that man should not counsel his fellow man, neither trust in the arm of flesh—

But that every man might speak in the name of God the Lord, even the Savior of the world;
 That faith also might increase in the earth;
That mine everlasting covenant might be established;
 That the fulness of my gospel might be proclaimed by the weak and the simple unto the ends of the world, and before kings and rulers." (vv 19-23)



When this revelation was given, the tiniest and weakest church in all the world likely was the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  It teaches a powerful message that each person may have the Holy Ghost to guide them in their spiritual education, so that they do not have to give or receive counsel from man's philosophy (aka "arm of flesh"). 

Every person speaking in the name of the Lord means they witness of Christ through the Holy Ghost. As Nephi taught, "angels speak by the power of the Holy Ghost" (2 Ne 32:32-33), and we can speak with the tongue of angels as we learn to speak that language through receiving the Holy Ghost.

God wants all people to be prophets.  This means we become worthy through receiving the everlasting covenants and ordinances to receive the Holy Ghost, and then learn to listen, live and speak by His power. Today, however, most people (including many saints) speak with the tongue of Babylon and witness of Babylon's form of salvation.  It is the relying upon the arm of flesh and counsel of men, who only know what Babylon has to offer, which they preach: money, endless wars, greed, power, racism, prejudice, division.

The Weak Things

"Behold, I am God and have spoken it; these commandments are of me, and were given unto my servants in their weakness, after the manner of their language, that they might come to understanding.

And inasmuch as they erred it might be made known;
And inasmuch as they sought wisdom they might be instructed;
And inasmuch as they sinned they might be chastened, that they might repent;
And inasmuch as they were humble they might be made strong, and blessed from on high, and receive knowledge from time to time. (vv 24-28)

God speaks through our weaknesses.  So we should expect mistakes and errors to creep in on occasion. This is even true for Joseph Smith, Brigham Young and Thomas S. Monson.  When we find the occasional mistake or mistaken belief by a Church leader, we simply need to know that the Lord will correct it in his own time with continuing revelation.  At the same time, we can be comforted in knowing that these mistakes will not prevent us from the greatest blessings of God through his everlasting covenant in Christ, as long as we are humble and willing to repent.

Amazingly, the Church has grown rapidly, even though most of our missionaries are 19 year old kids!  Can you think of anyone more prone to errors to send out to preach the gospel?  Yet, this error prone group continue yearly to baptize hundreds of thousands of people.  Why? Because the fundamentals and the core doctrine are correct.  Because the Holy Ghost can teach us greater "knowledge from time to time."


Only True and Living Church

"And also those to whom these commandments were given, might have power to lay the foundation of this church, and to bring it forth out of obscurity and out of darkness, the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth, with which I, the Lord, am well pleased, speaking unto the church collectively and not individually." (v 30)


At the 2012 IUPUI Mormon Conference in Indianapolis, Latter-day Saint professor Phillip Barlow noted that the  Mormon Moment of 2012 (with Mitt Romney as presidential candidate) was bringing the Church "out of obscurity and out of darkness", but there were many members who would prefer we remain obscure and in the dark... There's a lot for each of us to think about in that statement.

Are we sharing the gospel? Do we share our testimonies with those around us, and on social media? Are we actively seeking to bring the Church out of obscurity?



I also wonder if we interpret the phrase "only true and living church....with which I, the Lord, am well pleased" correctly?  First, was this true only in Joseph's day, or has it changed since then? Are there other churches today that the Lord is well pleased with?  Second, is he still well pleased with us?  Finally, are there any churches that are true and/or living that the Lord is "somewhat pleased" with?

For me, the word "true" means it contains truth.  Given the previous passages that note weakness and error even in our church, we cannot assume this means a perfect knowledge of truth.  The word "living" means to breathe and grow - are there other churches that breathe and grow, as well? Can a terrestrial Church of Jesus bring a measure of life into its congregants?

Even more, Christ's Restored Church is based on Celestial truths, ordinances, priesthood and covenants. However, are our lessons and teachings in Sacrament meetings, Sunday School, and other meetings "true and living?"  Do we ensure we are speaking true things, and not our interpretations of true? Over the years, I've seen members interpolate portions of the gospel to mean one cannot be of a certain political persuasion and still be a member in good standing. In 2012, many members loved Mitt Romney, but hate him today and consider him an apostate. Yet, this is the same former stake president, who holds a current temple recommend. Are such concepts, then, true?

