Sunday, February 19, 2012

Alexander Campbell on Biblical Metaphor and Divine Incorporeality

I found the following passage of interest and present it here. I take this from Alexander Campbell, A Connected View of the Principles and Rules by Which the Living Oracles May Be Intelligibly and Certainly Interpreted: Of the Foundation on Which All Christians May Form One Communion: And of the Capital Positions Sustained in the Attempt to Restore the Original Gospel and Order of Things; Containing the Principal Extras of the Millennial Harbinger, Revised and Corrected (Bethany, VA: M'Vay and Ewing, 1835), 34.
The anthropomorphists, and other excessive literalists, from a disregard to the highly metaphorical language of the Scriptures, which is both their strength and beauty, and the only language in which things supernatural could be communicated to us, have imagined a human figure for the Deity. On their own principles of interpreting the Scriptures they might, from the following metaphors, imagine him to be like a great fowl: - 'Hide me under the shadow of thy wings,' - 'In the shadow of thy wings I will make my refuge, until these calamities be overpast,' - 'I will trust in the covert of thy wings,' - 'He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou rest.' It is to no purpose to multiply examples, farther than to give an accurate and complete idea of this most common and most beautiful trope. So rich are the Scriptures in this figure, that many thousand examples might be adduced. We have said that there are some of these metaphors both rude and simple; and as the Bible reaches into the most remote antiquity, and exhibits and addresses human nature, in its most simple and unadorned state, it must be expected that it would bear the impress of the people among whom it was written, and to whom it was addressed.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Orson Hyde on Overcoming

The following address was made by Orson Hyde on 6 October 1853 at General Conference, and the text is extracted from Deseret News 3/20 (29 October 1853): 78.
At the commencement of our Conference, it has fallen to my lot to make a few remarks.

If you will indulge me with your prayerful attention, I will try to communicate to you a few words, which I hope and trust may prove, not only edifying to you now, but a source of comfort and consolation in time to come.

Be it as the Lord will, I shall use my best endeavors for this; and if I fail in it, it will be for want of ability, and not for want of a disposition.

I discover before me many strange faces; I presume they are our friends from the different settlements, South, North, East and West, who have no doubt assembled here for the purpose of obtaining instructions and information respecting the prosperity of the Church, the duty of its officers, and what is to be done in the important period in which we now live.

It is a peculiar and interesting time with us. In the first place, our brethren from abroad who are unaccustomed to a mountain life, or a life in this Valley, are emigrating to this place; and when they arrive here, they do not find every thing, perhaps, as they anticipated, or they find things different from what they have been accustomed to in the places from which they came. Every thing seems new and strange, and it takes a little time (as we say in a familiar phrase) "to get broken into the harness."

Not only so, but we have had some little disturbance with the red man this season, and this is a cause of some digression from the common path of duty we are accustomed to move in.

Under all these circumstances, as we have business of importance to transact during this Conference, it becomes necessary that our minds should become united in one, as far as possible, that we should act in accordance with the mind and will of our Father which is in heaven. Let me here observe that the people of God cannot be united only on that principle that vibrates from the very bosom of heaven. If we are united, if we can touch one point or principle upon which all can strike hands; by that union we may know that our will is the mind and will of God; and what we, in that state, bind on earth, is bound in heaven, for the action is reciprocal, it is the same.

Hence, after so long a separation, we have come together again, under circumstances somewhat peculiar. It is necessary that we seek to be united. How shall we be united? Around what standard shall we rally? Where is the beacon light to which our eyes shall be directed, in order that our actions may tend to the accomplishment of the same purpose and design? The beacon light is him whom our Heavenly Father has ordained and appointed to lead His people, and give them counsel, and guide their destiny. That is the light to which the eye should be directed. And when that voice is heard, let every bosom respond, yea and amen.

But says one, "If this be correct, it is giving to one man almighty power. It is giving to one man supreme power to rule.["] Admit it. What are we all aiming for? Are we not aiming for supreme power? Are we not aiming to obtain the promise that has been made to all believers? What is it? "He that overcometh shall inherit all things, and I will be his God, and he shall be my son." Are we not seeking for this, that we may overcome, that we may inherit all things? For says Paul, "Therefore let no man glory in men; for all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; all are yours, and ye are Christ's, and Christ is God's." Well then, if all things are yours, we should be very insensible to our best interests if we did not seek diligently for that which Heaven promises as a legacy to the faithful. It is our right then; do we not all expect to be armed with almighty power? Is there a Latter Day Saint under the sound of my voice, whose heart is fired with celestial light, but that seeks to be in possession of supreme power (I had like to have said) both in heaven and on earth? It is said, "we are heirs of God and joint heirs with Jesus Christ." Does Jesus Christ possess all power in heaven and on earth? He said when he rose from the dead, "All power is given to me in heaven and on earth." Are we heirs of God and joint heirs with that illustrious character? He has so declared! If we are, do we not, in common with him, possess the power that is in heaven and on earth? If one individual then is a little ahead of us in obtaining this power, let us not be envious, for it will be our time by and by. We ought to be the more thankful, and glorify God that he has armed one individual with this power, and opened a way that we may follow him, and obtain the same power, instead of it being a cause of envy. On the contrary, it ought to be a matter to call forth our warmest thanksgivings and praise to God, that he has brought back that power to earth again in our day, by which we may be led step by step to the point we hope to attain.

After reflecting a little this morning, a passage of Scripture occurred to my mind - the words of John the Revelator, or the promise made to him. It says, "Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out; and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God which is the New Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God, and I will write upon him my new name."

In the course of my travels in preaching the gospel to different nations, I have often heard it remarked by the people in days gone by, "We have heard your testimony; we have heard your preaching; but really, why does not Joseph Smith, your prophet, come to us and bear testimony? Why does he not come to us and show us the plates from which the Book of Mormon was translated? If we could see the prophet and the plates, then we should be satisfied that the work was genuine, that it was of God; but if we cannot see him, and the ancient records, we are still in doubt with regard to the genuineness of the work."

My reply to them was something like the following: "Joseph Smith cannot be everywhere, and the plates cannot be presented to every eye. The voice of Joseph Smith cannot be heard by every ear." And I have said to them, "You that have seen me have seen Joseph Smith, for the same spirit and the same sentiments that are in him are in me, and I bear testimony to you that these things are verily true."

It is generally the case, and I think I may say it is invariably the case, that when an individual is ordained and appointed to lead the people, he has passed through tribulations and trials, and has proven himself before God, and before his people, that he is worthy of the situation which he holds; and let this be the motto and safeguard in all future time that when a person that has not been tried, that has not proved himself before God, and before His people, and before the councils of the Most High to be worthy, he is not going to step in to lead the Church and people of God. It has never been so, but from the beginning some one that understands the spirit and counsel of the Almighty, that knows the Church, and is known of her, is the character that will lead the Church.

How does he become thus acquainted? How does he gain this influence, this confidence in the estimation of the people? He earns it by his upright course and conduct, by the justness of his counsels and the correctness of his prophecies, and the straightforward spirit he manifests to the people. And he has to do this step by step; he gains influence, and his spirit, like an anchor, is fastened in the hearts of the people; and he is sustained, and supported by the love, confidence and good-will of the Saints, and of Him that dwelt in the bush. This is the kind of character that ought to lead God's people, after he has obtained this good will and this confidence.

What then is he to do? Is he to go abroad to the nations of the earth and preach the gospel; to leave his home and the people of his charge? May we not count him as first and foremost in the ranks of them that overcome? I think so! Well then, "Him that overcometh shall be made a pillar in the temple of my God to go no more out." All those who approach the nearest to that standard, we expect will remain in the temple of God at home, and not go abroad to the nations of the earth.

Says one, "If an angel from heaven would descend and bear testimony that this work is of God, I would believe it. Why may I not receive the testimony of angels as well as Joseph Smith or any other person? for God is no respecter of persons! If I could receive it, I would be satisfied then that the work was true." But let me here remark again: suppose the Omnipotent Jehovah that sits upon his throne of glory and power, was to descend and bear testimony, what further credence would you then want? You would want some one to tell you that it was really God himself that had visited you, that you might be satisfied it was not an angel of darkness in the similitude of a heavenly personage.

