Friday, February 26, 2021

Come Follow Me: D&C 18-19

 Come Follow Me: D&C 18-19


As we continue studying the revelations of Joseph Smith, we see that some doctrines are expanded and some are completely reinvented, as God gives us higher understanding of his kingdom. Joseph's revelations will become more complex, intricate, and expansive as the years go by. 

D&C 18

This revelation was given in June 1829, about the time the Melchizedek Priesthood was restored by the ancient apostles, Peter, James and John. The Book of Mormon translation was not yet finished. With these two key ideas in mind, let's see what the Lord taught Oliver Cowdery.

"Remember the worth of souls is great in the sight of God;

"For, behold, the Lord your Redeemer suffered death in the flesh; wherefore he suffered the pain of all men, that all men might repent and come unto him.

"And he hath risen again from the dead, that he might bring all men unto him, on conditions of repentance.

"And how great is his joy in the soul that repenteth!" (D&C 18:10-13)


We learn that for Jesus, the souls of men are great. They are important enough to God that he sent his son to suffer death, so that we may all return to God under one condition: repentance. For Joseph and Oliver at this time, there was no understanding of the Three Degrees of Glory. Instead, there was only heaven and hell. Repentance was the condition which snatched all mankind out of hell and into heaven. Later revelation would bring nuance to the understanding of the word, "saved." Still, the focus of salvation are Faith in Christ, Repentance, Receiving/making ordinances/covenants, Receiving the Holy Ghost - an actual member of the Godhead - to be our companion while we dwell on earth.


"Wherefore, you are called to cry repentance unto this people.

"And if it so be that you should labor all your days in crying repentance unto this people, and bring, save it be one soul unto me, how great shall be your joy with him in the kingdom of my Father!

"And now, if your joy will be great with one soul that you have brought unto me into the kingdom of my Father, how great will be your joy if you should bring many souls unto me!" (vs 14-16)

After the Lord explained his purpose in saving mankind, he now invites us to join him in his great commission. If saving souls brings Christ great joy, it will bring us great joy, as well. We are called to be co-servants with Jesus in being saviors on Mount Zion (Obadiah 1:21).

Who is the "one soul" that we bring unto Christ? Us. Before we can bring many souls to God, we must first be converted and repent. In repentance comes great joy. We find hope in Christ, and receive the calming peace of the Holy Ghost in our lives. If our lives are in great turmoil, we can choose to repent of sin, and even if the world turns upside down, we can still experience the inner joy promised.

"Contend against no church, save it be the church of the devil." (v 20)

As the Book of Mormon continually teaches us, contention is the doctrine of Satan (3 Ne 11). We may feel we are doing the world a favor by getting involved in Bible bashes (not to be confused with Bible discussions), but it doesn't bring forth God's purposes.

Back in the early days of the Church in Bolivia, the Pedraja family invited the missionaries to visit them. Carlos Pedraja, then a young man planning on attending college in Cuba, was present. When the elders arrived, they found the missionaries of another faith present. Those other missionaries instantly began to contend with the elders. The elders said they would not contend, excused themselves, and left. As they walked down the street, Carlos ran after them. He said his family wanted them to return. The family joined the Church. Carlos became the first missionary from Bolivia. He later was one of the first stake presidents in Bolivia (when I met him), and held major callings in the region later on in Church Education System.

Such conversion comes when the peace and calmness of the Spirit are present, and not when we are contending. What is the Church of the Devil? Well, it isn't the other Christian churches out there. It is any organization that leads people fully away from God - one that encourages immorality, carnal lusts, and materialism. It is one that supports secret combinations, getting gain at any cost. 

The Twelve

Surprisingly, almost a year before the Church was organized, the Three Witnesses (as apostles) are called to begin the search for the Quorum of Twelve Apostles. This quorum would be ordained in Feb 1835 and include:

"The Twelve (in the order presented at the meeting) were Lyman Johnson, age 23; Brigham Young, 33; Heber C. Kimball, 33; Orson Hyde, 30; David W. Patten, 35; Luke Johnson, 27; William E. McLellin, 29; John F. Boynton, 23; Orson Pratt, 23; William Smith, 23; Thomas B. Marsh, 34; and Parley P. Pratt, 27. All had previously served missions. Eight had accompanied Joseph Smith on the Zion’s Camp expedition the previous summer." 

They were ordered by age for seniority, putting David W. Patten as president of the Twelve. This would vastly affect missionary work, and the progression of the Church in preaching the gospel to all the world.

But for now, in 1829, it was only an assignment - one with a reach that Joseph and Oliver could not imagine.


D&C 19

Perhaps the two most engaging points in this section are: Jesus' suffering and the new understanding of certain concepts.

When Jesus speaks of his suffering, he explains it in strong terms: even God suffered great pain. He descended below all things and all people, in order to lift all of us up. However, we must, again as noted in section 18, repent. Otherwise, we will suffer even as he did. 

Consider the experience of the wicked man, Alma the Younger, when he collapsed into a Near Death Experience after being chastened by an angel:

"But I was racked with eternal torment, for my soul was harrowed up to the greatest degree and racked with all my sins.

"Yea, I did remember all my sins and iniquities, for which I was tormented with the pains of hell; yea, I saw that I had rebelled against my God, and that I had not kept his holy commandments.

"Yea, and I had murdered many of his children, or rather led them away unto destruction; yea, and in fine so great had been my iniquities, that the very thought of coming into the presence of my God did rack my soul with inexpressible horror.

"Oh, thought I, that I could be banished and become extinct both soul and body, that I might not be brought to stand in the presence of my God, to be judged of my deeds.

