Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Why I Believe: Evidence Twenty-two: Joseph Smith and Consistent Visionary Leadership

101 Reasons Why I Believe Joseph Smith Was A Prophet

Evidence Twenty-two: 
Joseph Smith and Consistent Visionary Leadership© 

The following quotations from Joseph Smith constitute my twenty-second evidence that he was a Prophet of God. In his unassuming, straight-forward manner, Joseph recorded the following as he convened a Church council on the morning of 15 January 1836:
At nine a.m., met in council agreeable to adjournment, at the Council room in the Temple, and seated the authorities of the Church agreeable to their respective offices. I then made some observations respecting the order of the day, and the great responsibility we were under to transact all our business in righteousness before God, inasmuch as our decisions will have a bearing upon all mankind, and upon all generations to come.(1)
From today's perspective it seems like such a simple, self-evident thing that the presiding councils of the Church should conduct business righteously because of the long-range implications their decisions can have. Despite perhaps stating the obvious, I remind readers that Joseph was 31-years-old when he said this. That, of itself, betokens the extraordinary vision and wisdom of the passage.  

But what appeals to me most is the fact that Joseph Smith never lost sight of who he was–an instrument in the hands of the Lord–he never took his eye off of the objective and its importance–he led God’s only true Church on earth which could guide people to salvation, therefore, their work must be marked by a serious righteousness consistent with that purpose–and he constantly kept those objectives before his people–that what they were doing involved truly awesome consequences. All of this, therefore, imposed the “great responsibility ... to transact all our business in righteousness before God.” In Joseph’s mind, Church leadership did not just depend upon the cumulative knowledge and intelligence of the council; there was a more important spiritual qualification required to lead God's Church.

The business before the council that morning was consideration of a draft of rules of conduct while in the Kirtland Temple.  It was read three times and the minutes of the meeting state that there were "a few queries, answers, and debates" but the several quorums finally voted unanimously to accept the rules "as a law to govern the House of the Lord in Kirtland."  Of even more interest is another passage from those minutes explaining additional teaching by Joseph Smith regarding making decisions in righteousness. The investigation of the subject, the minutes said, showed that many who deliberated were "darkened in their minds."  That drew the following from the Prophet:
... respecting the privileges of the authorities of the Church, that each should speak in his turn and in his place, and in his time and season, that there may be perfect order in all things; and that every man, before he makes an objection to any item that is brought before a council for consideration, should be sure that he can throw light upon the subject rather than spread darkness, and that his objection be founded in righteousness, which may be done by men applying themselves closely to study the mind and will of the Lord, whose Spirit always makes manifest and demonstrates the truth to the understanding of all who are in possession of the Spirit.(2)
Joseph’s critics gainsay many things he said and did, but reading his history in detail reveals to this writer that he possessed a constant and consistent clear vision of his purpose and role in life as the Prophet of the Restoration, and one is extremely hard pressed to find a time or times when that mission was set aside, forgotten, ignored, or trifled with in any way.   He also understood the principles whereby those in councils were to act in righteousness.  He not only taught Church leadership to act righteously, but he taught them how to do so.  Answers to such practical questions were a hallmark of his ministry. That fact is that acting in “righteousness before God” could be considered his personal motto and guided his brief but miraculous and marvelous work.  I do not believe that can be successfully challenged.

God be praised for the leadership example and teachings Joseph Smith provided for all subsequent prophets and leaders in this the Dispensation of the Fullness of Times.

Let’s think together again, soon.

Notes:

1. Joseph Smith, HC 2:370, Friday, 15 January 1836, emphasis added.

2.  Ibid, emphasis added.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Conscious or Casual Our Preparation is Cumulative

A story from the life of David O. McKay

[Today's blog is devoted to sharing with you a little-known story about David O. McKay which I first encountered last week while preparing a Sunday School lesson.  Sister Smith's profound commentary before and after invite further reflection.  I encourage readers to read the entire talk.  DWB.]

"Preparation may be conscious and skillful or casual and undirected, but, in either case, it is cumulative.
...

We may not realize it at the moment of choice, but our response is an infallible index of what we have become.
One of our favorite Church stories is that of President McKay when he was a young man loading stock for market with his brothers.
The McKay brothers, unlike many of their neighbors, did not dress in overalls and heavy boots when they were working. By rural standards they were elegantly turned out as they loaded calves, sheep, and hogs into the waiting wagons with speed and grace before an admiring crowd of small boys. Nearing the end of their labor, young David O. decided he would hoist the last hog aboard all by himself.  As he started the mighty heave it would take, he slipped–and ended with the hog on top of him and both of them deep in the loading corral mud.  The boys on, and peering through, the fence waited expectantly.
Slowly, David extricated himself, wiped futilely at the muck that now almost covered him, and then said to the assembled youngsters, “No use waiting, boys; I’m not going to swear!” His decision not to swear on this occasion was the same as it had been on many occasions.  The control of his tongue, in a moment of stress and humiliation, was reinforced by the countless other times when he had resisted the easy and insecure recourse of profanity.
We rarely succumb to temptation in one overpowering moment.  The strength of living by a principle is built line upon line, time upon time, of facing a moment of challenge and responding appropriately. Every important choice is the inevitable result of a hundred earlier choices."

Barbara B. Smith, “‘...For Such a Time as This,’” devotional address, 16 February 1982, in Brigham Young University Fireside and Devotional Speeches (Provo, UT: University Publications 1982), p. 92, emphasis added.  Also available on the web at: http://speeches.byu.edu/?act=viewitem&id=1109

Let's think together again, soon.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Taps Or Reveille?

TAPS OR REVEILLE?

Early in 1833, the Prophet Joseph Smith wrote a letter to N. E. Seaton editor of a newspaper. He did so he said, “to contribute my mite at this very interesting and important period.” His missive quickly turned into a warning to the nation.  He was “carefully viewing the state of things” in the United States, “and ... looked at it with feelings of the most painful anxiety.” Two things were evident to the observant Prophet. The “manifest withdrawal of God’s Holy Spirit, and the veil of stupidity which seems to be drawn over the hearts of the people....”  The ancient covenants of God with Israel and the Gentiles were broken and the earth stood defiled. “The plain fact is this,” he wrote, “the power of God begins to fall upon the nations.” He went on to say that “the Gentiles are like the waves of the sea, casting up mire and dirt, or all in commotion, and they are hastily preparing to act the part allotted them, when the Lord rebukes the nations, when He shall rule them with a rod of iron, and break them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.” Joseph is evidently speaking of the famous dream of King Nebuchadnezzar recorded in Daniel 2, wherein he saw a large statue representing the nations and the kingdoms of the world.  It was hit and destroyed by a large stone rolling down out of the mountains. The stone represented the kingdom of God which “shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever.”(1) 

Joseph went on to say that the Lord revealed to him 18 months previously
“...that He was then withdrawing His Spirit from the earth; and we can see that such is the fact, for not only the churches are dwindling away, but there are no conversions, or but very few: and this is not all, the governments of the earth are thrown into confusion and division; and Destruction, to the eye of the spiritual beholder, seems to be written by the finger of an invisible hand, in large capitals, upon almost every thing we behold.(2)
This statement is representative of a large number of similar predictions by the Prophet about the destruction of the nations and kingdoms of the world, including the United States, prior to the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. These have been echoed by numerous other predictions and warnings by subsequent Apostles and Prophets.(3)

More recently Elder Neal A. Maxwell, made a comment similar to that of Joseph Smith, and like the Prophet he also looked toward the Kingdom of God. In 1975 he spoke to a group of genealogists at a symposium at BYU.  He told them:
As one who has spent a little time in public service, when I am around the secular institutions very long (however sincerely people may be trying to improve these important institutions and to make them work), if I listen closely, what I hear is the sound of taps–a kind of sense of sadness, in which they may not be able to arise to the occasion, though I hope they do. However, when I am around the Kingdom of God, if I listen closely, what I think I hear is the sound of reveille–a kind of giant awakening, in which we are deliberately being stirred to do the things that are ours to do.(4)
Wikipedia tells us that “Reveille” is a bugle, trumpet, or pipes call associated with the military “to wake military personnel at sunrise.” It comes from the French word for “wake up.” What are “the things that are ours to do”? Rather than succumbing at the death knell of Taps, Latter-day Saints are to awake and arise at Reveille and go to work building God’s kingdom–first. The JST version of Mt. 6:33, which in the JST is verse 38, is insightful.  It reads, “Wherefore, seek not the things of this world but seek ye first to build up the kingdom of God, and to establish his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.”

Lets think together again, soon.

Notes:

1. Dan. 2:44.  The letter from Joseph Smith to N. E. Seaton, 4 January 1833, may be found in HC 1:312-16 and TPJS, 13-18.  I recommend reading the entire document.

