Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011: A Year in Review

Well, as I begin to type this post, it's 10:45 PM on 31 December 2011, and so 2012 is just around the corner. This is the first full calendar year that Study and Faith has been up and running, so it seems like a good time for me to at least remind myself what sorts of things I've done since this time last year. Counting this post, I estimate that I've made a total of... 138 posts... since that time. The busiest month was March at 24, though that's still short of the 29 posts I made in December 2010.

I've asked some questions that never got answered (see here, here, here, here - though I'm sure answers are out there), and some that did (see, e.g., [partial] answers here and here). I've had one guest post, and I'm always up for hosting others - especially seeing the popularity of the first! I've tried to highlight a few other blogs, posts, projects, and articles/stories that I thought were noteworthy; I wrote a cursory review of the seven ecumenical councils to the best of my knowledge at the time; I started a review of Richard Bushman's Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling, but I haven't gotten around to finishing it. I hope I will. I've also had much more of a focus on highlighting selections from older literature, particularly 19th- and early 20th-century LDS writings. In keeping with that, most recently I put up a late-19th-century series on gospel principles by one Daniel Tyler. This ties in with the reading project I initiated in an effort to begin working through freely available early LDS and anti-LDS literature... something I've also apparently decided to mostly set aside for lack of time, but which - like the book reviews - I'm adamant about resuming in the future. I've had some quite popular posts (e.g., here and here), including a few that - at least for a while (I haven't checked lately) were top hits on Google for relevant search terms, and I'm sure that brought in some traffic. In addition to all that, I've also extensively revised my introductory post. Oh, and I created the site banner currently in use.

Offline, I also started once again meeting with some LDS missionaries (at their initiation), but they terminated my 'investigator' status when they decided that I was a bit too tough a sell, and that their time would be better spent with easier targets, essentially. I've also read a few relevant books during the past year, including:
  • Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling by Richard L. Bushman
  • Joseph Smith's Quorum of the Anointed, 1842-1845: A Documentary History, edited by Devery S. Anderson and Gary James Bergera
  • Delusions: An Analysis of the Book of Mormon by Alexander Campbell
  • The Nauvoo Endowment Companies, 1845-1846: A Documentary History, edited by Devery S. Anderson and Gary James Bergera
  • Mormonism Unvailed by Eber D. Howe
  • View of the Hebrews by Ethan Smith
  • The Refiner's Fire: The Making of Mormon Cosmology, 1644-1844 by John L. Brooke
  • Baptism on Account of the Dead (1 Cor 15:29): An Act of Faith in the Resurrection by Michael F. Hull
  • Mormonism and the Nature of God: A Theological Evolution, 1830-1915 by Kurt Widmer
  • The Melchizedek Tradition: A Critical Examination of the Sources to the Fifth Century AD and in the Epistle to the Hebrews by Fred R. Horton Jr.
  • Currently reading: Early Mormonism and the Magic World View by D. Michael Quinn
Recently I haven't had a time to do much in the way of original posting here (not since November!), partly because the end of the semester and the Christmas season have been quite hectic, and partly because my computer crashed and I lost all of my data. (My back-ups are all in Kentucky, and I won't have access to my files, notes, and documents until the end of January.) I hope to resume in earnest in 2012 and to keep it up to the extent I'm able. It's been a busy year; it's been a good year, where involvement with LDS matters is concerned. I'm certain there's a great deal I'm forgetting.

I want to thank everyone who's followed, viewed, contributed, or commented here at Study and Faith during 2011. As of this year, I've finally hit the 'ten official subscribers' mark through Blogger, which doesn't include RSS feed subscriptions (I have no idea if there are any of those) or people who simply make a habit of swinging by from time to time. I hope you all have a blessed new year, and that we can continue to edify one another during it. In the meantime, feel free to celebrate by reading the beautiful poem that Blair Hodges posted at the By Comment Consent blog.

Peace in Christ be with you all,

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Daniel Tyler on the Resurrection

The following is taken from Daniel Tyler, "The Gospel Principles: The Resurrection", Juvenile Instructor 13/23 (1 December 1878): 269.
"But some man will say, How are the dead raised up? and with what body do they come?" (1st Cor., xv., 35).