Remember that God our heavenly Father was perhaps once a child, and mortal like we ourselves, and rose step by step in the scale of progress, in the school of advancement: has moved forward and overcome until he has arrived at the point where he now is. "Is this really possible?" Why my dear friends, how would you like to be governed by a ruler who had not been through all the vicissitudes of life that is common to mortals? If he had not suffered, how could he sympathise and be touched with the feelings of our infirmities? He could not, unless he himself had passed through the same ordeal, and overcome step by step. If this is the case, it accounts for the reason why we do not see him; He is too pure a Being to show himself to the eyes of mortals; he has overcome, and goes no more out, but he is the temple of my God, and is a pillar there.

What is a pillar? It is that power which supports the superstructure - which bears up the edifice; and if that should be removed from its place, the edifice is in danger of falling. Hence, our heavenly Father ascended to a throne of power; he has passed through scenes of tribulation, as the saints in all ages have, and are still passing through; and having overcome and ascended his throne, he can look down upon those who are following in the same track, and can realize the nature of their infirmities, troubles and difficulties, like the aged father who looks upon his race; upon the smallest child, and when he sees them grappling with difficulties, his heart is touched with compassion; why? Because he has felt the same; been in the same situation, and he knows how to administer just chastisement, mingled with the kindest feelings of a father's heart. So with our heavenly Father; when he sees we are going astray, he stretches forth his chastening hand, at the same time he realizes the difficulties with which we have to contend, because he has felt the same; but having overcome he goes no more out.

When the world was lost in wretchedness and woe, what did he do? Did he come here himself? No. But says he, "I will send my son to be my agent, the one who is the nearest to my person, that is bone of my bone, and flesh of my flesh; I will send my son, and I will say, he that heareth him, heareth me. Go then my son." He came, and how did he look? He looked just like his Father, and just as they treated him, they treated his Father in heaven. For inasmuch as they did it unto him they did it unto his Father. He was the agent, the representative, chosen and sent of God for this purpose. When it was necessary that the Savior of the world should have help, and strength, should be sustained in the darkest hour, did God himself in person come to his aid? No; but he sent his angel to succor him. When the Savior was born, the spirits around the throne of God were ready to fly to his protection, when the kings and rulers of this lower world sought his destruction. What did they say to the wise men of Israel on that eventful occasion? - "Glory to God, on earth peace, and good will to men."

When he fasted forty days and forty nights, the angels appeared and strengthened him. His heavenly Father did not come himself, but says the Savior, he that hath seen me hath seen the Father; also, "I am just like him, the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person." "The same spirit that is in the bosom of the Father is in me. - I came not to do my own will, but the will of him that sent me." Then the character that looked upon the Savior, looked upon the Father; for he was a facsimile of him; and if they would not believe the Son, they would not believe the Father.

The Savior, in the performance of his mission, laid down his life for the world; rose from the dead, and ascended up on high, and few and blessed are the eyes that have seen him since! It is sometimes the case that the veil of mortality has been rent, and the eye of the spirit has gazed upon the Savior like Stephen of old, when he was stoned to death; in his expiring moments, in the agonies of death, what did he say? He said, "I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man, standing upon the right hand of the Father." Stephen saw him in that trying hour.

True it is, that in the most trying hour, the servants of God may then be permitted to see their Father, and elder brother. But says one, "I wish to see the Father, and the Savior, and an angel now." Before you can see the Father, the Savior, or an angel, you have to be brought into close places in order to have this manifestation. The fact is, your very life must be suspended on a thread, as it were. If you want to see your Savior, be willing to come to that point where no mortal arm can rescue - no earthly power save! When all other things fail, when everything else proves futile and fruitless, then perhaps thy Savior and thy Redeemer may appear; his arm is not shortened that he cannot save, nor his ear heavy that he cannot hear; and when help on all sides appears to fail, my arm shall save, my power shall rescue, and you shall hear my voice, saith the Lord. To him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, &c. The Father has overcome, the Savior has overcome, and the angels are overcoming like we are. But let me here observe, it is a good deal with the angels, in my opinion, as it is with us.

We who have been in the valley some length of time, feel that we are at home, and in a goodly place, chosen of God, a secret habitation surrounded by mountains, walled in by natural barriers, where we are secluded from the world, and inhabiting a little world by ourselves. We know the world is opposed to our doctrine. Now if one of us were required to go abroad among the nations, a spirit of patriotic devotion to the interests of God's kingdom, would stimulate us to forego all the pleasures of domestic life, to earn a crown of glory, and shine as the stars in the firmament forever and ever: when if we consult our own individual feelings and interest only, we would say, "O that we might remain at home, and not go out and be buffeted by a cold and heartless world! We would rather remain with our friends, and bask in the sunshine of their good will and favor, and enjoy life as we pass along; but to go out into the world, and meet its scoffing sneers, it is alone for the cause and kingdom of God's sake; and for the sake of this, we not only long to go abroad to the nations of the earth, but to do every thing that is laid upon us to do.

Look at the angels of heaven. If there are so many millions of them, and they manifest such an interest for the welfare of mortals, why do they not come, and visit us more? They may have the same feeling in relation to coming to this earth, that we would have in going to the nations of the world. If they are sent, they will go; but if not sent, it is very likely they will stay at home, as we will; if we are sent we will go; if we are not sent, we are glad to stay at home. This then I presume is their feeling; hence it has become proverbial in the world, that angels' visits are few and far between. And let me here observe, that when a servant of God, clothed with the spirit of his calling, enters a house, a town, or a country, he feels the spirit in a moment that prevails in that house, country, or people among whom he comes. For instance, if he lands upon the shores of a foreign country, the moment his feet press their soil, their spirit presses his heart! he senses it, and if the spirit that reigns in that country is diverse to the Spirit of God, he feels it painfully to his heart; and it is upon this principle that the Savior said to the disciples, "and into whatsoever house ye enter, first say peace be to this house. And if the son of peace be there, your peace shall rest upon it: if not, it shall return to you again." Then when a servant of God enters a strange place, and he feels the son of peace there, let his peace come upon that people, house, and city. If he feels there is an adverse power that holds the sway there, his peace must return to him, and he must go his way after he has faithfully discharged his duty.

I recollect once in a certain place in England, while travelling along with bro. Kimball, it was in a country town called Chatburo, where the people were humble, simple, and honest. They loved the truth, and were seeking for it. When we went there, their hearts and doors were opened to receive us, and our message. What were our feelings? - We felt that the ground upon which we stood was most sacred, and br. Kimball took off his hat, and walked the streets, and blessed the country and the people, and let his peace come upon it. These were our feelings. Why? Because the people were ready to receive the word of our testimony, and us for Christ's sake.

We had been to other places, where the very moment our names were sounded, and it was known we were in a house, there was a similar spirit manifested as there was in the days of Lot when the Angel came to his house to warn him to flee from Sodom; for a mob was raised at once, and demanded the strangers to be given up to them; but we were shielded by friends, and God always opened a way of escape for us. Wherever there is a spirit congenial with the Spirit of God, and a loyalty to the kingdom of the Most High, you will find a hearty welcome, and you are glad to go there.

If we, whose sensibilities are benumbed by this veil of flesh which is around us, have discernment to discriminate where the son of peace is, the angels, who are not clogged as we are; whose sensibilities are keener than ours, do you not think when they approach the world, they know where the son of peace is? In the last days, I will take peace from the earth, saith the Lord by one of the ancient writers, and they shall kill one another; and there was given a great sword unto him that sat on the red horse. And the nations will be armed against each other. The angels are not fond to descend to this world, because of the coldness of the spirit that reigns in it; they would rather remain in heaven around the throne of God, among the higher order of intelligences, where they can enjoy life, and peace, and the communion of the Holy One; when they are sent they will come; but they are tolerably well advanced among them that overcome.