"And now, for three days and for three nights was I racked, even with the pains of a damned soul." (Alma 36:12-16)

It was only when he repented that the darkness and guilt were swept away, and he was bathed in light, glory and joy. In the distance, he saw Lehi standing with God and numerous angels singing praises to God. He longed to be there, which inspired him throughout the rest of his life to serve God as a missionary.

In discussing such pain and torment, Jesus tells Joseph Smith that terminology is important. "Endless" and "Eternal" are names of God. "Endless Punishment" is God's punishment. As with Alma, it doesn't have to be forever. It lasts only until we repent, as Jesus pleads with us to do in section 19.

This would be the beginning of a concept in Latter-day Saint thought of a near universal salvation. Later revelations (see D&C 76) would build upon it, as well as the missionary work done on the other side of the veil with salvation for the dead.

With this concept, we begin to see that some things we take for granted, believing them to be solid doctrine, are left for us to consider and ponder. First, we believe Jesus is the Christ, but do we believe that Jesus is OUR Christ or Savior? Do we really believe he is washing away our sin and guilt?

Second, there is a possibility that there is some form of progression even after this life. While apostle Joseph Fielding Smith was adamantly opposed to this concept, Brigham Young and many others kept an open mind to the possibility that individuals could still progress beyond this life. Zander Sturgill of Book of Mormon Central recently published a series of apostolic quotes regarding this topic.

For me, while I know it is an open issue and not doctrine, it is a comforting thought to consider that God is so loving that he will save us whenever we are ready to repent - whether in this life or the next.


Calling of the Original Twelve Apostles: https://www.churchofjesuschrist.orPerhag/study/ensign/2017/10/young-adults/five-lessons-for-young-adults-from-young-apostles/the-calling-of-the-restorations-original-apostles?lang=eng

LDS Leaders Open to Progression Between Kingdoms, Zander Sturgill: https://zandersturgill.com/2018/08/11/lds-leaders-open-to-progression-after-judgement/






Sunday, February 14, 2021

Come Follow Me: D&C 14-17

 Come Follow Me: D&C 14-17

 

Mary and Peter Whitmer Senior had five sons: David, Peter junior, John, Christian and Jacob. Through Oliver Cowdery's close relationship with David, the Whitmers would become closely engaged in the early work of the Church. 

Because of opposition in Pennsylvania, Oliver asked David if he and Joseph could move in with the family. Though the Whitmers never had met Joseph, they agreed. Before being able to fetch Joseph and Oliver, David had to finish plowing and preparing the spring fields. Miracles were employed, For as David found much of the work already done overnight, prior to beginning the work early in the morning. 

This would be the first of many miracles for the Whitmers. Mary would be a witness of Moroni and the gold plates. Several of the Whitmer sons would physically handle the gold plates. David would be one of the Three Witnesses.

Eternal Life

"And, if you keep my commandments and endure to the end you shall have eternal life, which gift is the greatest of all the gifts of God." (D&C 14:7)
For Joseph, Oliver and the Whitmers, the concept of eternal life was very different than what we now understand. Joseph Smith had yet to receive the vision of the Three Degrees of Heaven. It would be move than a decade before he taught that we could literally be sons and daughters of God, being Gods in the next life.

For David and the Whitmers, this statement meant that God had gifts to give, and eternal life (or heaven) was the best of  the gifts. How has this concept of eternal life developed in your own life? What does it mean to you today? What other gifts has God shared with you that help prepare you to receive the greatest gift?

Key Points

Some of the key points in these revelations are:

1. Seek to build and establish Zion

2. Ask and ye shall receive

3. Ask God for the Holy Ghost

4. The field is white, ready to harvest

5. Declare repentance and bring souls to God

 

Establishing Zion

 For Joseph, Oliver and the Whitmers, this concept is in its infancy. Joseph has not received his vision of the City of Enoch. He hasn't received revelation on consecration. D&C 45 and other revelations are yet in the future. To them, it would possibly mean building a small community of good people that follow Jesus and the restored gospel. Imagine the excitement for them, as each succeeding revelation added to the growing understanding of what Zion really is.

Are we actively seeking to build and establish Zion? Over this year, we'll be reading many of the revelations regarding Zion and a Zion people. It is a time to ponder if our hearts are right, so when God again calls upon us to build Zion and her stakes into a true Zion people, we will be ready.

Ask God/the Holy Ghost

For Joseph, this was a very important concept. As we continue to see, many of the converts are going to Joseph for answers regarding their personal questions and desires (Oliver, Martin Harris, Joseph Sr, Hyrum, are included in this group of seekers).

Here, God again tells them to personally ask, to knock, to seek. Yet, as with the new converts, many of us still aren't sure if we are getting answers or not. We can't always tell when the Holy Ghost is trying to reach us. We do not have access to the living prophet to give us counsel on personal matters. While we can rely on advice from bishops, parents and others, it is imperative for us to receive our own inspiration and to be able to hear it. What are you doing to learn to listen to the Holy Ghost?

Are we actively praying for the Holy Ghost to be with us? In 3 Nephi, as the people prayed to Jesus, they all prayed to have the Holy Ghost with them. He is the third member of the Godhead. To have the Holy Ghost as a constant companion (or even a frequent companion) is to have a member of the Godhead walking with us on a daily basis. How amazing is that?

The Harvest/Declaring Repentance

"The field is white, already to harvest." 

As Joseph found out, while there is much opposition to the work, there are many eagerly looking for the gospel, or at least portions of it. While not everyone will join the Church or remain with it once they've joined, we have the opportunity to share the amount they are ready to receive. The gospel brings hope in a world of trial and terror, hopelessness and horror.

Think of what has happened over the last generation: 9/11, Great Recession, Covid 19 pandemic, race riots, Capitol riot, wild fires, hurricanes, tornadoes, continuing wars and rumors of wars, human trafficking, and a global loss of freedom, among other things. Such things destabilize nations, peoples, families and individuals. Yet, there is hope in Christ.