Some professed Christians answer the above question by saying that the body goes down into the grave and the spirit ascends to God, after which, if the party was righteous, it remains on the right hand of God to all eternity, singing praises to Him, ceasing only long enough on the great day of judgment to hear the plaudits of welcome. While, on the other hand, the wicked, including all except religious folks, no matter how moral, honorable, benevolent or good, must, as soon as the spirit leaves the body, be cast into a lake burning with fire and brimstone, there to remain eternally, except during a period just long enough to hear the awful sentence to return to the same dreadful lake, and be perpetually burning, but never consumed. While others believe that when Christ comes to reign on the earth a thousand years, the spirits of the righteous will receive bodies similar to our mortal bodies - out of the same kind of material, but not the same bodies.

Were we to tell you all the different conflicting views of this wicked, perverse generation of pretended Christians we should have no room or time to tell you the facts in the case.

Well, then, "With what body do they come?" Joseph Smith said they would come with the same body they had here, in all of its parts except the blood. To all Latter-day Saints, that should settle the question, once for all. But as there are some who read the Juvenile Instructor who are not Latter-day Saints, and that our youth may be prepared to answer those not of our faith, I will quote a few passages from the old scriptures, which are also corroborated in the new.

St. Paul, in the same chapter from which we have quoted, comparing the spirit to the germ of grain, says, "God giveth it a body as it hath pleased him, and to every seed his own body." In other words, each spirit, no matter whether of man, of beasts, of fowls or of fishes, will receive its own body in the resurrection. The different elements comprising the different kinds of flesh will not be amalgamated. It will be observed that although the Apostle mentions the body, he no where mentions the blood; in fact, no part of the scriptures indicate that blood, which is the life of the mortal body, will be restored in the resurrection. But they do say that "flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God." It is no where written that neither flesh nor blood can enter into that kingdom. That is to say, flesh with the blood cannot enter. They must be separated. Jesus, who is the type of the resurrection, had His blood shed for the sins of the world, yet He arose with every component part of His body except blood, as He said to His disciples, "handle me, and see: for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have." The prints of the nails will still be visible in His hands and feet when he appears on Mount Olivet to deliver the Jews in the last days. In answer to their inquiry, He will say, "These are the wounds with which I was wounded in the house of my friends." Perhaps some will say all that might be, as His body never decayed or saw corruption. If Jesus was a pattern of the resurrection, as we have indicated, this would make no difference. To show that the same rule holds good with decomposed bodies, we will refer you to the 37th chapter of Ezekiel. Ezekiel saw in a certain valley a great quantity of bones which he says were very dry. How long they had been bleaching we are not told, but the flesh and sinews were gone from off them. After informing us that he had been commanded to prophesy unto them, and promise them life, the prophet says: "So I prophesied as I was commanded: and as I prophesied, there was a noise, and behold a shaking, and the bones came together, bone to his bone. And when I beheld, lo, the sinews and the flesh came upon them, and the skin covered them above: but there was no breath in them." Why is the qualifying adjective the so oftenly repeated - the bones, the sinews, the flesh, the skin? The answer is plain. It is that there may be no mistake as to whether the bones, sinews, flesh and skin were the same that the individuals had before they were slain or died a natural death. This is doubtless done to remove the last doubt from the minds of those who believe in the revelations of God to man.

Should there be any who still doubt, the Lord tells them in the same chapter that when He brings them out of their graves and places them in their own lands, they shall know that He spoke it, and performed it. He says He will put His spirit in them and they shall live. Thus, you see, instead of having blood in their bodies they will be filled with spirit.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Daniel Tyler on the Atonement

The following is taken from Daniel Tyler, "The Gospel Principles: The Atonement", Juvenile Instructor 13/21 (1 November 1878): 242-243.
On the subject of the atonement, this and many previous generations who have called themselves Christians, are and have been as much in the dark as upon the subjects already treated upon. In fact, plain as is the gospel taught in the scriptures, if there is one principle not shrouded in mysticism, but "held in uprightness," by all the men-made churches, we would not know where to look for it.

Several of the churches hold with John Wesley, in substance, "that the offering Christ once made is that of perfect atonement, propitiation and redemption for all of the sins of the whole world, both original and actual; and there is none other satisfaction for sin, but that alone;" while believers in John Calvin, and others of his type, hold that a definite number of God's children, both angels and man, before the foundation of the world, were elected to be saved, while others were doomed to be damned; and that the number is so definite and certain that it cannot be increased or diminished; and that Christ only died for the chosen few who are to be saved.