These are some of the reasons why they do not mingle with us; why we cannot see them. But let me tell you, brethren and sisters, if we will be united as the heart of one man, and that general union of spirit, of mind, be fastened upon the Lord Jesus Christ, we should draw down celestial intelligence by the Spirit of God, or by angels who surround the throne of the Most High. It is an electric wire, through which and by which intelligence comes to mortals; it is only necessary for the word to be spoken, and the power of it is at once felt in every heart.

"He that overcometh will I make a pillar in the Temple of my God," etc. Do we ever wish to see the time when we can retire from the scenes of every day life, to the Temple of God, and go no more out? Are we looking for a period of this kind? Yes, - when we shall be made pillars in the Temple of our God. We know when a pillar is placed in a building, it is placed there to remain; pillars are not often removed. All pillars are considered permanent; they are not to be taken away, because the removing of them endangers the safety of the building. In order to be made pillars in the Temple of our God, what are we to do? WE MUST OVERCOME.

Let it be remarked, that the disposition so prevalent in the hearts of many, not to abide the counsel of their superiors, has to be overcome; it must be slain, and laid prostrate at our feet; and we must say that we came not to do our own will, but the will of him that sent us. We came to do the will of him to whom we have plighted our faith, to uphold him as our leader, lawgiver, and seer. We have got to overcome our inclination to revolt at the idea, and be brought into complete submission, and union of spirit.

"O," says one, "how does this look, to be slaves to have no mind or will of our own, but be swallowed up in the will of another, and thus become tools, machines, slaves, and not free men, and independent like other people." Well, my dear friends, I will tell you how it was in heaven. There was a disposition once in heaven that preferred to be independent enough to chalk out its own course. The rebellious angels undertook it, and what became of them? They fought against the throne of God, and were cast down, to be reserved in chains of darkness unto the judgment of the great day. Yes, they are reserved there, and that is their glory, and the honor that is attached to them for being independent, and declaring in the presence of God their independence, but instead of delivering any advantage from this course, down they went to their reward.

I will advance a sentiment by Paul the Apostle, showing that we were there at the time that notable controversy was going on, and no doubt we took an active part with them who sustained the throne of God, and we were therefore permitted to come to this world and take upon us bodies. The devils that fell were not permitted to enjoy this privilege; they cannot increase their generation; glory to God they cannot do it, but we have the power of multiply lives; this is what they are angry about. Says Paul, "Do ye not know that the saints shall judge the world? And if the world shall be judged by you, are ye unworthy to judge the smallest matters?" Is it possible that these elders and servants of the Most High who are going abroad among the nations will have power to judge the nations of the earth? Says one, "God will do it and not man." Now, for instance. I am building a house and it is said Solomon built a temple, but do you suppose Solomon quarried the rock, laid it up, etc.? No, but he gave directions to others, and it is said Solomon built a temple; so God will judge the world. The Almighty Ruler will instruct his servants to do it, and the saints will give the grand decision, and the nations that have slain them will have to bow to their word.

What says the good Book again? "And he that overcometh, and keepeth my words to the end, to him will I give power over the nations, (and he shall rule them with a rod of iron; as the vessels of a potter shall they be broken to shivers) even as I have received of my Father." Do we not expect to overcome and to have power over the nations? Yes. Says Paul, "the saints shall judge the world; not only this, but they shall judge angels." Why says one, "I thought that angels are greater in might and power than we, and is it possible that we the servants of God are going to judge angels? you are surely exalting yourselves above all that is called God; for God shall judge the world." How is it that we do not recollect anything now that took place before we took upon us these bodies? When we lay them off we shall remember everything, the scenes of those early times will be as fresh in our view as the sun was this morning when he rose over the mountains. The saints will say to their fallen brethren, you were arrayed under the command of Lucifer, and fought against us; we prevailed, and it now becomes our duty to pass sentence against you, fallen spirits. You have been reserved to this condemnation, and bound with a chain. With what chain? That you could not multiply your race. There were limits put to you that you could not increase. It was never said to you, go forth into hell and multiply, but it was said to man go forth and increase on the earth. Here were stakes set they could not go beyond; and this is what they are angry about; this makes a hell to them, because they "can't do it." They see the superiority of the saints who have kept their first estate, and they are envious, and now it becomes their duty to pass sentence upon them. The saints shall judge angels, even those spirits who kept not their first estate, and have been a long time in chains like criminals who are kept in bondage to await their sentence. It will be the prerogative of the servants of God to pass a decision upon them, and not only upon them, but upon the world, among whom they have been associated, and having combined in them the judicial power, and power of witness, they will have power to judge and determine, for the saints shall judge the world.

How will the wicked feel when they come up at the last day, (or at some day, be it last or middle,) how will they feel when they see, perhaps one whom they have persecuted, one whom they have killed as an impostor, or because they said he was an impostor, when they see that person exalted upon the judgment seat, and they themselves arraigned before him, and compelled to hear from his lips their sentence? Sadly will they be mistaken. Says John, the beloved disciple, when speaking of the Savior, "If they have persecuted me they will also persecute you." They knew him not, neither did they know his disciples. Well did the Savior say at one time, "Father forgive them for they know not what they do." They did not understand the power that was lodged in the breast of their victim; but when the day of his wrath will come, they will say to the mountains and rocks "fall on us, and hide us from the face of him who sitteth upon the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb; for the day of his wrath is come, and who shall be able to stand." It will not only be the Lamb that will come in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory, but his angels and saints that have gone before him; myriads of spirits will come, wafted as it were through the air to earth's cold regions to call the sons of men to an account for their doings.

Now, "to him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God," "and to him that overcometh will I give power over the nations." Do we want to overcome this worldly ambitious spirit that is ever burning to be independent, that is, self sufficient and proud? Overcome this, and bring every power and faculty of the soul in subjection to the power of the Most High, and you are safe. What have you to overcome next? You have to overcome that untiring disposition to do wrong, to overreach your neighbor, that thereby you may acquire for yourselves a paradise, or heaven in this world, while in its fallen state. Remember this one thing, if you want to be free from the curse. You know it is said, "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God." Who then can be saved? Again, says the Savior, "What is impossible to man is possible to God." Let me show you the philosophy of this, why it is impossible for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. God said in the beginning, "Cursed be the ground for thy sake;" that is, earth and earthly things are cursed. Now the man who has the most of it has the greatest amount of the curse; therefore if a man acquire a great deal of earthly things, he acquires a great deal of this curse. For they that will be rich are made to pass through many sorrows and they have to harden their hearts, and their faces, and oppress the poor to acquire it; and when they have acquired it, what have they got? It is to them something like a red hot ball in the hands of a child, it burns; they have acquired it, and have got a great curse along with it. It is hard for such to enter into the kingdom of God. The gate is narrow, and the curse is wide, so if they wish to go in at that gate they must be stripped, and become destitute of the love of this world's goods. I recollect a beautiful illustration of this in the case of the rich man and Lazarus that was poor and full of sores and who laid at the rich man's gate. There was the rich man clothed in fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day. By and by he died, and went to hell, and saw Abraham afar off with the same poor Lazarus in his bosom. Says the rich man, "Father Abraham have mercy upon me and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue for I am tormented in this flame." He was so humbled as to accept one drop of water from Lazarus, who while he lay at the rich man's gate was ready to eat the crumbs that fell from his table. How reverse the scene. Abraham with the kind feelings of a father, at the same time with that justness and dignity which is ever the characteristic of the upright said "Son remember that thou in thy life time receivedst good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented." His arm was too short to reach that one drop of water to him, "for there was a great gulf fixed, so that they that would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence." The scene was changed. This is enough to admonish, and to make us adopt the advice of the Savior, "Seek first the kingdom of God and its righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you."