While we currently are under Pandemic lock downs, temples are essentially closed, and missionary work is more online than face-to-face, there are things we can do to share the gospel with those around us.

Here I invite all my readers to share one or two of the following with family, friends, social media acquaintances, etc.:

1. Your Conversion Story
2. Your Experience opening your mission call
3. A neat experience from your mission or serving in a Church calling
4. A missionary moment you have had with someone else.

Let me share three of my own experiences.

In the Spring of 1975, my high school in Montana suffered several big tragedies.  Students died or were seriously injured over a 2 week period in about a dozen incidents.  In one event, friends went 4-wheel driving and turned over their Jeep, with 2 dying.  In another, 4 friends went up a canyon and drank rubbing alcohol, with 3 of them dying, and the girl who survived ending up shriveled up and in a wheelchair.  Then some kids took cow tranquilizers and were found dead at the fairgrounds.  Other events occurred. It shook up our school back in a time when counselors were not sent to schools to help the students.


That summer, my grandfather died.  I remember being a pallbearer with my brother and cousins. As we sat in the back of the car carrying us, one cousin noted that there had to be a better way.  I agreed.  I was shell shocked from all the death I'd seen in just a few months.  That Fall, I met some new friends at school.  Most of them were Latter-day Saints, and one of them invited me to play basketball on his church team.  I accepted.  Prior to playing that Wednesday night, the bishop invited me into his office.  He explained to me that to be able to play in the future, I would have to cut my long hair and attend church on Sundays.  Normally I would have refused, as my Dad could never get me to cut my shoulder length hair.  But something happened in that bishop's office to me, which I would not understand until much later.  The Spirit of the Lord was thick in the room and moved me to change my life.  As I attended and studied the Restored Gospel, I began to understand the Atonement of Christ, salvation, eternal families, and the hope of a glorious resurrection that I did not understand when my friends were dying.  Since then, I've always been ever grateful to my friend who invited me to play Church basketball, and to the bishop who introduced me to the Spirit.


From 1978-1980, I served a mission in Bolivia.  On the southern border is a small town, named Yacuiba.  In 1970, when there were no missionaries in the region, Orlando Bishop walked home in the rain.  Looking down, he found a pamphlet in a puddle of water.  He picked it up, took it home, dried it off and read it.  He then turned to his wife , Juanita, and said, "I don't know what Church this is, but when it gets here, we're going to join it."  The pamphlet was the Joseph Smith First Vision story.  In 1979, the first missionaries were sent to Yacuiba.  His was the fourth door they knocked on.  By the time I arrived in Yacuiba a year later, he had become a respected businessman with his own logging truck.  Not long afterward, he was called to preside over the congregation as its branch president.  Today, he is a stake patriarch. While in Bolivia, I saw many such marvelous experiences of people being led to the Church of Jesus Christ by the Lord.


My third experience came when the Air Force stationed me in South Korea in 1985.  A young man,  who had a notoriety for being bad, was moved to my squad.  Korea was very challenging for good people to live morally, as drinking and prostitution were a way of life outside of military bases.  I avoided the scene directly outside the base, choosing to travel to other areas where I could get to really know the people.  I knew the day would come when I would be assigned to work with this other young man, but did not look forward to it.  When I saw we were being stationed together in a solitary post together, I prayed that I would survive what I expected to be an onslaught of obscenities and filthy talk, as this is how the man was described to me by others.  Yet, when we arrived at our post, he said that he admired my standards and my life.  He once had been active in a church and was happy, but fell far from his moral lifestyle.  We spent the night talking about God and faith.  By morning he wanted to talk with the missionaries.  So, I contacted a missionary couple up in Seoul to come down once a week to teach my new friend.  After a month, we took a trip to Seoul to see the temple, then under construction.  As we walked around the temple, I showed him where the corner stone would be set on the first day of the dedication.  He asked me if he could touch the sacred building, and I encouraged him to do so.  "This is where I want to be married someday", he said.  Within a few weeks, I baptized him in the base swimming pool, the temple being a key component in converting a man, whom I would never would have guessed to be wanting to change his life so drastically.

From these and hundreds of other experiences, my own testimony of Christ and his work have grown.  It truly is a marvelous work.  By the mid 1830s, Joseph Smith told the few members of the fledgling Church that they were not to only be a congregation, but that someday the Church would fill both North and South America, indeed, it would fill the world.  As people throughout the world find that the  Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has solutions to worldly problems and answers to spiritual questions, it will continue to grow, preparing the world for the 2nd Coming of Christ. 

I invite you to share your testimony this week on social media, work and groups.

 






Sunday, February 07, 2021

Come Follow Me: D&C 12-13

Come Follow Me: D&C 12-13

 

D&C 12

This is a revelation given to Joseph Knight, one of the early converts to the Church. Imagine what it must have been like back in  1829, when most churches no longer believed in continuing revelation, angels, etc. Here was 24 year old Joseph Smith claiming to be a prophet, and revelation was again on the earth. Consider how the early followers would have understood concepts such as "establish the cause of Zion," "knock and it shall be opened to you," or as in last week's lesson on Hyrum Smith's revelation in section 11, "become the sons of God."

Their understanding was very limited. Even Joseph Smith, at this time, would not have comprehended the enormity of the work ahead: publishing the Book of Mormon, receiving priesthood and keys, building temples and cities. 

What they understood by the word Zion would be very different in just a few years, when they began moving to Independence, Missouri. At the time of the revelation, it was just a metaphor for starting a religious movement.

When we take our hindsight out of the equation in reading such revelations, we can begin to understand just what they understood at the time, and how our understanding has grown with continuing revelation.