Neither of these views is warranted either by scripture or sound reasoning. That Christ died for all the sons and daughters of Adam and Eve is correct; but that atonement only applies to the effects of the sin of Adam and Eve, commonly denominated "the original sin." Paul tells us that "as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive." (See Cor., xv, 1.)

Adam's death was such in its nature as to bring upon him and his offspring not only an eternal separation of spirit and body, but an eternal banishment from the presence of God. By the voluntary death of Christ, all mankind, both the righteous and the wicked, will be raised from the dead, and brought before Christ, the Son, to judgment, as He saith "if the Son of man be lifted up he will draw all men unto him." But this does not guarantee a full salvation to all. Adam, before the fall, was an immortal being; and so will all other mortals become immortal through the redemption of Jesus. But immortality is one thing, and a fullness of glory and eternal life is another. They must have their resurrected bodies before coming to judgment, so that they may "be judged according to the deeds done in the body," and "every man be rewarded according to his works." Not according to Adam's, but according to his own works. The atonement, healing the wound of Adam's fall, leaves children free from any charge of sin until they are old enough to know right from wrong. They are then like our first parents were in the garden, with respect to their agency. If they sin they must abide the penalty of the law they violate, unless their sins be remitted through repentance and baptism. Hence the commandment, "Repent, and be baptized for the remission of sins * * * be baptized and wash away they sins" - not Adam's, but your own sins. Death was the penalty of Adam's sin - "as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive."

The Book of Mormon tells us that were it not for the atonement of Christ we were eternally lost, or banished from the presence of God. Peter tells us the same, in substance, when he says "Christ hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God." If we could get to God in any other way, Christ would not have suffered for that purpose.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Daniel Tyler on Christian Denominations

The following is taken from Daniel Tyler, "The Gospel Principles", Juvenile Instructor 13/20 (15 October 1878): 232.
It may seem strange to some of our readers, and especially the young, that there should be so many different Christian denominations, and all teaching different doctrines. One would naturally conclude that almost any person of ordinary ability could understand plain, simple language, such as is found in the Old and New Testaments, which they all profess to believe. Still more strange does it appear when we learn the fact that educated men, who have spent the best part of their lives in the study of literature and religion, differ more widely on religious points than the common people; yet such is the case.

Those differences among learned religionists in olden times were attributed to a species of insanity, as the term is often used in our day: "He is religiously insane." Hence it was that a learned judge once said to St. Paul, "Much learning hath made thee mad." The word mad here is used for insane, vulgarly called crazy, which signifies the same thing.

The learned ministers under the Mosaic law were just as much in the dark as are the present Christians. One of those devout preachers being impressed with the divinity of Christ's mission, more on account of His miracles than of the truths He taught, went to Jesus by night and asked the Savior about the plan of salvation. He was told that "except a man be born again he cannot see the kingdom of God." The minister thought this a new and strange doctrine, and asked a further explanation. He was then told that after a person had been born again to see the kingdom, he must be born of water and of the spirit in order to enter into it. It was too great and too mysterious for the learned priest, or rabbi, as Nicodemus was called. He could not comprehend it. Jesus told him the reason was, that he was not born of the Spirit. He said "The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit." The man knows that he has felt the divine influence as well as you know when you inhale a gentle breeze of air; but if you have never had that Spirit, he cannot tell it to you so that you can comprehend it, any more than you could explain to an unborn babe the sensation of the atmosphere of this world. It must be felt to be understood.

St. Paul says, "The things of man knoweth no man but by the spirit of man that is in him; even so the things of God knoweth no man but by the spirit of God." The same Apostle says, "The Spirit searcheth all things, yea even the deep things of God." For this reason, when Jesus arose from the dead, and did not design to remain much longer with His disciples to tell them just what to say to the people, He would not allow them to preach in their uninspired condition, lest they should, without that Spirit, lead the people astray, as uninspired men do now. He told them to tarry or wait at Jerusalem until they were endowed with power from on high; or, in other words, until they were born of the Spirit, having already been born of water.