And then, are the things we teach "living?" Do they breathe life into those who hear them? Are our Sacrament meeting pulpits on fire, or do they put the high priests to sleep? Are we speaking words that may be true, or are we preaching by the power of the Spirit of God? Are our Family Home Evenings a weekly fight that begins and end in prayer, or are they uplifting and bring happiness to each family member?

Conclusion
It is important that we do not take the words we read for granted.  Perhaps with this very first section of the D&C, we can see how the great and marvelous work the restoration of the gospel was through an imperfect and weak man, like Joseph Smith; and that perhaps there are others called throughout the world to help prepare people along the way, so they will be ready for the everlasting covenant when the missionaries teach them about it.

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Come Follow Me: Moroni 10

 Come Follow Me: Moroni 10


Gifts of the Spirit
Chapter 10

In verses 3-5, we learn that faith in Christ and his gospel begins with real intent.  We cannot discover God and his eternal truths without real intent and desire not only to know, but to do whatever it is that God reveals to us.

Again, Moroni speaks on faith, hope and charity. As we seek with real intent, we receive these and other gifts of God through the Holy Spirit.  “And by the power of the Holy Ghost, ye may know the truth of all things” (v 5).  We learn these things through the gifts we are given.

If we are not receiving some of the gifts of the Spirit in our lives, we should ask ourselves: why not?  Are we not spiritually preparing ourselves?  Are we not seeking the gifts of the Spirit?

President George Q. Cannon noted:

How many of you are seeking for these gifts that God has promised to bestow? How many of you, when you bow before your Heavenly Father in your family circle or in your secret places, contend for these gifts to be bestowed upon you? How many of you ask the Father in the name of Jesus to manifest Himself to you through these powers and these gifts? Or do you go along day by day like a door turning on its hinges, without having any feeling upon the subject, without exercising any faith whatever, content to be baptized and be members of the Church and to rest there, thinking that your salvation is secure because you have done this?
“I say to you, in the name of the Lord, as one of His servants, that you have need to repent of this. You have need to repent of your hardness of heart, of your indifference and of your carelessness. There is not that diligence, there is not that faith, there is not that seeking for the power of God that there should be among a people who have received the precious promises we have….
“If any of us are imperfect, it is our duty to pray for the gift that will make us perfect. Have I imperfections? I am full of them. What is my duty? To pray to God to give me the gifts that will correct these imperfections…. They are intended for this purpose. No man ought to say, "Oh, I cannot help this; it is my nature." He is not justified in it, for the reason that God has promised to give strength to correct these things and to give gifts that will eradicate them…. That is the design of God concerning His children. He wants His Saints to be perfected in the truth.
“The Lord has said in a revelation to the Church that the Saints should "seek ye earnestly the best gifts, always remembering for what they are given; for verily I say unto you, they are given for the benefit of those who love me and keep all my commandments…
"How many Latter-day Saints are there who supplicate the Lord for the gifts which they need? …Every defect in the human character can be corrected through the exercise of faith and pleading with the Lord for the gifts that He has said He will give unto those who believe and obey His commandments.” (Millennial Star, 23 Apr. 1894, 260). 


Come Unto Christ

Finally, Moroni encourages and invites us to “come unto Christ and be perfected in him” (v 32).  Of all the gifts of God, the gift of Christ’s atonement is the greatest.  As we have studied the Book of Mormon over the past year, we have found the Nephite prophets bringing us back to this concept time and again.  From Lehi first seeing the Messiah descend from God’s throne to bring him his prophetic calling in 1 Nephi 1, to the resurrected Jesus inviting the Nephites to come to him and touch the wounds in his hands and feet and be healed by him in 3 Nephi, to Moroni’s final words to us in this last chapter, we are invited to believe in Christ and his atonement. 

It is a free gift to any who will humbly ask for it, repent, and allow the Lord to give them a mighty change of heart: from a heart of stone to a heart of pure gold.  Christ can heal us, if we will let him.  He has suffered through all the pains and infirmities in the world, so he can succor us (Alma 7).  He is the only path back to the presence of the Father and eternal life.  He is the Resurrection and the Life.  He is the Way.  He is Jesus Christ, the Son of the Eternal Father.  He is the center of our faith and hope. 

The message of the Book of Mormon is this: We invite all to come to Christ and be perfected in Him.  We invite all to come to Christ and be healed by him.  We invite all to Christ, and let him bring you back into the presence of our Heavenly Father.

Come unto Christ.

