Monday, June 27, 2016

Blood of the Saints

You do not know what you have lost in never seeing and becoming acquainted with these men.  I value the privilege I had with them, more than I do all else that my eyes have ever beheld. I ask what would you not give for the privilege, if it could be had, of seeing and conversing with the Apostles Peter, James and John, or Paul, and receiving instructions from them? Now I say unto you that greater than these have been slain in the jail of Carthage.

—John S. Fullmer, personal letter to his uncle, 
September 27, 1844

What is a Saint?

Due to the name of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, members are in the cultural habit of referring to one another as “Saints,” which practice raises eyebrows among other denominations where “Saint” means something so holy that it would be unthinkable to call each other by that title in casual conversation.

Webster’s 1828 dictionary defines “Saint” as follows:

A person sanctified; a holy or godly person; one eminent for piety and virtue; any true Christian, as being redeemed and consecrated to God.
Hence, whatever our cultural habits, we need to keep this definition in mind when reading scripture. A saint is one who is sanctified, or made holy, by God.

Taking the life of one whom the Lord has made holy is such a crime that the shed, innocent blood of the saint cries out to the Lord for vengeance. Consider the case of Abel, who “walked in holiness before the Lord.” (Moses 5:26):

And Cain went into the field, and Cain talked with Abel, his brother. And it came to pass that while they were in the field, Cain rose up against Abel, his brother, and slew him. And the Lord said unto Cain: Where is Abel, thy brother? And he said: I know not. Am I my brother’s keeper? 
And the Lord said: What hast thou done? The voice of thy brother’s blood cries unto me from the ground. (Moses 5:32-35; see also Genesis 4:8-10)
When Nephi saw our day, he observed the following concerning us and our professed religion:
And they deny the power of God, the Holy One of Israel; and they say unto the people: Hearken unto us, and hear ye our precept; for behold there is no God today, for the Lord and the Redeemer hath done his work, and he hath given his power unto men; 
Behold, hearken ye unto my precept; if they shall say there is a miracle wrought by the hand of the Lord, believe it not; for this day he is not a God of miracles; he hath done his work. 
Yea, and there shall be many which shall say: Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die; and it shall be well with us. 
And there shall also be many which shall say: Eat, drink, and be merry; nevertheless, fear God—he will justify in committing a little sin; yea, lie a little, take the advantage of one because of his words, dig a pit for thy neighbor; there is no harm in this; and do all these things, for tomorrow we die; and if it so be that we are guilty, God will beat us with a few stripes, and at last we shall be saved in the kingdom of God.
(Side note: The following question was recently asked on a final exam in a BYU Religion Class: “How does what you know about Christ give you hope that you will very likely inherit the Celestial kingdom?” Very likely indeed.)
Yea, and there shall be many which shall teach after this manner, false and vain and foolish doctrines, and shall be puffed up in their hearts, and shall seek deep to hide their counsels from the Lord; and their works shall be in the dark. And the blood of the saints shall cry from the ground against them. (2 Nephi 28:5-10)
Since this passage refers to our day, we have to ask ourselves: What saints cry for vengeance in our day? What spilt blood has reason to cry against us? Surely not the blood of the ancient martyrs, shed at another place, at another time, by corrupt religionists with no connection to us. No, I assert that the blood in question was shed 172 years ago today at Carthage jail, where the two men from this dispensation who can unequivocally be called “saints” were murdered to silence their testimonies of truth.

I’m sure we’ve all read the official accounts of what happened that day. I’ve stood many times in that very room in Carthage jail and considered those events. I don’t believe the official story; it is demonstrably inaccurate in a number of important ways. However, I don’t intend to make that the focus of this post. Besides, only God knows, at this point, the truth of the events leading up to and culminating in the prophet murders.

I’ll assert only that this was not the haphazard action of a violent mob, but rather the calculated endeavor of a secret combination. This combination yet exists among us where we might not expect it.

Just as Nephi saw our day, Moroni did as well, and had this to say about events that are now upon us:

And it shall come in a day when the blood of saints shall cry unto the Lord, because of secret combinations and the works of darkness. 
Yea, it shall come in a day when the power of God shall be denied, and churches become defiled and be lifted up in the pride of their hearts; yea, even in a day when leaders of churches and teachers shall rise in the pride of their hearts, even to the envying of them who belong to their churches. (Mormon 8:27-28)
A secret combination, working in darkness, conspired to murder Joseph and Hyrum. In our day, their blood cries out. Shed martyr blood always cries out to the Lord for vengeance:
For behold, they murdered all the prophets of the Lord who came among them to declare unto them concerning their iniquities; and the blood of those whom they murdered did cry unto the Lord their God for vengeance upon those who were their murderers; and thus the judgments of God did come upon these workers of darkness and secret combinations. (Alma 37:30)
Nephi prophesied the following regarding the time leading up to Christ’s crucifixion:
Great and terrible shall that day be unto the wicked, for they shall perish; and they perish because they cast out the prophets, and the saints, and stone them, and slay them; wherefore the cry of the blood of the saints shall ascend up to God from the ground against them. Wherefore, all those who are proud, and that do wickedly, the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the Lord of Hosts, for they shall be as stubble. 
And they that kill the prophets, and the saints, the depths of the earth shall swallow them up, saith the Lord of Hosts; and mountains shall cover them, and whirlwinds shall carry them away, and buildings shall fall upon them and crush them to pieces and grind them to powder. (2 Nephi 26:3-5)
Nephi’s prophecy was fulfilled. Here’s a relevant portion of the record:
And behold, the city of Laman, and the city of Josh, and the city of Gad, and the city of Kishkumen, have I caused to be burned with fire, and the inhabitants thereof, because of their wickedness in casting out the prophets, and stoning those whom I did send to declare unto them concerning their wickedness and their abominations. 
And because they did cast them all out, that there were none righteous among them, I did send down fire and destroy them, that their wickedness and abominations might be hid from before my face, that the blood of the prophets and the saints whom I sent among them might not cry unto me from the ground against them.
(3 Nephi 9:10-11)
Similar destruction is prophesied in our day, and for exactly the same reasons:
And thus, with the sword and by bloodshed the inhabitants of the earth shall mourn; and with famine, and plague, and earthquake, and the thunder of heaven, and the fierce and vivid lightning also, shall the inhabitants of the earth be made to feel the wrath, and indignation, and chastening hand of an Almighty God, until the consumption decreed hath made a full end of all nations; That the cry of the saints, and of the blood of the saints, shall cease to come up into the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth, from the earth, to be avenged of their enemies. (D&C 87:6-7)
These are not idle words. The destruction is soon upon us.
And whatsoever nation shall uphold such secret combinations, to get power and gain, until they shall spread over the nation, behold, they shall be destroyed; for the Lord will not suffer that the blood of his saints, which shall be shed by them, shall always cry unto him from the ground for vengeance upon them and yet he avenge them not. 
Wherefore, O ye Gentiles, it is wisdom in God that these things should be shown unto you, that thereby ye may repent of your sins, and suffer not that these murderous combinations shall get above you, which are built up to get power and gain—and the work, yea, even the work of destruction come upon you, yea, even the sword of the justice of the Eternal God shall fall upon you, to your overthrow and destruction if ye shall suffer these things to be.  
Wherefore, the Lord commandeth you, when ye shall see these things come among you that ye shall awake to a sense of your awful situation, because of this secret combination which shall be among you; or wo be unto it, because of the blood of them who have been slain; for they cry from the dust for vengeance upon it, and also upon those who built it up. (Ether 8:22-24)
Killing the Prophets Today

So why should we be concerned in our day about what happened four or five generations ago? Surely those involved will answer for their actions, will they not? Well of course they will.

But you don’t have to actually pull the trigger to participate in the killings at Carthage. When it comes to those whom the Lord has sent, what matters most is not the men, but the message. When God personally commissions and sends prophets with His message, we ignore that message at our peril. If the prophets are killed for their testimony, their shed blood invokes an undeniable witness, to which the Lord will give heed, and for which the Lord will bring vengeance.

Unfortunately, the “saints” stone, cast out, and kill Joseph yet today. Here are some of the ways those who claim to accept Joseph Smith’s mission, instead participate in his assassination:

Cursed are all those that shall lift up the heel against mine anointed, saith the Lord, and cry they have sinned when they have not sinned before me, saith the Lord, but have done that which was meet in mine eyes, and which I commanded them.  
But those who cry transgression do it because they are the servants of sin, and are the children of disobedience themselves. (D&C 121:16-17)
Blood and Vengeance

When I visited Carthage Jail as a boy, part of the tour included inspecting the blood stains on the floor where Hyrum fell. Whether those were the actual stains or not, the blood of these slain saints yet cries out for vengeance. But that may not mean what we think.

The Lord will have His vengeance on the murderers; this is certain. Yet, fallen human nature impatiently demands justice now, to be exacted by blood for blood.

So egregious were the murders of the Smith brothers that it took great effort by other church leaders to prevent retaliatory violence by the Latter-day Saints. Though vengeance belongs to the Lord, many wanted to shed the blood of those responsible for the deaths of Joseph and Hyrum.