2. Joseph Smith, TPJS, 16, emphasis added.  The revelation of which he spoke concerning the withdrawal of the Spirit may be found in D&C 63:32-33, given 30 August 1831.

3. A collection of many such statements may be found in, N. B. Lundwall, comp., Inspired Prophetic Warnings to all Inhabitants of the Earth: Being a Compilation of Ancient and Modern Prophecies, Sixth edition enlarged, (Salt Lake City: Publishers Press, n.d.).  See also the very interesting and specific predictions in, Orson Hyde, “A Timely Warning from an Apostle of Jesus Christ,” letter from Orson Hyde to the editor of the Missouri Republican, 1 January 1862, in Millennial Star 24 (May 3, 1862), p. 274-275.

4. Neal A. Maxwell, “Devotional Address.”  In Eleventh Annual Priesthood Genealogical Research Seminar, compiled by the Priesthood Genealogy Division of the Genealogical Department of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  Provo, UT: Brigham Young University, 1976, p. 275, emphasis added.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Why I Believe: Evidence Twenty-one: Joseph Smith’s Daily Spirituality

101 Reasons Why I Believe Joseph Smith Was A Prophet

Evidence Twenty-one: 
Joseph Smith’s Daily Spirituality© 

During this morning’s reading in Joseph Smith’s history of the Church, I once again heard and felt the promptings of the Spirit bear witness of Joseph Smith’s prophetic calling. I am reading in late December 1835, and on just a couple of pages two simple items stood out.

First, his devotion to his calling.  On Monday 21 December his history reads: “Spent this day at home, endeavoring to treasure up knowledge for the benefit of my calling.” The next day he wrote: “Continued my studies. O may God give me learning, even language; and endue me with qualifications to magnify His name while I live.”  What was he studying? Subsequent entries tell us that he was trying to learn Greek and Hebrew. On the 23rd he recorded, “In the forenoon, at home studying the Greek language. The day after Christmas he said, “Commenced again studying the Hebrew language, in company with Brothers Parrish and Williams.”

The simplicity and directness of these unadorned statements carries their own power.  Here we find a prophet of God dedicated to treasuring up knowledge “for the benefit” of his calling, accompanying his labors with a prayer that God would endow him “with qualifications to magnify” the name of God.  Whatever else one may say about Joseph Smith, one thing is not said often enough–he recognized the importance of knowledge and labored regularly through his brief life to acquire such information as would assist him in fulfilling his calling.  We never hear anti-Mormons talk about this positive quality in his personality.  Nor do they acknowledge the second one that permeates this period of his history.

How often do you write prayers in your journal or history?  I venture to guess that for most of us it is a rarity.  Just notice these half-dozen examples in late December 1835 from Joseph’s history. On Sunday the 20th he was visited by brothers Palmer and Taylor. He showed them the Egyptian records he possessed and at day’s end he wrote, “O! may God have mercy upon these men, and keep them in the way of everlasting life, in the name of Jesus. Amen.” Monday he spent studying as noted above and thanked the Lord in his history “for His blessings to my soul, His great mercy over my family in sparing our lives. O continue,” he prayed, “Thy care over me and mine, for Christ’ sake.” Tuesday, as we have already read, he prayed “O may God give me learning, even language; and endue me with qualifications to magnify His name while I live.” Later that day he noted that his scribe was “unwell” and this prayer followed: “O may God heal him. And for his kindness to me, O my soul, be thou grateful to him, and bless him. And he shall be blessed of God forever, for I believe him to be a faithful friend to me, therefore my soul delighteth in him. Amen.”  Again on Monday the 28th he attended a council meeting of the Seventy, after which he recorded this plea: “...my heart was made glad while listening to the relation of those that had been laboring in the vineyard of the Lord, with such marvelous success. And I pray God to bless them with an increase of faith and power, and keep them all, with the endurance of faith in the name of Jesus Christ to the end.”(1)

As fond as Joseph’s enemies are of finding every wart, every supposed iniquity, every slight, every manifestation of pride or temper, these simple but powerful daily expressions of dedication and spirituality are never discussed by them. One wonder’s why, with the frequency with which they are sprinkled through his writings, they are so conveniently overlooked. To me they bear witness, not only of the nature of his private religiousness, but of his calling as well.

Thank God for Joseph Smith.

Lets think together again, soon.

Notes:

1. All of these entries may be found in HC 2:344-46.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Why I Believe: Evidence Twenty: Joseph Smith and the “New Heart” Promised for the Last Days

101 Reasons Why I Believe Joseph Smith Was A Prophet

Evidence Twenty:  
Joseph Smith and the “New Heart” Promised for the Last Days© 

Last Sunday I taught the Gospel Doctrine lesson in Sunday School.  The material came from the book of Jeremiah. For me, Jeremiah in some ways is an interesting contrast to Isaiah.  While Isaiah is obscured by the metaphorical language of Hebrew poetry, Jeremiah is rather plain and straight forward, though he too uses a lot of symbolism. In any case, last week’s lesson gave rise to another “evidence” for the prophetic calling of Joseph Smith. It is one I felt was worth sharing more widely than Sunday School.

The lesson combined two seemingly unrelated topics–the gathering of Israel and Jeremiah’s great prophecy about how in the last days the Lord would write God’s law in their hearts. Many modern Mormons find the “gathering of Israel” a fairly dry if not boring subject. That is sad because Joseph Smith said it was one of the more important doctrines in the last days. Indeed, he returned to the subject numerous times and his commentary on the parables in Matthew 13 on that subject is a masterpiece.  But that is for another day. It was an important topic for Jeremiah as well.  Fifteen of the fifty-two chapters (29%) in his book contain significant statements about the gathering. Of those fifteen, three entire chapters and significant portions of three more are devoted to the subject. In each instance prophecies of the scattering and gathering of Israel are generally found together. Judah would have found his prophecies of the scattering and the judgments and destruction attendant to it as disheartening and depressing messages. But, it is as if Jeremiah felt compelled to hold out hope for the future by also  predicting a glorious gathering attendant with the supreme blessings of the Lord.  

According to Jeremiah and Ezekiel the judgments and scattering came upon Judah because of the extreme corruption and wickedness of the society, caused by corrupt and wicked leaders.  In Jeremiah 16 following a litany of accusations and a prediction of the scattering, the people have the temerity to question the prophet as to why those judgments were to come upon them. He mentions the wickedness of their fathers, and then in verse twelve he says, “And ye have done worse than your fathers; for behold, ye walk every one after the evil imagination [Heb. reads “stubbornness” or “hardness”] of his evil heart, that they may not hearken unto me....” So, the important principle to mention here is that one of the major reasons for the scattering in 587 BC, was because of the hard and evil hearts of the people. This phrase appears thirteen times in the Old Testament, eight of which are in the book of Jeremiah.(1) Obviously the stubborn or hard hearts of the leaders and the people were at the root of the wickedness of Israelite society in this period.

Jeremiah was a prophet for 40 years and during part of that time he was contemporary with Lehi, who also predicted judgments upon and scattering of the people because of the wicked state of their society. Lest we think Lehi may have overdone things a bit when he claimed that he fled because the people were seeking his life because of his predictions and accusations, Jeremiah himself tells of the prophet Urijah who was also their contemporary. He fled to Egypt because they also sought his life.  Jeremiah says that Jehoiakim sent men after him. They tracked him down and brought him back to Jerusalem. Then Jeremiah reports that Urijah was brought unto Jehoiakim “who slew him with the sword, and cast his dead body into the graves of the common people.”(2) That qualifies as exhibit “A” for a hard heart, and shows us that the accounts of the conditions in Jerusalem given to us by Jeremiah and Lehi are accurate.

But, Jeremiah said a day would come when things would be different.  His famous prophecy is found in chapter 31: 31-33:
31) Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: 32) Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the Lord: 33) But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel: After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
The prophet Ezekiel spoke similarly:(3)
19) And I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within you; and I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them an heart of flesh: That they may walk in my statutes, and keep mine ordinances, and do them: and they shall be my people, and I will be their God.
Here is the main point of this essay. If the problem was a hard and wicked heart, the solution is a soft, open, willing, and obedient heart. The statements of both Jeremiah and Ezekiel state that in the latter day the soft open hearts of the people would be due exclusively to the action of God–he would give them a soft heart of flesh and write his law in their hearts. This is perfectly acceptable to many Protestants, particularly those who closely follow Luther and Calvin. Reformed Calvinists in particular would say this is exactly in line with the  “by grace ye are saved, not by works” doctrine.