The reason, then, that this generation of so called Christians but really infidels, do not understand the gospel plan as it is, is because they have not the spirit of God. There is a passage of scripture to the effect that the wisdom of this world cannot find out God. That those professing to be wise have not the Spirit of God, which is inspiration and revelation to those who enjoy it, must be plain to everyone, from the fact that they claim that all of the gifts and graces which anciently attended the Holy Ghost are done away, and no longer needed. No matter how plain the plan of salvation is, it requires the Holy Spirit to understand it. So say the scriptures, and the experience and observation of all our Elders are that the doctrine herein set forth is correct. Kind reader, if you have not done so, repent and be baptized for the remission of your sins, and receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, by the laying on of hands by proper authority, that you may the more fully learn how to be saved; for on those conditions "the promise is to you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call." Do "not neglect so great salvation." You cannot obtain it in any other way.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Daniel Tyler on Signs and Miracles

The following is taken from Daniel Tyler, "The Gospel Principles: Signs and Miracles", Juvenile Instructor 13/19 (1 October 1878): 221.
"Give us a sign, and we will believe," is familiar to the ear of every Elder who has come into contact with the religious teachers of this generation. If there are cripples or sick persons in the vicinity they will say, "Heal them and we will all believe." If there are none, then they will ask the Elder to break or amputate some member of his body and restore it to its former place and strength. Now this proves two points against them; first, that, although they profess the religion of Jesus Christ, they are infidels. Second, that, although they profess virtue and purity, they are adulterers, and, instead of setting up a howl and cry against the pure principles of celestial marriage, they should remember the proverb, "Those who live in glass houses should not throw stones."

That they are infidels, is plain from the fact that Jesus said, "these signs shall follow them that believe," etc. (see Mark xvi. 17). Now, if they are believers, and hence not infidels, the signs must follow them, for it says they "shall follow them that believe." This language is positive; hence, if the signs do not follow them, they are not believers, as they were promised to all believers. They must be unbelievers, or infidels. Their God is also a nonentity - nothing, being without body or parts.

As to being adulterers we have the same authority as for the other. The statement of the Savior was "an evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign," and He refused to give any except that of His own death and resurrection. What, then, were and are signs given for? Not to convince an adulterous generation of hireling priests, of whose adulteries, the newspapers abound, but to confirm and strengthen the faith of those who already believed. Where they did not believe, Jesus "could do no mighty miracles." "So they went everywhere preaching and confirming the word with signs following." The word was, of course, confirmed to the believer, who alone had the promise, while unbelievers were hardened, and sought to destroy those who worked such wonderful miracles, to prevent the news from spreading, and even sought to kill Lazarus, who had been raised from the dead. The Latter-day Saints are the only true believers who enjoy these blessings. The signs follow them, and no others, in all of their varieties, such as speaking in tongues, interpreting tongues, prophesying, healing the sick, etc. These blessings are not to our leaders alone, but to ourselves. The writer has witnessed all the gifts in the Church, and many sick have been healed under his administration, and evil spirits have been cast out and returned no more. Thousands of others have the same testimony to bear. Those relieved have been from infancy to old age.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Daniel Tyler on the Spirit World

The following is taken from Daniel Tyler, "The Gospel Principles", Juvenile Instructor 13/18 (15 September 1878): 213.
In writing for the Juvenile Instructor, a few plain, simple facts only can be given in a brief article. In addition to what has been said before on the subject of baptism for the dead, I will refer to the case of the thief on the cross. Jesus said to him, "this day shalt thou be with me in paradise." This is often quoted to prove that the thief went right into heaven with Jesus as soon as he was dead. Nothing is, however, further from the truth. That both went to the same place, I will not dispute; but that place was not where God the Father and Jesus, our elder Brother, reside. The Spirit of Jesus went to the spirit world between the time of His death and resurrection, as will be presently shown. No doubt that many, both before and after the crucifixion, in their dying moments, called upon God for mercy and salvation. But His purposes are governed by laws which are immutable and unchangeable. One of those laws declares that "every man shall be rewarded according to his works," which means, "according to the deeds done in the body," and not according to his dying words. Such kind of repentance is not taught by the gospel, but is one of the dogmas of this priest-ridden generation. All will be weighed in the balance, and if good preponderates, they will be rewarded according to the balance in their favor.

