Come Follow Me: D&C 49-50
Joseph Smith's time was a period of many new churches springing up. The United Society of Believers in Christ's Second Appearing, or Quaking Shakers, as they are known because of the ecstatic behavior during worship, came from England to America in 1774. Their beliefs included: celibacy, revelation, communalism, equality of the sexes, and pacifism. They also believed the 2nd Coming had already occurred, with Jesus returning in the form of Mother Ann Lee, one of the founders of the religion. While in the mid-19th century they had 15 communities, due to celibacy practices and few converts, today they only have one community in Maine.
Leman Copley, a new convert who previously was a Shaker, was called to reject his old beliefs that were not in concert with the revealed truths of the Restored Church. This included the concept that Christ's 2nd Coming would be one in power and glory, not another person born on the earth. Christ would bring a Millennium across the entire earth, which would last one thousand years; not create a few small congregations.
We see a major difference in the religions in this thing. The Shakers were a good people, but were not missionary-minded. As with the Amish today, they do not seek to convert and change the world, only develop and maintain their own little communities.
Meanwhile, the Lord was teaching Joseph Smith that the Restored Gospel was revolutionary. While beginning small, it would someday fill the earth. Revelations regarding Zion were already providing great insight into the small Church.
"Behold, I say unto you, that they desire to know the truth in part, but not all, for they are notbefore me and must needs repent." (vs 2)
This is how much of the world is today. They want only the parts of truth that sound good to them. Changing our will to match God's will, shifting our beliefs to match God's truth, is hard. Today, we hear many people seeking to speak their "truth." Suddenly, truth is whatever a person believes or feels. Beliefs and feelings are important things, but they do not necessarily equal truth.
When we choose our own truth, rather than God's truth, we are fall into error and sin. We are called to be "agents unto themselves," who will choose God and His truths. Instead, much of the world now seeks their own truths, becoming free of God, whose laws and truths often are not comfortable to lifestyles and ways of thinking.
"And my servant Leman shall be ordained unto this work, that he may reason with them, not according to that which he has received of them, but according to that which shall be him by you my servants; and by so doing I will bless him, otherwise he shall not prosper." (vs 4)The world is full of the philosophies of men, mingled with scripture. Even Latter-day Saints, like Leman Copley and us, can be heavily influenced by such beliefs. It isn't easy to distinguish between God's truth and the philosophies of men, especially when they quote scripture, as did the Shakers. To minimize being influenced by the world (either by men or devils, as discussed in the last lesson), we can generally rely on two things: the Holy Ghost and the teachings of living prophets. It requires a combination of these two guides to believe the things of God and to do the will of God.
Why the two? First, we do not always listen well to the Holy Ghost. As with Martin Harris and Joseph Smith regarding the 116 manuscript pages, we often ask God to bend to our will, and continue to beg until God gives in, allowing us to learn from our mistakes, because we would not truly listen to God. We allow our will and the philosophies of men and devils to replace our bending our will toward God.
Second, even prophets can make mistakes. Brigham Young is a good example of this. While he did some very incredible things as a prophet, he was wrong on a handful of teachings, such as blood atonement, Adam-God, the reasoning for the priesthood ban, and plural marriage required for exaltation.
Combined, the Holy Ghost and the guidance from prophets and other servants the Lord has given us (stake presidents, bishops, etc), keeps us close to God's will and truth. With time, we can then receive revelation upon revelation, until we know all truth (D&C 42:61).
When Joseph first arrived in Kirtland, he found members who had confused the Holy Ghost with deceiving spirits. As mentioned in a previous lesson, some members thought the Spirit was leading them into strange actions: scooting along the ground, making weird noises, even acting like a baboon. Some believed they were receiving revelations, which were received from the wrong source. Hiram Page, with his seer stone, was not the only person being deceived.
This section gives us a guide on how to determine which spirits are of God and which are not. It can help us to determine if we are really listening to the Holy Ghost, or some other source. Again, we find the deceiving spirits can include devils and men. The section calls the men, "hypocrites" and "deceivers," who are leading many astray. The Lord promises that those who have been deceived shall eventually be reclaimed, once they realize the truth. However, judgment awaits those who actively teach false doctrines in order to deceive.
Our world is currently filled with deceivers, many of whom are true believers in the things they teach. We should not follow any human, whether famous actor, politician, or intellectual, without deeply pondering and considering what the person is teaching.
The Lord offers to reason with us, as men reason one with another. This gives us a guide in how we should consider the teachings of men around us. Use our heads. Don't take anything for granted. Consider every little bit, because we need to know if some, all, or none of it is true.
"Verily I say unto you, he that is ordained of me and sent forth to the word of truth by the Comforter, in the Spirit of truth, doth he it by the Spirit of truth or some other way?
"And if it be by some other way it is not of God." (vs 17-18)
In a series of question and answers, God discusses the role of teacher and listener. In each case, he asks if the teaching is from the Spirit of truth or some other source. While the thing may be taught is a political, scientific, medical, religious, or other teaching, if the Holy Spirit confirms it to both the teacher and listener, then it is from Him.
In addition, for those of us having received a testimony of living prophets, we can rely upon their teachings and examples to help us determine truth from error. Recently, they have discussed political events, black lives matter as an eternal principle, immigration, and Covid 19 vaccinations, among other important guidance.
With so many philosophies sweeping around the world today, it is important for us to find God's truth whispering on the wind. We can no longer turn a blind eye to these things, or stand firm on our own philosophy, or a philosophy taught us by our favorite talk radio show host. We will need to be pliant enough to change our minds when the Spirit guides us to a higher truth. We will also need to stand firm on the things the Spirit and prophets have reaffirmed.
Without using these guides, we can easily get lost and confused by the deceiving spirits that are all around us today.