Some reflection, however, raises the question as to how meaningful that changed heart would really be if it is caused solely by the actions of God without anything being done on the part of the individual to assist in its development. Predestination or the fickle will of God could be the only explanation for God holding one group of people accountable for having obdurate hearts and giving a soft heart to another, completely different group and promising them glorious blessings.  But this only heightens how meaningless a discussion of a new heart really is with those who deny any requirement or value of  personal effort. Moreover, how can prophecies about a new heart on those conditions give any hope to Jeremiah’s contemporaries with hard hearts? It also ignores an imperative passage in Ezekiel 18:31 which says, “... and make you a new heart and a new spirit....” This implies some effort on the part of the individual. But it is not as Elder Bednar once characterized the beliefs of some Saints that “we must make the journey from good to better and become a saint all by ourselves, through sheer grit, willpower, and discipline....”(4)  It is not an “all-or-none” situation either way.

If we accept this latter statement from Ezekiel it suggests that the process of having a new heart is dual in nature, it requires effort on our part as well as the actions of God in our behalf. If we assume with Paul, that we really do have to do something in working out our own salvation, then unfortunately, we look in vain  for any detailed discussion of this issue in the Bible as we have it. The problem is correctly identified and the Lord promises it will be reversed in a future day, but there is no explanation as to how man carries out his role in the process.

Enter the Book of Mormon.  The incomparable Alma speaks of the “mighty change” which took place in his own heart and that of his people, but later he asks his audience if they have experienced this mighty change.(5)  Yet, even that important reference is superceded by the great temple sermon of King Benjamin early in the book of Mosiah. There it becomes evident that there are several spiritual steps leading up to the mighty change of heart and it is clear that both the Atonement of Christ and the actions of the people are necessary for the mighty change of heart to take place. Here are just four pertinent passages from that sermon, beginning with Mosiah 2:9, 3:19 and 4:2 (my emphasis added):

Preparation:   
9) My brethren, all ye that have assembled yourselves together, you that can hear my words which I shall speak unto you this day; for I have not commanded you to come up hither to trifle with the words which I shall speak, but that you should hearken unto me, and open your ears that ye may hear, and your hearts that ye may understand, and your minds that the mysteries of God may be unfolded to your view.
Put off the natural man, put on Christlike qualities :  
19) For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, for ever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.
Pray for mercy and the benefits of the Atonement:  
2) And they had viewed themselves in their own carnal state, even less than the dust of the earth.  And they all cried aloud with one voice, saying: O have mercy, and apply the atoning blood of Christ that we may receive forgiveness of our sins, and our hearts may be purified... (6)
There follows a lengthy discussion about the proper treatment of the poor and then in Mosiah 5:2 we are instructed about,

The Spirit’s work:  
2) And they all cried with one voice, saying: “yea, we believe all the words which thou hast spoken unto us; and also we know of their surety and truth, because of the Spirit of the Lord Omnipotent, which has wrought a mighty change in us, or in our hearts, that we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually.(7)
The above process may be perfectly summarized by this passage found in Helaman 3:35:
35) Nevertheless they did fast and pray oft, and did wax stronger and stronger in their humility, and firmer and firmer in the faith of Christ, unto the filling their souls with joy and consolation, yea, even to the purifying and the sanctification of their hearts, which sanctification cometh because of their yielding their hearts unto God.
As I said above, I do not know of any comparable discussion about the changing of the heart in any Biblical passage! Yet, that, according to Jeremiah and Ezekiel is what will be needed in the last days when Israel and Judah are gathered again and the temple built. Does anyone really believe that young Joseph Smith read the prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel and discovered the major reason for the Lord’s displeasure with Judah about 600 B.C. was that the people had hard hearts which led them into all sorts of spiritual difficulties, so he went searching through the Bible for an explanation how to correct the problem–how to soften people’s hearts–but he couldn’t find any; so, he presumed to make up a story in the Book of Mormon that would provide it? Really? That explanation for the passages in Mosiah 2-5 and Alma 5 does not wash with me. So, we are faced with the wonderful reality of those remarkable chapters which so seamlessly answer the need expressed in Jeremiah and Ezekiel! To me it is another evidence of the Lord’s almost imperceptible guiding hand, bringing together in one in this dispensation all important things from all previous dispensations. As I have pointed out before, Joseph Smith is a man with the answers to many of the most important spiritual questions of all time. Yet sometimes those answers are so subtly woven into the fabric of the Standard Works and the Gospel that it is easy for us to overlook their uniqueness, to miss the singularity of their existence and appreciate the depth of their importance.

For me, of course, this kind of thing simply adds to the evidences we are considering in this topic. It adds evidence and testimony that Joseph Smith was a prophet, inspired by God to bring forth the scriptures and revelations which he did and of their superlative importance in these last days as the Lord prepares the earth for its glorious conclusion.

Thank God for Joseph Smith, man with the answers.

Lets think together again, soon.

Notes:
1. See, 3:17, 7:24, 9:14, 11:8, 13:10, 16:12, 18:12, and 23:17.
2. See Jer. 26:20-23.
3. Ezek. 11:19-20.  See also  Ezek. 36:24-28.
4. David A. Bednar, “The Atonement and the Journey of Mortality,” Ensign (May 2012), p. 42. 
5. See Alma 5:2, 12-14.
6. In connection with items 2 and 3 above from Mosiah, it is evident we must repent.  According to Elder Russell M. Nelson, “Each personal imperfection is an opportunity to change–to repent.  Repentance, at any age, provides needed progress.  It leads to a mighty change of heart, which leads to a love of God and your neighbor, especially that neighbor to whom you are married.  Repentance includes forgiveness, and forgiveness is a commandment.”  See, Russell M. Nelson, “The Doctrinal Importance of Marriage and Children,” address to The Worldwide Leadership Training meeting, February 2012, Internet edition.
7. The reader will also benefit greatly by reading, Wilford W. Andersen, “Receiving and Retaining a Mighty Change,” Ensign, (April 2012): 35-37, in which he stresses that it is the process of entering into the covenant of baptism and receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost, the agent that sanctifies and purifies us, whereby we experience this mighty change of heart.  What he teaches and what I have added from King Benjamin, are in my mind saying essentially the same thing.   However, Elder Andersen goes on to point  out that we "retain" that mighty change by partaking of the Sacrament weekly.  This growth and change for most people is “slow, almost imperceptible.”  See, Ezra Taft Benson, “A Mighty Change of Heart,” Ensign (October 1989), p. 5.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Loving The English Language

Today I just finished a large tome of Ogden Nash’s (ehem) ... poetry.  Many of today’s generation do not know of Nash, his poetry or his humor.  So, for all those out there who love words, but often bump up against the strangeness of English grammar, here is my small attempt to rehabilitate Ogden Nash to Generations X, Y, and Z, and to lighten your day with a tidbit of humor. 

A BRIEF GUIDE TO RHYMING,
or,
HOW BE THE LITTLE BUSY DOTH?

English is a language than which none is sublimer,
But it presents certain difficulties for the rhymer.
There are no rhymes for orange or silver
Unless liberties you pilfer.
I was once slapped by a young lady named Miss Coringe,
And the only reason I was looking at her that way,
she represented a rhyme for orange.
I suggest that some painter do a tormented mural
On the perversity of the English plural,
Because perhaps the rhymer’s greatest distress
Is caused by the letter s.
Oh, what a tangled web the early grammarians spun!
The singular verb has an s and the singular noun has none.
The rhymer notes this fact and ponders without success on it,
And moves on to find that his plural verb has dropped the s and
his plural noun has grown an s on it.
Many a budding poet has abandoned his career
Unable to overcome this problem: that while the ear hears, the ears hear.
Yet he might have had the most splendiferous of careers
If only the s’s came out even and he could tell us what his ears hears.
However, I am happy to say that out from the bottom of this
Pandora’s box there flew a butterfly, not a moth,
The darling, four-letter word d-o-t-h, which is pronounced duth,
although here we pronounce it doth.
Pronounce?  Let jubilant rhymers pronounce it loud and clear,
Because when they can’t sing that their ear hear they can
legitimately sing that their ear doth hear.(1)

Lets think  together again, soon.

Notes: 

1.     Ogden Nash, Selected Poetry of Ogden Nash: 650 Rhymes, Verses, Lyrics, and Poems (New York: Black Dog & Leventhal, 1995), p. 681.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Why I Believe: Evidence Nineteen: Explaining the Existence of Isaiah in the Book of Mormon

101 Reasons Why I Believe Joseph Smith Was A Prophet

Evidence Nineteen:  
Explaining the Existence of Isaiah in the Book of Mormon©

In our ward I teach the Old Testament in Gospel Doctrine with two other teachers.  Today I taught the fourth of five lessons this year on the book of Isaiah.  It was on chapters 50-53, the last of which is the greatest of all Old Testament prophecies about the Savior’s atoning sacrifice.  The teacher’s manual referred teachers to the Book of Mormon story in Mosiah 14-15 where the great prophet Abinadi is brought before king Noah and his merry old priests.   In the course of Abinadi’s hearing one of the priests asked Abinadi the meaning of Isaiah 52:7-10.  After some explanation, including a recital of the entire 53rd chapter of Isaiah, Abinadi answered the question.