Saturday, December 12, 2020

Book Review: Exploring Mormon Thought, God's Plan to Heal Evil

 

Book Review: Exploring Mormon Thought, vol 4, God’s Plan to Heal Evil, by Blake T. Ostler

 

Exploring Mormon Thought: Volume 4, God's Plan to Heal Evil

 

Evil exists.

Pure, unadulterated evil exists. It exists in nature. It exists in humans. We see the evil in war, in genocide, child sex trafficking, deadly diseases that ravage the bodies of the victims, earthquakes, and famines that slowly starve the innocent to death. Evil exists.

In his three previous volumes on Exploring Mormon Thought, Ostler probed the depths of God’s attributes, his love, and the concept of divinity. Here, he takes us through what is perhaps the most troubling questions haunting mankind: Why does evil exist? Why does God allow evil to happen?

Exploring Mormon Thought, God’s Plan to Heal Evil is smaller than the previous books (about 225 pages), but is as packed full of rich treasures as the other ones. It is divided in the following twelve chapters:

1.       What We Learn From the Problem of Evil

2.       The No Minimum Evil Defense

3.       The Free Will Defense

4.       The Less Evil Options Argument

5.       Natural Law Theodicies

6.       A Mormon Finitistic Theodicy

7.       A Mormon Process Theodicy

8.       A Relational Agape Theodicy

9.       The Plan of Agape

10.   Is it Justifiable to Permit Consent to Personality-Destroying Evils?

11.   Are Radical Evils Essential to the Plan of Agape?

12.   Atonement in Mormon Thought

Healing Evil: A Conclusion

In chapter one, Ostler discusses what he terms “radical evil.” This is the type of evil that causes most humans to cringe. It can be man-made or brought about by nature. He gives three examples for our consideration: smallpox, a man harms and kills a little girl, and a young girl is accidentally crushed by a car that rolled backward.

He discusses each type of disaster. Smallpox has slain millions and millions of people. If smallpox were necessary for God’s plan, then why did God allow mankind to eradicate it? If it isn’t necessary for mankind’s salvation, then why did God create it in the first place?

Such questions lead people to several theories to explain such events. One thought is a good God would never create such evil, therefore there is no God. This, perhaps, is the main cause for many people to embrace atheism; they cannot imagine a god that causes so much evil in the world.

Ostler then takes us through the main theories available by the Christian and philosophical world of religion.  Ostler shows that much of the problem of evil lies in the concept of creatio ex nihilo (creation from nothing). If God created everything from nothing, then he created evil. He created the evil in humans. He created smallpox and all other diseases. He created a world that suffers from famine, and natural disasters.

Along with this concept of creation from nothing, are concepts from St. Augustine and Calvinism that promote the ideas of predestination and that man does not have free will/agency. When one considers deeply such beliefs, they lead inexorably to the concept that God creates the evil men do, and since man has no choice in the matter, God is actually responsible for all evil. Those God condemn to hell are cast down because of God’s choices, not the individuals involved in the sin/evil.

For me, such a god is not worthy of worship.

Ostler goes through various religious theories (theodicies) that are prevalent, discussing the strengths and weaknesses of each theory. Some are complete theories, while others are incomplete (such as the Divine Infusion Theory, with which Ostler concurs).

Ostler then begins to explain strengths we find in Latter-day Saint theology. God did not create things from nothing. Matter and Intelligences are coexistent with God. So, when God creates spirits or rocks, these things must choose to obey (see Abraham 4:10-12). Some things are not in the direct control of God. When spirits are created, God has a hand in the process, but does not control the entire event.

Second, Ostler promotes the idea that God knows all things up to the current moment, but does not know the future, except to predict it as a grand chess master. While this is not what most Latter-day Saints believe, it does fit in well with our theology. There are instances in scriptures where God is “surprised” by a person using free will (such as the Brother of Jared seeing the finger of God in Ether 3). As he explains in depth in a previous volume of Exploring Mormon Thought, if God perfectly knows the future, then we cannot have true free will/agency. It also means God is responsible, in effect, for all evil.

However, when God has these two limitations: cannot create things from nothing and does not perfectly know the future, it opens the door for evil to come about on its own accord.

And it is here that Ostler then shows us the strength of his Agape Theodicy.  Agape is the Greek word for Christ-like Love. While I won’t go into detail on his theory here, he shows it to be a complete and intriguing explanation for evil. Evil exists. Radically dark evil exists. While God cannot totally eliminate or separate evil that coexists in the universe from our experience, God can directly be involved with us in ending evil. Through concepts such as the light of Christ (which illuminates and is in all things), and the atonement of Christ, we can use our agency to help Christ to eliminate evil.