 

One of those great revelations occurs in section 13:

"Upon you my fellow servants, in the name of Messiah I confer the Priesthood of Aaron, which holds the keys of the ministering of angels, and of the gospel of repentance, and of baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; and this shall never be taken again from the earth, until the sons of Levi do offer again an offering unto the Lord in righteousness."

 

 No one on earth knew what the Aaronic Priesthood was. No one understood the authority needed to baptize. The Lord waited for Joseph and Oliver to ask about baptism. God could have easily just had an angel baptize them or tell them to do whatever they wished. Instead, God used his hierarchy of angels to begin a process of transferring power and keys to human beings.

The Aaronic Priesthood was restored to the earth by John the Baptist on May 15, 1829.  Between then and May 1830, the Melchizedek Priesthood was also restored by the ancient apostles Peter, James and John.

The priesthood provides two things: power and authority.  Authority to govern the Church, perform ordinances, and organize is very important.  As important as authority is, however, it is impotent without the power of the priesthood.  President Packer recently stated that we do well on distributing the authority, but need to improve on distributing the true powers of heaven.  He also notes in his discussion on priesthood,

"I include the sisters because it is crucial for everyone to understand what is expected of the brethren. Unless we enlist the attention of the mothers and daughters and sisters—who have influence on their husbands, fathers, sons, and brothers—we cannot progress. The priesthood will lose great power if the sisters are neglected." (Ensign, April 2010, The Power of the Priesthood)




This power is not only for the men, but also for the women of the Church.  Why? Because of the ordinances and covenants attached to the priesthood. Women serve callings under priesthood power and authority. Their priesthood responsibility is as important as that of man's.



The Aaronic Priesthood provides the outward ordinances, holding the keys of repentance, baptism and the ministering of angels (D&C 13). 

 What is the "ministering of angels?" Most Christians in Joseph's day did not believe in the continuing gifts of the Spirit, miracles, visions or angelic visits. Yet, the Book of Mormon spoke frequently about angels. Nephi taught that "angels speak by the power of the Holy Ghost." For Joseph, angels were frequent visitors to him in these early years. 

Most of those over the years claiming to be prophets claim to have visions or angelic visits. What made Joseph's experiences different? For many of his visions and revelations, others were also witnesses. The Three Witnesses saw Moroni and the plates. The Eight Witnesses saw the plates and handled them. Mary Whitmer saw Moroni and the plates. Now, Joseph AND Oliver would be visited by John the Baptist, and within a month by Peter, James and John. Later, Sidney Rigdon would see the Three Degrees of Glory with Joseph.Joseph, Sidney, and Frederick Williams would see the temple in vision, before it was built.  In the Kirtland Temple, dozens of members saw angels, spoke in tongues, saw visions, and some even saw God and Jesus.

The key to the ministering of angels also means we can ask God to send angels to assist others, as well.

 It was by this power of ministering of angels that Alma the Elder sent and angel to his son and the sons of Mosiah to call them to repentance. Many people have been touched by the ministering of angels over the past two centuries. I know of many people who have had angels ministered to them. It is a real power from the Aaronic Priesthood. 


The greater Priesthood of Melchizedek holds even greater power and promise:

"And this greater priesthood administereth the gospel and holdeth the key of the mysteries of the kingdom, even the key of the knowledge of God.

Therefore, in the ordinances thereof, the power of godliness is manifest.
And without the ordinances thereof, and the authority of the priesthood, the power of godliness is not manifest unto men in the flesh;
For without this no man can see the face of God, even the Father, and live.
 Now this Moses plainly taught to the children of Israel in the wilderness, and sought diligently to sanctify his people that they might behold the face of God;
 But they hardened their hearts and could not endure his presence; therefore, the Lord in his wrath, for his anger was kindled against them, swore that they should not enter into his rest while in the wilderness, which rest is the fulness of his glory. (D&C 84:19-24)


While the Aaronic Priesthood gives the power to have angels minister to a person and to have a remission of sins, the Melchizedek Priesthood holds the power to bring people into the presence of God, to have His mystery revealed to them, and to become not only cleansed of sin, but purified to a divine state!

Moses' goal at Sinai was to take Israel to the top of the mountain, where each one of them would see God personally.  They refused to go, fearing God's wrath and reluctant to give up their sinful ways.  God gave them the lesser priesthood as a preparatory power, to prepare them for the greater opportunities. If mankind was not ready to converse with God, perhaps they could be prepared to converse with angels.

The Melchizedek Priesthood, however, contains the power, primarily through the ordinances, of being in the presence of the members of the Godhead.

First, the Gift of the Holy Ghost is confirmed upon a person, giving that person access to the third member of the Godhead.  In the temple ordinances, which set us apart from the world both figuratively and literally, we learn to walk through the Cosmos and all of Creation, in a journey to return back into the full presence and glory of God.  This is not a journey that is accomplished alone.  It is a journey for both Adam and Eve, husband and wife, who share the power, authority and blessings of the Melchizedek Priesthood within the temple. In the marriage sealing, husband and wife both receive together the Patriarchal Priesthood, the greatest role in the Melchizedek Priesthood.  Husband and wife are promised that as they are faithful to God, they will receive blessings in time and eternity, to stand in God's presence and be like Him.

This is the purpose of the priesthood in our day: to prepare a people to stand in the presence of God and be holy.  Through the ordinances the priesthood provides, men and women can enjoy the greatest blessings and opportunities of God in heaven.  These promises begin with baptism and find the climax as the believers enter into the Celestial Room of the temple, symbolic of the day when they literally will walk into the Celestial Kingdom and into the presence of God the Father and Jesus Christ.

