Religious Liberty, Personal Liberty

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A group of individuals from England believed that the Church of England and the Catholic Church had strayed from the truth delivered by Christ. Facing intolerance and persecution from government and church leaders in England because of their beliefs, many fled to Holland where they experienced greater religious freedom. After struggling to earn livings in Holland they sought a new place where they could worship according to the dictates of their conscience. What looked most promising was America, as yet a largely unknown land with only a few permanent settlements. After delays, they started a journey filled with peril and a trans-Atlantic voyage on the ship Mayflower lasting 66 days. The Pilgrims celebrated their arrival with prayer and thanksgiving to God. On the crowded ship off the coast of what is now Massachusetts, the Pilgrims wrote and signed an important document. That document was the Mayflower Compact.

Part of that document stated: “Having undertaken for the Glory of God, and Advancement of the Christian Faith, and the Honour of our King and Country, a Voyage to plant the first Colony in the northern Parts of Virginia; Do by these Presents, solemnly and mutually, in the Presence of God and one another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil Body Politick, for our better Ordering and Preservation, and Furtherance of the Ends aforesaid.”

The Mayflower Compact was signed by the adult males on the ship as a testament that they established a new colony for the glory of God and to spread Christianity. Through the Compact, the Pilgrims recognized the great blessings that God gives to His children. Two of my ancestors, Francis Cooke and Richard Warren, signed the Compact. The weary travelers had a harsh winter full of sickness and starvation ahead. Many died but many survived, spreading out and serving as a lasting foundation for what would eventually become a new nation founded upon God-given rights and freedoms; a nation where the Restoration of the gospel could occur.

When the Puritans came to America they brought with them and further developed their ideas of liberty. They typically viewed liberty in four different ways. The main form of liberty of which they spoke and wrote was a collective or “publick liberty” (p.200; Fischer, D. H. (1989). Albion’s Seed: Four British Folkways in America. Oxford University Press, Oxford.). This was a liberty of the community and colony and not necessarily individual liberty. It “was thought to be consistent with close restraints upon individuals” (Fischer, p.200). It was through individual restraints that the entire community had liberty. This may seem counter-intuitive but it is not possible to have liberty for the collective without restraining the individual, which is one reason why anarchy does not work. Without restraint, entropy takes over, leaving only chaos.

The second idea of liberty that the Puritans talked of was liberty for individuals, although they usually referred to these as liberties (i.e., a plurality of liberty). In this case, “these plural liberties were understood as specific exemptions from a condition of prior restraint” (Fischer, p.201), which liberties they found in a new land.

The third Puritan view of liberty was the sense of “soul” or “Christian” liberty – the “freedom to serve God in the world. It was freedom to order one’s own acts in a godly way – but not in any other. It made Christian freedom into a form of obligation” (Fischer, p.202). This type of liberty was also referred to as liberty of conscience. While this idea of liberty was restrictive in practice because they only accepted belief in their Puritan faith, the idea that people should be free to serve God was an important founding philosophy for the future United States.

The fourth view of liberty for the Puritans was an individual liberty, a liberty or freedom from tyranny. This freedom included “freedom from want in the most fundamental sense” and “freedom from fear” (Fischer, p.205). This was similar to how many Americans view liberty today. This Puritan belief was another important belief that would influence many of the future Founding Fathers.

The Puritans believed in the freedom in order and not the freedom from order (i.e., collective liberty was more important than personal liberty). They believed that individual restraints were vital to the welfare of society – an idea that sometimes seems largely lost in our world today. This does not mean that more laws or more restrictions increase freedom but it also does not mean that fewer laws and fewer restrictions necessarily increase liberty.

Liberty and freedom are God’s desires for us. He endowed us with “certain unalienable Rights,” which rights include life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Liberty is a gift from God! We should always remember and serve Him, who gives us our freedom. May we be like the great Book of Mormon military leader Moroni who “did joy in the liberty and the freedom of his country, and his brethren from bondage and slavery” (Alma 48:11). Satan seeks “to overthrow the freedom of all lands, nations, and countries” (Ether 8:25), whereas God desires freedom and joy for us.

God told His people: “I, the Lord God, make you free, therefore ye are free indeed; and the law also maketh you free. Nevertheless, when the wicked rule the people mourn. Wherefore, honest men and wise men should be sought for diligently, and good men and wise men ye should observe to uphold; otherwise whatsoever is less than these cometh of evil” (D&C 98:8-10). As we remember and return to that God who gives us life and liberty, we will be blessed individually, as a nation, and as a world.

The early years of America were a struggle for individual and religious liberties. There were extremes in beliefs and actions; there were allowances for diversity of religious beliefs and there were severe constraints on free expression of belief. It took years for a national identity to form. In the end, the identity that formed allowed for the separation of church from state and state from church. Our identity recognized the great value of religion – the necessity of it for a civil society – but also recognized that belief and faith should not be coerced. People should be free to worship according to the dictates of their own conscience.

Near the end of 1776, the American colonies were entrenched in a war against Great Britain. This was part of the war for independence. The war at that time was not going well for the Americans who were seeking freedom. They had lost a number of battles, forts, and cities, including Fort Washington and New York City. While he watched the battle of Fort Washington, General George Washington was dismayed at the loss of life. At the end of the battle he wept openly. It was a hard loss. The entire Revolutionary war was a series of defeats for the Americans. That year of so much adversity might have seemed bleak and hopeless. Indeed it was for a number of people but many Americans found new resolve in their adversity. They strengthened their desires for freedom from what they saw as an oppressive government. In the midst of this adversity Dr. Benjamin Rush said, “Our republics cannot exist long in prosperity. We require adversity and appear to posses most of the republican spirit when most depressed.” (Source: David Hackett Fischer. Washington’s crossing. (2006). Oxford University Press, USA). “It was a time when many Americans resolved to act in a way that made a difference in the world.” (ibid.). The revival in the resolve and hearts of those fighting the war of independence came from their defeats, not their victories. It was in the Americans’ responses to calamity and tragedy that their greatness grew. We don’t show our strength and character in times of ease, we demonstrate it by how we respond when all the world seems to be falling down around us. This struggle for liberty was not easy. In our lives today it might appear that we are losing battles, we might lose battles, but if we remain faithful, God will turn all things to our benefit.

How do you cope with severe opposition? Do you give in to despair? Do you end up shattered upon the jagged rocks of adversity? Or do you fight? Do you face the adversity and move forward? Fighting is not always the solution – there are some fights that are beyond us – but when faced with adversity we should strive to address it as best as we can. Sometimes that might be by running away, like Joseph did from Potiphar’s wife. For Joseph, his running from adversity led him into greater adversity – being cast into prison. How did he deal with this potential tragedy? He remained true to who he was and became the most powerful and respected prisoner. Through his righteousness and faith he faced adversity and overcame it, eventually rising to the second most powerful man in Egypt. We can say that Joseph was successful because of his adversity, not in spite of it. His liberty only came through his adversity.

I’ll share an example from the Revolutionary War that is representative of the challenges faced by the Americans who struggled through severe adversity to establish a new nation of freedom.

On a bitter cold Christmas night the Continental Army, led by George Washington, made a bold maneuver against the superior forces of the British army. General Washington led his troops over the Delaware in what would prove to be a defining moment of the Revolutionary War and American history. The crossing of the Delaware took all night; it was a significant adversity. Severe winter weather blew and froze the troops all during the crossing and the following day. Even so, the poor weather was a mixed blessing – it made the crossing treacherous but it also masked the movements of the Americans. Even after crossing the icy river, surviving the danger of that maneuver, it was so frigid that there are reports of at least two soldiers freezing to death that night. John Greenwood was a member of the army; he served as a fifer but because of the circumstances, John the fifer became John the soldier when he was called to carry a musket during the upcoming assault. As the army marched on its way after crossing the Delaware, John Greenwood was exhausted like many others. During one break he sat down with the intention of going to sleep. The voice of the bitter cold enticed John, lulling him into a false sense of security. He was so fatigued that he didn’t care if he never awoke from his slumber. As he drifted off to sleep, a passing sergeant noticed John, roused him, and got him up and moving. (Fischer, David H. 2004. Washington’s crossing. Oxford University Press, New York, NY, p. 228). This act saved his life. John Greenwood later became a dentist, serving as Pres. Washington’s dentist and significantly contributing to advances in dental treatment.