As to where Jesus and the thief went after death, or between death and the resurrection, we will let the Apostle decide. Peter says Jesus went and preached to the spirits in prison - the antediluvians. Jesus told the penitent thief he should be with him in paradise. This simply means the unseen world - sometimes called hades, prison, hell and the spirit world. Jesus had not time then, while on the cross, to enter into explanations, but as He was about going to preach to other sinners, many of whom were doubtless penitent in their last moments like himself, He told the thief he should be with Him, where of course, he would hear the gospel as preached to them. But this did not mean in heaven; for, after Jesus arose, and Mary was about to embrace Him, He told her plainly not to touch Him, for He had not yet ascended to His Father.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Daniel Tyler on the Godhead - Part III

The following is taken from Daniel Tyler, "The Gospel Principles: The Godhead", Juvenile Instructor 13/16 (15 August 1878): 183.
Before leaving the subject of the Godhead, I wish to show that the doctrine enunciated by Joseph Smith that men might become as Gods is a scripture doctrine. All claim Jesus as one of the three persons of the Godhead. Paul says He is our elder brother. He also says we shall be heirs of God and joint heirs with Him. What! joint heirs with the second person in the Godhead? So said the inspired Apostle, and "the scriptures cannot be broken." Joint heirs is where two or more hold in common. And His (God's) name shall be in their foreheads (Rev. xxii, 4). In the 7th chapter we are told that one hundred and forty four thousand shall be sealed with the seal of the living God in their foreheads. In another place the same writer says that Jesus shall be crowned King of kings and Lord of lords. Now He could not be so crowned unless there were other kings and lords besides Him and under Him. John says Jesus "gave all who received him power to become the sons of God." In fact, the Lord's prayer implies that all who use prayer legitimately are sons and daughters of God. Otherwise it would be mockery to say "Our Father." Jesus said He and His Father were one - God the Father and God the Son. He prayed that His disciples and all who believed on Him, through their word, might be one, even in same sense that He and the Father were one; or, to use His own words, "even as we are one." This opens up an extensive field of thought. Is it true that Jesus, under His Father, is to be Lord of lords, the "elder brother" among the "joint heirs with him?" and that the joint heirs are to be acknowledged lords as well as Himself? Perhaps some of our Christian friends will claim that such an idea is preposterous - blasphemous. Well, so thought the Jews when Jesus taught the same doctrine. We might quote many passages to the same effect, but our space will only admit one, with a few remarks.

St. Paul, the great Apostle to the Gentiles, says, in the 2nd chapter of Philippians, 5th and 6th verses, "Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus." What mind was that? Read the connection, and see: "Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God." Have the same mind or ambition is the exhortation. To seek the same thing. The Apostle also says, "There are Lords many and Gods many, but to us there is but one God." Jesus is our Lord and we may be lords under him, He being Lord of lords, our posterity standing to us as we stand to our Father, He being over all. Who then is our Father?

Monday, December 5, 2011

Daniel Tyler on the Godhead - Part II

The following is taken from Daniel Tyler, "The Gospel Principles: The Godhead", Juvenile Instructor 13/15 (1 August 1878): 173.
The Lord's prayer is coroborative of the doctrine set forth in our last. Common sense teaches us if we have a father in heaven we must have a mother also. The fact of there being a Father clearly implies the existence of a mother; neither one could exist without the other. Both are included in the word God, in the same sense that the first man and woman on this earth were included in the word Adam, the latter being in the image and likeness of the former. The ancient Israelites understood this doctrine. But during the apostasy from the early church many discarded the Father, as this generation discards the mother. Hence, they ignorantly worshiped the mother, or the "queen of heaven." This is perhaps sufficient to make this part of the subject plain.

Now, has God a body and parts? The scriptures tell us that he ate and drank with Abraham. Jacob said, "I have seen God, face to face, and my life is preserved." We read that Moses "saw his back parts." Isaiah "saw him sitting on his throne, high and lifted up." Jesus looked so much like other men that He was crucified as a criminal; yet He looked so much like the Father that He told Philip that he had seen Him had seen the Father. St. Paul coroborates this statement by saying that Christ was not only in the brightness of His Father's glory, but "the express image of his person." As to passions, anger and love are the two strongest, and He possesses both. "He is angry with the wicked every day." "God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." He "loved Jacob and hated Esau." He "hated the doctrine of the Nicolaitanes."