I there and then resolved in my mind that I would never let an opportunity slip unimproved of avenging their blood upon the enemies of the church of Jesus Christ. I felt as though I could not live; I knew not how to contain myself, and when I see one of the men who persuaded them to give up to be tried, I feel like cutting their throats. And I hope to live to avenge their blood.
—Allen Joseph Stout journal entry
This feeling was eventually codified into an actual temple covenant, requiring the following oath of all who received their temple endowment:
You and each of you do covenant and promise that you will pray and never cease to pray to Almighty God to avenge the blood of the prophets upon this nation, and that you will teach the same to your children and to your children's children unto the third and fourth generation.
This oath remained in the endowment into the 1920s when popular outcry and political pressure forced its removal. The sentiment expressed in this oath, and by church leaders, contributed to violence in the early church, including the massacre of innocents at Mountain Meadows.

Of course, no amount of shed blood will right the wrong, nor prevent the consequences of casting out the prophets. And the fact that the blood stains have now been removed from the floor in Carthage does nothing to silence the cry of the martyrs’ shed blood.

I propose there is another way to avenge the blood of the Saints; it is to return to belief in their words. The only real vengeance possible, and the only measures that can in any way right the committed wrong is to return to the truth of the message they died to seal, thus ensuring they did not die in vain.

Unfortunately, many do not feel this way. Some, including the church he founded and those it employs, still hold Joseph Smith in derision. Such are fools. Some still rage against him. Such are children of Hell. (D&C 122:1) Those who continue to assassinate the prophet’s character perpetuate the 172-year legacy of Carthage.

The blood has cried out against us long enough! We must do better; we must begin to right the wrongs by repenting.

When we search out what Joseph actually taught; when we accept his words as the actual words of Christ; when we cease to accuse him of deceit, adultery, ignorance, or sin; when we seek counsel, and authority, and blessings constantly from under Joseph’s hand (D&C 122:2); when we restore the words he gave us as scripture (including the Lectures on Faith); when we put down the secret combinations that seek power and gain through false religion; and most of all, when we seek to receive all that Joseph said was possible—we will begin to avenge the shed blood of the prophets.

This is the only way we can escape the coming judgments. God was serious when he vouched for Joseph (D&C 21:1-8). God was offended when we killed the one he sent. The sword of vengeance hangs over us, and it will fall (Mormon 8:41). 
On this, the anniversary of that fateful Thursday 172 years ago, repentance is our only hope.

Wherever he reasoned on the old prophets his words lit up a sacred flame in the heart of the saint that showed an ocean of existence unexplored by the vain philosophy of the world; when he poured out his eloquence, the gentile on the reserved rights of all fools declared, “I would rather go to hell than believe that imposter!”—and who cannot but say amen! Go!

—W. W. Phelps 
Funeral Sermon of Joseph and Hyrum Smith

Saturday, June 18, 2016

The Name of Jesus Christ, Part 7: Becoming His Child

Behold, I say unto you, that when his soul has been made an offering for sin he shall see his seed. And now what say ye? And who shall be his seed?
—Mosiah 15:10

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8

I couldn’t afford that glider chair, and even if I could pay for it, I had no way to get it home. Twenty-four years old, newly married, still in school and struggling, I had recently learned my wife was expecting—and I needed that chair.

I thought it was for my wife, so she would have a place to nurse and rock the baby. Only later did I realize how much that chair was for me.

Borrowed money and a borrowed truck got the chair to our one-bedroom apartment, the only piece of living-room furniture we owned. A daughter soon joined us, and the chair did its duty, many times each day.

I didn’t know much about raising children, but I knew they needed to be rocked, because I grew up being rocked by my mother. My only natural fatherly instinct was to rock my baby to sleep as I quietly sang to her:

I am a child of God,

And he has sent me here,

Has given me an earthly home

With parents kind and dear.

Lead me, guide me, walk beside me,

Help me find the way.

Teach me all that I must do

To live with him someday.

This was the soundtrack of my fatherhood, sung nightly to each of my babies as I we rocked in that chair. For me, it was more than a song—it was a prayer, a hope, an aspiration; the desperate plea of a young father, tasked with leading and guiding a child, while still keenly feeling the need to be led and guided himself. In my own fear and distress, the singing and rocking perhaps brought more comfort to me than it did to my children.
I am a child of God,

And so my needs are great;

Help me to understand his words

Before it grows too late.
As the Lord has led and guided me, I’ve tried to “understand his words.” Doing so has brought many surprising realizations, including the discovery that the song begins with a false premise:

I’m NOT yet a child of God, and neither, likely, are you.