The American colonists struggled and eventually overcame, giving birth to a new nation founded on principles of individual liberty. The general sentiments of early citizens of the United States regarding the government and the interplay of religion and religious beliefs are echoed in Doctrine and Covenants 134.

“We believe that governments were instituted of God for the benefit of man; and that he holds men accountable for their acts in relation to them, both in making laws and administering them, for the good and safety of society. We believe that no government can exist in peace, except such laws are framed and held inviolate as will secure to each individual the free exercise of conscience, the right and control of property, and the protection of life. We believe that all governments necessarily require civil officers and magistrates to enforce the laws of the same; and that such as will administer the law in equity and justice should be sought for and upheld by the voice of the people if a republic, or the will of the sovereign. We believe that religion is instituted of God; and that men are amenable to him, and to him only, for the exercise of it, unless their religious opinions prompt them to infringe upon the rights and liberties of others; but we do not believe that human law has a right to interfere in prescribing rules of worship to bind the consciences of men, nor dictate forms for public or private devotion; that the civil magistrate should restrain crime, but never control conscience; should punish guilt, but never suppress the freedom of the soul.” (D&C 134:1-4)

“Belief in God is central to the country’s experience, yet…faith is a matter of choice, not coercion” (Meacham, American Gospel: God, the Founding Fathers, and the Making of a Nation, location 73 of 6656 Kindle eBook). This was a novel, revolutionary principle upon which to establish a nation. Tying church and state together as had been done for much of history allowed for the distortion of doctrine and gross abuses of ecclesiastical and political power. Roger Williams, an early advocate of religious liberty, observed that “the gardens of Christ’s churches turned into the wilderness of national religion, and the world (under Constantine’s dominion) to the most un-Christian Christendom.” (Meacham, location 677 of 6656 Kindle eBook). The Great Apostasy held sway over the hearts, religions, and governments of humankind. The Founding Fathers in their wisdom, shattered the bonds between religion and government so that true liberty might exist and true religion flourish as they unknowingly laid the foundation for the restoration of Christ’s church.

Removing the bonds between organized churches and government does not mean religion and politics should remain separate. Pres. Washington stated in his farewell address: “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, Religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of Patriotism who should labour to subvert these great Pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of Men and citizens…. And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that National morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.” (Washington, Farewell Address: http://www.pbs.org/georgewashington/milestones/farewell_address_read3.html)

In the early days of the Revolutionary War one of the American generals, Nathanael Greene, wrote of the necessity of religious belief for the nation. He said: “America must raise an empire of permanent duration, supported upon the grand pillars of Truth, Freedom, and Religion, encouraged by the smiles of Justice and defended by her own patriotic sons…. Permit me then to recommend from the sincerity of my heart, ready at all times to bleed in my country’s cause, a Declaration of Independence, and call upon the world and the great God who governs it to witness the necessity, propriety and rectitude thereof.” (as cited by D. McCullough in 1776, Simon & Schuster, 2005; emphasis added).

Those who attack religion attack the foundation of morality and the foundation of liberty. Leaders who seek to oppress and gain tyrannical power seek to constrain religious liberty. Liberty triumphed because the Founding Fathers believed that God granted unto His children inherent rights that governments should have no power to limit. One of these rights was that of freedom of religious worship. By infusing our nation with the idea of God-given rights rather than government-given rights, America became a place of inclusion rather than exclusion; America became a place of freedom and liberties rather than oppression, although oppression and bondage remained for many. Early leaders of the United States and of the restored church rejoiced in this liberty.

Brigham Young stated: “How can a republican [freely elected] government stand? There is only one way for it to stand. It can endure; but how? It can endure, as the government of heaven endures, upon the eternal rock of truth and virtue; and that is the only basis upon which any government can endure” (https://www.lds.org/manual/teachings-brigham-young/chapter-36?lang=eng).

Our government was founded under the inspiration of God. It will only endure, as Brigham Young said, when those who govern and those who are governed enact and support truthful and virtuous laws with truthfulness and virtue in their personal lives. The Book of Mormon prophet and king Mosiah taught that nations only prosper and endure when righteousness prevails:

“Therefore, choose you by the voice of this people, judges, that ye may be judged according to the laws which have been given you by our fathers, which are correct, and which were given them by the hand of the Lord. Now it is not common that the voice of the people desireth anything contrary to that which is right; but it is common for the lesser part of the people to desire that which is not right; therefore this shall ye observe and make it your law—to do your business by the voice of the people. And if the time comes that the voice of the people doth choose iniquity, then is the time that the judgments of God will come upon you; yea, then is the time he will visit you with great destruction even as he has hitherto visited this land” (Mosiah 29:25-27).

Pres. Young said: “If a nation transgresses wholesome laws and oppresses any of its citizens or another nation, until the cup of iniquity is full, through acts that are perfectly under its own control, God will hurl those who are in authority from their power, and they will be forgotten; and he will take another people, though poor and despised, a hiss and a by-word among the popular nations, and instill into them power and wisdom; and they will increase and prosper, until they in turn become a great nation on the earth.” Brigham Young also said, “No matter how good a government is, unless it is administered by righteous men, an evil government will be made of it.” He taught that the influence of righteous citizens can save a nation: “Government in the hands of a wicked people must terminate in woe to that people, but in the hands of the righteous it is everlasting, while its power reaches to heaven.” Lastly, Brigham Young taught about the type of leaders we should seek: “We want men to rule the nation who care more for and love better the nation’s welfare than gold and silver, fame, or popularity” (https://www.lds.org/manual/teachings-brigham-young/chapter-36?lang=eng).

I am grateful for the great nation The United States of America and for the freedoms we enjoy. I am grateful to live in a land where we can choose to live in righteousness. We must strive to elect good men and women. It is never too late to choose righteousness and to encourage righteousness in others!

This foundation of righteousness was built by the first leaders of the nation who acted in accord with the will of God.

Pres. Wilford Woodruff stated in general conference: “I am going to bear my testimony to this assembly, if I never do it again in my life, that those men who laid the foundation of this American government and signed the Declaration of Independence were the best spirits the God of heaven could find on the face of the earth. They were choice spirits, not wicked men. General Washington and all the men that labored for the purpose were inspired of the Lord.” (April 1898, Conference Report). He further said that they “laid the foundation of the government [we] now enjoy, and…never apostatized from it, but…remained true to it and were faithful to God.” (Read for more: http://www.josephsmithacademy.org/wiki/eminent-spirits-appear-to-wilford-woodruff/)

The Founding Fathers were true to their cause and by and large expressed great faith in God. An example of this faith comes from Thomas Jefferson.

As Thomas Jefferson was dying he began “moving in his mind between past and present, [and] gave his grandson instructions about his funeral arrangements. Struggling to be reassuring, a member of the family said that everyone hoped it would be a long time before those orders would have to be executed. With a smile, Jefferson replied, ‘Do you imagine I fear to die?’ He had long contemplated what he was to face on the other side of the grave, and he found the prospect bright. Once we left ‘our sorrows and suffering bodies,’ Jefferson had once told John Adams, then they would ‘ascend in essence to an ecstatic meeting with the friends we have loved and lost and whom we shall still love and never lose again.'” (Meacham, American Gospel, location 134 of 6656 Kindle eBook).

It was such faith that sustained Jefferson and others through their struggles. It was such faith that they hoped without coercion that all Americans would have. It was for freedom of expression, for freedom of faith and religion, and for individual liberty that the Founding Fathers sacrificed.