While contemplating that episode an important thought struck me, which I believe is a subtle evidence that Joseph Smith was a prophet.  What I am about to relate, I believe almost every active Latter-day Saint has encountered at some time in the Church.  This will be familiar.

Nearly everyone in the Church knows that understanding Isaiah is quite difficult.  In fact, during the three previous Sunday lessons at least a part of each instructor’s discussion was given over to a consideration of this difficulty.  Everyone also knows about several injunctions found in the scriptures, especially the Book of Mormon, to study Isaiah because of his great importance.  Most knowledgeable Mormons also know that significant portions of the book of Isaiah are quoted within the Book of Mormon, much like the story about Abinadi referred to above.  A large section of 2 Nephi–chapters 7-8,12-24, which are entirely quotations from Isaiah–sometimes prove to be a roadblock for young readers and new converts in reading the Book  of Mormon.  It was so for me at age seventeen when I first read the book.  In my ward, which is an extremely active, committed and interested ward, the people are well educated and prosperous for the most part.  We have lots of experienced and seasoned people.  Among the men we have a large room full of as many as seventy-five High Priests, many former bishops (quite a few serving as bishops of student and YSA wards), a number who have served as stake president or in a stake presidency, and at least four former mission presidents.  Many of the women have similar experience.  Yet, it is these people who are discussing the difficulty of reading and understanding Isaiah.  

So here is my point.  When the Book of Mormon came off the press in March of 1830, Joseph Smith was not yet twenty-five years old!  He received the plates when he was twenty-one and worked with them for those years, with some significant setbacks as we all know, to produce the book in the spring of that fateful year.  Let me ask you a question.  If you were going to make up a religious history of the early peoples of America with the centerpiece of the story being a visit of the resurrected Christ to them, would you have woven into the narrative repeated and significant references to and quotations from the prophet Isaiah?  How  much could Joseph Smith have known about Isaiah at his age?  Given its difficulty, would not the better part of wisdom suggest to leave it alone–to leave it out?  How much did you know about Isaiah and what he meant when you were twenty-four years old?  Most would say, even those who have been through four years of high school seminary and four years of college institute courses, not much!  Could it have been much different for young Joseph Smith?

It seems to me that given this background the options to explain the presence of the prevalence of Isaiah in the Book of Mormon are not numerous. With the aid of our critics here are the ones that come to mind:
1. Joseph Smith in his ignorant naivete was extremely audacious, over-confident, and foolhardy.  He rushed in where angels fear to tread.
2. He was extremely creative, if not a religious genius, despite his lack of education, so he knew if he was to make his book credible he must include the difficult as well as the easy.  Nevertheless, he was an impostor guilty of transparent plagiarism.
3. He was not the author of the Book of Mormon, but its translator from ancient plates, by the gift and power of God. 
The presence of the difficult writings of Isaiah in the Book of Mormon, with commentary and explanation which demonstrates not only comprehension but deep understanding of the work, is to me another important evidence of the prophetic status of Joseph Smith. 

Thank God for him!

Lets think together again, soon.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Why I Believe: Evidence Eighteen: Joseph Smith And The Free Mind

101 Reasons Why I Believe Joseph Smith Was A Prophet

Evidence Eighteen: 
Joseph Smith And The Free Mind© 
(Updated 26 November 2014)

A week ago I added the article “The Free Mind” to this blog. It contained a couple of quotations from Thomas Jefferson on the subject. Today I want to match that with similar statements by the Prophet Joseph Smith, which bracket his ministry, and which to me are evidence of his inspiration from Heaven and that he was on Heaven’s errand.

In January of 1834, the First Presidency wrote an epistle to their “brethren abroad”–those scattered from their homes in Missouri.(1) The document concerned the “vast importance and responsibility” of their callings as workers in the Lord’s vineyard. Some were misled, they wrote, to believe that in their own time righteousness was increasing and that the “dark ages of superstition and blindness have passed,” a time when only a few knew of Christ and “when ecclesiastic power had an almost universal control over Christendom, and the consciences of men were bound by the strong chains of priestly power....” In other words the dark ages were over. The brethren, however, took issue with this and invited the Church to reflect on whether the principles of the "modern systems" (governmental and religious), their motives and purposes were “the order of heaven or not.”  In this context the First Presidency utter one of the earliest statements regarding matters of religious freedom and conscience in the Church. It has, in effect, been the manifesto of the Church on the subject since then. They wrote:
We deem it a just principle, and it is one the force of which we believe ought to be duly considered by every individual, that all men are created equal, and that all have the privilege of thinking for themselves upon all matters relative to conscience. Consequently, then we are not disposed, had we the power, to deprive any one from exercising that free independence of mind which heaven has so graciously bestowed upon the human family as one of its choicest gifts.... (2)
The declaration that they were not disposed to deprive anyone from exercising this choicest of gifts is not to be taken lightly either by Church members or by opponents of the Church.  Joseph Smith rejoiced exceedingly in the freedom of conscience. As we shall see, he held it dear all his life. On one occasion he spoke of how good it felt not to be “trammelled” by the creeds and traditions which bound so many in the Christian world.(3) It is ludicrous, therefore, to think that he would seek to bind or coerce the mind of any man regarding his religious beliefs. This “free agency” has been one of the hallmark tenets of Mormonism from the very beginning. But as I say, it is not to be taken lightly because with that freedom comes accountability for one's exercise of that agency intellectually, spiritually, and in daily living. If it is one of heaven’s choicest gifts, it also carries with it one of heaven’s heaviest responsibilities.

Joseph expressed similar sentiments almost two years later during the midst of a very important event in his life.  In mid-December of 1835, he had a serious argument and physical altercation with his younger brother William.  William was conducting a school to teach debate and one evening Joseph attended with, he said, much support and high expectations in his heart. During the course of the debate Joseph felt that William unnecessarily gave offense to fellow apostle William E. McLellin, so he spoke up.  This enraged William; an argument and a scuffle ensued. During that argument William forbade Joseph to speak in his house. Days later William wrote a letter of confession and asking forgiveness of the Prophet.  Joseph accepted his confession and granted forgiveness, but said his duty was to correct error and unrighteousness and he would continue to do so. He concluded with this remarkable and powerful statement:
And if at any time you should consider me to be an imposter [sic], for heaven’s sake leave me in the hands of God, and not think to take vengeance on me yourself. Tyranny, usurpation, and to take men’s rights, ever has been and ever shall be banished from my heart.(4)
Joseph was committed to his duty, even among his family.  If fulfilling it should lead William to conclude he was an impostor, Joseph could live with that possibility, but he also ask William to abide by a higher principle that he (Joseph) cherished and lived by. That was, that he allow Joseph his "rights" and not take vengeance like a tyrant, something his opponents were not always willing to allow him.  The rights and freedoms which, by principle, he granted to others he wished for himself; but it was not to be as we would learn on a sultry June day in Carthage, Illinois.

Most of a decade later Joseph addressed the Saints at a meeting in the “Grove” near the Nauvoo Temple then under construction.  In that sermon he once again voiced the principle:
The inquiry is frequently made of me, “Wherein do you differ from others in your religious views?” In reality and essence we do not differ so far in our religious views, but that we could all drink into one principle of love. One of the grand fundamental principles of “Mormonism” is to receive truth, let it come from whence it may.
We believe in the Great Eloheim who sites enthroned in yonder heavens.  So do the Presbyterians. If a skillful mechanic, in taking a welding heat, uses borax, alum, etc., and succeeds in welding together iron or steel more perfectly than any other mechanic, is he not deserving of praise?  And if by the principles of truth I succeed in uniting men of all denominations in the bonds of love, shall I not have attained a good object?
If I esteem mankind to be in error, shall I bear them down? No. I will left them up, and in their own way too, if I cannot persuade them my way is better; and I will not seek to compel any man to believe as I do, only by the force of reasoning, for truth will cut its own way. Do you believe in Jesus Christ and the Gospel of salvation which He revealed?  So do I. Christians should cease wrangling and contending with each other and cultivate the principles of union and friendship in their midst....(5)
Would to God that confidence that “truth will cut its own way” was a major tenet of American life and of her institutions, especially her churches, schools, and political institutions. We do not need thought police, anti-Mormon abuse bordering on persecution especially from self-righteous and contentious religious zealots, threats from radical Islamists, political correctness, hyper-sensitivity regarding thought and speech, and free speech zones on college campuses--imagine the hypocrisy of that--and many other ways thought is conscripted in our beloved country.