Now, lest you should die of shock at such a bold assertion, let me hedge just a little: Yes, in one sense, we are all children of God, in that He created us and is working to exalt us. I’m not trying to minimize that relationship nor His important work. Rather, I hope simply to highlight what the Book of Mormon teaches us about who we are, and who we must become.

The scriptures are explicit on this point, and we ought to understand it. The Book of Mormon is brimming with this teaching, to the point that you would have to be blind to miss it. Nevertheless, awful blindness is our common Gentile affliction (1 Nephi 13:32), so let’s search the scriptures and seek understanding.

Children of Men

The general population of planet earth is most commonly described in the Book of Mormon as the “children of men.” In fact, this exact description appears 126 times in the Book of Mormon. It highlights the fact that, though we were created by God, we’ve been sent here to the Telestial world, with its included physical and spiritual separation from God. We are not part of His family here, because that relationship was lost by the fall—both Adam’s fall and our own. God’s family is entirely different than the family of Adam, or “children of men,” here on Earth.

The result is that we’re not born here as God’s children, but rather as children of men, inclined to become God’s enemies.

Whoa! That’s not what your primary teacher told you, is it? The weirdness is expanding! Well, just stick with me. We’re going to stay with the words of scripture until we find some answers. Though it all begins in dismay, it ends in exceedingly good news.

For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father. (Mosiah 3:19)
We’re all born here in a natural state of separation from God, termed a kind of “enmity.” If we remain in that state, and die in our sins, wo unto us. (2 Nephi 9:38).

On the other hand, we’re offered the opportunity, and even the requirement, to put off that natural state and submit to Christ as our father. More particularly, we’re invited to become children of Christ, by becoming “saints” through His atonement.

But wait, what do you mean by “children of Christ?” Aren’t we supposed to be “children of God?”

Well…two things to keep in mind here. First, Christ is God. Becoming His child makes you a child of God—part of His family—and therefore part of His Father’s family. But even more specifically, the one who redeems you becomes your Father—as in, the father of your salvation. Hence Christ is both the Father and the Son, and bears both titles in scripture. Christ will become your Father in Heaven when He redeems you.

Lost Truth: Becoming a Child of Christ

To even begin to approach this topic, you must first understand that the invitation to “become” something implies that you’re NOT already that thing. Otherwise, there would be no need to “become.” With that in mind, let’s look at some of the pertinent scriptures:

And now, because of the covenant which ye have made ye shall be called the children of Christ, his sons, and his daughters; for behold, this day he hath spiritually begotten you; for ye say that your hearts are changed through faith on his name; therefore, ye are born of him and have become his sons and his daughters. (Mosiah 5:7, emphasis mine)
So King Benjamin’s people became Christ’s children on a specific day, through a specific covenant.

The covenant by which we become Christ’s children is one of the plain and precious teachings and covenants that was removed from the Bible by the great and abominable church. (1 Nephi 13:26-27) It was done with the specific intent to blind our minds and harden our hearts, because Satan  absolutely does not want us to seek or receive these things.

His strategy was effective, and their removal from scripture blinded us to the very purpose of our existence and the very definition of redemption. The result is that we can spend a lifetime seeking to follow Christ, without ever knowing how to go about it or where it's supposed to lead. By concealing the goal, Satan has blinded billions into believing redemption has no real requirements.

God foresaw the loss of the plain and precious truths and covenants, so he prepared the solution to the problem well in advance. The Book of Mormon was sent with the specific purpose of rescuing us from our awful blindness. (1 Nephi 13:32-35) This is why the Book of Mormon spends so much space emphasizing the purpose and end of our existence: to come back into the presence of the Lord, be redeemed by Him, and become His child—a new creature in Christ.

The idea of a new spiritual creation, or a new “begetting” is found in a scene in Psalms:

I will declare the decree: the Lord hath said unto me, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee. (Psalms 2:7)
This is the formal acceptance into God’s family. This is the language the Father spoke from heaven at Christ’s baptism, though the recorded wording was later changed to conceal the truth and satisfy a false doctrinal view.

The new creation is properly termed a “new birth,” creating a “new creature.”