So, in discovering a cure for smallpox, we are involved in bringing goodness and order to the world, reducing the chaos and evil that comes naturally with matter. We are helpers in bringing order to the universe and establishing God’s kingdom.

Second, and more importantly, the atonement of Christ is an ongoing event. While much of it occurred in Gethsemane and on the cross, whenever we repent, Christ pulls us into his embrace. That embrace may cause him a moment of pain right now, as he empathizes and forgives us, but the eternal joy that occurs for both Jesus and us becomes a healing balm.

Third, Ostler considers the premortal existence and foreordination. He explains that in the original councils, we may all have accepted the possibilities of going through horrific events, in order to bring to pass the work of God and the ultimate end of evil. Yes, we conceivably agreed to be foreordained to experience great tragedies. This also, according to Ostler, may be why so many of God’s spirit children refused to accept his plan, and embraced Satan’s plan instead.

Fourth, life doesn’t end here. It seems the Spirit World becomes a place to heal, as well. All of this ends in a glorious resurrection for those who repent and embrace Jesus.

For Ostler, it is all about being in a Godly relational experience. The Godhead are three beings entwined in the perfect relationship. They are One through their loving familial ties.  For Ostler, this is exactly the kind of relationship Christ desires to have with us, and through him, to bring us into an agape relationship with the Godhead.  It is becoming One with Christ that we eliminate evil and are able to heal the pains and struggles inherent with evil.

In Ostler’s Agape Theodicy, we find a strong and compelling theory of how God seeks to heal the evils that are in the world. Yes, the evils are terrible and cause death, emotional and physical pain, and sorrow. However, through the atonement of Christ and his perfect love, God heals all the pains, sorrows and afflictions.

While some concepts may be new and even different for many Latter-day Saints, Ostler’s views are well thought out and provide us with a better understanding of how the atonement of Jesus Christ works, why there is evil in the world, and how we have an active part in bringing about God’s plan of salvation and healing. Whether you fully agree with his theory or not, it deserves careful consideration. It absolves God from being the source of all evil, and it shows our part in embracing the overall plan of God. Finally, it shows us how a loving God provided a Savior that heals us and warmly brings us back into full agape relationship with the Godhead.

Now available at: 

Greg Kofford Books

Amazon

 

Sunday, December 06, 2020

Come Follow Me: Moroni 7-9

 Come Follow Me: Moroni 7-9


With this penultimate lesson on the Book of Mormon, we read some of the final thoughts of Moroni.  This is his final farewell to us.  Perhaps in these last chapters of the Book of Mormon, we read the key concepts to lead us to Christ and exaltation in God’s kingdom. 

Real Intent, Faith, Hope and Charity
Ch 7

What we get first are more of the words of Mormon, who sent letters, teaching and giving advice to his son in the last few years before the final destruction.  Moroni is quoting his father decades after the final destruction. Perhaps these are Mormon’s final words to his son, and Moroni wishes to share them with us.

At some point in Mormon’s life, there were synagogues and true believers in Christ for him to address.  It may be that these few believers were among the few true believers that would later be hunted down by the Lamanites for not denying the Christ.

“…by their works ye shall know them; for if their works be good, then they are good also.  For behold, God hath said a man being evil cannot do that which is good; for if he offereth a gift, or prayeth unto God, except he shall do it with real intent it profiteth him nothing” (vv 5-6)).
There are two key points to being a good person.  First, being involved in good works or behavior. Second, that there is real intent, or pure intentions behind the works.  When watching bad or evil behavior, it is easy to determine a person is bad.  We see someone kill or steal, and we think it is a bad person, because the works are evil.  But real intent is also important, and Moroni will note this again in what is perhaps the most well known LDS missionary scripture in the Book of Mormon: Moroni 10:3-5. Without real intent, we are giving lip service at best, and are hypocrites at worst.  How often do we praise a famous wealthy person for doing what appears on the outside as a great act, such as donate money or time to a worthy cause, only to find they have done it for their own benefit to pursue their own wealth and fame.

To only be doing good on the outside for one’s own glory, and not for the glory of God, means our hearts are not in the right place.  We must, therefore be careful in how we consider others.  Just doing or saying something that seems good, does not mean the person is seeking God’s path.

But behold, that which is of God inviteth and enticeth to do good continually; wherefore, every thing which inviteth and enticeth to do good, and to love God, and to serve him, is inspired of God” (v 13).