Thank God for Joseph Smith.  We need more like him.  The world needs more like him.  

Lets think together again, soon.

Notes:

1. See the note of B.H. Roberts, in HC 2:4.  

2. “The Elders of the Church in Kirtland, to Their Brethren Abroad,” Evening and Morning Star 2, no. 17 (February 1834): 135.  See also, HC 2:6-7; TPJS, 49, emphasis added.

3. HC 5:340.

4.  HC 2:343, emphasis added.

5. Joseph Smith, sermon of 9 July 1843,  HC 5:499, emphasis added.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The Free Mind

Here is an item from Thomas Jefferson which invites contemplation on the part of radical Islamists who issue Fatwas for the death of those who criticize their prophet or their religion or force conversion on others. It also applies to those who would impose “political correctness” in thought, speech and action; to academicians who set themselves up as thought police; or anyone who would otherwise seek in all its variations to impose conformity of thought and expression on others.
Almighty God hath created the mind free, and manifested his supreme will that free it shall remain by making it altogether unsusceptible of restraint; that all attempts to influence it by temporal punishments, or burthens, or by civil incapacitations, tend only to beget habits of hypocrisy and meaneness, and are a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, who being lord (sic) both of body and mind, yet chose not to propagate it by coercions on either, as was in his Almighty power to do, but to extend it by the influence of reason alone.(1)
He also famously said, "I have sworn upon the altar of god eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind  of man.(2)

We need more like him.  The world needs more like him.  Thank God for Thomas Jefferson!

Lets think together again, soon.

1. Thomas Jefferson, “A Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom,” 1777, cited in James H. Huston, ed., The Founders on Religion: A Book of Quotations, (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2005), pp. 135-136.

2.  Ibid, p. 136.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Joseph Smith's Legacy and Impact

JOSEPH SMITH'S LEGACY AND IMPACT

I was impressed by something I read recently which Will Durant the famous historian wrote about the philosopher Plato in a small book titled The Greatest Minds and Ideas of All Time. Making his case for including Plato as number two on his list of “The Ten ‘Greatest’ Thinkers,” Durant wrote:
Consider that at this moment, in a hundred countries and a thousand cities, a hundred thousand students, young and old, are absorbed in the Republic or the Dialogues, are being slowly and gratefully molded into a sensitive wisdom by the ardor and subtlety of Plato. Here is an immortality of the soul which makes almost insignificant the passing of the flesh.(1)
If I understand Durant correctly, one of his arguments is that Plato is important and can be considered one of the greatest thinkers of all time, at least in the Western tradition, because of the size of impact he continues to have on 100,000 students yearly in a thousand cities in a hundred countries around the world. Of course, this is Durant’s guestimate of Plato’s ongoing impact, but it is not difficult to agree with that sentiment.

Durant’s comments caused me to consider the legacy and impact left by the Prophet Joseph Smith. That led me to check out the statistics for just the Seminary and Institute program of the Church, of which I was a part my entire adult career of about 35 years. Online I tapped into the Seminaries and Institutes of Religion Annual Report for 2013, and here is what I found.

Total enrollment in seminaries world wide (ca. 148 countries) in 2013 = 391,680, 186,996 of which were outside of the United States. Total enrollment in the Institute program was 352,488 of which 199,754 were outside of the United States. For a grand total of S&I students world wide in 2013 of nearly three quarters of a million, 744,168 to be exact.(2)

Now consider that these students are all engaged in one way or another studying the restored Gospel of Jesus Christ as revealed through the Prophet Joseph Smith. Specifically they study the Old and New Testaments, which courses include healthy doses from the JST, Joseph’s inspired additions and alterations to the Bible. They also include numerous courses on The Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, Pearl of Great Price, as well as various doctrinal and historical classes, some of which are devoted to the “teachings” of Joseph Smith as found in his non-canonical writings.

The figures cited above do not include those attending Church universities in Provo, Utah; Laie, Hawaii; and Rexburg, Idaho–many, many thousands more–all of whom are required to study our religion as part of their general education requirements. Nor do they include students in weekly Sunday School, Relief Society, Priesthood Quorums, or symposia, lectures, “educations weeks,” and firesides.  So, let me paraphrase Durant in reference to Joseph Smith:
Consider that at this moment, in a hundred and forty-eight countries and thousands of cities, towns, hamlets, and villages; over seven hundred thousand students, young and old, are absorbed in the Standard Works, are being slowly and gratefully molded into a sensitive wisdom by the ardor and subtlety of Joseph Smith. Here is an immortality of the soul which makes almost insignificant the passing of the flesh.
Indeed, “Here is an immortality of the soul which makes almost insignificant the passing of the flesh.” It is enough to make the enemies of Mormonism fear and tremble in their boots and the Saints to rejoice and praise God, saying “Thank God for Joseph Smith.”

Lets think together again, soon.

Notes:  

1. Will Durant, The Greatest Minds and Ideas of All Time, (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2002), p. 16.

2. Seminaries and Institutes of Religion Annual Report for 2013, (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2013).  Available online at:  https://www.lds.org/search?lang=eng&query=Church+Education+enrollment

Friday, August 29, 2014

Why I Believe: Evidence Seventeen: Joseph Smith “Burst Onto The Public Scene”

101 Reasons Why I Believe Joseph Smith Was a Prophet

Evidence Seventeen: 
Joseph Smith “Burst Onto The Public Scene”© 
(Updated 10 September 2014)

In 2005 Richard Bushman, noted historian and author, published an acclaimed biography of the Prophet Joseph Smith(1) and in the same year an interesting essay comparing the early lives of Joseph Smith and Abraham Lincoln.(2) In one of its more insightful sections–“personal growth”–professor Bushman points out the similar backgrounds of the young men who were only three years apart in age–Joseph being born first. Both were born in rural agrarian environments and had relatively mobile parents moving from one location to another. Both were accustomed to hard work, and both had probably a year of formal schooling. The circumstances of neither young man portended future greatness; they both lived private and obscure lives. Both ended up in Illinois from 1839-44, yet they did not meet, but Lincoln knew of Joseph Smith, and Joseph may have known of Lincoln, though it is uncertain.  

Interestingly, both launched their future careers during their twenty-second to twenty-fifth years, but their adolescences exhibited considerably different characteristics. Lincoln showed more interest in books and learning as well as an interest in words and writing in his earlier years than Joseph did. So Lincoln began studying grammar and mathematics to improve his writing and thinking, and reading law. According to his mother, Joseph was not inclined toward reading, but was given more to “deep study”–i.e., thinking and pondering. The subjects he concerned himself with were the state of his soul and religious matters.

An additional point of comparison leads us to a profound insight.  According to Bushman, Lincoln’s ascent began at the bottom. Though he developed skills as a storekeeper, public speaker, surveyor, and lawyer his first run for public office was a failure. Unlike Lincoln, Bushman says Joseph Smith “burst onto the public scene with a masterpiece, the Book of Mormon, one of the world’s most influential books.”(3) In 1827 when Joseph was twenty-two years old he obtained the plates and the interpreters from Moroni. With the aid of his wife and Martin Harris, he began to translate. He lost the first manuscript and dictated a revelation he was given reproving him. It became an early revelation in the Book of Commandments to be published in 1833. For 18 months between the winter of 1828 and the summer of 1829 Joseph translated, but the bulk of the work was in a three month period. It was a book of more than 580 pages of history, journeys, wars,  sermons, prophecies, visions, and miracles. “The young man who was not known to have read a book or preached a sermon produced a book full of sermons and theological declarations”(4) which came off the press in March of 1830.  Joseph was three months into his twenty-fifth year. A flurry of activity immediately followed and continued unabated for fourteen years.

Just weeks after the publication of The Book of Mormon Joseph organized a church of which he was the presiding elder. A revelation given at the time provided guidance for the new church by way of doctrines and ordinances, and a beginning of an official priesthood. During that momentous event the Lord also gave Joseph Smith a revelation mandating that a record be kept of the history of the Church, a monumental undertaking that continues to the present day. “Then, [after publishing the Book of Mormon] without pause, he went on to the ... heaven-daring task of revising the Holy Bible.”(5)   Regarding that monumental effort which took place from about July 1830 until the summer of 1833, JST scholar Kent Jackson has written:
“At the time he began it, he was a twenty-four-year-old living in the wilderness of North America, with no academic training and no worldly background or skills, taking on the task of making changes in the Holy Bible, the cornerstone of Western civilization.  It was an audacious undertaking, but it was something the Lord instructed the Prophet to do.”(6)
Also, within three months of the Church’s organization Samuel Smith, Joseph’s brother, was serving as one of the church’s first missionaries.  