When should we want to be rich? When the curse is taken from the earth. We do not want the earth while it is cursed, for "cursed be the ground for thy sake," etc. Let the world that love darkness rather than light, be heirs of the curse if they will; but do not let us seek after it with too greedy hearts, until the curse is taken away; and when the curse is rebuked, and the earth undergoes such a change that it will shine forever and ever, and there is no night there, then we may have it, and it will do us good. It is like this: We say that wheat and barley are excellent when we use them in their native state; but when we extract the spirit from these grains, and drink it, it intoxicates; but when they are used in their native state, they make bread which gives life to the body, while in the other state, they destroy. So the earth when the curse is taken away, will sustain an endless life. Though the figure is not altogether correct, still it serves to illustrate the principle. The Savior did not say the Saints should inherit the earth while the curse is still upon it, but he said, "Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth." He will not give them something to destroy them, but they have got to stay until the earth has fulfilled the measure of its creation; and then the angel will raise his hand to heaven, and swear that time shall be no longer. - What becomes of the earth then? Why, says the prophet, it shall "reel to and fro like a drunkard, and shall be removed like a cottage; and the transgression thereof shall be heavy upon it, and it shall fall, and not rise again." If the earth falls, which way will it go, up or down? Tell me ye wise men, ye philosophers. Will not the greatest, or most powerful planet attract it whether it goes up or down? for the greater bodies attract the lesser. If the earth falls and is not to rise again, it will be removed out of its present orbit. Where will it go to? God says he will gather all things into one; then he will gather the earth likewise, and all that is in it, in one. The gathering will be upon a larger scale in time to come; for by and by the stars of heaven will fall. Which way will they go? They will rally to a grand centre, and there will be one grand constellation of worlds. I pray that we may be there, and shine among those millions of worlds that will be stars in the Almighty's crown.

The earth will have to be removed from its place, and reel to and fro like a drunkard. The fact is it has got to leave the old track in which it has roamed in time passed, and beat a new track; and saith the Lord, "come up here." What is he going to do with it? - Why, take it where the sun will shine upon it continually, and there shall be no more night there; and the hand of God will wipe away the tears from all faces. "Come up here, O earth! for I want the Saints who have passed through much tribulation to be glorified with you, and then I will give the earth to the meek. For I will take the curse from it, and rebuke the destroyer for your sakes, and bring all things in subjection to you, and you shall dwell in everlasting light." Now it is half day and half night, but I tell you it is not going to be half and half, but there will be no night there. We have but one sun to shine upon us, but when the earth is taken out of this orbit, it will come in contact with the rays of other suns that illuminate other spheres; their rays will dazzle our earth, and make the glory of God rest upon it, so that there will be no more night there.

Is it possible then that there are worlds reserved in eternal night, in an eternal eclipse, rolling in the shade, an eternal night? What is their use? They are the homes of them that love darkness rather than light; "and it shall be said unto them, depart ye cursed into outer darkness." There are planets that revolve in eternal darkness, that you who love darkness rather than light may go and find your own home. There is a place prepared for every body, no matter what their character. Says the Savior, "I go to prepare a place for you;" there is a place for every person. There is a place for every body that comes into this valley if they can only find it. So there is a place in yonder world for every person; but to him that overcometh will I give power over the nations, and he shall be a pillar in the Temple of my God, and go no more out.

If there is any thing in this world my soul desires the most, it is that I may overcome, and be made a pillar in the Temple of my God, and remain at home in the society that is continuedly warming my spirit, encouraging my feeling, with that which is congenial with every principle of my nature; let me bask in their goodly presence, live in their affections, dwell forever in the midst of their society, and go no more out. And may God in his mercy help us all to overcome every obstacle, and endure hardships like good soldiers of the Lamb, and dwell eternally in the mansions of light; which may God grant for Christ's sake: AMEN.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Brigham Young: "What Mystery is There About It?"

The following is the latter portion (minus the two concluding paragraphs) of a discourse given on 8 June 1873 by Brigham Young, apparently following on the heels of a prior discourse by Brigham's brother Joseph Young. The following text is extracted from "Discourse by President Brigham Young, delivered in the New Tabernacle, Salt Lake City, Sunday Afternoon, June 8th, 1873", The Deseret News 22/20 (18 June 1873): 308-309. Note his discussion of the beginningless of the plurality of Gods; his affirmation that Adam is our God, the creator of the earth who himself had earlier experienced mortality on another world and fathered our spirits after attaining exaltation, and brought one of his wives here as Eve; his sentiment of thankfulness for the Fall; his clear statement that God is still growing in knowledge and will be so forever; and his indication that faithful believers will become Gods and make their own earths.
I wanted to make a few remarks upon the subject touched upon by my brother, but I shall not have the time. I frequently think, in my meditations, how glad we should be to instruct the world with regard to the things of God, if they would hear, and receive our teachings in good and honest hearts and profit by them. I have been found fault with a great many times for casting reflections upon men of science, and especially upon theologians, because of the little knowledge they possess about man being on the earth, about the earth itself, about our Father in heaven, his Son Jesus Christ, the order of heavenly things, the laws by which angels exist, by which the worlds were created and are held in existence, &c. How pleased we would be to place these things before the people if they would receive them! How much unbelief exists in the minds of the Latter-day Saints in regard to one particular doctrine which I revealed to them, and which God revealed to me - namely that Adam is our father and our God - I do not know, I do not inquire, I care nothing about it. Our Father Adam helped to make this earth, it was made expressly for him, and after it was made he and his companions came here. He brought one of his wives with him, and she was called Eve, because she was the first woman upon the earth. Our Father Adam is the man who stands at the gate and holds the keys of everlasting life and salvation to all his children who ever have or who ever will come upon the earth. I have been found fault with by the ministers of religion because I have said that they were ignorant. But I could not find any man on earth who could tell me this, although it is one of the simplest things in the world, until I met and talked with Joseph Smith. Is it a great mystery that the earth exists? Is it a great mystery, that the world can not solve, that man is on the earth? Yes, it is; but to whom? To the ignorant - to those who know nothing about it. It is no mystery to those who understand. Is it a mystery to the Christian world that Jesus is the Son of God, and still the son of man? Yes it is, it is hidden from them, and this fulfils the Scripture - "If our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost," who have no faith, and who pay no attention to the Spirit of God. These things are called mysteries by the people because they know nothing about them, just like laying hands on the sick. Is it a mystery that fever should be rebuked and the sick healed by the laying on of the hands of a man who is endowed with authority from God and has been ordained to that gift? "Oh yes," say the ignorant, "we know nothing about it." That is true, but where is the mystery? Will the ignorant receive the truth when they hear it? No, they will not, and this is their condemnation, that light has come into the world, and they choose darkness rather than light, because their deeds are evil. That is the fact in the case. What is the mystery about it? They do not understand invisible things. Ask the wicked, "Do you know anything about the laying on of hands?" "Oh yes, such a man" - a man who is wicked in his whole life - "has the art of laying on of hands for curing the tooth-ache, fevers, wounds," &c.; and now, in fulfillment of the words of the ancient prophet, thousands of people seek unto "wizards who peep and mutter," &c., but they will not seek unto the living God. I can say to all the inhabitants of the earth that before what is called spiritualism was ever known in America I told the people that if they would not believe the revelations had given he would suffer the devil to give revelations that they - priests and people - would follow after. Where did I declare this? In the cities of New York, Albany, Boston, throughout the United States and in England. Have I seen this fulfilled? I have. I told the people that as true as God lived, if they would not have truth they would have error sent unto them, and they would believe it. What is the mystery of it?

The Christian world read of, and think much about, St. Paul, also St. Peter, the chief of the Apostles. These men were faithful to and magnified the priesthood while they were on the earth. Now, where will be the mystery, after they have passed through all the ordeals, and have been crowned and exalted, and received their inheritances in the eternal worlds of glory, for them to be sent forth, as the Gods have been for ever and ever, with the command - "Make yourselves an earth, and people it with your own children?" Do you think the starry heavens are going to fall? Do the Christian world or the heathen world think that all things are going to be wrapped up, consumed, and annihilated in eternal flames? Oh fools, and slow of heart to believe the great things that God has purposed in his own mind!