Fortunately, Mormon tells us there is a way to see what is good and what is evil.  The things which are truly good, do not just seem good on the outside.  They will also encourage and invite us to “do good continually” and to “love God.”   So, if a person does something that seems good, but they do it to receive glory and praise from the world, then it is not of God. It is an act of man that may do good things on the surface, such as feed little children or provide a benefit to the poor, but it does not touch the soul of man. 

And that is a problem with much of the effort in the world today: they focus on the flesh, but not on the eternal welfare of others.  They feed the body, but the spirit dies of starvation.  So it is with some of the government programs we have.  We feel we benefit people by giving them food stamps and welfare assistance, and in some sense we do.  But do we satisfy their bodies, while allowing the spirit of man to wither and die?  The prophets have encouraged us to be self reliant, and that work is good for man, for instance.  Do we help or hurt people by giving a partial solution that looks great on the outside, but still leaves them starving for God on the inside?
 
Also, we live in a time when people no longer "invite," but rather attempt to shame people into believing and conforming.  Extremism, much of which is brought on by those seeking to save the world through political or social activism on both the right and left, often choose anger and shaming as their methods to get people to tow the line. This is not the way God normally works. Man has God-given agency. God doesn't want people forced to comply with his laws, but wants them to freely choose to believe and obey. This is why the Book of Mormon focuses so much on faith, hope and charity; and less on pure obedience. Even discussions on the Law of Moses (based on enforced conformity) are set in the understanding that it is to lead us to Christ and the higher law.

Babylon, or the world, offers a solution that feeds the natural man, but not the eternal nature of man. In this format, Satan stirs people up to anger. They do not become the "peaceable followers of Christ."  

There is a way to determine just where a person, political or social organization, nation, or other organization stands in regards to good and evil:

For behold, the Spirit of Christ is given to every man, that he may know good from evil; wherefore, I show unto you the way to judge; for everything which inviteth to do good, and to persuade to believe in Christ, is sent forth by the power and gift of Christ; wherefore ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of God.  But whatsoever thing persuadeth men to do evil, and believe not in Christ, and deny him, and serve not God, then ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of the devil; for after this manner doth the devil work, for he persuadeth no man to do good, no, not one; neither do his angels; neither do they who subject themselves unto him.   And now, my brethren, seeing that ye know the light by which ye may judge, which light is the light of Christ, see that ye do not judge wrongfully; for with that same judgment which ye judge ye shall also be judged.  Wherefore, I beseech of you, brethren, that ye should search diligently in the light of Christ that ye may know good from evil; and if ye will lay hold upon every good thing, and condemn it not, ye certainly will be a child of Christ” (vv 16-19)
What encourages us to believe in Christ and do good works is of God.  All else is not celestial.

And now, my brethren, how is it possible that ye can lay hold upon every good thing?  And now I come to that faith, of which I said I would speak; and I will tell you the way whereby ye may lay hold on every good thing” (vv 20-21).
There is no way to lay hold upon good things or to do good things without faith, hope and charity.  What kind of faith? Only that faith which leads us to believe in Christ.  Again, there is one way to do truly good works, and that is with real intent.  Real intent comes from the person or persons who seek Christ and to live a Christ-like life.  Feeding hungry people is not in and of itself a good or eternal work.  Feeding both their bodies and spirits is a good work.  Leading them to Christ is a good work, which all Christians may do.  And as others do good works and seek to lead people to God, they also may perform good works to the level of understanding of God they have.
 
Evil comes when men seek to get gain of some sort, including wealth, power, and prestige. There are many who donate to the poor in order to get attention from the world. Sadly, some charities spend some donations on the needy, but the main staff receive unnecessarily large salaries out of the donations.

Evil also comes when people try to establish that something sinful should be viewed as good. Isaiah, often quoted in the Book of Mormon, noted those who "called evil good, and good evil" (Isa 5:20).

While we begin with faith, hope helps us through the trials. Close your eyes for a moment and envision yourself in that last day, standing before Christ and having him embrace you. How does that make you feel? Think of the peace, quiet joy, and increased faith such thoughts bring. This is hope.

As we develop faith, hope becomes the anchor to our souls(Ether 12:4), which helps carry us through trying times.  As we grow in faith and hope, we desire to be more Christ-like, and so learn to develop the love of Christ, which is charity.

One thing we sometimes do not understand is that faith, hope and charity are gifts.  We cannot easily develop them on our own, no matter what works we do.  Instead, they are given to us, as we grow closer to God. Mormon encourages us to pray with all the energy of heart to have charity (Moroni 7:48) and God will pour out the gift of  agape love upon us.  If we knock, if we ask, if we seek it, God will give it to us as a free gift.  But we must have real intent.  We must truly desire it, and not just give lip service.  To the level we are ready to receive it, God will bestow it upon us, as he will provide all other gifts we seek.