 I also recommend the following talks which speak on keys, authority, and women using the priesthood by Pres Dallin H. Oaks:

https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/2020/04/36oaks?lang=eng

https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/2014/04/the-keys-and-authority-of-the-priesthood?lang=eng

 

Wednesday, February 03, 2021

Come Follow Me: D&C 10-11

 Come Follow Me: D&C 10-11

Many of the earliest revelations were given at the request of others. Joseph Smith Senior,  Oliver Cowdery and many others went to Joseph for heavenly guidance. In these early days, when the Book of Mormon was still being translated, most followers had not been baptized and none had received the gift of the Holy Ghost. They relied upon Joseph to receive revelation from God. How different it is for us today, as we receive encouragement from Pres Nelson to seek out personal revelation. As prophet of a worldwide Church, he does not have the time Joseph had to give personal revelations. 

Hyrum came to Joseph for guidance, wanting to go out and preach the gospel and the Book of Mormon. Here was guidance that applies to all of us.


In many of the early revelations, the Lord opened them with the following teaching:

"A great and marvelous work is about to come forth among the children of men.

Behold, I am God; give heed to my word, which is quick and powerful, sharper than a two-edged sword, to the dividing asunder of both joints and marrow; therefore give heed unto my word.
Behold, the field is white already to harvest; therefore, whoso desireth to reap let him thrust in his sickle with his might, and reap while the day lasts, that he may treasure up for his soul everlasting salvation in the kingdom of God.
Yea, whosoever will thrust in his sickle and reap, the same is called of God." D&C 11:1-4

Most Christian churches of the day were focused on developing a congregation here or there, often satisfied to have a local impact. Here the translation of the Book of Mormon is not finished and the Lord proclaimed, "a great and marvelous work is about to come forth..."!  

Imagine the audacity to make such statements! Most churches failed within a few years, or at the death of its founder. Of those that survived, most of those churches remained local with no real impact in the world. When Joseph was called to translate the Book of Mormon, he must have imagined starting a congregation, but could he truly imagine that his work for God would become a global power, truly a marvelous work?


The early teachings of the Church were establishing the basics of the gospel.  For Oliver (in sections 6-9), it was to teach him (and us) the proper forms of receiving personal revelation from God.  For many, it was to let them know that the most important thing they could do is to preach the gospel of Christ to the world. Yet, could followers actively preach without having been baptized or receive the Holy Ghost? Hyrum was eager to preach the gospel. He saw the Lord tell others the field was white, and he was very eager to share the amazing restoration events he experienced over the previous 9 years.

Yet, even as the Lord says to "thrust in [one's] sickle", he will give Hyrum some important guidance in regards to preparation and the focus of his own calling. 

"Therefore, if you will ask of me you shall receive; if you will knock it shall be opened unto you.

Now, as you have asked, behold, I say unto you, keep my commandments, and seek to bring forth and establish the cause of Zion." D&C 11:5-6

We are to ask, so that the Lord can open doors to us.  Hyrum asked the Lord through Joseph, which was a very common practice in the earliest days of the Church.  Believers saw that Joseph saw angels and God, and could receive revelations for individuals.  Others were infants when it came to receiving revelation.  Here, it seems the Lord is telling Hyrum that he should ask and knock for himself in the future.  In this instance, however, since he asked through Joseph, he was told 2 key things: keep the commandments and to bring forth Zion.

Missionary work is one part of bringing forth Zion.  Hyrum's life will have moments of missionary work in it, but much of the work he will do will be towards the members of the Church, especially as a counselor and guide to his younger brother, Joseph.  He would become the Patriarch of the Church after the death of Joseph Smith, Sr., and Assistant President after Oliver Cowdery's excommunication. Assistant President was higher than a counselor to the President (as was Sidney Rigdon). It would place Hyrum in position to be the next prophet, had he survived Joseph.  Hyrum's focus would be to build Zion, whether in Kirtland Ohio, Independence Missouri, or Nauvoo Illinois.  He would be Joseph's closest ally and colleague, being with him in Liberty and Carthage Jails.  He would support Joseph in life, even as other leaders (Oliver Cowdery, Sidney Rigdon, etc) fell away from the Church. He would be with Joseph in death, at Carthage and as their bodies were prepared for burial together.


"Seek not for riches but for wisdom; and, behold, the mysteries of God shall be unfolded unto you, and then shall you be made rich. Behold, he that hath eternal life is rich." (v 7)

This revelation was given in May 1829, while the Book of Mormon was still being translated.  It is possible the Aaronic Priesthood had not been restored to Joseph and Oliver by John the Baptist yet. The Melchizedek Priesthood's restoration by Peter, James and John was still a month away. 

Could Hyrum have imagined the mysteries that would come forth: the priesthood, the gift of the Holy Ghost, concept of the Godhead, the revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants, the establishment of the Quorum of 12 Apostles, establishing a literal Zion in Missouri, temples, eternal marriage, baptism for the dead, the three degrees of glory, the premortal existence, man's ability to become gods through Christ, and so many other amazing mysteries!

"Behold, thou hast a gift, or thou shalt have a gift if thou wilt desire of me in faith, with an honest heart, believing in the power of Jesus Christ, or in my power which speaketh unto thee;
 For, behold, it is I that speak; behold, I am the light which shineth in darkness, and by my power I give these words unto thee.
 And now, verily, verily, I say unto thee, put your trust in that Spirit which leadeth to do good—yea, to do justly, to walk humbly, to judge righteously; and this is my Spirit.
 Verily, verily, I say unto you, I will impart unto you of my Spirit, which shall enlighten your mind, which shall fill your soul with joy;
And then shall ye know, or by this shall you know, all things whatsoever you desire of me, which are pertaining unto things of righteousness, in faith believing in me that you shall receive."  (vv10-14)


What would this gift be that Hyrum would receive?  He was commanded to "seek wisdom" and then he would have the Spirit, "which shall enlighten your mind".  This is very important for someone who would become the Patriarch of the Church.  A patriarch's responsibility is to receive revelation for the individual.  As Joseph was receiving a personal revelation for Hyrum in D&C 11, so Hyrum would receive personal revelations for the members in Nauvoo.