In the fall of 1830 Joseph sent four missionaries to begin preaching to the Indians, identified in the Book of Mormon as part of God’s chosen people. Although not particularly successful among the Indians, they were successful in converting a large number of people in the Kirtland, Ohio area who were followers of Alexander Campbell and Sidney Rigdon. More than 1000 eventually formed a nucleus of the new church. The Lamanite missionaries were also to locate the site of the New Jerusalem, also spoken of in the Book of Mormon as well as the Bible. It was to be the city of Zion, built in preparation for the Lord’s Second Coming. Their journey took them 1,500 miles to the western border of Missouri. Their work led to the establishing of a colony in Independence, Missouri, and soon to the drawing up of the plat of Zion with the Lord’s temple at its center.  

Meanwhile, in the new year of 1831, the first bishop was called and the law of consecration introduced into the Church. During the spring Joseph received revelations directing him to journey to Missouri with the promise that there the Lord would designate the land of Zion and the spot for the Temple. More than a dozen pairs of missionaries were called to meet Joseph and others in Missouri in the summer. They preached the gospel on their way, baptizing a number of people who would subsequently play important secondary roles in the Church’s early history. Others were directed to “gather” to Missouri.  

Lest you think this was all going on unnoticed by the larger world around Palmyra, New York, it is of interest to note that one of America’s most enterprising journalists, James Gordon Bennett, editor of the New York Morning Courier and Enquirer, visited western New York for two months (12 June to 18 August 1831) to investigate the new religion. On a canalboat from Utica to Syracuse, the Book of Mormon was one of two books on the table in the boat’s reading room. Bennett’s journal shows that he discussed Mormonism in Geneva, New York, about sixteen miles southeast of the Smith farm, and in Canandaigua, ten miles south of the farm. He later used notes he kept to write a two-part feature story which appeared in the Morning Courier and Enquirer on 31 August and 1 September 1831. Though his article betrays some “contemporary attitudes” toward the “Mormonites,” the article, according to Leonard Arrington, also suggests the “rapidity with which misinformation was conveyed by the press.” But to me, one of the most intriguing statements in the entire piece was highlighted by Bushman in his article.  Bennett, speaking to his readers wrote, “You have heard of MORMONISM–who has not?”(7) In August of 1831! An exaggeration to be sure. Or was it? Nevertheless, not everyone had heard of Lincoln’s work by 1834, when he was the same age as Joseph, or 1844 for that matter.

In Missouri a revelation to Joseph specified that Independence, Missouri is the location of the city of Zion.  Joseph designated the site for the temple and it was dedicated. Significantly, ten revelations in the present Doctrine and Covenants were given regarding this trip to Missouri.(8) Back in Ohio, Joseph and Emma moved to Hiram, Ohio to live with the John Johnson family. Here he continued his work on the Joseph Smith Translation (JST) of the Bible and received a number of important revelations in connection with it. That November a conference decided to publish those and other revelations. Their initial plan was to produce 10,000 copies!

One more point is of interest regarding the years 1830-31, Joseph’s twenty-fifth and twenty-sixth years. It pertains to these revelations.  An analysis of the revelations given to Joseph Smith by year indicates that he received nineteen in 1830, and 1831 led all the rest with 38, which is 28% of the total, and Grant Underwood says if we consider word count it "bumps this figure to over 30 percent." Why so many in this period? First, the church was newly organized and there were many questions to be answered. Second, the First Lamanite Mission and Joseph’s subsequent visit to Missouri generated or were part of ten or more revelations. Third, this was a period of work on the JST. In Section 42, given in February of 1831, early in the JST project, Joseph was instructed to ask questions during the process.(9) In addition to corrections to the Bible, a number of the answers he received were full blown revelations later included in the Doctrine and Covenants.

Regarding the revelations given in the year 1830, the authors of one of the most respected of D&C commentaries wrote in summary:
If we consider only the work accomplished during this one year; or study, in their practical bearing upon human affairs, the wonderful truths revealed, we are overwhelmed with the vastness of the vistas opened up before us. It is like trying to penetrate the infinite depths of space, where the handiworks of God bear witness of His majesty, wisdom, power, and love, and where each glistening spark of light, on close examination, turns out to be a world.(10)
And summarizing those given in 1831 they say:
There is a wonderful feature connected with these Revelations–their Unity. Although neither the Prophet Joseph nor his associates had any pre-arranged plan regarding the work in which they were engaged, yet every Revelation fits into its place perfectly, as does each separate stone which the skillful architect lays in the walls of his magnificent cathedral, and as we follow the development from Section to Section, we perceive that there is a plan so grand, so beautiful, and so well adapted to human needs, as to leave no room for doubt concerning its divine origin. Each Revelation, considered by itself, though full of beauty, may be but a stone detached from the building to which it belongs, but seen as a part of the entire structure, it speaks with convincing eloquence of its wisdom, power, and love of the Divine Builder of the Church, our Lord Jesus Christ.(11)
Such comparison between two great early Americans is calculated to inspire the question: “What is the reason that Joseph Smith, relatively poor, private, obscure, and uneducated “burst onto the public scene” without the kind of apparent preparation and ambition which accompanied Lincoln’s gradual rise to prominence?” In a word the answer is revelation!  I believe it was because he was called by God as a prophet, prepared spiritually by Moroni and other angelic beings, endowed with the gift to translate the record of the Book of Mormon and to receive revelation upon revelation–each a world of light and truth, each a unified part of the whole which when seen from the macro-distance is a magnificent cathedral.

Thank God for Joseph Smith!

Let’s think together again, soon.

Notes:

1. Richard L. Bushman and Jed Woodworth, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling, (New York: Alfred A Knopf, 2005).

2. Richard L. Bushman, “Joseph Smith and Abraham Lincoln.”  In Joseph Smith and the Doctrinal Restoration, editor not named, 89-108. The 34th Annual Sidney B. Sperry Symposium. Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2005. President Calvin Coolidge wrote in a preface to a short book on Lincoln: "When Americans cease to admire Abraham Lincoln the Union which he perpetuated will be no more. The strongest proof of the continued power of Lincoln's legacy is the  ceaseless publication of books about him. His greatness increases with each exploration.  It has not been bounded. The authority of his words grows with time. He  spoke and lived the truth.
     The practice of canonization is inherent in the human mind. Men of the past grow into giants, history takes the form of the good old days,  all deeds become  heroic. This has advantage, it is inspiring; but it is not human experience, and it is not true. There is too much written of what men think of Lincoln in proportion to that which tells [us instead] what he was. He does not need to be glorified.  That but degrades. To idealize him destroys him. The greatest inspiration his life can give is in the whole truth about him. Leave him as he is. He came from the soil, he was born of the people,  he lived their life. To make it all heroic, like giving him drawing-room airs, destroys the mighty strength of his example."  [Calvin Coolidge, in Charles C. Johnson, Why Coolidge Matters: Leadership Lessons  from America's Most Underrated President, (New York: Encounter Books, 2013, p. 107.]  I think this same sentiment applies to Joseph Smith.

3. Bushman, “Joseph Smith and Abraham Lincoln,” p. 96, emphasis added.

4. Ibid., 95, emphasis added. Not only did Joseph Smith “burst” on the American scene with the Book of Mormon, but noted American Historian Gordon Wood argued that the book itself came on the scene at the right time in America’s history. It would probably not have been published in the largely oral world of folk beliefs of the 18th century; it may have been “too easily stifled and dismissed by the dominant enlightened gentry culture as just another enthusiastic folk superstition.” If it came following the spread of science and consolidation of authority in the middle decades of the 19th century “it might have had problems verifying its texts and revelations.” However, “during the early decades of the nineteenth century, the time was ideally suited for the establishment of the new faith. The democratic revolution was at its height, all traditional authorities were in disarray, and visions and prophesying still had a powerful appeal for large numbers of people.” See, Gordon S. Wood, “Evangelical America and Early Mormonism,” in Dean L. May and Reid L. Neilson, The Mormon History Association Tanner Lectures: The first Twenty Years (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 2006), p. 26.

5. Bushman, "Joseph Smith and Abraham Lincoln," p. 96.

6.  Kent P. Jackson, “1830: Joseph Smith’s New Translation of the Bible,” in Joseph Smith the Prophet & Seer, edited by Richard Neitzel Holzapfel and Kent P. Jackson, 55.  Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2010.