Little children are saved in Christ
Chapter 8

Moroni provides to us a letter from his father, which Mormon sent him soon after he was ordained an elder, possibly over his own synagogue, and regarding baptism of children.  It may seem an anachronistic 19th century attack aimed on some Christian faiths, but there are elements that go beyond the modern Protestant view.  Mormon and Moroni’s world is falling into an apostate state, and Moroni has asked his father about the practice of some to baptize their little children.  It is not a modern problem, but a sign of apostasy that occurs when people do not understand the atonement of Christ.

Listen to the words of Christ, your Redeemer, your Lord and your God. Behold, I came into the world not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance; the whole need no physician, but they that are sick; wherefore, little children are whole, for they are not capable of committing sin; wherefore the curse of Adam is taken from them in me, that it hath no power over them; and the law of circumcision is done away in me” (v 8).

Note that there IS a curse of Adam.  There is a falling of man from God’s presence. Mankind cannot return back to God because of his fallen nature.  All are dead physically and spiritually. They need a physician to heal them.  They need to follow the prescription given by the physician: faith, repentance, covenants, ordinances, and receiving the Holy Ghost.

However, through Christ, little children are automatically saved in Christ.  There is no need for circumcision or baptism for little children, because Christ’s gift resurrects all of them.  Because of Christ’s gift, temporal and spiritual death have no power over little children, as they are incapable of sinning.  Only when they reach the age to understand right from wrong, and are able to sin, will they also need to repent and receive the covenants and ordinances of God. Only then will they need the physician to heal them, so they can live forever with their little children.

So, what does this have to do with Moroni’s emphasis on faith, hope and charity in these last chapters?  We must learn to have the faith, hope and charity of a little child, in order to be saved with them through Christ. 
 
Moroni 9, Pure Evil
 
Four years ago, when the Book of Mormon was last studied in Sunday School, this chapter was not covered in the manual. Now, given the changes in the world, perhaps it is important to study it.

We see that the people, who once saw Christ and became a Zion society for two centuries, have now devolved. Those who were once surrounded by angels are now surrounded by demons. The three Nephite disciples, who could not taste of death, have been removed. The Spirit of God has completely left them. Lehi's prophecies about the Land of Promise are now complete. No longer are the people in the spiritual presence of God, and their depravities will soon cause them to be destroyed out of the land.

In this letter to his son, Moroni, Mormon notes:

"And now behold, my son, I fear lest the Lamanites shall destroy this people; for they do not repent, and Satan stirreth them up continually to anger one with another." (Moroni 9:3)

We live in a time of anger. The left hates the right. The right hates the left. The social justice warriors are angry against the alt-right warriors, and vice versa. They justify their anger, as they are all certain that God is on their side. Yet, they are all giving in to the enticings of Satan, who stirs men up to anger continually. This anger eventually leads to such atrocities as we see here in Moroni 9. We've seen it in the past: Hitler turning his people to anger against the Jews. Ku Klux Klan angered against freed black people. Whether we gas them en masse, or lynch them one at a time, the anger is what justifies the atrocities.


For so exceedingly do they anger that it seemeth me that they have no fear of death; and they have lost their love, one towards another; and they thirst after blood and revenge continually." (Moroni 9:5)
As I write this, we are going through the recounts of the presidential election between Joe Biden and Donald Trump. President Trump is challenging several swing state counts, claiming massive election fraud. Although he has not won any court cases and his own attorney general has declared there is no evidence of widespread fraud in the election (enough to change the election results), he continues to stir up his followers to anger. As a non-partisan, I've been excoriated by several of his followers on social media for stating where the evidence currently takes us. Some of Trump's followers have encouraged the president to declare martial law and retain the office, contra the Constitution. I'm sure that if the election were to have gone to Trump in this same manner, the left would be equally angry. 

Angry people do not listen to reason or evidence. They are founded upon a set of beliefs that cannot be changed, regardless of the facts or evidence. Such leads to the conditions we find in the last days of the Nephites and Jaredites.

This is in great contrast to what Mormon taught in chapter seven on faith, hope and charity. 

So, where do we currently fit on the spectrum of Christ-like love on one side, and pure evil anger on the other side? What must we do to accept the invitation to "come unto Christ and be perfected in him"?  We'll discuss that in the next lesson.