George Washington stated in a famous letter to a Jewish congregation: “We have abundant reason to rejoice that in this Land the light of truth and reason has triumphed over the power of bigotry and superstition, and that every person may here worship God according to the dictates of his own heart.” (From George Washington to the Members of the New Jerusalem Church of Baltimore, 27 January 1793: http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/05-12-02-0027).

That reminds of the language found in Doctrine and Covenants 134 that I mentioned previously and the 11th Article of Faith. The 11th Article of Faith reads: “We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.”

Thus, one of the core tenets of our religion matches closely to the ideas that inspired the founding of our great nation [the United States]. It was through their faithfulness to the idea of liberty that America became a land where the root of religious liberty could take hold and spread, resulting in the great flowering tree of life of the restored gospel and Church of Jesus Christ. Without the blessing of religious liberty, the Restoration would not have taken place. Even so, the Church barely survived its first 80 years, its members having to flee the United States and go to Mexico in order to survive persecution; but survive and thrive it did and does.

In the 11th Article of Faith we express our conviction that we should be allowed to worship God according to the dictates of our conscience and will allow all people to worship “how, where, or what they may.” The Articles of Faith do not only prescribe belief and doctrine, they also encourage behavior and action. They are more than professions of belief – they describe how we interact individually, with others, and in society. This is clear in the 12th Article of Faith, which goes hand in hand with the 11th: “We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.” By obedience to laws are we free; true liberty comes from obedience to God’s laws and to the just laws of men.

Pres. Joseph F. Smith stated: “There is no liberty like the liberty of the gospel of Jesus Christ. For I can tell you no man is free when he is under bondage of sin and of transgression, neither is any man free when he is under the bondage of ignorance in relation to the plan of life and salvation.” (Chapter 32: Liberty through Obedience: http://www.lds.org/manual/teachings-joseph-f-smith/chapter-32?lang=eng)

Liberty is inextricably tied with agency. We are well aware of the importance of agency in our lives. Our Father declared it so important that a war was fought in heaven when individuals wanted to limit agency and coerce righteousness. Forcing righteousness, however, cannot result in exaltation. In order for us to become more like our Father we must have agency. This liberty of choice, if you will, is constrained only by unrighteousness. Sinful behavior – acting in opposition to God’s laws – brings constraints on agency. We give up liberty when we sin; we shackle ourselves in chains that can only be broken through the Atonement of Christ. Jesus sets the captives free, He releases us from the bondage of our sins and assuages our pain. We must be mindful of sins and temptations that would bind us, limiting our liberty and happiness.

As we should seek liberty in our personal lives by striving to remain free from sin, we should uphold liberty in our country and encourage liberty in others. God loves us. He wants us to be free and happy, both in this life and in the life to come.

The Breaking and Restoration of the Everlasting Covenant

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As a boy, I had the opportunity with my family to frequently go rappelling – descending a cliff on a rope. When I first started out, these “cliffs” were no more than 15 to 20 feet tall, offering the opportunity to learn without inducing much vertigo. As skills progressed, the cliffs we descended became taller. It might not seem particularly safe to walk, bounce, or run down the face of a cliff but with secure anchors and strong equipment, rappelling is a relatively safe activity with the greatest risk being scrapes or increased anxiety caused by a fear of heights. If safety procedures are not followed, however, rappelling can be fatal. This is true for many activities in life, including driving a car. In order for rappelling to be safe one must be securely anchored. My father, always conscious of safety, would, whenever possible, tie a rope to one anchor and then tie that anchor to a second anchor – a strong tree for example – in case the first anchor failed. In this manner, we always knew we had a sure foundation when we bounded down the cliffs. As an additional safety precaution, someone would remain at the bottom the cliff acting as belayer. The belayer is able to provide friction on the rope by pulling it away from the cliff face should the person rappelling slip. The belayer can stop the person on the rope should she need to regain her footing. One other safety principle was to never use faulty equipment. Once climbing ropes showed signs of significant wear, they were replaced. Before and during each rappelling outing, we inspected our ropes, harnesses, ascenders, carabiners, slings, gloves, and descenders to make sure all were in working order. If we had a question about any piece of equipment, it wasn’t used. New equipment is always cheaper than a person’s life.

Safety while rappelling has three main principles:

  1. Proper preparation
  2. Having secure anchors and strong equipment
  3. Having someone act as belayer and guide

These same principles can be applied to the gospel. I’d like to talk about one important principle that provides safety for us in this adventure of life – the making and keeping of covenants, which covenants were restored unto the earth through the prophet Joseph Smith.

These restored covenants were first given to Adam and Eve and then given down the generations. Abram made the covenant with The Lord, who told him: “But as for thee, behold, I will make my covenant with thee, and thou shalt be a father of many nations. And this covenant I make, that thy children may be known among all nations. Neither shall thy name any more be called Abram, but thy name shall be called Abraham; for, a father of many nations have I made thee.” (JST, Genesis 17:8-9).

Abraham truly is the father of many nations. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all are tied to Abraham. This Abrahamic covenant, which includes the blessing of numberless posterity, blessed and still blesses the children of Abraham.

Part of this covenant Abraham made is found in the Joseph Smith Translation of Genesis: “And thou [Abraham] shalt observe to keep all my covenants wherein I covenanted with thy fathers; and thou shalt keep the commandments which I have given thee with mine own mouth, and I will be a God unto thee and thy seed after thee.” (JST, Genesis 17:12)

Through the covenant, Abraham and his posterity, promise to keep the commandments of the Lord. In return, the Lord promises to be “a God unto [him] and [his posterity].” This is a promise that we can be part of God’s family; we are His children but through the Abrahamic Covenant we can become worthy to inherit all the He has. By doing the simple task of keeping the commandments – the covenants – of the Lord, He promises us everything. We give the Lord a seed, He gives us a mighty tree. We give Him our stony hearts of flint, He replaces them with fleshy hearts of charity. We consecrate unto Him our lives through covenant, He blesses us with Eternal Lives. God truly is our Father and desires to bless us as much as we are willing to receive.

We find a record of God’s covenants with His children in the scriptures. The Old Testament contains covenants given to God’s children before the coming of Christ, prominently through Abraham and Moses. The New Testament contains covenants offered by Christ and His apostles. The Old and New Testaments are rightly called the Old and New Covenants.

The Apostle Paul wrote to the Saints in the Roman province of Galatia: “Wherefore then, the law [of Moses] was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made in the law given to Moses, who was ordained by the hand of angels to be a mediator of this first [or old] covenant…. Now [Moses is] not a mediator of the new covenant; but there is one mediator of the new covenant, who is Christ, as it is written in the law concerning the promises made to Abraham and his seed. Now Christ is the mediator of life; for this is the promise which God made unto Abraham.” (JST, Galatians:19-20)

The new covenant given by Christ, the mediator of life, was lost from the earth not long after the Savior’s death, resurrection, and ascension into Heaven. His apostles were killed and the purity of the gospel polluted by philosophies of men. Over the next 1700 years, people wandered about in mists of darkness with varying degrees of light. This old world apostasy was paralleled, although off-set by a few hundred years, by an apostasy in the new world among the descendants of Lehi. During the time of apostasy many were true to the light and knowledge they had and sought to follow Christ but the covenants of the Lord were not available upon the earth.

After the falling away – the great apostasy – to the young Joseph Smith, the Lord re-introduced covenants given in days of old. These covenants are contained in the Doctrine and Covenants. The Book of Mormon is another record of covenants. This record contains the covenants given to small groups of people in the Americas. The covenants in Book of Mormon also apply to the children of Israel in our day, particularly those who are descended from Lehi. Mormon wrote The Book of Mormon specifically for our day. It is a compilation of teachings spanning more than one thousand years. The prophet Mormon compiled and edited the book, passing it on to his son Moroni, who finished the editing and writing. Moroni then buried the plates, sealing them up unto the Lord, so that they might come forth by the power of God at an appointed date. That appointed time was in the early 1800s through the work and righteousness of the prophet Joseph Smith. God called Joseph Smith to bring new light to the world; through Joseph, the Lord reestablished the sacred covenants that had been taken from the earth because of wickedness.