My brother said that God is as we are. He did not mean those words to be literally understood. He meant simply, that in our organization we have all the properties in embryo in our bodies that our Father has in his, and that literally, morally, and socially, by the spirit and by the flesh we are his children. Do you think that God, who holds the eternities in his hands and can do all things at his pleasure, is not capable of sending forth his own children, and forming this flesh for his own offspring? Where is the mystery in this? We say that Father Adam came here and helped to make the earth. Who is he? He is Michael, a great prince, and it was said to him by Eloheim, "Go ye and make an earth." What is the great mystery about it? He came and formed the earth. Geologists tell us that it was here millions of years ago. How do they know? They know nothing about it. But suppose it was here, what of it? Adam found it in a state of chaos, unorganized and incomplete. Philosophers, again, in talking of the development of the products of the earth, for instance, in the vegetable kingdom, say the little fibres grew first, then the larger vegetation. When this preparatory stage was completed then came the various orders of the animal creation; and finally man appeared. No matter whether these notions are true or not, they are more or less speculative. Adam came here and got it up in a shape that would suit him to commence business. What is the great mystery about it? None, that I have seen. The mystery in this, as with miracles, or anything else, is only to those who are ignorant. Father Adam came here, and then they brought his wife. "Well," says one, "Why was Adam called Adam"? He was the first man on the earth, and its framer and maker. He, with the help of his brethren, brought it into existence. Then he said, "I want my children who are in the spirit world to come and live here. I once dwelt upon an earth something like this, in a mortal state. I was faithful, I received my crown and exaltation. I have the privilege of extending my work, and to its increase there will be no end. I want my children that were born to me in the spirit world to come here and take tabernacles of flesh, that their spirits may have a house, a tabernacle or a dwelling place as mine has,["] and where is the mystery?

Now for mother Eve. The evil principle always has and always will exist. Well, a certain character came along, and said to Mother Eve, "The Lord has told you that you must not do so and so, for if you do you shall surely die. But I tell you that if you do not do this you will never know good from evil, your eyes will never be opened, and you may live on the earth forever and ever, and you will never know what the Gods know." The devil told the truth, what is the mystery about it? He is doing it to-day. He is telling one or two truths and mixing them with a thousand errors to get people to swallow them. I do not blame Mother Eve, I would not have had her miss eating the forbidden fruit for anything in the world. I would not give a groat if I could not understand light from darkness. I can understand the bitter from the sweet, so can you. Here is intelligence, but bind it up and make machines of its possessors, and where is the glory or exaltation? There is none. They must pass through the same ordeals as the Gods, that they may know good from evil, how to succor the tempted, tried and weak, and how to reach down the hand of mercy to save the failing sinner. The Lord has revealed his gospel and instituted its ordinances that the inhabitants of the earth may be put in possession of eternal life. But few of them, however, will accept it. I have preached it to many thousands of them who are naturally just as honest as I am, but through tradition there is an overwhelming prejudice in their minds which debars them of that liberty I have in my heart. They would be glad to know the ways of God, and to know who Jesus is, and to reap the reward of the faithful, if they had the stamina, I will call it, the independence of mind necessary to embrace the truth, to say, "I know this is true, and if there is no other person on the face of this earth who will defend it, I will to the last." But this is not in their hearts, it is not in their organization, consequently they do not manifest it. What mystery is there about it? None whatever. What is the mystery in Jesus being the Son of God and at the same time the son of the Virgin Mary? You know what the infidels say about this, but their words are no worse than the practice of many in the Christian world.

I do not want to be found fault with, but if I am it is all the same to me. There is no mystery to me in what God has revealed to me, or in what I have learned, whether it has been through Joseph, an angel, the voice of the Spirit, the Holy Ghost or the Spirit of the Lord; no matter how I have learned a thing, if I understand it perfectly it is no mystery to me. It is like making one of these pulpits, or a house like this. This is no mystery to me, I dictated it, and a great many say it is a great piece of architecture to have a single span, so large as this roof and composed of wood that will sustain itself. But it is no mystery to me. I know the strength of the materials and how to place them together. It is no mystery to me to build a temple or a common house. But you take a gentleman or lady who was never beyond the confines of a densely populated city, who never saw wheat grow, and who never saw cattle in the fields, and it is a great mystery to them to see them. Why? Because they never saw such things before, and they know nothing about them, but it is no mystery to those who know all about such things. Do you think it is any mystery to angels to know how the various organizations are brought on earth? Not the least in the world. There is no mystery in all this to the Gods, no mystery in them to the prophets and apostles whom they send, and to whom they reveal them; it is all plain, every day, common sense, just as much so as with anything else in the world - we understand it.

Some may say to me, "Why, Brother Brigham, you seem to know it all." I say, "Oh no, I know but very little, but I have an eternity of knowledge before me, and I never expect to see the time when I shall cease to learn, never, no never, but I expect to keep on learning for ever and ever, going on from exaltation to exaltation, glory to glory, power to power, ever pressing forward to greater and higher attainments, as the Gods do. That is an idea that drowns the whole Christian world in a moment. Let them try to entertain it and they are out of sight of land without a ship, and if they had a ship it would have neither sail, rudder nor compass. "What," they say, "God progress?" Now, do not lariet the God that I serve and say that he can not learn any more; I do not believe in such a character. "Why," they say, "does not the Lord know it all?" Well, if he does, he must know an immense amount. No matter about that, the mind of man does not reach that any more than it comprehends the heaven beyond the bounds of time and space in which the Christians expect to sit and sing themselves away to everlasting bliss, and where they say they shall live for ever and for ever.

If we look forward we can actually comprehend a little of the idea that we shall live for ever and ever; but you take a rearsight, and try and contemplate and meditate upon the fact that there never was a beginning and you are lost at once. The present and the future we can comprehend some little about, and the past is all a blank, and it is right and reasonable that it should be so. But if we are faithful in the things of God they shall open up, our minds will expand, reach forth and receive more and more, and by and by we can begin to see that the Gods have been for ever and for ever.

Some of our philosophers have tried to reveal the first cause. I would change the position of the whole affair. I would plant my position in the ignorance of man that undertakes to prove or show the existence of a first cause. He had better go to work and prove himself a fool to begin with and then stop, for all his reasonings, arguments and researches with regard to the first cause only prove that he is a fool. Excuse me for this rough expression, perhaps it would be better to say that he comes far short of knowing or understanding himself in the least degree, and his researches are contracted to that degree that he is lost in ignorance of himself. Is this the fact? It is. We can know nothing until we learn it, and when we come to a knowledge of facts they are no mystery to us. Take one of these native Navajo women down south here into a factory and show her the machinery for weaving baskets, and if she has never seen anything of the kind she would laugh at such nonsense. Says she, "That is not the way to weave blankets, why do you not tie your web up to the limb of a tree, fasten the other end down, and then take a stick and do just so? That will never weave a blanket." By and by she sees the blanket finished, but it is a mystery to her, and she can not understand anything about it, because she has not learned it. It is so with the whole human family.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Adam Our Father and Our Head

Lately I've been posting a couple old LDS perspectives on the idea (once held in LDS circles) of Adam as father, head of the human race, and even as God. As a counterpoint, I'd like to share a hymn by Isaac Watts, which I extract now from its appearance (with highly modified text) as Hymn 42 ("Original sin; or the first and second ADAM") in Joshua Smith, et al., Divine Hymns, or Spiritual Songs, for the Use of Religious Assemblies and Private Christians, 7th ed. (Elizabethtown: J. Woods, 1800), 47-48. Really, only the first verse is directly relevant, but I find the whole thing to be beautiful.
Adam, our father and our head,
Transgres'd, and justice doom'd us dead,
The fiery law speaks all despair,
There's no reprieve nor pardon there.

Call a bright council in the skies,
Seraphs, the mighty and the wise,
Speak; are you strong to bear the load,
The weighty vengeance of a God?

In vain we ask; for all around
Stand silent thro' the heavenly ground;
There's not a glorious mind above,
Has half the strength, or half the love.

But O! unmeasurable grace!
The eternal Son takes Adam's place;
Down to our world the Savior flies,
Stretches his naked arms and dies.