The Father and Son each have a separate body, although their features are so much alike that Joseph Smith said when he saw them in his first vision the only difference he could discern was that one looked a trifle older than the other. The image of the person was precisely the same. In person they cannot each be in two separate places at the same time. The Holy Ghost, however, which is a divine spirit, power and influence, emanating from the Father and the Son, is omnipresent, or everywhere present, and fills immensity of space. It is that Spirit from which the psalmist, David, inquired where he could flee to escape from. If he soared to the heavens he was there. If he fled to the uttermost parts of the earth, or to the depths of hell he could not hide from it. It is that Spirit which Joel said should be "poured out upon all flesh." The same that would fill the earth with the knowledge of God as the waters cover the great deep. The same that Ezekiel saw fill the bodies of the slain of Israel, and they arose from the dead. In short, it is the minister of God, and reveals His will to the children of men. It opens the vision of the mind to behold eternal things, and foretells future events. It also unfolds the hidden things of the past. By it, through the Son of God, the worlds and all created things were made and are upheld.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Daniel Tyler on the Godhead

I found the following as Daniel Tyler, "The Gospel Principles: The Godhead", The Juvenile Instructor 13/14 (15 July 1878): 166.
Plain as is the doctrine of the "Godhead," as contained in the Old and New Testaments, it is a lamentable fact that the Christain [sic] world has for centuries been drifting into atheism. It would be, perhaps, less surprising if this remark applied only to non professors of religion. But such is not the fact. The very fundamental articles of faith in God, of most denominations, are laid in infidelity. To this cause mainly may be traced the infidelity of the outside world. The great mass of sectarian creeds have the following language: "There is but one living and true God, everlasting, without body, parts or passions." A few leave off the word passions.

Now, my dear readers, reflect for a moment and ask yourselves if you can conceive of the existence of anything, no matter how small, "without body or parts." Your answer must be "No! there could be no such existence. It is nothing." Just so professed atheists argue. Then they say if God is nothing, there is no such a being.

The God we worship is a living, material Being, with body, parts and passions. Such is the God described in the Bible. A Being in form like unto ourselves. "And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness," etc. (Genesis 1st chapter, 26th verse.) "So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him: male and female created he them" (27th verse).

Now, if man is a material form, then is God the same, for man was made in His image and likeness. This is what Adam who had dwelt with Him taught his offspring, and the same was committed to writing by Moses.

We may also infer that woman formed a part of the heavenly family, as we are taught in our beautiful hymn. This should be a comfort to the daughters of Eve – that our Father in heaven was not alone when enthroned in the heavens before the world was. "They twain were one flesh," says the inspired writer, and in this the earthly is without doubt a pattern of the heavenly. This Scripture is in harmony with modern revelations as given by the prophet Joseph, and also with the ancient writings of inspired men. The Church after the death of Jesus gradually departed from the truth, and taught the practice of celibacy, forbidding marriage to the priesthood and degrading women from her proper position as necessary to the completeness of man, for man is not perfect without the woman.

The 1st and 2nd verses of the 5th chapter of Genesis says "This is the book of the generations of Adam. In the day that God created man, in the likeness of God created he him; male and female created he them; and blessed them, and called their name Adam, in the day when they were created."

This subject is beautifully illustrated in a discourse preached in Beaver some time ago by Elder Erastus Snow, and published in the Deseret News.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Asa Shinn on Agency

The other week, I was involved in an online thread in which a Latter-day Saint commenter started a discussion of the notion of 'agency' with a couple other Evangelicals. The Latter-day Saint began by defining agency as the "power to exercise one's own moral choices", and was curious whether mainstream Christianity affirmed that we humans really do have agency. Some of my fellow Evangelicals, while affirming that we have 'free will', were concerned over the meaning of "agency", both suggesting that this was just another case of Latter-day Saints redefining an established term. One defined agency as "acting for another person or entity, not yourself", and thus being "pretty much the opposite of free will". He concluded, "I find it strange how mormons tend to assign a completely opposite definition to a word." The other Evangelical, meanwhile, suggested that Joseph Smith had perhaps been impressed by the fancy word 'agency' (and others) in a business context and had then "incorporated them into his new religion without really understanding the implications".