Over the years, the Lord gave numerous prophesies concerning the breaking of the covenants and the falling away in apostasy that would occur before the final redemption and the second coming of the Savior.

Isaiah prophesied: “The earth mourneth and fadeth away, the world languisheth and fadeth away, the haughty people of the earth do languish. The earth also is defiled under the inhabitants thereof; because they have transgressed the laws, changed the ordinance, broken the everlasting covenant. Therefore hath the curse devoured the earth, and they that dwell therein are desolate.” (Isaiah 24:4-6)

Around the time that Lehi left Jerusalem, Jeremiah prophesied of the apostasy and subsequent restoration of the gospel: “In [the last] days, and in that time, saith the Lord, the children of Israel shall come, they and the children of Judah together, going and weeping: they shall go, and seek the Lord their God. They shall ask the way to Zion with their faces thitherward, saying, Come, and let us join ourselves to the Lord in a perpetual [in other words – eternal or everlasting] covenant that shall not be forgotten. My people hath been lost sheep: their shepherds have caused them to go astray, they have turned them away on the mountains: they have gone from mountain to hill, they have forgotten their restingplace.” (Jeremiah 50:4-6)

The wandering sheep, led astray by unfaithful shepherds, would turn and seek the Lord, their Good Shepherd. After a time of wandering there would be a time of restoration.

In the Doctrine and Covenants we read of apostasy before and after the restoration of the gospel: “And the arm of the Lord shall be revealed; and the day cometh that they who will not hear the voice of the Lord, neither the voice of his servants, neither give heed to the words of the prophets and apostles, shall be cut off from among the people; For they have strayed from mine ordinances, and have broken mine everlasting covenant; They seek not the Lord to establish his righteousness, but every man walketh in his own way, and after the image of his own god, whose image is in the likeness of the world, and whose substance is that of an idol, which waxeth old and shall perish in Babylon, even Babylon the great, which shall fall.” (D&C 1:14-16; emphasis added).

After the falling away came the restoration, starting with Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ visiting Joseph Smith in 1820. This great restoration is still occurring, as Pres. Uchtdorf eloquently taught during the Priesthood Session of this past General Conference. We have a description in Doctrine and Covenants Section 1 of why the gospel was restored.

“Wherefore, I the Lord, knowing the calamity which should come upon the inhabitants of the earth, called upon my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., and spake unto him from heaven, and gave him commandments; And also gave commandments to others, that they should proclaim these things unto the world; and all this that it might be fulfilled, which was written by the prophets—The weak things of the world shall come forth and break down the mighty and strong ones, that man should not counsel his fellow man, neither trust in the arm of flesh—But that every man might speak in the name of God the Lord, even the Savior of the world; That faith also might increase in the earth; That mine everlasting covenant might be established; That the fulness of my gospel might be proclaimed by the weak and the simple unto the ends of the world, and before kings and rulers. (D&C 1:17-23; emphasis added).

Let me repeat verse 22; the gospel was restored: “That mine [the Lord’s] everlasting covenant might be established.”

Later in the Doctrine and Covenants, the Lord states: “And even so I have sent mine everlasting covenant into the world, to be a light to the world, and to be a standard for my people, and for the Gentiles to seek to it, and to be a messenger before my face to prepare the way before me.” (D&C 45:9) Thus, we can be guided by the light of the new covenant; we can rally around it as armies would rally around a standard.

We read in the Book of Mormon concerning the restoration of this everlasting covenant. Mormon wrote: “And as surely as the Lord liveth, will he gather in from the four quarters of the earth all the remnant of the seed of Jacob, who are scattered abroad upon all the face of the earth. And as he hath covenanted with all the house of Jacob, even so shall the covenant wherewith he hath covenanted with the house of Jacob be fulfilled in his own due time, unto the restoring all the house of Jacob unto the knowledge of the covenant that he hath covenanted with them. And then shall they know their Redeemer, who is Jesus Christ, the Son of God; and then shall they be gathered in from the four quarters of the earth unto their own lands, from whence they have been dispersed; yea, as the Lord liveth so shall it be.” (3 Nephi 5:24-26)

This restored covenant prepares the way before the coming of the Lord. This covenant allows us to know our Redeemer, who is Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Through this covenant, we are prepared and gathered in from the four quarters of the earth to the stakes of Zion. Malachi prophesied, speaking for the Lord: “Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come, saith the Lord of hosts.” (Malachi 3:1)

Christ is the messenger of the covenant. He is the author and finisher of our faith. He is the giver and maker of this everlasting covenant. We can understand what the everlasting covenant pertains to from the writings of Ezekiel: “Moreover I will make a covenant of peace with them; it shall be an everlasting covenant with them: and I will place them, and multiply them, and will set my sanctuary in the midst of them for evermore. My tabernacle also shall be with them: yea, I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And the heathen shall know that I the Lord do sanctify Israel, when my sanctuary shall be in the midst of them for evermore.” (Ezekiel 37:26-28; emphasis added)

The everlasting covenant is a covenant of peace. To fulfill it, the Lord sets His sanctuary in the midst of His people. The Lord’s sanctuary is His temple. In addition to be gathered in to the stakes of Zion, we are gathered in to holy places of consecration and covenant, even the temples of the Most High God. Isn’t it wonderful to see these prophecies of Ezekiel and Malachi fulfilled around us? Temples are beginning to dot the earth. Most members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints live within relatively easy access to a temple. In the temple, we make sacred covenants that prepare us to return to live with God and become His eternal children. In order to access those temples, we need to first make covenants through baptism and confirmation, which covenants come from faith.

This principle is taught in simplicity in the manual Preach My Gospel. “Faith in Jesus Christ and repentance prepare us for the ordinances of baptism and confirmation. An ordinance is a sacred ceremony or rite that shows that we have entered into a covenant with God.

“God has always required His children to make covenants. A covenant is a binding and solemn agreement between God and man. God promises to bless us, and we promise to obey Him. God sets the terms of gospel covenants, which we either accept or reject. Keeping covenants brings blessings in this life and exaltation in the life to come.

“Covenants place us under a strong obligation to honor our commitments to God. To keep our covenants, we must give up activities or interests that prevent us from honoring those covenants…. We should desire to receive worthily the covenants that God offers us and then strive to keep them. Our covenants remind us to repent every day of our lives. By keeping the commandments and serving others we receive and retain a remission of our sins.

“Covenants are usually made by means of sacred ordinances, such as baptism. These ordinances are administered by priesthood authority. Through the ordinance of baptism…we covenant to take upon ourselves the name of Jesus Christ, always remember Him, and keep His commandments. As we keep our part of the covenant, God promises the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost, a remission of our sins, and being born again.” (Preach My Gospel, Lesson 3).

We receive the priesthood of the Lord and the ordinances of the gospel so that we might make these sacred covenants with God.

What is a covenant? It is, as defined in Preach My Gospel, “a binding and solemn agreement between God and [His children].” There is a lovely example of a covenant in the book of Ruth. Ruth’s pleading to Naomi expresses a covenant: “And Ruth said, Entreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God: Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: the Lord do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me.” (Ruth 1:16-17)

The restoration of the gospel restored the covenants of The Lord. The covenants bind us to God and us to our fathers, mothers, and children. In this manner is the restored gospel about welding families together and to God. This welding occurs in the temple.