Amazing work! look down ye skies,
Wonder and gaze with all your eyes;
Ye saints below and saints above,
All bow to this mysterious love.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Melvin Ballard on Exaltation and Marriage

The following is a snippet from a discourse delivered by Melvin J. Ballard (then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles) during General Conference on 6 April 1921. For the following quote, see Ninety-first Annual Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book, 1921), 167-168.
My brethren and sisters, again, not only do we desire that our sons and daughters shall marry within the fold, but we desire that they shall come into the house of the Lord and enter into the sacred and holy obligations of matrimony in the Lord's approved and appointed way. We desire it again for their peace, for their salvation. Our records show that the divorce rate among those who enter into marriage in this holy, approved way is very much lower in the Church among that group than among the group who marry for time only. And why? Of course it is significant to all of us that those who enter into these holy bonds of matrimony for time and eternity do not begin to plan to separate and to part, but they begin to plan to live together not only in time but in eternity, for we are not building for time, we are building for eternity also. And there are connected with these blessings certain privileges, of course, that except men shall enter into them in this life, or they are performed in this life for men and women, those who fail to receive these blessings cannot come into the celestial kingdom of God where God and Christ dwell. It is a "Mormon" truism that is current among us and we all accept it, that as man is God once was and as God is man may become. That does not signify that man will become God. I am sorry to say, and yet it is a truth, that not many men will become what God is, simply because they will not pay the price, because they are not willing to live up to the requirements; and still all men may, if they will, become what God is, but only those who are heirs of the celestial glory shall ever be possible candidates, to become what God is. We desire, therefore, that these boys and girls shall have the safety and protection of this kind of marriage.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Joseph Fielding Smith on a Qualified 'Adam-God' Theory

The following excerpts are extracted from a General Conference address delivered by President Joseph Fielding Smith on 4 April 1965, as printed as "Marriage And Family Are To Be Forever", The Deseret News [Church News] (10 April 1965): 7; compare the following to the same quotes as found in Official Report of the One Hundred and Thirty-Fifth Annual General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints ([Salt Lake City, UT]: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1965), 10-11. Note carefully exactly how Joseph Fielding Smith navigates the issue of the 'Adam-God Theory' and modifies it for his purposes; compare with how Brigham Young himself and other earlier writers actually articulated it; consider whether the underlying logic has been tweaked here in any appreciable way.
Let us remember that the first marriage on this earth, that of Adam and Eve, was performed before there was any death in the world, therefore it was intended to be forever. Marriage, if performed by divine authority, is to last forever. In the Temples of the Lord men and women are married with an everlasting covenant. Children are born to them in this covenant to be theirs forever and therefore the family union was intended to endure forever....

In this, the final dispensation, the Prophet Joseph Smith was taught by revelation that the union between a man and his wife was to endure forever. Death, while it would intervene was to be only a temporary separation and the union of husband and wife would continue on through all eternity. And then the family union would also endure forever and that each generation, in the kingdom of God, would be eternally joined to the one that went on before from the end of time back to the beginning. Thus the children of the covenant would eventually be joined together and the children of God become one grand family. Each generation would be linked to the one which went on before of all those who would receive the Gospel and become members of the Divine Family of God.

Now I would like to express another thought which is vital to us one and all. President Brigham Young has been unjustly condemned for a statement that he made to the effect that Adam is our God and the only one with whom we have to do. President Young's statement has been unmercifully condemned, but what he said is a righteous principle and in full accord with the doctrines of the Kingdom of God. It is the doctrine of primogeniture in the Kingdom of God, and a glorious principle when it is fully and clearly understood....

Thus we learn by virtue of the law of primogeniture, that all who are saved in the Kingdom of God, will be subject to Adam, for by divine appointment he holds these keys under the direction of Jesus Christ. I might carry this law a little further. According to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, Joseph Fielding Smith will be subject to his father, and his father to his father in the family of God and so it will go back from the end to the beginning and we will all be obedient to Adam, whom the Prophet Joseph Smith declared holds the keys of salvation, for his posterity who are redeemed but under the "council" and direction of The "Holy One" who is Jesus Christ who stands at the head because he is the Redeemer of the world who gave us, through His atonement, the resurrection and eternal life if we will only repent and keep His laws and commandments....

Divorce was never contemplated in the Gospel plan, and, where true love exists, disharmony between father and mother and children to parents would not arise. We are all of us here in this mortal world on probation. We were sent here primarily to obtain tabernacles for our eternal spirits. Secondly to be proved by trial, tribulation as well as the abundant joy and happiness that can be obtained through a sacred covenant of obedience to the eternal principles of the Gospel. Mortality, as Lehi informed his children, is a "probationary state." It is here where we are to be tried and tested to see if we will when shut out of the presence of our Eternal Father - but still instructed in the way of eternal life - love and revere Him and be true to his Beloved Son, Jesus Christ. These principles should be laid in the foundation of every home. No prayer should be neglectful in regard to the sacred principles of the Gospel of our Redeemer. The Lord has commanded us, one and all, to bring our children up in light and truth. Where this spirit exists, disharmony, disobedience and neglect of sacred duties will not, cannot fail.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Today's Quote for Thought

Today's quote for thought comes from the "Varieties" section of The Latter-Day Saints' Millennial Star 14/23 (31 July 1852): 366.
MEN will wrangle for religion; write for it; fight for it; die for it; anything but live for it.

To be faithful to the present moment, hour, day, and its state, is a weighty matter, and demands most serious consideration.
Think on these things. I know I will.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Ryan Cragun on Baptism Speed and Retention Rates

Today I was listening to a recent episode of John Dehlin's popular Mormon Stories podcast - specifically, episode 319: "Changing Mormon Demographics in the U.S. with Dr. Ryan Cragun", in which John Dehlin (with Scott Holley) interviews University of Tampa sociologist Ryan T. Cragun about the latter's work on LDS sociodemographic trends in the United States from 1990 to 2008. It's an episode that's well-worth listening to, and I look forward to listening to episode 320 ("Changing Demographics in the Worldwide LDS Church with Matt Martinich of the Cumorah Foundation") later tonight. But during episode 319, there was a very interesting (to me) interval from 1:29:45 to 1:32:22, which I transcribe roughly as follows; consider it just one of many possible samples of why the podcast is worth listening to:
Dehlin: So this is... well, is it a big deal that the Church's growth is flatlining and maybe been declining? I mean... and, do you get a sense that other churches are more successful at retention overseas than we are?

Seventh-Day Adventists are. That's... again, it's a paper that I'm working on with Ron Lawson. They still lose members, right, but not nearly at the rate that the LDS Church does, and I think that has to do in part with the way they do about converting members, right? So the LDS Church still has a very specific kind of proselytizing program, and they haven't modified it very much since the 1960s. You've got, you know, a series of discussions – I know they've got a newer version out, and they say that you can kind of go with it how you need to, but the emphasis from the very beginning – I don't know what it was like in your guys's missions, but we were told by our mission president to invite people to be baptized during the first discussion.

Yeah, for sure we were.

Yeah, and I don't think they do that now, but there's still very much the push to, Let's get these people to church, let's get them baptized, um, rather than, Hey, let's teach them and walk them through this process and actually make them wait until we know that they've actually had kind of a change in the way that they think, they've been integrated into the congregation, and now we can actually have them baptized. For Jehovah's Witnesses, it's about a six-month process at a minimum before somebody can be baptized. And for Seventh-Day Adventists, it can two years, right?


So we're comparing that to, for Mormons, right, six weeks? Eight weeks? Maybe a couple of months, at most? You know, yeah, there are some that linger on and on and on and on, but for many of the converts, particularly when I was serving, right, if we went longer than six weeks with some investigators, we thought, Now they're never going to get baptized, and we would drop them. Well, by the end of my mission, the people I had converted at the beginning of my mission, they were already inactive.

So are we saying that if the Church required a longer time to actually be able to join, and were more methodical about making it harder to join, we would actually see an increase in both number of baptisms and an increase in retention?

Yeah, I think that's true.
For any of my LDS readers in particular, what do you think of this? Are there disadvantages to the swiftness of baptism in the 'ideal' LDS conversion scenario?