Now, this all seemed odd to me. I'd never had any difficulty understanding what 'agency' meant in LDS use, because I know that the concept of 'agency' is still an important one in the philosophy of action. However, to get to the bottom of things, I decided to see if the term 'agency' had any currency in theological discourse of Joseph Smith's time. The first author I consulted was Asa Shinn, an American Methodist theologian who was a somewhat older contemporary of Joseph and who became one of the co-founders of the Methodist Protestant Church. Searching briefly through two of Shinn's works, I found an abundance of references to 'agency' with usage that seems to roughly align with the way 'agency' is discussed in LDS scripture. I would love to get some LDS input on the following quotations from Shinn, both in terms of their use of the term 'agency' and in terms of how a Latter-day Saint might react to Shinn's arguments.

From Asa Shinn, An Essay on the Plan of Salvation: In Which the Several Sources of Evidence are Examined, and Applied to the Interesting Doctrine of Redemption, in Its Relation to the Government and Moral Attributes of the Deity (Baltimore, MD: Neal, Wills and Cole, 1813), 212:
He [God] is perfectly free and voluntary in all his actions, because he is omnipotent, and cannot be controlled by any other power or authority. To deny his free agency, is to ascribe our being and happiness to necessity, seeing if God be not a free agent, they depended not upon his liberty of option, and could not be otherwise than they are. It is to deny that power belongeth unto God; because a power to do any thing, includes a power to leave it undone, and to affirm a being has power, who is destitute of agency, is an absolute contradiction.
From Asa Shinn, An Essay on the Plan of Salvation, 212-213:
That God did in fact endow his creatures with free agency, is evident from their fall: for if they were not free, it is certain that they were made wicked, or else were driven into sin by some other power; if they were made wrong, the fault was in their Maker, not in themselves; and if they were forced into sin by the agency of another, God only could be the author of it, because there was no other power in the universe. Therefore we are reduced to this dilemma: either to believe that our creator is essentially wicked, or that his creatures were made free, and introduced evil by an abuse of their liberty.

But why was this agency or active power bestowed upon them? We must answer that it was essential to the enjoyment of moral happiness, or that it was not: if it was, this good and perfect gift is resolvable into the divine beneficence; if it was not, then we say God bestowed a useless power upon his creatures, which could do them no good, and which might prove fatal to their tranquillity. If we say he gave it in order to ruin them, we charge him with malevolence, and if we say he gave it for no end, we charge him with folly: therefore the only modest and rational conclusion is, that he gave it through benevolence, because it was essential to their spiritual or moral happiness.
From Asa Shinn, An Essay on the Plan of Salvation, 213:
His giving them a moral law is, of itself, an incontestable proof of their free agency. For had God intended to regulate all their actions by the force of destiny, nothing more would have been necessary than to subject them to the mechanical laws of matter, because these are entirely sufficient to accomplish the end.
From Asa Shinn, An Essay on the Plan of Salvation, 214-215:
But waving the case of beasts for the present, it is sufficient to our purpose that all men are conscious of a degree of power over their actions, and that their highest happiness arises from knowledge, and is inseparable from a voluntary choice. The exercise of virtue, or the enjoyment of moral happiness against our consent is impossible; because it implies a state of complete slavery.

If it be asked, why was not the will inclined to choose all the proper means of happiness, as necessarily it is inclined to choose happiness as its end, in preference to misery; I think the proper answer is, that it was impossible for creatures to possess moral rectitude, and of consequence, moral happiness, without the liberty of option, or, which is the same thing, without a degree of power, which essentially implies that agency of will that can choose one thing or its contrary; - that can perform an action, or omit the performance of it - that can determine, or omit the determination.