And the Lord said unto me: Marvel not that all mankind, yea, men and women, all nations, kindreds, tongues and people, must be born again; yea, born of God, changed from their carnal and fallen state, to a state of righteousness, being redeemed of God, becoming his sons and daughters; and thus they become new creatures; and unless they do this, they can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God. (Mosiah 27:25-26)
So there’s a change that must take place, and it’s evidently a big enough change that it makes you a new creature, and part of Christ’s family. It is not optional if you want to inherit the kingdom of God. Understanding this inheritance necessarily includes understanding this family relationship.
And it came to pass that Alma, having authority from God, ordained priests; even one priest to every fifty of their number did he ordain to preach unto them, and to teach them concerning the things pertaining to the kingdom of God. 
And he commanded them that they should teach nothing save it were the things which he had taught, and which had been spoken by the mouth of the holy prophets. Yea, even he commanded them that they should preach nothing save it were repentance and faith on the Lord, who had redeemed his people. 
And he commanded them that there should be no contention one with another, but that they should look forward with one eye, having one faith and one baptism, having their hearts knit together in unity and in love one towards another. And thus he commanded them to preach. And thus they became the children of God. (Mosiah 18:18-22, emphasis mine)
Here we learn that the Lord has sent, and does send, teachers to preach the truths that lead to His covenant. These truths include repentance and faith on the Lord:
And after that he came men also were saved by faith in his name; and by faith, they become the sons of God. (Moroni 7:26, emphasis mine)
Those who receive these teachings desire to live peaceably:
And blessed are all the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God. (3 Nephi 12:9, emphasis mine)
Such search diligently until they have laid hold upon every good thing:
Wherefore, I beseech of you, brethren, that ye should search diligently in the light of Christ that ye may know good from evil; and if ye will lay hold upon every good thing, and condemn it not, ye certainly will be a child of Christ. (Moroni 7:19, emphasis mine)
Part of the path to becoming His child involves “laying hold upon every good thing.” In His mortal ministry, Christ taught “Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God.” (Mark 10:18) After His resurrection, when Christ ascended to the throne of the Father, He also became God, and therefore worthy of the title “good.”

So…if you are to lay hold on every good thing, does this involve, literally, laying hold on Christ? Does it involve touching Him? Embracing him as the returning Prodigal? Hearing Him speak your name? Feeling the nail prints in His hands and in His feet?

The Nephites who did so, were converted and described as follows:

There were no robbers, nor murderers, neither were there Lamanites, nor any manner of -ites; but they were in one, the children of Christ, and heirs to the kingdom of God. (4 Nephi 1:17, emphasis mine)
As Christ’s children, they were also his heirs. It couldn’t be more plain; heaven is a family gathering.
The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: and if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together. (Romans 8:16-17)
This brings us directly back to Mosiah 27:26: “…and unless they do this, they can in nowise inherit the Kingdom of God.”

Only Christ’s children will inherit Christ’s kingdom. His children are a distinct, identifiable group—known to Him—who have received the fulness of what He offers:

Nevertheless the children of God were commanded that they should gather themselves together oft, and join in fasting and mighty prayer in behalf of the welfare of the souls of those who knew not God. (Alma 6:6)
These children of God were distinguished by their knowledge of God, as opposed to those who “knew not God.” This does not refer to some sort of abstract knowledge about God, but rather a personal knowledge from having met Him and been accepted as His child and heir.

Those who have not received such blessings have been known to persecute and hate those who have. Often, they are taught to do so by their false religious traditions:

And it was because of the wickedness and abomination of their fathers, even as it was in the beginning. And they were taught to hate the children of God, even as the Lamanites were taught to hate the children of Nephi from the beginning. (4 Nephi 1:39, emphasis mine)
But this is all to be expected. When you have part in the kingdom of heaven, the kingdoms of this earth and the “rulers of the darkness of this world” (Eph. 6:12) will persecute you.
And blessed are all they who are persecuted for my name’s sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. And blessed are ye when men shall revile you and persecute, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake; 
For ye shall have great joy and be exceedingly glad, for great shall be your reward in heaven; for so persecuted they the prophets who were before you. (3 Nephi 12:10-12)
Note that those who were persecuted, were persecuted for “my name’s sake.” And so it was among the Nephites; the persecuted were those who had taken Christ’s name:
But it came to pass that whosoever did not belong to the church of God began to persecute those that did belong to the church of God, and had taken upon them the name of Christ. (Alma 1:19)
And now we arrive, at last, at the point of this whole series. With this scriptural background in place, it’s finally time to discuss the Name of Jesus Christ.

The Name of Jesus Christ

When one enters into certain kinds of covenants, a new name is part of the covenant. This happens in gospel covenants, as well as in secular life. Think of a marriage or adoption, wherein one receives a new name and a new, legally binding family relationship. An inheritance, or a share in the family’s possessions, is also included in such covenants.

The surprising thing about the topic of taking Christ’s name, is that in our blindness, we’ve made something that ought to be straightforward and easily understood, into a mystery beyond comprehension. We’ve invented all sorts of ideas about how we receive His name by merely claiming it, or by believing in Him, or by accepting him, or by an earthly ordinance, or by joining an organization—and that one or more of these acts somehow places His name upon us, when no such thing is taught in scripture.