Interestingly, while his younger brother, Samuel Harrison Smith, would leave a year later on a mission to spread the Book of Mormon around, while Hyrum was told to wait.  It was important that he first gain the word of God. 

"Wait a little longer, until you shall have my word, my rock, my church, and my gospel, that you may know of a surety my doctrine." (v 16)


Not only would he wait for the Book of Mormon to be published in May 1830, but also the creation of the formal church on April 6, 1830, and the establishment of the priesthood and basic ordinances (see D&C 20).

"Seek not to declare my word, but first seek to obtain my word, and then shall your tongue be loosed; then, if you desire, you shall have my Spirit and my word, yea, the power of God unto the convincing of men.

But now hold your peace; study my word which hath gone forth among the children of men, and also study my word which shall come forth among the children of men, or that which is now translating, yea, until you have obtained all which I shall grant unto the children of men in this generation, and then shall all things be added thereto." (vv 21-22)


Hyrum's responsibility was to study the word which already had "gone forth among the children of men" or the Bible, and to also to study that word which was to come forth soon, the Book of Mormon.  Even though the "field is white, ready for harvest", the workers were not ready.  They needed to know the Bible and Book of Mormon, in order to know what things they preached.  This is a key reason why the Church today focuses so much training on the youth of the Church: seminary, institute, youth programs, etc.  All of the preparation is to ensure they are ready to go forth into the world and cry repentance.

As future Patriarch of the Church, he would do for many what Joseph did for him: receive a personal revelation for others. Through him, members in Nauvoo could discover their spiritual inheritance from a tribe of Israel, and inspired guidance for their walk in this life.

"But verily, verily, I say unto you, that as many as receive me, to them will I give power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on my name. Amen" (v 30)

Hyrum could not imagine in May of 1829 just what this last statement and promise really meant.  His understanding then meant that people could become sons of God, but not in the literal sense. They would be in heaven as servants of God, singing hymns to him eternally.  By 1844 at the end of his life, he would know that being a "son of God" was a literal thing.  One would, through Christ, become a literal son and heir of all God has.  A son of God would become part of the divine council and be a king and a priest unto God and Christ forever. 

Hyrum's door to heavenly wisdom and mysteries was just opening.


Saturday, January 30, 2021

Book Review: Moroni - a brief theological introduction, by David F. Holland

 Book Review: Moroni - a brief theological introduction, by David F. Holland

published by the Neal A. Maxwell Institute

 

 

 Moroni: a brief theological introduction

 


The Maxwell Institute at BYU has been busy providing theological introductions to the books in the Book of Mormon. Below are links to my previous reviews on the other books available.

 Holland divides his book into 7 chapters and a conclusion. The chapter titles are:

  1. Resolute and Unsure
  2. The Gifts of Sacred Community in a Time of Chaos
  3. A Sacrament of Multiple Gifts
  4. To Gather Among and to Rely Alone
  5. The Sermon, Part One
  6. The Sermon: Part Two
  7. The Letters
  8. Conclusion


The Book of Moroni is the last of the books in the Book of Mormon. It is comprised of ten, seemingly different chapters that seem to be a hodgepodge of ordinances and letters tacked onto the end of the gold plates, almost as an after thought.

Holland suggests that the collection of chapters and topics that Moroni brings to the table are a well thought out series of important themes and issues, that link them and their specific sequence together.

First, Holland notes that Moroni is offering us a grab bag full of gifts from God. In fact, the words "gift," "give," or similar terms are found about 30 times in Moroni's ten chapters. Among the gifts that Holland discusses are: priesthood, baptism, the gift of the Holy Ghost, the Sacrament, faith, hope, charity, meekness, miracles, and gifts of the Spirit. Moroni wishes us to recognize the great gifts that God is ready to impart to us. As Holland notes, "the giver leads us toward the Giver."

Holland notes that Moroni lives in a time of great uncertainty. His nation is destroyed. The Lamanites are in constant battle around him, decades after the demise of the Nephites. They kill Christians, and since Moroni will not deny the Christ, he is forced to wander continually. Twice before, he thought he would finish the Nephite record and bury them, but third time is the charm. 

Holland writes, "Severely isolated, with only the records of previous generations as his companions, Moroni knows more about the past than about what is happening in his present moment." Instead of chronicling his own life experiences, he shares important teachings from past prophets in the Nephite record. 

He recognizes the weakness he has in writing. Several times in the Jaredite record and in completing his father's history, he noted the weakness they had in writing. Holland describes it as a constant "handwringing" that Moroni shares. He worries about the imperfections in the record. He worries that the future Gentile readers will mock at the sacred text. "Everywhere Moroni appears, this issue comes up."

Holland expresses that in Moroni's first words, we learn two very important and inextricable truths, "The first two theological declarations of the book of Moroni intertwine in its opening verses: Jesus is the Christ, and uncertainty is an unavoidable part of our existence in this mortal world."

Interestingly, Holland notes that the following chapters on priesthood, baptism, etc., are issues for an organized church. "These things come from a man who is well aware that he will not live to see a church community capable of implementing these practices."

As Moroni looked four hundred years into the past to share the Church organization and ordinances that the resurrected Christ taught the Nephites, now he is looking centuries into the future, when the Lamanites and Gentiles will perhaps be ready to organize Christ's church again.

In discussing the importance of the church doctrine, organization and ordinances, Holland jumps ahead momentarily to chapter 8 (child baptism) and chapter 9 (the evil desecrations of the Nephites and Lamanites). He suggests that Moroni is using these letters from his father Mormon, as "guardrails" for organizing the church. Chapter 8 warns us about being so formally and logically strict in keeping/making commandments that we do away with the grace and love of God. Chapter 9 warns us about allowing things to go completely in the opposite direction: chaotic emotion and de-evolution going from children of Christ to children of demons.