Sis. Wixom stated at this past General Women’s Meeting in March, “We are covenant-making [men and] women of all ages walking the path of mortality back to His presence. Keeping covenants protects us, prepares us, and empowers us…. Each week as we partake of the emblems of the sacrament, we renew our baptismal covenant. Elder David A. Bednar said: ‘As we stand in the waters of baptism, we look to the temple. As we partake of the sacrament, we look to the temple. We pledge to always remember the Savior and to keep His commandments as preparation to participate in the sacred ordinances of the temple.'” (Keeping Covenants Protects Us, Prepares Us, and Empowers Us; Sis. Wixom, March 2014)

All that we do in the church should help us look to the temple – not just look but prepare and enter for therein is found the New and Everlasting Covenant of God. The temple provides the sealing of families. The sealing of families is the culmination of covenants; it is the new and everlasting covenant of marriage and the creation of eternal family units.

In order to keep these covenants, we should work towards making our homes into sanctuaries of consecration and covenant. Are our homes sacred places like the temples? Do our actions invite the Spirit of God into our homes or do we drive it away. Are our homes places that foster conversion to the Lord? Do we follow the example of the people of King Benjamin, who after hearing his powerful sermon rejoiced by covenanting to keep the commandments of God? They said: “We are willing to enter into a covenant with our God to do his will, and to be obedient to his commandments in all things that he shall command us, all the remainder of our days, that we may not bring upon ourselves a never-ending torment, as has been spoken by the angel, that we may not drink out of the cup of the wrath of God.” King Benjamin heard their covenant and was pleased: “[King Benjamin] said unto them: Ye have spoken the words that I desired; and the covenant which ye have made is a righteous covenant. 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. 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.” (Mosiah 5:5-8)

The covenants we make through the ordinances of the gospel ultimately tie us directly to Christ. They bind us together as eternal families and bind us to Christ. Ironically, it is through these bonds that we are made free. We “become His sons and His daughters.” We are blessed both with root and branch eternally. These sacred covenants require obedience on our part but in return we can be sealed to the Savior, we become eternally His. Covenanting gives us access to His blessings.

Three and one half years ago my extended family experienced a tragedy. One of my nieces was riding her bike with her father and a sister when she was struck by an automobile. She died instantly. Allison was just 11 years old. Since then, our feelings have been tender; at the time our hearts were broken. My sister, brother in law, and their family were trying to put the pieces of their shattered lives back together. In the midst of crashing waves of sorrow, we cried with the poet:

It darkens. I have lost the ford.

There is a change on all things made.

The rocks have evil faces, Lord,

And I am [sore] afraid. (Source).

The loss of a child under such tragic circumstances is devastating. It is a hellish darkness of separation – poignant and painful; a pain one might expect would never end. But with the inexorable march of time comes a deadening of the pain. The storm passes, the numbness fades, but still gray skies remain. There is room for laughter and joy but at times the grief can be overwhelming. So would go life, the only solace in the numbness of time, without knowledge of God’s plan for His children. However, there is more solace available; it comes through faith in Christ’s Atonement and the knowledge and power of eternal families. These are like radiant rays of the sun bursting through the dark clouds and burning away the dreary mists of life.

Jesus is like a song in the night. He is a pillar of fire. He restores breaches in our hearts and families. He stabilizes the rudderless and calms the stormy seas. The Lord blesses us with His tender mercies – friends, family, and other loved ones who provide meals and support. There are the mercies of the promptings and love provided by the Comforter – the Holy Ghost. Most importantly, we are blessed to know that because of the sealing power of the Priesthood – through the covenants of the temple – Allison will be forever part of her family. That knowledge is almost unbelievably comforting. I phrased it that way because at this time when we think we might be completely devastated, we feel some measure of peace even though peace seems so out of place.

We have received promises of peace and comfort forevermore. Some day, we will all live in a promised paradise like the millennial earth of which the Lord said:

“For, behold, I create new heavens and a new earth: and the former shall not be remembered, nor come into mind. But be ye glad and rejoice for ever in that which I create: for, behold, I create Jerusalem a rejoicing, and her people a joy. And I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and joy in my people: and the voice of weeping shall be no more heard in her, nor the voice of crying. There shall be no more thence an infant of days, nor an old man that hath not filled his days: for the child shall die an hundred years old.” (Isaiah 65:17-20).

There are a lot of hopeful promises made unto those who mourn. For now we mourn, but this life is just a blip in eternity. Some day the voice of weeping will be heard no more among the people of the Lord. Those who mourn for lost loved ones will be reunited. There won’t be the premature loss of children to death. Christ shall wipe away their tears and anoint them with the oil of joy.

My family shall see Allison again. All those who have lost loved ones will see them again! Through the sealing power of the Priesthood and through the eternal covenants of the Lord, families can be together forever. Allison is sealed to her parents and family by this same power. I know that we will all be resurrected some day because of Christ’s death and resurrection. As we remain faithful to these covenants we made in the Holy Temple of God we can return to live with our loved ones and our Father in Heaven.

And now another story illustrative of the blessings of covenant making.

My cousin Mike and his wife Marinda were pregnant with their first child in the fall of 2004. At the first ultrasound appointment in the spring of 2005 they found out that their daughter was 2 weeks behind in development. Additionally, their daughter had abnormal “heart ventricles, irregular blood flow through the umbilical cord, and a large cyst on the brain.” The signs pointed to a rare genetic condition where one of the baby’s genes had three copies instead of just two. This genetic disorder is considered “incompatible with life” meaning that if the baby made it to term, she would live a short time at best. Tears of joy became tears of sorrow at the news. My cousin and his wife quickly turned to family, friends, and their Heavenly Father for counsel and comfort. They attended the temple, read scriptures, and prayed. They decided on the name Hope for their baby as a reminder of the joys of life and blessings of the gospel even through sore trials.

Hope arrived 5 weeks early at just 3 pounds; she was born with difficulty but she was alive. Knowing her mortal life would be short, Hope’s parents held her and enjoyed her presence. They both felt filled with a “warm and peaceful spirit” that provided strength and comfort. Through the sacred power of the priesthood, Hope received a blessing from her father. After a short 52 minutes of life, Hope’s spirit left her body.

Hope’s mother Marinda wrote of the experience immediately after her passing: “While Mike and I were alone with Hope [after her death], we felt her sweet presence with us. I know that she wasn’t far. Hope’s experience on earth was short, but I can say without any reservation that every one of those 52 minutes was filled with love. She was surrounded by people who will always love her so dearly. Just the same, she was able, in such a short time and with such a small body, to impart such a pure and simple love to those who would mourn her passing.” (Source)

We can find safety in life by preparing for sacred covenants, especially those made in the temple, by expressing and building faith in Christ. We can find safety by securely anchoring ourselves to Christ through covenants. We can find safety by binding ourselves to our families and following the guidance of the prophet. Covenants bring us safety and great blessings – both here in this life and in the life to come.

The Mission and Spirit of Elijah

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The mission of Elijah is so important, his conferral of priesthood keys so vital to our salvation and to the work of the church in the latter days that I will reiterate many of the things that [our stake patriarch] spoke about so we can both serve as witnesses to the truth of the prophecy of Malachi and of Elijah’s mission. Elder Cook spoke on this topic this past General Conference and a number of others also addressed it.

The last two verses of the Old Testament contain prophecies about restoration:

“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord: And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.” (Malachi 4:5-6).

Those verses refer to Elijah (whose name is a testimony of God), his return to the earth, and the subsequent conversion of hearts. The Savior quoted these verses when He visited the Nephites after His resurrection (3 Nephi 25:5-6). Moroni quoted them the first time he appeared unto Joseph Smith.

Moroni gave the scripture with minor differences; this rendition is found in Doctrine and Covenants 2: “Behold, I will reveal unto you the Priesthood, by the hand of Elijah the prophet, before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. And he shall plant in the hearts of the children the promises made to the fathers, and the hearts of the children shall turn to their fathers. If it were not so, the whole earth would be utterly wasted at his coming.” (D&C 2:1-3). Instead of turning hearts of fathers to children, the children will have the promises made unto the fathers planted in their hearts. These are promises, or covenants, made by The Lord to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; they are promises made to other prophets; they are promises made to our ancestors. This has direct applications to the restoration of the gospel and the Church of Jesus Christ for the Restoration is a restoration of covenants given in days long past.