If this be true (and that it is so, I hope to prove directly) it clearly follows that the reason why God did not hinder the introduction of moral evil, by making it impossible for his creatures to sin, was because it could not be done without making it impossible for any creature to enjoy holiness or moral happiness. God left his creatures free, because God is love; and being love, he delights to see his creatures enjoy that sublime felicity, which the chains of destiny would have deprived them of forever.
From Asa Shinn, An Essay on the Plan of Salvation, 230:
Had it been our Saviour's purpose to save mankind by force, or any particular part of them, he doubtless had power sufficient to accomplish his design, without dying on the cross; and had such a compulsive system been consistent with the moral attributes of God, I have no doubt but he would have done so: he would have changed every man from sin to holiness, or rather, from bad propensities to good ones, by an absolute and irresistible influence; but the actions of a person thus compelled could have no relation to morality, and therefore God's moral perfections demanded that they should be saved, if at all, in a way that should not destroy their agency: for this reason our Saviour's atonement had relation to the moral attributes alone, and therefore his plan must be so laid as only to influence sinners by motives, and leave them to the liberty of choice.
From Asa Shinn, On the Benevolence and Rectitude of the Supreme Being (Philadelphia, PA: James Kay, 1840), 72:
Another attribute constituting the greatness of the Deity, is his Almighty Power. By this we mean his ability to do any thing which it is possible for agency to do. The bounds of possibility are known only to himself; but to some extent we are able distinctly to conceive them. [...] To say that God has Almighty Power, is to say, in other words, that he is an Almighty Agent. He who does any thing without agency, does it by necessity, which is not power, but the want of it. Whenever an agent acts, he could, at the same time, have omitted the action; and therefore He who possesses the greatest power, enjoys the most perfect liberty of any being in existence.
From Asa Shinn, On the Benevolence and Rectitude of the Supreme Being, 73-74:
There is, in short, no other alternative but to believe either that God is a perfectly Free Agent, or to embrace a system of atheism. An intelligent being without agency, that is, without power, however good in his disposition, and however clear in his intelligence, could do nothing; and his understanding could serve no other purpose than to gaze at the course of necessity, as a man bound down with a chain might look up and watch the course of the wind and the clouds.
From Asa Shinn, On the Benevolence and Rectitude of the Supreme Being, 99:
Secondly, our agency, or freedom of will, is another gift bestowed on us by infinite goodness. This power is essential to three great purposes: 1. to furnish each individual with the happiness of spontaneous action; 2. to give each the capacity to contribute to the good of society; and 3. to render both men and angels amiable in the sight of their Maker, as his cheerful, free, and voluntary servants and children. Without the gift of moral agency, all these great and valuable ends would have been prevented; and both men and angels would have been placed on a level with brute creatures in the scale of existence.
From Asa Shinn, On the Benevolence and Rectitude of the Supreme Being, 129:
Is it not a plain contradiction to say that a man is at liberty, at the same time that his will is bound to one certain course of action? And besides, for aught we know, freedom of will is essential to intelligent existence; so that the existence of a creature with mental endowments, and destitute of all agency, is as impossible as for matter to exist without occupying space.
So how does Shinn's use of "agency" compare to that found in the LDS tradition? And does Shinn present a good case for the reality and importance of both divine and human agency?


EDIT: I've decided to introduce a few brief quotations from an author other than Asa Shinn: Methodist bishop and theologian Randolph Sinks Foster. The following comes from R. S. Foster, Objections to Calvinism as It Is, in a Series of Letters Addressed to Rev. N. L. Rice, D.D. (Cincinnati, OH: Hitchcock and Walden, 1849), 36, 46-47, 51:
I object to the doctrine of decrees, as held by Calvinists, in the second place, because it is inconsistent with, and destructive to the free agency of man. [...] Thus we prove upon the system both that it makes God the author of sin, and destroys the free agency of man. [...] Freedom and liberty, I believe all admit, are essential to accountability; and hence the well-grounded apprehension of our Calvinistic brethren, at the imputation, that their doctrine is destructive to freedom of agency. [...] By destroying the agency and accountability of man, I charge the system further, with destroying the moral character of human acts and volitions - with rendering the terms, vice and virtue, good and bad, as conveying the idea of moral quality - not predicable of man. If the system be true, man is no more a moral being. Do what he may, he is not vicious - he is incapable to be virtuous. He never sins - he cannot; nor the opposite. [...] Morality supposes agency - the system, by inevitable deduction, denies it; and the two fall together.
I note that, between these volumes and some additional works quoted therein, "agency" seems to have been roughly synonymous with will and liberty (indeed, Shinn glossed it with "freedom of will" as a synonym), and denoted the power to choose to act; it could be qualified as "free" or "moral", though it could also appear without such additional qualifiers; and it could be ascribed to both God and humans.