It is an interesting suggestion, which definitely helps me personally to tie Moroni's writings together. Instead of thinking he randomly grabbed a couple of his father's letters, Moroni carefully selected two letters that would help guide the future church of Christ, warning them to avoid excesses in either direction (rigid logic and chaotic emotion).  Holland calls these ends of two poles, "dead works" and "disorder." The challenge is to manage to be centered in the middle of these two poles, rather than on the extremes.

Holland returns to discussing the priesthood, and the ordinances. He breaks down and analyzes each piece of the ordinance, and explains how they relate to today's Church. He notes the careful balance the modern Church seeks to maintain between the power and guidance from the official hierarchy and the gift of personal revelation and gifts of God. In fact, he finds that the restored gospel has the "audacity" to make such an effort of balancing between the two. 

In partaking of the Sacrament and other gifts, Holland shares a keen insight from Saba Mahmood's study on Muslim rites, that the people had to constantly remind themselves,

"...that an act of [ritual] performed for its own sake, without regard for how it contributes to the realization of piety is 'lost power.'"

The Sacrament, according to Holland, provides us with two important gifts that can transform us, as long as we do not drift into "thoughtlessness": "the gift of repetitive discipline and the gift of supernatural grace." He notes that the bread and water are sanctified, touched and made holy by the hand of God through his priesthood bearers:

"Before, they were unblessed and unsanctified; by the time they enter my mouth, they have been touched by the sanctifying power of the living God. This is not just a reverence that humans give them; this is a quality God imparts."

In one of his deeper theological discussions, Holland shares the tension between agency and God's foreknowledge. He briefly explores the background behind Calvin's predestination versus free agency. This discussion is brought about by Mormon's teaching that a good fountain cannot bring forth evil water, nor vice versa. This brings about a discussion on whether mankind are born completely evil (as Calvinism suggests) or as the children of God. How can we be both good and evil, a gray area, where Mormon only sees black and white? If we are sinful, can we change ourselves? Or can only God bring about change within us? Holland's discussion and his suggested answer are interesting to consider, as he discusses the miracles of change and agency.

In Moroni 7, we find certain common issues for Latter-day Saints and other Christians: understanding the differences between grace and works, and faith and hope, and understanding how each pair work together.. Mormon ties them inextricably together. Holland explains how they relate and how they relate to each of us.

On discussing faith and hope, Holland explains that

"...if faith is the belief that God is good, hope is the belief that he will be good to me."

This is a very interesting definition, given our modern context of faith and works. For many years in the 20th century, some Church leaders pressed works to the point that some members felt they had to earn their own salvation. Several times in his book, Holland expresses the balance, rather than the extreme, and that the gifts of God shared by Moroni are available to all. I've known members who believed Jesus is the Savior, but they doubted whether the atonement could actually save them from their sins. Here we find that faith and hope must go hand in hand: not only must we believe that Jesus is the Christ, but that he is my Savior!

Holland then shares an excellent discussion on charity. He especially notes that while most love is natural, charity (the love of Christ) is "supernatural." It clearly is a gift, as Mormon explains it is given to those who pray diligently for it (Moroni 7:48).

Again, he returns to chapters 8 and 9. Mormon lays bare his feelings on child baptism and the depravity of the Nephites.

"Mormon's unflinching gaze at the crimes of his own people, unobscured by the justifying instincts of nationalism, offers us a lesson in moral reasoning that elevates the low brutality of his description into a call to higher ground."

The danger didn't come from without, as Holland notes:

"...the people's precipitous transformation into savagery did not come through the corrupting presence of external forces. It came in a moment when his people seemed most liberated from structural constraint. It came from within."

Perhaps a deeper and more introspective study into these letters could offer us greater understanding of the processes ongoing in our nation today (Jan 2021), as we grapple with extremes of government excess and abuse on the one hand and chaotic rioting on the other.

Holland continues with several great insights into the remaining chapter: real intent, gifts of the Spirit, etc. In his final comments, he discusses the 

",,,formulation of the doctrine of the gift. These are offerings (offered independently of human ability), and we have the chance to choose them."

As Holland notes earlier in the book,

"...it is difficult to appreciate a gift or its giver until you realize how desperately you need them."
Moroni lived in desperate times. He saw the future and knew we would also live in desperate times, times that could easily reflect his own. Times when we would desperately need the supernatural gifts of God. Gifts like priesthood, remission of sins through baptism, the gift of the Holy Ghost, faith, hope, charity, and the redemption of Jesus Christ.

Over the past many months, I have read and reviewed several of the books in this series. I have not been disappointed in any of them. David F. Holland shares a Moroni that is very real and personal. I can now see how Moroni carefully chose what to place in the sacred plates. It is a gift that Holland has opened my eyes to. There is so much great information and concepts to consider in this book that I know I will be going back to it time and again to consider and ponder each of the teachings Moroni desperately wanted us to read and embrace.

I highly recommend this book. While there are a few deeper discussions, most of the concepts he shares are very accessible to the average reader. It will help each of us to read the very short book of Moroni in new ways.


Now available at

Maxwell Institute

Amazon

Deseret Book

 

 My previous reviews on the series

1st Nephi, by Joseph Spencer

2nd Nephi, by Terryl Givens

Jacob, by Deidre Nicole Green

Enos, Jarom, Omni, by Sharon J. Harris

Mosiah, by James Faulconer







 

 

 

 

 

Sunday, January 24, 2021

Come Follow Me: D&C 6-9

 Come Follow Me: D&C 6-9

 

This lesson focuses on sections 6-9 of the D&C, which explain several things about receiving revelation. Some of our more familiar scriptures are found in sections 8 and 9 regarding receiving revelation.  Here, we will focus on some background.