What IS taught in scripture is a covenant, spoken by Him, accepting you as His child. This is an adoption—in every legally binding sense of that word. God’s word is law; therefore when he says, “Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee” it is done. You are, from that point forward, His child, and He is your father.

These are the words Father Ahman spoke to Christ. These are the words we hope to hear Christ speak to each of us. By these words, we receive His name. By these words, we inherit His kingdom. This is a simple truth, adapted to the understanding of even the weakest, because our families on earth perfectly mirror this arrangement. A child can understand this teaching, and so can we, if we will become as little children. This is a plain and precious truth, too long hidden. This is the covenant he yearns to make with us, if we will receive it.

The Firstborn

The name we use here on Earth for the heavenly family of Christ is “the church of the Firstborn” because it is comprised of those individuals who have received the right of the firstborn.

And now, verily I say unto you, I was in the beginning with the Father, and am the Firstborn; And all those who are begotten through me are partakers of the glory of the same, and are the church of the Firstborn. (D&C 93:21-22; see also Heb. 12:22-23, D&C 76:54)
Called by His Name

Receiving Christ’s name here is critical to our eternal salvation. How do I know? The Lord said so:

Have they not read the scriptures, which say ye must take upon you the name of Christ, which is my name? For by this name shall ye be called at the last day; (3 Nephi 27:5, emphasis mine)
It must happen before the last day. Alma taught it:
Behold, I say unto you, that the good shepherd doth call you; yea, and in his own name he doth call you, which is the name of Christ; and if ye will not hearken unto the voice of the good shepherd, to the name by which ye are called, behold, ye are not the sheep of the good shepherd. 
And now if ye are not the sheep of the good shepherd, of what fold are ye? Behold, I say unto you, that the devil is your shepherd, and ye are of his fold; and now, who can deny this? Behold, I say unto you, whosoever denieth this is a liar and a child of the devil. (Alma 5:38-39, emphasis mine) 
King Benjamin learned it from an angel, and taught it to his people:
And moreover, I say unto you, that there shall be no other name given nor any other way nor means whereby salvation can come unto the children of men, only in and through the name of Christ, the Lord Omnipotent. (Mosiah 3:17, emphasis mine)
And under this head ye are made free, and there is no other head whereby ye can be made free. There is no other name given whereby salvation cometh; therefore, I would that ye should take upon you the name of Christ, all you that have entered into the covenant with God that ye should be obedient unto the end of your lives. 
And it shall come to pass that whosoever doeth this shall be found at the right hand of God, for he shall know the name by which he is called; for he shall be called by the name of Christ. 
And now it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall not take upon him the name of Christ must be called by some other name; therefore, he findeth himself on the left hand of God. (Mosiah 5:8-10, emphasis mine)
The Lord spoke it to Alma:
Yea, blessed is this people who are willing to bear my name; for in my name shall they be called; and they are mine. 
For it is I that taketh upon me the sins of the world; for it is I that hath created them; and it is I that granteth unto him that believeth unto the end a place at my right hand. For behold, in my name are they called; and if they know me they shall come forth, and shall have a place eternally at my right hand. 
And it shall come to pass that when the second trump shall sound then shall they that never knew me come forth and shall stand before me. And then shall they know that I am the Lord their God, that I am their Redeemer; but they would not be redeemed. 
And then I will confess unto them that I never knew them; and they shall depart into everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels. (Mosiah 26:18, 23-27, emphasis mine)
Whosoever Denieth This

I’ve had discussions with people who question the necessity, or even the value, of meeting the Lord in this life and becoming His child. Dallin H. Oaks, who claims the title of Apostle, summarized this viewpoint with the following statement:

Of course, all of the righteous desire to see the face of our Savior, but the suggestion that this must happen in mortality is a familiar tactic of the adversary. (June 14, 2015, Boise, Idaho)
The above scriptures should put to rest all such nonsense. Our Lord explicitly states that the only way to salvation is to know Him and bear His name—or in other words, to be His child. If you don’t bear his name, you have no part with Him. If you can’t see this truth in the scriptures above, you are in an awful state of blindness indeed!

The idea that such things are not necessary? THAT is a familiar tactic of the adversary—and those he employs to teach anti-Christ falsehoods. Denying these truths has been Satan’s plan from the beginning. 

To borrow Alma’s words, “Behold, I say unto you, whosoever denieth this is a liar and a child of the devil.” It is beyond disgusting that one who pretends to be an Apostle would stand and preach against the very purpose of the atonement, and thus assist Satan in blinding and damning souls.