Quick Note

I'd like to direct attention to two recent posts by my best friend, in which she details an agreement she and I made to have a deep discussion of our respective faiths. In the first, she details how - in a series of installments (the topics and projected dates of which, she lists in the second post) - she's in the process of sending me a paper she's writing in defense of the claims of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; and, in turn, I'll write a paper in defense of my beliefs, where they differ, and offering some evaluation of her arguments on behalf of her positions. If she can make a persuasive enough case, I'll gladly reconsider the testimony I've received on behalf of my beliefs; and I trust her integrity enough to know that she'd do the same if I made a persuasive enough case. My sole request of my readers is to bathe the scenario in prayer and godly counsel, to the end that the fullness of God's light may win out.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me

I have a difficult time imagining many classic hymns that quite so powerfully capture the evangelical spirit as Augustus Toplady's justly famed "Rock of Ages", three verses of which are included as Hymn #111 in the Hymns of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; below I'll share a rendition I particularly enjoy, and my quotations of the lyrics will be from it. It has an air of intimacy, of direct 'I-Thou' personal relation to Jesus, confessing the singer's complete helplessness to be righteous ("All the labors of my hands / Could not meet Thy law's demands. / Could my zeal no respite know, / Could my tears forever flow, / All for sin could not atone...") and Jesus' complete all-sufficiency to save ("...Thou must save, and Thou alone"). The confession of a need for a "double cure" for sin, a salvation and sanctification gained only through Jesus' "wounded side"; the impassioned simplicity of the singer's emptiness ("Nothing in my hands I bring, / Simply to Thy cross I cling"); the singer's depiction of him- or herself as "naked" and "helpless", needing to rush to the divine "fountain" of amazing redeeming grace to be washed clean by the Savior or else die... could there be a better Evangelical anthem, or indeed a better Christian anthem?

Thursday, February 2, 2012

The Conversion Sojourn of J. Eckersley

In a two-installment series published in 1890, an English Latter-day Saint named J. Eckersley offered an account of his journey to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. What follows is from his "How I Became a 'Mormon'" as it appeared in The Latter-Day Saints' Millennial Star 52/10 (10 March 1890): 145-147 and 52/11 (17 March 1890): 163-165.
It was in the latter part of January, 1886, when, for the first time in my life, I became acquainted with the doctrines of the "Mormon" Church. I was at that time visiting friends at a small village called Patricroft, near Manchester, the place where I passed my boyhood days. For several years I had been a devout member of the Wesleyan Methodist Church - was honest in my convictions, endeavoring to serve God to the best of my ability, according to the light and knowledge I possessed. One evening, in company with two near friends, I attended a Methodist prayer meeting, and on returning to the house of Mr. R., whom I was visiting, we were met by a gentleman with whom I had previously some little acquaintance, and he having been formerly a Methodist preacher, I still believed him to be engaged in that profession. In course of conversation, addressing my friends he said it would afford him much pleasure to be favored with an opportunity of spending an evening with them, for the purpose of pointing out the path in which God would have them walk. Knowing that my friends were devout Methodists, of unblemished character and good repute, and believing that we were all walking the narrow path that leads to the Father's presence, I felt somewhat indignant at what I then considered the strange remarks of Mr. N., for I well knew that he was acquainted with the fact that we were already professing Christians, attended Church regularly, and were taught by our ministers.

Before retiring to rest that evening, Mr. and Mrs. R. and I entered into conversation upon religious topics, and feeling a little curious at the remarks made by Mr. N., I made some inquiries respecting him, when, to my dismay and astonishment, I was informed that he had united himself to the "Mormon" Church, and was actively engaged propagating the doctrines and principles of "Mormonism." Having heard many scurrilous stories concerning the "Mormons," I was a little curious to learn, from an authoritative source, something concerning the faith and practice of this despised people. At first my friends hesitated to enlighten my mind, fearing that I might oppose, and not being members of the "Mormon" Church themselves, they desired to evade any opposition, or feelings that might arise in giving their views respecting the faith of the Latter-day Saints. Finally, however, they commenced to repeat to me the Articles of Faith, and never shall I forget the feeling that pervaded my whole system on that occasion. I had always been taught that the Latter-day Saints were a low, degraded, and immoral community, who gathered together to some remote part of the globe, that they might be exempted from the law, and thus be at liberty to practise all manner of abominations and crime, without the fear of any punishment. But the false impressions and the prejudices I had imbibed, fled before the light of truth and love, as the morning mists vanish before the rays of the rising sun. My soul was filled with ecstasy, as my friends talked to me upon the necessity of baptism for the remission of sins, the laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost, the gifts and blessings promised to believers, and the organization of the Church of Christ - apostles and prophets being the officers. This kind of organization - a Church with apostles and prophets, which laid claim to all the gifts and blessings enjoyed by the primitive Christians, was what I had been seeking all my life.

If time and space would permit, I might relate many circumstances which transpired while earnesly endeavoring to serve God as a Methodist, that would prove how dissatisfied I was with the teachings of uninspired men, and how I longed to see the power of God made manifest as anciently. Feeling dissatisfied with the religions of to-day, (for although I was a member of the Methodist Church, I had wandered from place to place in hopes of obtaining satisfaction of mind,) often I had petitioned God to direct me into the sure path, and reveal unto me the whole truth; and now the light of truth had commenced to penetrate my soul, God was revealing unto me the things I had so earnestly sought after, and my heart was filled with joy inexpressible. On retiring to rest, I humbly knelt and petitioned God with more zeal and earnestness than ever before, to remove from my eyes the scales of darkness, and enable me to conform with the requirements necessary, in order to possess the knowledge promised to obedience. My mind was exercised to that extent, that sleep was almost impossible, and I lay awake for hours, meditating on the truths that had been taught me.

Next day was the Sabbath. I attended services at the Methodist Church, and never was it made more manifest unto me, than on this occasion, that learned divines were teaching for doctrine the commandments of men. Circumstances necessitating my return home, and feeling deeply concerned about what I had already learned respecting the faith of the Saints, and hungering and thirsting for more knowledge, I reluctantly bade my friends farewell, obtaining a promise that they would make application for some tracts, written by prominent Elders of the "Mormon" Church, and would mail them to my abode. A few days after my arrival home, my friends sent me a number of tracts, which I eagerly perused with intense interest, praying for the inspiration of the Spirit of God to assist me in understanding the things that I read. The more fervently I investigated, the more light and truth I received, and the more deeply grounded in my mind became the conviction that so-called "Mormonism" was none other than the true and everlasting Gospel, as taught in the New Testament. The following Sabbath I attended a meeting of the Saints, and heard the word of God as it fell from the mouths of His servants. The first speaker, who has since passed into the spirit world, spoke upon the organization of the Church of Christ, and the second discoursed upon the laws and ordinances necessary to membership in that Church. I had previously listened to many eloquent sermons, delivered by learned and talented men; but never before in all my life did I hear the Scriptures more clearly explained or the plan of salvation so plainly marked out, than by these humble men, to say nothing of the power that accompanied their words, which in very truth was sharper than a two-edged sword, piercing my heart to the very centre. At the close of the meeting, the last speaker approached me, asking how I had enjoyed the service, and, after a little conversation, invited me to accompany them to tea, and stay to the evening meeting. I did so, and the pleasant time we spent together will long be remembered; they were delighted at the opportunity of teaching me the Gospel, and I was overjoyed at the privilege of hearing its joyful sound. They related to me many of the experiences through which they had passed, the persecutions and trials endured by them for the Gospel's sake, and the slander and abuse heaped upon their heads by their once nearest friends - professed Christians - for accepting and clinging to the "Mormon" faith; all of which appealed to my reason as stronge evidences in favor of their honesty, and also of the divinity of the principles they had espoused.