7. Leonard J. Arrington, “James Gordon Bennett’s 1831 Report on ‘The Mormonites.’” Brigham Young University Studies 10 (Spring 1970): 357, emphasis added, other specific citations above found on 354 and 356.  See also Bushman, “Joseph Smith and Abraham Lincoln,” p. 96. Though the Book of Mormon did not have a favorable reputation in the publishing world during the early days of the Church, just three of literally hundreds of examples which may be cited showing the widespread interest and publicity it received at this time are: Alexander Campbell, “Delusions,” Millennial Harbinger 2 (7 February 1831):90, 93; later published as a pamphlet, Delusions. An Analysis of the Book of Mormon; with an Examination of its Internal and External Evidences, and a Refutation of its Pretences to Divine Authority (Boston: Benjamin H. Greene, 1832); Jason Whitman, “The Book of Mormon,” The Unitarian 1 (1 January 1834): 47-48, and Edward Strut Abdy, Journal of a Residence and Tour in the United States of North America, from April, 1833 to October, 1834 (London: J. Murray, 1835), 55-56.

8. Sections 52, 54-62.

9. D&C 42:56-58. For statistics on the number of revelations given per year, see Grant Underwood, "1831: A Flood of Revelations,"  in Joseph Smith the Prophet & Seer, edited by Richard Neitzel Holzapfel and Kent P. Jackson, 77-78.  Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2010. Seventy-seven of the sections in our present Doctrine and Covenants, or 56% of the total, were received during the three-year period Joseph worked on the Translation of the Bible. As noted in the text, a number of these have a direct relationship to that work and others my yet prove to be linked to the JST.

10. Hyrum M. Smith and Janne M. Sjodahl, The Doctrine and Covenants Containing Revelations given to Joseph Smith, Jr., The Prophet with an Introduction and Historical and Exegetical Notes, (Salt Lake City: Deseret News Press, 1927), 254-55, emphasis added.

11. Ibid., 532-33, emphasis added.  For a review of the "flood of revelations" given in this year and the themes they treat, see Underwood, "1831: A Flood of Revelations," pp. 77-100.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

What I Hope You Will Teach Your Children About The Temple

[Introduction: The following address by President Ezra Taft Benson is another masterpiece regarding temple doctrine. One thing that fascinates me about it is despite its treatment of what most would call deep doctrines such as the “fulness of the priesthood,” the President refers to this information three times as “background” necessary to properly understand the temple.  

As I am wont to do, I once again recommend to readers of this blog to make an outline of this talk.  I have done so and others who have taken this suggestion agree that the process of making an outline opens one’s eyes more clearly to President Benson’s thinking through seeing the way he organizes and presents his thoughts. It at once clarifies important doctrines and raises new questions in the mind.  I have inserted the numbers of the pages of the original article at the page break for your convenience in citing the reference.

Because this is what he would like to have us teach our children, I further recommend parents of children old enough to understand and appreciate this talk to share the link with them. Parents of younger children can use this as a guide to suggest doctrines and principles they should teach their children to be adequately prepared to understand this profound address one day.  DWB.]

*******

WHAT I HOPE YOU WILL TEACH YOUR CHILDREN ABOUT THE TEMPLE

President Ezra Taft Benson

From an address given at the Logan Temple Centennial, 17 May 1984.

The last time I saw President Heber J. Grant was in the Church Administration Building when he was quite aged. President Grant’s chauffeur had driven him to the Church Administration Building where the chauffeur called for another brother to help him assist President Grant, one on each arm, to his office.

I was just entering the glass door opposite the Lion House in the Church Administration Building as President Grant was coming toward the door. He said to the two brethren assisting him, “Isn’t that Brother Benson coming?”

They replied, “Yes.”

He said, “Come here. Come here, Brother Benson.”

I walked over to him, and President Grant said, “Did I ever tell you about the mean trick Brigham Young played on your great-grandfather?”

I said, “No, President. I didn’t know Brigham Young ever played a mean trick on anyone.”

He responded, “Oh, yes, he did. I’ll tell you about it.”

I could see that these two brethren were practically holding President Grant up, so I said, “I’ll come to the house some time. I’d like to hear it.”

He replied, “No, I’ll tell you right here. These brethren can steady me while I tell you.”

He said, “You know where Zion’s Bank and ZCMI are over on the corner?”

I said, “Yes.”

He continued, “Your great-grandfather built the finest home in Salt Lake City on that corner, with the exception of Brigham Young’s home (which, of course, was the Lion House). He had it all finished. It was a beautiful home—two stories with a porch at both levels on both sides of the house. It had a white picket fence around it with fruit trees and ornamental trees and with a little stream running through the yard. He was all ready to move his families in from their log cabins when President Young called him into the office one day. ‘Brother Benson,’ he said, ‘we would like you to go to Cache Valley and pioneer that area and preside over the Saints. We suggest you sell your home to Daniel H. Wells.’

“Now,” President Grant said, “Daniel H. Wells was Brigham Young’s counselor. Wasn’t that a mean trick? Come on, brethren, let’s go.”

In all the years that I had attended the Benson reunions I had never heard that story. So I had it verified by the Church Historical Department, and they assured me that the facts were as President Grant related them. They told me they had a tintype picture of the old home.

Since that time, I have been most grateful for the so-called “mean trick” of President Young, because were it not for that, the Bensons would not have their roots in Cache Valley.

I love Cache Valley, and I love the Saints in the area. And I am most grateful to be here on this anniversary of the Logan Temple centennial. This beautiful temple has truly been a beacon of light to Cache Valley. If our children and their children are taught well, this edifice will continue to be a symbol of special significance.

The temple is an ever-present reminder that God intends the family to be eternal. How fitting it is for mothers and fathers to point to the temple and say to their children, “That is the place where we were / p. 8/ 1`married for eternity.” By so doing, the ideal of temple marriage can be instilled within the minds and hearts of your children while they are very young.

I am grateful to the Lord that my temple memories extend back—even to young boyhood. I remember so well, as a little boy, coming in from the field and approaching the old farm house in Whitney, Idaho. I could hear my mother singing “Have I Done Any Good in the World Today?” (Hymns, no. 58.)

I can still see her in my mind’s eye bending over the ironing board with newspapers on the floor, ironing long strips of white cloth, with beads of perspiration on her forehead. When I asked her what she was doing, she said, “These are temple robes, my son. Your father and I are going to the temple at Logan.”

Then she put the old flatiron on the stove, drew a chair close to mine, and told me about temple work—how important it is to be able to go to the temple and participate in the sacred ordinances performed there. She also expressed her fervent hope that some day her children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren would have the opportunity to enjoy these priceless blessings.

These sweet memories about the spirit of temple work were a blessing in our farm home, our little rural ward of three hundred, and the old Oneida Stake. These memories have returned as I have performed the marriage of each of our children and grandchildren, my mother’s grandchildren and great-grandchildren, under the influence of the Spirit in the house of the Lord.

These are choice memories to me, and I have often reflected on them. In the peace of these lovely temples, sometimes we find solutions to the serious problems of life. Under the influence of the Spirit, sometimes pure knowledge flows to us there. Temples are places of personal revelation. When I have been weighed down by a problem or a difficulty, I have gone to the House of the Lord with a prayer in my heart for answers. These answers have come in clear and unmistakable ways.

I would like to direct my remarks to you parents and grandparents. I would like to share with you what I would hope you would teach your children about the temple.

The temple is a sacred place, and the ordinances in the temple are of a sacred character. Because of its sacredness we are sometimes reluctant to say anything about the temple to our children and grandchildren.

As a consequence, many do not develop a real desire to go to the temple, or when they go there, they do so without much background to prepare them for the obligations and covenants they enter into.
I believe a proper understanding or background will immeasurably help prepare our youth for the temple. This understanding, I believe, will foster within them a desire to seek their priesthood blessings just as Abraham sought his.

When our Heavenly Father placed Adam and Eve on this earth, He did so with the purpose in mind of teaching them how to regain His presence. Our Father promised a Savior to redeem them from their fallen condition. He gave to them the plan of salvation and told them to teach their children faith in Jesus Christ and repentance. Further, Adam and his posterity were commanded by God to be baptized, to receive the Holy Ghost, and to enter into the order of the Son of God.

To enter into the order of the Son of God is the equivalent today of entering into the fullness of the Melchizedek Priesthood, which is only received in the house of the Lord.
Because Adam and Eve had complied with these requirements, God said to them, “Thou art after the order of him who was without beginning of days or end of years, from all eternity to all eternity.” (Moses 6:67.)

Three years before Adam’s death, a great event occurred. He took his son Seth, his grandson Enos, and other high priests who were his direct-line descendants, with others of his righteous posterity, into a valley called Adam-ondi-Ahman. There Adam gave to these righteous descendants his last blessing.

The Lord then appeared to them.

The vast congregation rose up and blessed Adam and called him Michael, the prince and archangel. The Lord himself declared Adam to be a prince forever over his own posterity.

Then Adam in his aged condition rose up and, being filled with the spirit of prophecy, predicted “whatsoever should befall his posterity unto the / p. 9/ latest generation.” All this is recorded in section 107 of the Doctrine and Covenants (verses 53–56) [D&C 107:53–56].