From such, turn away. (2 Timothy 3:5)

A Willing Heart

Wherefore, my beloved brethren, I know that if ye shall follow the Son, with full purpose of heart, acting no hypocrisy and no deception before God, but with real intent, repenting of your sins, witnessing unto the Father that ye are willing to take upon you the name of Christ; by baptism, yea, by following your Lord and your Savior down into the water, according to his word, behold, then shall ye receive the Holy Ghost. (2 Nephi 31:13, punctuation and emphasis mine)
The ordinance of baptism symbolizes our death and rebirth into Christ’s family. But it is only a symbol; it is not the actual adoption. It shows the Father our willingness to be part of His family. Alma offered baptism to those who were “desirous to come into the fold of God, and to be called his people.” (Mosiah 18:8) Baptism is the first step in demonstrating our desire to be children of Christ.

Holy Flesh, Holy Blood

I served my mission in the Southern United States, where it’s common to refer to your relatives as your “flesh and blood.” There’s no more fitting way to show your willingness to be Christ’s child than to symbolically partake of His flesh and blood often, thus incorporating it into your own flesh and blood, and remembering the relationship you hope to have with Him.

In Moroni, we read “The manner of their elders and priests administering the flesh and blood of Christ unto the church.” The prayer includes the provision “….that they may…witness unto thee, O God, the Eternal Father, that they are willing to take upon them the name of thy Son.” (Moroni 4:1-3)

There is no more fitting witness and reminder of our intent. We should partake often so that we may “always remember Him.” Christ commanded that we “meet together oft” to do this holy thing. (3 Nephi 18:22, Moroni 6:5-6).

Like all earthly ordinances, both baptism and sacrament are witnesses and reminders. They symbolize that perfect day when you may come into His presence, embrace and be embraced, know as you are known, and become His child in very deed.

That Family Resemblance

And now behold, I ask of you, my brethren of the church, have ye spiritually been born of God? Have ye received his image in your countenances? Have ye experienced this mighty change in your hearts? (Alma 5:14)
I say unto you, can ye look up to God at that day with a pure heart and clean hands? I say unto you, can you look up, having the image of God engraven upon your countenances? (Alma 5:19)
And I looked, and, lo, a Lamb stood on the mount Sion, and with him an hundred forty and four thousand, having his Father’s name written in their foreheads. (Revelation 14:1)
And there shall be no more curse: but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it; and his servants shall serve him: And they shall see his face; and his name shall be in their foreheads. (Revelation 22:3-4) 
At that day, you can “sing the song of redeeming love.” (Alma 5:26)

At that day, you can properly testify:

I am a child of God.
His promises are sure;

Celestial glory shall be mine

If I can but endure.
Now that we’re no longer blind to this plain and precious teaching, may we humble ourselves as little children, submit to Him as our father, and become His children in very deed. 

For these are they whose sins he has borne; these are they for whom he has died, to redeem them from their transgressions. And now, are they not his seed?

—Mosiah 15:12

Saturday, June 4, 2016

The First Eight Verses

And I said unto them: Have ye inquired of the Lord?
—1 Nephi 15:8

In my last post, I discussed the importance of asking questions about scripture. To help illustrate what I mean, here are the first eight verses of the Book of Mormon, together with some questions that come to mind. This list is not exhaustive, but I hope it will at least be instructive. 
 1. I, Nephi, having been born of goodly parents, therefore I was taught somewhat in all the learning of my father; and having seen many afflictions in the course of my days, nevertheless, having been highly favored of the Lord in all my days; yea, having had a great knowledge of the goodness and the mysteries of God, therefore I make a record of my proceedings in my days.
Why start with the mention of parentage? What makes them “goodly?” 

Why does Nephi mention that he was taught in the “learning” of his father? What was unique about Lehi’s learning? Does the brief sketch of Lehi’s experiences that follows this introduction help define Lehi’s learning, and “goodly” status? 

Why does Nephi mention both afflictions and favor in his very first paragraph? 

Does Nephi’s great knowledge of the goodness and mysteries of God have anything to do with all the “learning” of his goodly parents?
 2. Yea, I make a record in the language of my father, which consists of the learning of the Jews and the language of the Egyptians.
Nephi speaks of the “learning of the Jews.” Is this different than the learning of his father? In 2 Nephi 25:2, Nephi speaks poorly of the Jews and their ways. Why is it important that Nephi also mentioned the Egyptian influence in his father’s language? Does the “language of [Nephi’s] father” mean something more than the written language Nephi etched into the plates?
 3. And I know that the record which I make is true; and I make it with mine own hand; and I make it according to my knowledge.
Nephi twice uses a form of the word, “know.” What does that tell us? Is this something more than belief? Is Nephi offering us conjecture? How does he “know” these things? Is it significant that Nephi is making this record himself, with his own hand? 
 4. For it came to pass in the commencement of the first year of the reign of Zedekiah, king of Judah, (my father, Lehi, having dwelt at Jerusalem in all his days); and in that same year there came many prophets, prophesying unto the people that they must repent, or the great city Jerusalem must be destroyed.
Does it matter that Lehi dwelt “at” Jerusalem, rather than “in” Jerusalem? 