In the evening I again attended meeting, which was similar to the one held in the fore part of the day, and I returned home with a firm conviction that I had found at last the strait and narrow way. But now came the test, whether or not I would obey the truths revealed to me, and take up my cross and follow Christ; my reputation was at stake; relatives and friends would all forsake me, and by one and all I should be despised. The sacrifice was indeed great, but I sought wisdom and strength from Him who has promised liberally to all who seek with humble and contrite hearts. Feeling thoroughly satisfied that I could only obtain a salvation through obedience to the Gospel as taught by the Latter-day Saints, I finally resolved to be baptized for the remission of my sins, and endeavor to keep the commandments of God, irrespective of the results that might follow. No sooner had I made this resolution, than I was taken seriously ill, being for several days confined to my bed; and my affliction was of such a violent nature, that had I not exercised faith, I should certainly have entertained strong doubts of my recovery. But having an assurance that God would restore me, and that this affliction was only one of the trying ordeals which He had ordained me to pass through, as a test of my faith, I bore testimony to my friends that God had a work for me to perform, and that I should recover, and ere long be a member of the "Mormon" Church.

Apparently, the assertion made that immediately on my recovery I should identify myself with the Saints, caused my friends much grief, and never shall I forget their pleadings with me to consider the step I was taking, asserting it was a delusion into which I had fallen. Several times my faith was sorely tried; Satan seemed to employ all the means in his power to weaken my faith, and prejudice my mind against the truths which I had so earnestly investigated. Those who should have been my best friends, and should have aided me in my search after truth, were the very instruments employed by the prince of darkness to turn me aside from the light that had dawned upon me; by their craft they sought to pervert the doctrines of Christ, and very frequently assured me that the Almighty had stricken me down, that I might have time for reflection, be led to see the folly of my ways, and be saved from the terrible sin of apostasy. In the midst of these trials, I prayed earnestly unto the Lord to spare my life, and restore me to perfect health, promising to dedicate my days to His service, if He would only grant my request. My prayer was heard, my request granted, and soon I was sufficiently recovered to be able to leave my bed; and although very weak, I attended Sunday services, and applied for baptism. On the following evening, I was initiated into the fold and family of Christ by baptism, Elder C. B. Orrock officiating. It must be remembered that I had not yet fully recovered from my sickness; but I bear testimony that in coming forth out of the water I was perfectly whole, which caused my heart to rejoice greatly, and the next day I followed by usual employment in the enjoyment of perfect health and strength, without any feelings of pain or distress. Three days later I attended a cottage meeting, held at the house of one of the members, and was confirmed a member of the Church by Elder Thomas Sleight, who promised me the Holy Ghost, and predicted many great blessings that should befall me, if but faithful to the covenants I had made with God. The power of God manifested at that meeting, will long be remembered by those present. When the servants of God laid their hands on my head, the Holy Ghost descended upon me in mighty power, and my whole being was suffused by a heavenly influence, such as I had never before felt, and a testimony was given to me that my sins were pardoned, and that God accepted me as His child. Not only was this heavenly influence enjoyed by myself, but all in the house felt the quickening power of the Spirit of God - priest and people alike rejoiced, and many wept for joy.

The news that I had embraced "Mormonism" soon became known to all my friends and acquaintances. One by one they separated themselves from my company, upbraiding me for the sin of apostasy, and ignoring my every appeal to them to investigate the claims made by the Latter-day Saints. Thus, my forebodings that becoming a "Mormon" would constitute an offense, sufficiently heinous in the eyes of my friends to exclude me from their company, were fully realized. The persecution received from my nearest and best friends, was a testimony unto me that I was a disciple of the Lord Jesus, and, like fuel, only added to the flame of zeal that had already commenced to kindle in my breast; and being filled with an earnest desire to impart unto others the light which God had revealed to me, I at once applied my mind to the obtaining of knowledge concerning the plan of salvation, as taught in the Bible, in order that I might be able to controvert false doctrine, and withstand the attacks of those who, by their vain wisdom and much learning, have perverted the oracles of God. In my pursuit of knowledge God blessed me greatly, and having committed to memory many passages of Scripture, I visited as many of my former friends as would receive me, and reasoned with them upon the doctrines of Christ, bearing testimony that God had spoken again from the heavens, and, in fulfillment of predictions made by the prophets, restored the everlasting and holy priesthood. Each day brought with it additional testimonies, that the principles and doctrines I had espoused were of God, and that their validity and truthfulness could not successfully be repudiated.

About two weeks after my conversion, I determined to visit the Methodist Church, of which I had formerly been a member, for the purpose of resigning my post as a teacher in the Sabbath school, and of requesting that my name be struck off the church record. Accordingly, on the Sabbath, I attended school, and interviewed the superintendent and my class leader. After a little conversation, I made known my errand, whereupon they asked the cause of my being desirous of separating myself from their church. This led to a discussion, and the manner in which the Spirit of God operated upon me I shall never forget. The gentlemen referred to were both learned, and had studied the Scriptures from their youth, one having been engaged in the ministry for many years. I was a youth of nineteen, of very limited education, and yet I was enabled to answer the questions they propounded in the manner to astonish and bewilder them! At first they endeavored to controvert the doctrines I advanced; but finding themselves unable to accomplish that arduous task, they finally gave way to a burst of passion, asserting many things in support of which they could not produce a particle of proof, saying that Joseph Smith was an impostor, and that his followers were a wicked and licentious people, and telling many fabulous stories of Joseph Smith's adventures in England. Before taking my departure, I reminded them of the fact that the Saints had ever been subjected to ill-usage and misrepresentation - that they who will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution, and that it was habitual for some men to resort to slander and abuse, when by fair argument they failed to establish their claim. I might relate many experiences through which I passed, of a similar nature to the above; but suffice it to say, that being acquainted with a multitude of professed Christians, it gave me opportunity to bear my testimony to many, and the more I discussed it with my former friends, the more clear to my mind became the fact that mankind have transgressed the laws of God, changed the ordinances, and broken the everlasting covenant, and are enveloped in gross darkness, and I praised God the more for being so mindful of me, as to open my eyes to discern His precious truths.

In answer to my prayers, I obtained the authority to preach the Gospel, and was ordained a priest in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, by Elder John Holt. I endeavored to magnify my holy calling whereunto God had called me, and was greatly blessed in so doing. I took untold pleasure in assisting to hold open-air meetings, and in rendering every possible assistance in spreading the everlasting Gospel. About this time the gifts of the Gospel were made manifest in a miraculous manner in the Branch of the Church of which I was then a member - the gift of tongues, the interpretation of tongues, the gift of prophecy, and the healing of the sick, were of common occurrence, God dividing these precious gifts among the Saints severally as He willed, according to their faithfulness. Thus my knowledge and testimony increased daily, and I rejoiced greatly in the realization of the promises made to me by the servants of God.

In October, 1887, I was ordained to the office of an Elder, by Elder W. G. Phillips. I was subsequently called into the ministry, and sent forth, like the disciples of old, to preach the Gospel without purse or scrip, encountering like difficulties, but rejoicing in the same hope, namely, that of eternal recompense. Nearly four years have now passed away since I identified myself with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; and although I have encountered many hardships, and endured much persecution for righteousness' sake, it has been the happiest period of my life, and not all the wealth of this world could purchase the experience and knowledge obtained through humble obedience to the will of God.

Should this article, the experience of a humble youth, fall into the hands of any who are dissatisfied by the doctrines of men, and who desire to become acquainted with the true Gospel of Jesus Christ, I earnestly exhort them to read the above with an unprejudiced mind, and I bear testimony that as many as will follow my example, and do the will of the Father, shall, like me, obtain a knowledge and testimony from God, that He is a rewarder of all those who diligently seek him. "If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him."

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Counsel for February

The following comes from W. W. Phelps, Almanac for the Year 1859: The Third after Leap Year; and after the 6th of April, Thirtieth year of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Great Salt Lake City, UT: J. McKnight, 1859), 4:
FEBRUARY should be considered the month of preparation. If the weather permits spade the ground, lay off the gardens, make ready for onions, they may be sown in this month as well as in March and April. Prepare for asparagus by manure to coax it up early. A diligent hand upon a medium sized body accomplishes more than a lazy giant.