The Prophet Joseph Smith said that Adam blessed his posterity because “he wanted to bring them into the presence of God.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1938, p. 159.)

Here is an illuminating passage from Section 107 of the Doctrine and Covenants which tells us how Adam was able to bring himself and his righteous posterity into God’s presence:

“The order of this priesthood was confirmed to be handed down from father to son, and tightly belongs to the literal descendants of the chosen seed, to whom the promises were made.

“This order was instituted in the days of Adam, and came down by lineage in [order] … that his posterity should be the chosen of the Lord, and that they should be preserved unto the end of the earth.” (D&C 107:40–42; italics added.)

How did Adam bring his descendants into the presence of the Lord?

The answer: Adam and his descendants entered into the priesthood order of God. Today we would say they went to the House of the Lord and received their blessings.

The order of priesthood spoken of in the scriptures is sometimes referred to as the patriarchal order because it came down from father to son.

But this order is otherwise described in modern revelation as an order of family government where a man and woman enter into a covenant with God—just as did Adam and Eve—to be sealed for eternity, to have posterity, and to do the will and work of God throughout their mortality.

If a couple are true to their covenants, they are entitled to the blessing of the highest degree of the celestial kingdom. These covenants today can only be entered into by going to the House of the Lord.

Adam followed this order and brought his posterity into the presence of God. He is the great example for us to follow.

Enoch followed this pattern and brought the Saints of his day into the presence of God.

Noah and his son Shem likewise followed the same pattern after the flood.

Abraham, a righteous servant of God, desiring as he said, “to be a greater follower of righteousness,” sought for these same blessings. Speaking of the order of the priesthood, he said: “It was conferred upon me from the fathers; it came down from the fathers, from the beginning of time … even the right of the firstborn, or the first man, who is Adam, our first father, through the fathers unto me.” (Abr. 1:2–3.)

So Abraham declared: “I sought for mine appointment unto the Priesthood according to the appointment of God unto the fathers.” (Abr. 1:4.)

Moses taught this order of priesthood to his people 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.

“Therefore, he took Moses out of their midst, and the Holy Priesthood also.” (D&C 84:23–25.)

We learn through the Joseph Smith Translation that the Lord further instructed Moses: “I will take away the priesthood out of their midst; therefore my holy order, and the ordinances thereof.” (JST, Ex. 34:1; italics added.)

This higher priesthood, with its attendant ordinances, was taken from Israel till the time of Jesus Christ.

My purpose in citing this background is to illustrate that this order of priesthood has been on the earth since the beginning, and it is the only means by which we can one day see the face of God and live. (See D&C 84:22.)

Between Moses and Christ only certain prophets possessed the right to the higher priesthood and the blessings that could bring men into the presence of God. One of these prophets was Elijah.

Elijah held the keys of the sealing power and did many mighty miracles in his day. He had power to seal the heavens, raise the dead, relieve the drought-stricken land, and call down fire from heaven.

He was the last prophet to hold the keys of the priesthood, according to the Prophet Joseph Smith. He was subsequently translated and taken up into heaven without tasting death.

He, as a translated being, restored the keys of this priesthood to the Savior’s chief Apostles—Peter, James, and John on the Mount of Transfiguration. But within a generation, the Church was destroyed by a major apostasy, and the blessings of the priesthood were removed from the earth.

It took a new dispensation from heaven to restore this blessing to our day.

It is significant that the first revelation given in 1823, recorded as section 2 of the Doctrine and Covenants, gave this promise about the priesthood:

“Behold, I will reveal unto you the Priesthood, by the hand of Elijah the prophet, before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.

“And he shall plant in the hearts of the children the promises made to the fathers, and the hearts of the children shall turn to their fathers.

“If it were not so, the whole earth would be utterly wasted at his coming.” (D&C 2:1–3.)

What priesthood was Elijah to reveal? John the Baptist restored the keys to the Aaronic Priesthood. Peter, James, and John restored the keys of the kingdom of God. Why send Elijah?

“Because he holds the keys of the authority to administer in all the ordinances of the priesthood,” or the sealing power. (Teachings, p. 172; italics added.) So said the Prophet Joseph Smith!

The Prophet Joseph said further that these keys / p. 10/ were “the revelations, ordinances, oracles, powers and endowments of the fulness of the Melchizedek Priesthood and of the kingdom of God on the earth.” (Teachings, p. 337; italics added.)

Even though the Aaronic Priesthood and Melchizedek Priesthood had been restored to the earth, the Lord urged the Saints to build a temple to receive the keys by which this order of priesthood could be administered on the earth again, “for there [was] not a place found on earth that he may come to and restore again that which was lost … even the fulness of the priesthood.” (D&C 124:28; italics added.)

Again the Prophet Joseph said: “If a man gets a fullness of the priesthood of God he has to get it in the same way that Jesus Christ obtained it, and that was by keeping all the commandments and obeying all the ordinances of the house of the Lord.” (Teachings, p. 308.)

So the Kirtland Temple was completed at great sacrifice to the Saints.

Then, on 3 April 1836, the Lord Jesus Christ and three other heavenly beings appeared in this holy edifice. One of these heavenly messengers was Elijah, to whom the Lord said he had “committed the keys of the power of turning the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to the fathers, that the whole earth may not be smitten with a curse.” (D&C 27:9.)

Elijah brought the keys of sealing powers—that power which seals a man to a woman and seals their posterity to them endlessly, that which seals their forefathers to them all the way back to Adam. This is the power and order that Elijah revealed—that same order of priesthood which God gave to Adam and to all the ancient patriarchs which followed after him.

And this is why the Lord said to the Prophet Joseph Smith, “For verily I say unto you, the keys of the dispensation, which ye have received, have come down from the fathers, and last of all, being sent down from heaven unto you.” (D&C 112:32.)
In a later revelation the Lord explained:
“In the celestial glory there are three heavens or degrees;“And in order to obtain the highest, a man must enter into this order of the priesthood [meaning the new and everlasting covenant of marriage];

“And if he does not, he cannot obtain it.

“He may enter into the other, but that is the end of his kingdom; he cannot have an increase.” &C 131:1–4; italics added.)

When our children obey the Lord and go to the temple to receive their blessings and enter into the marriage covenant, they enter into the same order of the priesthood that God instituted in the very beginning with father Adam.

This order entitles them to the same blessings of Abraham, of whom the Lord said that he “hath entered into his exaltation and sitteth upon his throne.” (D&C 132:29.)

Then He significantly added: “This promise is yours also, because ye are of Abraham.” (D&C 132:31.)

So again I emphasize: This order of priesthood can only be entered into when we comply with all the commandments of God and seek the blessings of the fathers as did Abraham by going to our Father’s house. They are received in no other place on this earth!

I hope you would teach this truth about the temple to your children and your grandchildren. Go to the temple—our Father’s house—to receive the blessings of your fathers that you may be entitled to the highest blessings of the priesthood. “For without this no man can see the face of God, even the Father, and live.” (D&C 84:22.)

Our Father’s house is a house of order. We go to His house to enter into that order of priesthood which will entitle us to all that the Father hath, if we are faithful. For as the Lord has revealed in modern times, Abraham’s seed are “lawful heirs” to the priesthood. (See D&C 86:8–11.)

Now let me say something else to all who can worthily go to the House of the Lord. When you attend the temple and perform the ordinances that pertain to the House of the Lord, certain blessings will come to you:

• You will receive the spirit of Elijah, which will turn your hearts to your spouse, to your children, and to your forebears.
• You will love your family with a deeper love than you have loved before.
• Your hearts will be turned to your fathers and theirs to you.
• You will be endowed with power from on high as the Lord has promised.
• You will receive the key of the knowledge of God. (See D&C 84:19.) You will learn how you can be like Him. Even the power of godliness will be manifest to you. (See D&C 84:20.)
• You will be doing a great service to those who have passed to the other side of the veil in order that they might be “judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit.” (D&C 138:34.)

Such are the blessings of the temple and the blessings of frequently attending the temple.

So I say at this centennial commemoration of the Logan Temple: God bless Israel! God bless those of our forebears who constructed this holy edifice. God bless us to teach our children and our grandchildren what great blessings await them by going to the temple. God bless us to receive all the blessings revealed by Elijah the prophet so that our callings and election will be made sure.

I testify with all my soul to the truth of this message and pray that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob will bless modern Israel with the compelling desire to seek all the blessings of the fathers in the House of our Heavenly Father.

Ezra Taft Benson, “What I Hope You Will Teach Your Children About The Temple,” Ensign, (August, 1985), pp. 6,7-10, emphasis in the original.

Lets think together again, soon.