The restoration of covenants came through visitations of holy messengers. One of those visitors was Elijah, who appeared to the Prophet Joseph Smith in the Kirtland Temple on April 3, 1836, the day when Jews around the world had a place set for him in expectant welcome at their tables during the Passover. Joseph Smith recalled the experience:

“Elijah the prophet, who was taken to heaven without tasting death, stood before us, and said: Behold, the time has fully come, which was spoken of by the mouth of Malachi—testifying that he [Elijah] should be sent, before the great and dreadful day of the Lord come—To turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the children to the fathers, lest the whole earth be smitten with a curse—Therefore, the keys of this dispensation are committed into your hands; and by this ye may know that the great and dreadful day of the Lord is near, even at the doors.” (D&C 110:14-16).

Since that time – since the keys of the sealing of families together forever were restored – we’ve had an exponential increase in the yearnings of fathers and mothers to daughters and sons, an increase in the spirit of Elijah that bears witness of the divine nature of the family (see Russell M. Nelson, “A New Harvest Time,” Ensign, May 1998, 34).

In Deuteronomy we are commanded to learn about history, specifically our family history: “Remember the days of old, consider the years of many generations: ask thy father, and he will shew thee; thy elders, and they will tell thee” (Deuteronomy 32:7).

At this past General Conference Elder Anderson counseled: “Find your grandfathers and grandmothers and your distant cousins who have gone before you. Take their names to the temple with you. As you learn about your ancestors, you will see patterns of life, of marriage, of children; patterns of righteousness; and occasionally patterns that you will want to avoid.” (Spiritual Whirlwinds, Elder Anderson, April 2014). As we study the lives of those who came before, we can be inspired by them or be warned by their poor choices. We can strive to emulate their faithfulness and seek to improve shortcomings they and we might have.

I’d like to share three stories from my family that illustrate faith and devotion to God. The are illustrative of the spirit of Elijah and the sealing keys restored through him.

A group of individuals from England believed that the Church of England and the Catholic Church had strayed from the truth delivered by Christ. Facing persecution from government and church leaders in England, many fled to Holland where they experienced greater religious freedom. They struggled to earn a living in Holland so they sought a new place where they could worship according to the dictates of their conscience. What looked most promising was America. After delays, they started a journey filled with peril and a trans-Atlantic voyage on the ship Mayflower lasting 66 days. The Pilgrims celebrated their arrival with prayer and thanksgiving to God. On the crowded ship off the coast of what is now Massachusetts, the Pilgrims wrote and signed an important document. That document was the Mayflower Compact.

Part of that document stated: “Having undertaken for the Glory of God, and Advancement of the Christian Faith, and the Honour of our King and Country, a Voyage to plant the first Colony in the northern Parts of Virginia; Do by these Presents, solemnly and mutually, in the Presence of God and one another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil Body Politick, for our better Ordering and Preservation, and Furtherance of the Ends aforesaid: And by Virtue hereof do enact, constitute, and frame, such just and equal Laws, Ordinances, Acts, Constitutions, and Officers, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general Good of the Colony; unto which we promise all due Submission and Obedience.”

The Mayflower Compact was signed by the adult males on the ship as a testament that they established a new colony for the glory of God and to spread Christianity. Two of my ancestors, Francis Cooke and Richard Warren, signed the Compact. The weary travellers had a harsh winter full of sickness and starvation ahead. Many died but many survived, spreading out and serving as a lasting foundation for what would eventually become a new nation founded upon God-given rights and freedoms; a nation where the Restoration of the gospel could occur and where Elijah could come to restore keys of sealing. I’m grateful for the sacrifices made, courage shown, and dedication to God by the Pilgrims.

I’d like to jump ahead more than 200 years to the year 1854 and travel 350 miles to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

One of my great-grandfathers – Samuel Linton – was on a quest to discover religious truth. He told of his conversion to the gospel of Christ, which occurred shortly after his father unexpectedly died: “I made up my mind to go and hear every sect and party that professed faith in the Lord Jesus Christ [to discover which I thought was true]. I saw [an] advertisement of the Latter-day Saints which read like this: ‘Elder Samuel Harrison of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints would preach at ten o’clock on Sunday at 7th and Callow Hill, and he would show that neither Protestant nor Catholic had the true gospel preached to them.’ This took my attention. I thought they were the most presumptuous people I had heard of, to style themselves the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I thought I must go and hear them first. I was there on time. The people began to gather in. I thought they were the most sociable, happy people I had ever seen. The Elder came in and went up on the stand and gave out a hymn. I thought it, and the prayer, was the most sensible I had ever heard. He preached from the New Testament, and quoted passages of scripture that I had committed to memory in Methodist Sabbath School, but he applied them in such a different light that it bothered me to understand it…. When meeting was over I was in no hurry to go. There was a man by the name of Luts, a perfect stranger to me. He asked what I thought of the preaching. I told him I had no fault to find. I asked him a great many questions. He answered me satisfactorily. He told me if I would come back in the afternoon, he would lend me a book, which, if I would read, I could learn a great deal about the Gospel. I read it, I was convinced that the Lord had restored the Gospel and the authority to administer the Ordinances thereof, I applied for baptism. They asked me if I had considered the consequences. He asked me if I was ready to have my friends turn against me and have my name cast out as evil, and suffer persecution, and perhaps lay down my life. I considered a moment, and I thought the former-day Saints had to take all these chances, so I told him I was prepared for all this. He said on these conditions you may be baptized. They were about three weeks before they were ready to go. There were quite a few baptized. There was plenty of ice to be moved, so we had a cold bath. We were all right. We took no harm. This was the first of January, 1854.” (Source: Morgan 10: Samuel Linton and Ellen Sutton Linton, Part 1 of 3).

Samuel joined and remained firm in the faith even though it caused conflict with some of his family. He emigrated to Utah, living near Salt Lake for a while until he was called to what was referred to as the “Muddy Mission” – colonizing St. George, Utah. Samuel went without question. All of Samuel’s life he exhibited great faith; his daughter spoke of his faith: “We never had to call a doctor if father administered to us, we got well immediately, no matter what ailed us.” (Source: Morgan 10: Samuel Linton and Ellen Sutton Linton, Part 3 of 3).

From Utah, through letters, Samuel tried to teach his mother and family who were living in Philadelphia. He took two trips back east to teach his family. I’ll quote from a history about him: “[Samuel] was very anxious to have his folks join the church. His father died a year after they came to Philadelphia and [Samuel] later left to gather with the Saints. After 20 years he got a letter from his mother through the dead letter office. [Samuel] began writing trying to convert [his mother and siblings]. Later he made two trips to visit them, but they were too full of prejudice to talk to him or listen so no more joined the church, but he has had their work done in the Temple which we hope they have learned to accept and appreciate.”  (Source: Morgan 10: Samuel Linton and Ellen Sutton Linton, Part 3 of 3).

Samuel, in being baptized, had his family turn against him but he knew the gospel was true. He believed in the ordinances of the temple and made sure those ordinances were performed for his family so they could, if they accepted the work, be part of the great chain of generations welded to each other and ultimately to our Eternal Father.

In Doctrine and Covenants 128 Joseph Smith quotes 1st Corinthians 15:29 referencing baptism for the dead and then explains what it means. In Joseph’s explanation, he quotes Malachi.