How is it possible there were “many” prophets prophesying? Can there be more than one at a time? Is Lehi one of them at this point, or merely one who believes them?

Why was Jerusalem slated for destruction? What does it take for the Lord to get to the point of destroying a city? Is this something more significant than typical wickedness and godlessness? When else has God destroyed people, and why? What does God do before the destruction?
 5. Wherefore it came to pass that my father, Lehi, as he went forth prayed unto the Lord, yea, even with all his heart, in behalf of his people.
Why does Nephi mention that Lehi prayed, “as he went forth?” What does that mean? Was this inside Jerusalem, or outside the city wall?

Is it significant that Lehi prayed “with all his heart?” How do I do that?

Lehi prayed in behalf of his people. What does that say about Lehi? What was he trying to accomplish? Can one man really make intercession on behalf of a whole city?
 6. And it came to pass as he prayed unto the Lord, there came a pillar of fire and dwelt upon a rock before him; and he saw and heard much; and because of the things which he saw and heard he did quake and tremble exceedingly.
Why was there a rock before Lehi? What was the rock for? What was Lehi doing there? Did Lehi know something about approaching the Lord that we no longer remember or practice?

Is the pillar of fire similar to the pillar of light Joseph Smith saw, which he also described as a pillar of fire? 

Is this similar to what the Nephites witnessed at Bountiful when the Lord opened the heavens and angels descended in the resulting pillar of fire, to encircle the children? (3 Nephi 17:24)

Is this similar to the event when the Nephite disciples were baptized—when the heavens opened, and angels descended in a pillar of fire? (3 Nephi 19:14)

Is this what happened to Nephi and Lehi in the prison when they were encircled in fire and conversed with angels? (Helaman 5)

Is it significant that each time there’s a fiery corridor mentioned, heavenly beings come through that portal to minister to men on earth? And men looking up through the corridor see into heaven? 

What did Joseph Smith see in the pillar of fire?

Lehi “saw and heard much” when the pillar of fire encircled his altar. What might he have seen? Is it any wonder he had cause to quake and tremble exceedingly? Is this part of Lehi’s “learning” that Nephi took pains to mention in verse 1?

How did Lehi succeed in opening the conduit to heaven? How can I?
 7. And it came to pass that he returned to his own house at Jerusalem; and he cast himself upon his bed, being overcome with the Spirit and the things which he had seen.
Why did Lehi collapse into bed when he returned home? What is the effect of such glory as he beheld, on mortal flesh?
 8. And being thus overcome with the Spirit, he was carried away in a vision, even that he saw the heavens open, and he thought he saw God sitting upon his throne, surrounded with numberless concourses of angels in the attitude of singing and praising their God.
What was it about Lehi’s response to the encounter in the pillar that caused the vision to continue when he returned home? Is this similar to Joseph Smith having multiple visions throughout the night and into the next day? 

Where was Lehi taken in his vision? Who did he meet there?

And so here we find ourselves, only eight verses into the Book of Mormon—barely on page 2—with Lehi brought back into God’s presence and appearing before His throne. This is Redemption. This is, in fact, the fulness of the Gospel—shown and demonstrated to us by Lehi, and later by His sons Nephi and Jacob, and his grandson Enos. THIS is the theme of the Book of Mormon, and if you look carefully for it, you’ll see it repeated again and again throughout the book. 

The Book of Mormon was written by those who successfully made the ascent through the fiery corridor into God’s presence. They wrote their experiences so you and I could come to understand the whole point of the Gospel. 

Do we take it lightly? Do we turn away? Do we still pretend these are merely children’s stories and platitudes to teach courage, faith, persistence or obedience? 

Is it any wonder the Lord condemned the whole church for failing to appreciate or even understand what was plainly written in the first eight verses of the most miraculous book in history? 

“Come unto Christ” is not some metaphysical invitation to feel more closeness to Him. It is YOUR invitation to make the same ascent Lehi made; to pray with all your heart, to enter a pillar of fire, to see and hear much, and, having been true and faithful in all things, to be brought to the veil, converse with the Lord, receive the invitation to enter, and stand before the throne of God. 

You and I have received this invitation, engraved in Gold. What shall we do?

…While we were thus employed, praying and calling upon the Lord, a messenger from heaven descended in a cloud of light, and having laid his hands upon us, he ordained us…
—Joseph Smith History 1:68