Oliver Cowdery was a schoolteacher, who had heard of Joseph Smith.  Oliver believed in personal revelation, because he received it by using a divining rod. It is believed that he would ask "yes/no" type questions.  In doing so, it is likely the rod would point up for "yes", and down for "no." 

This rod was also known as a "rod of nature" or the "gift of Aaron."  In the revelations we find that the Lord approved of Oliver using the divining rod as a method to receive revelation.  The ability to receive revelation (at the time via the rod) was the gift the Lord had given him.  From what we read in the sections, it seems Oliver used the rod to determine if Joseph was truly a prophet of God.  The rod also seems to be the source of revelation to send him to Joseph and work as his scribe.

This brings the scriptures into a new context regarding the gift Oliver had:

"Behold thou hast a gift, and blessed art thou because of thy gift. Remember it is sacred and cometh from above—

And if thou wilt inquire, thou shalt know mysteries which are great and marvelous; therefore thou shalt exercise thy gift, that thou mayest find out mysteries, that thou mayest bring many to the knowledge of the truth, yea, convince them of the error of their ways.
Make not thy gift known unto any save it be those who are of thy faith. Trifle not with sacred things.
If thou wilt do good, yea, and hold out faithful to the end, thou shalt be saved in the kingdom of God, which is the greatest of all the gifts of God; for there is no gift greater than the gift of salvation.
Verily, verily, I say unto thee, blessed art thou for what thou hast done; for thou hast inquired of me, and behold, as often as thou hast inquired thou hast received instruction of my Spirit. If it had not been so, thou wouldst not have come to the place where thou art at this time." D&C 6:10-14


Just as Aaron, the brother of Moses, received power from God via two rods: the staff of Moses and the budding rod, so Oliver would also have this great gift.

"Verily, verily, I say unto you, if you desire a further witness, cast your mind upon the night that you cried unto me in your heart, that you might know concerning the truth of these things.

Did I not speak peace to your mind concerning the matter? What greater witness can you have than from God?
And now, behold, you have received a witness; for if I have told you things which no man knoweth have you not received a witness?
And, behold, I grant unto you a gift, if you desire of me, to translate, even as my servant Joseph." D&C 6:22-25
Here, the Lord showed Oliver another way to receive revelation, through the Spirit speaking peace to his mind and heart.  Oliver was then granted the gift of translation.  However, Oliver was used to the idea of just asking a simple question and having his divining rod give a quick reply of yes/no.  Translation through any means is a much more difficult and complex process.  As we read in D&C 9, it required working it out in one's mind until one found a probable answer, and then asking if it is right (the yes/no question).  Oliver skipped the first part.  And it may be he did not understand how the Spirit works on the higher level of speaking to the mind and heart, as the Lord also had to explain this to him:

"Behold, you have not understood; you have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought save it was to ask me.

But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right.
 But if it be not right you shall have no such feelings, but you shall have a stupor of thought that shall cause you to forget the thing which is wrong; therefore, you cannot write that which is sacred save it be given you from me.
 Now, if you had known this you could have translated; nevertheless, it is not expedient that you should translate now." D&C 9:7-10




We should not be surprised that the Lord allows mankind to use props that can assist them in knowing God.  Joseph Smith used both the Urim and Thummim and his seer stone in a hat.  Moses and Aaron used his staff.  Jesus once used clay to heal a blind man's eyes. 

It is likely that Oliver used his divining rod less and less, as he learned to receive revelation without it, just as Joseph learned to receive revelations without his seer stone and the Urim and Thummim.

Section 7

In section 7, we learn of a revelation given to the apostle John, which he wrote down and hid under a rock in his day. Such a revelation as this for Joseph and Oliver opens up some interesting concepts for us. 

First, Joseph's process of translation. In translating the Book of Mormon, Joseph often had the plates closed while he was "translating." In making his "translation" of the Bible, he used a German Bible and not ancient texts in the original Hebrew and Aramaic. Many of the sections "translated" in the Bible were new teachings that could not be found in any documents of Joseph's day (Book of Moses, JST on Abraham and Melchisedek). Now, we have a document that was hidden, but not in Joseph's vicinity to touch, hold, or translate. Again, we will see similar events with the Book of Abraham - where the text of the papyri do not match with Joseph's translation. Still, the Book of Abraham is amazing, because it brings up many ancient concepts that were not available in Joseph's day.

Clearly, the "translation" process for Joseph was unlike normal translation process used between two languages by modern scholars. Instead, documents and questions seem to be catalysts for receiving revelation regarding ancient texts truths. 

 Why did God not just give Joseph a "normal" revelation to answer this question regarding the apostle John's being changed/translated (interesting pun on the word we're discussing)? Why did John hide his document under a rock?

From learning about the Dead Sea Scrolls and other ancient Near Eastern document, many were hidden in caves, literally under rock. Moroni hid the gold plates "under a rock." Here is yet another pattern. Ancient knowledge comes up from the dirt to enlighten us in our day.

In our own search for personal revelation, which Pres Nelson has encouraged us to seek, we will find that events, trials, blessings, and study bring forth important questions. Such things become catalysts for our own revelation. As with Oliver Cowdery, we cannot just seek yes/no answers. Some things, in fact, many things require complex answers. Such things we need to study out in our minds and hearts, seeking for possible answers in scripture, talks of the prophets, guidance from parents and Church leaders, and from the knowledge God has revealed to the world. In doing so, God can catalyze the best answer for us, sometimes bringing direct revelation to us, occasionally bringing the answer though others.

The more we search, the more God can reveal to us.


 

 

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/