“16 And now, in relation to the baptism for the dead, I will give you another quotation of Paul, 1 Corinthians 15:29: Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? Why are they then baptized for the dead? And again, in connection with this quotation I will give you a quotation from one of the prophets, who had his eye fixed on the restoration of the priesthood, the glories to be revealed in the last days, and in an especial manner this most glorious of all subjects belonging to the everlasting gospel, namely, the baptism for the dead; for Malachi says, last chapter, verses 5th and 6th: Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord: And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse…. The earth will be smitten with a curse unless there is a welding link of some kind or other between the fathers and the children, upon some subject or other—and behold what is that subject? It is the baptism for the dead. For we without them cannot be made perfect; neither can they without us be made perfect. Neither can they nor we be made perfect without those who have died in the gospel also; for it is necessary in the ushering in of the dispensation of the fulness of times, which dispensation is now beginning to usher in, that a whole and complete and perfect union, and welding together of dispensations, and keys, and powers, and glories should take place, and be revealed from the days of Adam even to the present time. And not only this, but those things which never have been revealed from the foundation of the world, but have been kept hid from the wise and prudent, shall be revealed unto babes and sucklings in this, the dispensation of the fulness of times.” (Doctrine and Covenants 128:16-18).

The prophecy and promise of Malachi foretold of the role of Elijah in helping restore the keys necessary to save families by welding generation to generation.

I will relate one more story, this time jumping ahead 150 years from the time when my ancestor Samuel joined the church. This is an experience I particularly felt prompted to share this morning [in Sacrament Meeting].

My cousin Mike and his wife Marinda were pregnant with their first child in the fall of 2004. At the first ultrasound appointment in the spring of 2005 they found out that their daughter was 2 weeks behind in development. Additionally, their daughter had abnormal “heart ventricles, irregular blood flow through the umbilical cord, and a large cyst on the brain.” The signs pointed to a rare genetic condition where one of the baby’s genes had three copies instead of just two. This genetic disorder is considered “incompatible with life” meaning that if the baby made it to term, she would live a short time at best. Tears of joy became tears of sorrow at the news. My cousin and his wife quickly turned to family, friends, and their Heavenly Father for counsel and comfort. They attended the temple, read scriptures, and prayed. They decided on the name Hope for their baby as a reminder of the joys of life and blessings of the gospel even through sore trials.

Hope arrived 5 weeks early at just 3 pounds; she was born with difficulty but she was alive. Knowing her mortal life would be short, Hope’s parents held her and enjoyed her presence. They both felt filled with a “warm and peaceful spirit” that provided strength and comfort. Through the sacred power of the priesthood, Hope received a blessing from her father. After a short 52 minutes of life, Hope’s spirit left her body.

Hope’s mother Marinda wrote of the experience immediately after her passing: “While Mike and I were alone with Hope [after her death], we felt her sweet presence with us. I know that she wasn’t far. Hope’s experience on earth was short, but I can say without any reservation that every one of those 52 minutes was filled with love. She was surrounded by people who will always love her so dearly. Just the same, she was able, in such a short time and with such a small body, to impart such a pure and simple love to those who would mourn her passing.” (Source: http://www.hopewessman.net/2009/05/hopes-story-her-miraculous-life.html)

We read in the scriptures: “Wherefore, how great the importance to make these things known unto the inhabitants of the earth, that they may know that there is no flesh that can dwell in the presence of God, save it be through the merits, and mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah, who layeth down his life according to the flesh, and taketh it again by the power of the Spirit, that he may bring to pass the resurrection of the dead, being the first that should rise. Wherefore, he is the firstfruits unto God, inasmuch as he shall make intercession for all the children of men; and they that believe in him shall be saved.” (2 Nephi 2:8-9). The atonement of Jesus Christ brings hope! Even those passing through the darkest abyss can feel peace. Those who have departed are merely that – parted from us but not forever lost.

Because of the atonement of Christ, because of the sealing power of the priesthood that was restored unto Joseph Smith by the prophet Elijah, families can be together forever! We know that tears of sorrow and that separation are only for a small moment. Even though hearts rend in suffering, Christ repairs the breach; He binds up the broken-hearted. The spirit of Elijah helps hearts of fathers and mothers, which might be broken, turn to their children. The spirit of Elijah helps hearts of children turn to their mothers and fathers. As temple ordinances are performed, families are welded together for eternity.

My cousin and his wife had three other children born without complications after Hope. Then, in 2012 they found out that the baby they were expecting – Amelia Grace – had the same genetic condition as Hope. The same shock and sorrow hit them but they knew that they had coped with the death of Hope and they could cope with Amelia’s. They again found strength in the atonement and in the blessings of the temple. Amelia died during the birthing process but through the sealing power of the holy priesthood, Amelia and Hope can be Mike and Marinda’s eternally!

My cousin shared his testimony after the death of Amelia: “The loss of one’s child is not a pleasant experience. While I do not know why Marinda and I have this experience, I testify that we are strengthened through Christ, knowing that we can be reunited with our…daughter(s) again one day. For this is part of God’s plan for each of his children who seek to follow him.” (Source: http://www.ameliawessman.net/p/a-fathers-thoughts.html)

I testify that those who have experienced such great loss can find healing through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. I testify that this what the mission of Elijah is ultimately about – allowing for families to be sealed together for eternity. I pray that we all remember the words of Malachi and turn our hearts to our mothers and fathers and sons and daughters and participate in the sacred work of the temple.

Scientific Revolution and Restored Religion

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“But Copernicus’s new doctrine [that the earth was not the center of the universe] inspired fear as well as ridicule and confusion, because it led almost at once to questions that transcended science. If the Earth was only one planet among many, were those other worlds inhabited, too? By what sort of creatures? Had Christ died for their sins? Did they have their own Adam and Eve, and what did that say about evil and original sin? ‘Worst of all,’ in the words of the historian of science Thomas Kuhn, ‘if the universe is infinite, as many of the later Copernicans thought, where can God’s Throne be located? In an infinite universe, how is man to find God or God man?'” (p.99; Dolnick, E. (2011). The clockwork universe: Isaac Newton, the Royal Society, and the birth of the modern world. New York, NY: HarperCollins).

The gospel of Christ as restored to Joseph Smith answers all those questions without difficulty.

  • Yes, the other worlds are inhabited. “And worlds without number have I created; and I also created them for mine own purpose….But only an account of this earth, and the inhabitants thereof, give I unto you. For behold, there are many worlds that have passed away by the word of my power. And there are many that now stand, and innumerable are they unto man; but all things are numbered unto me, for they are mine and I know them.” (Moses 1:33,35).
  • Other worlds are also inhabited by sons and daughters of God.
  • Yes, Christ died for the sins of those on other worlds (probably): “Since Jesus is the creator of other worlds whose inhabitants are also ‘begotten sons and daughters unto God’ (D&C 76:24), it may be that the benefits of the Atonement will extend to all of the spirit children of our Father in Heaven, wherever situated. [“Not My Will, But Thine” (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1988), p. 51].” (as cited by Robert Webb). Also, Joseph Smith wrote in verse: “Whose inhabitants, too, from the first to the last,\ Are sav’d by the very same Saviour of ours;\ And, of course, are begotten God’s daughters and sons\ By the very same truths and the very same powers.” (as cited in Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 2nd ed. [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1966], p. 66)
  • Yes, they had their own Adams and Eves: “And the first man of all men have I called Adam, which is many.” (Moses 1:34).
  • Original sin does not exist or apply as many others understand it. Read here (short) and here (long).
  • Where is God’s throne? Near to a celestial body called Kolob: “And thus there shall be the reckoning of the time of one planet above another, until thou come nigh unto Kolob, which Kolob is after the reckoning of the Lord’s time; which Kolob is set nigh unto the throne of God, to govern all those planets which belong to the same order as that upon which thou standest.” (Abraham 3:9).
  • How is man to find God or God man? Man finds God through the Holy Ghost and the teachings of His prophets. God doesn’t have to find man: “For behold, there are many worlds that have passed away by the word of my power. And there are many that now stand, and innumerable are they unto man; but all things are numbered unto me, for they are mine and I know them.” (Moses 1:35).

True science and true religion support each other.

Joseph Smith The Prophet

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Sometimes Mormons are criticized for what others view as placing too much emphasis on the Prophet Joseph Smith. Some even mistakenly believe that we worship Joseph Smith. It is not the case that Mormons worship Joseph Smith. We hold him in high esteem, we sometimes celebrate his birth, his receiving the Priesthood; we sometimes pause to remember his death. That does not mean that we worship him though – those are all things that we might do for family members or friends. That’s precisely what the Prophet Joseph Smith is – family. He is the father of our dispensation.

I wrote some terms that are somewhat unique to Mormonism – Priesthood (unique in our understanding of it) and dispensation. I won’t go in to what those terms mean but Mormons look to Joseph Smith as our spiritual progenitor much in the same way many Jews view Father Abraham as their actual progenitor (we, Mormons, also believe that most of us are literally descended from Abraham).

So, we make much ado about Joseph Smith because it was through him that the Lord restored the fulness of the gospel to the earth, most importantly the priesthood authority and the gift of the Holy Ghost. Our focus at times on Joseph Smith doesn’t (or shouldn’t) detract from the centrality of Christ to the Church. All of Joseph’s work was to bring us closer to Jesus Christ and to Heavenly Father. It is because of the Lord’s work that Joseph Smith did that John Taylor, an apostle and prophet of the Lord, was able to state:

“Joseph Smith, the Prophet and Seer of the Lord, has done more, save Jesus only, for the salvation of men in this world, than any other man that ever lived in it. In the short space of twenty years, he has brought forth the Book of Mormon, which he translated by the gift and power of God, and has been the means of publishing it on two continents; has sent the fulness of the everlasting gospel, which it contained, to the four quarters of the earth; has brought forth the revelations and commandments which compose this book of Doctrine and Covenants, and many other wise documents and instructions for the benefit of the children of men; gathered many thousands of the Latter-day Saints, founded a great city, and left a fame and name that cannot be slain. He lived great, and he died great in the eyes of God and his people; and like most of the Lord’s anointed in ancient times, has sealed his mission and his works with his own blood” (D&C 135:3).

What Joseph did was just the beginning of the work of Christ’s church in these last days. It is in this context that I embed the video of a beautiful sacred work by Rob Gardner about the Prophet Joseph Smith (or, if you prefer, you can watch it on the BYUtv website).

Anyone For Tennis?

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Image from and available for use under the CC license: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Tennis_Racket_and_Balls.jpg

One time I went with a friend to play tennis. While we were playing the tennis balls we brought with us all either went flat or broke or were lost. So we were stuck with a conundrum, do we stick around and try to find another ball or do we just go home, or do we stay there and try to play tennis without a ball? Being the creative people we were, we decided to try and play tennis without a ball. My friend and I grabbed out racquets and started playing the game. We just imagined we had a ball. It was great fun and we’ve never played better tennis since – aces every serve. It did get boring after a while though.

Anyone think that that our game of “tennis” probably was not very effective? Maybe we could have been more creative and made up a new game that didn’t need a ball. The problem is that that wouldn’t quite be tennis any more. Maybe we could have tried to make a ball out of something else; but again, it wouldn’t quite be correct. Or, maybe we could do like we did and just pretend that we had a ball. There are a number of possibilities. Maybe we could have borrowed a ball or gone and purchased some new balls. Well, since I’m being hypothetical, what if all tennis balls (and anything like a tennis ball, such as a racquetball ball) in the world and all ways of manufacturing them were destroyed? There would be no way to play the game of tennis (other than virtually, but that’s not the same). None of these scenarios for playing tennis make a lot of sense and none of them are quite tennis anymore.

OK, I admit that my story was made up, it didn’t happen (but it could have). It is an allegory for something that happened a long time ago.

Following the death of Christ’s original Apostles, there was a loss of God’s authority on the earth (at least to those in Israel and that part of the world; His authority lasted for a few hundred years in the Americas). This was like losing the ball in a game of tennis. So what happened then? What did members of the church and church leaders do? Well, the “players” started improvising. Some of them made up a new but similar game. Others tried to make their own ball. It wasn’t the original, only a copy of it. Still others just carried on and pretended they had a ball. What else could they do?

The trouble is that this loss of the proverbial tennis balls happened a long time ago. Now most people have forgotten how tennis is supposed to be played. Most don’t realize that there should even be a ball. Others know that there should be a ball but believe that they can make it themselves – that it really doesn’t matter where the ball comes from. A crumpled up paper one is just fine. Others deny there ever was a ball. Still others state that the balls were only necessary a long time ago and that they are unnecessary now.

But the fact still remains that tennis ceased being tennis a long time ago (again, referring to the allegorical tennis here). Then one day a young man was visited by someone really old who had been around when tennis was still tennis. This young man received a new tennis ball and was told how tennis really was supposed to be played because by then a lot of the rules had changed. He was ridiculed because everyone knew that tennis really didn’t need to be played with a ball, or you could make your own ball if you really wanted one. You certainly didn’t need a fuzzy green ball to play. A lot of people told him and those who accepted that version of tennis that their tennis was not the real tennis.

This does not mean that the other games that were created once all the tennis balls were lost were bad games, they just were not quite right and thus not tennis. Just as it is pretty ridiculous to try and play tennis without a ball, so is it to try and maintain Christ’s church without the priesthood authority to do so. Thankfully, God has restored His priesthood to the earth so we can once again play “tennis”.

Puritanism Parallels with Mormonism: Preparation for the Restoration – Part 5

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Joseph Smith was born and lived much of his young life in the New England states. Calvinism had a strong influence in his day. Puritanism in practice was not strong during his life but Presbyterianism and other Calvinist religions were. Joseph’s mother and a few siblings had joined with the Presbyterians before Joseph’s First Vision. However, some of these Puritan doctrines had strayed from the truth; in fact all Christian religions had strayed to varying degrees from the truth – they all had much of the truth but the fullness was lost. Further, the organization of Christ’s church was no longer on the earth. Because of this, it was necessary for a restoration to occur. The Restoration was not a reaction to Puritanism or any other contemporary religion. That’s what the Reformation was – a reaction to the prevailing church and dogmas. The Restoration was something new; it was putting new wine in new bottles, or rather, old wine made anew and poured into new bottles.

Another way the Puritans helped pave the way for the Restoration was with their strong emphasis on personal Bible study, which meant that literacy was important. They had higher literacy rates than other communities within the New World. The Latter-day Saints had and have a similar focus on education; we believe education and life-long learning are important. The Puritans believed education was important for both men and women; within Mormonism, we have always placed a similar emphasis on education for all, even if it is only informal. The LDS Church today has a donation-funded Perpetual Emigration Fund that helps members around the world break the cycle of poverty by providing them with education loans that they can use to receive college or technical training. Puritanism and Mormonism are similar in other ways. The Puritans also emphasized fasting and prayer, just as we do in the LDS church. Going without food and drink helps us overcome the natural man as we pray and seek strength and guidance from our Father.

The Puritans placed a large emphasis on time. They often turned their whole houses into sundials because clocks were prohibitively expensive for most people; they could use the relationship between the sun and their houses as a means to tell time. The Puritans abhorred wasting time or being idle. People were even fined for “misspending their time” (p.158). They believed that it was best to arise early and retire early so that they waste as little time as possible. They even tried to decrease the amount of sleep they received in order to accomplish more, especially scripture studying or acting in the service of God (p.161). Does that sound like LDS teachings? “Cease to be idle; cease to be unclean; cease to find fault one with another; cease to sleep longer than is needful; retire to thy bed early, that ye may not be weary; arise early, that your bodies and your minds may be invigorated” (D&C; 88:124). Additionally, throughout the Book of Mormon those who were wicked were often described with the following words: “And it came to pass that I beheld, after they had dwindled in unbelief they became a dark, and loathsome, and a filthy people, full of idleness and all manner of abominations” (1 Ne. 12:23). [As an aside, I want to point out that becoming a “dark” people is probably best interpreted as a reference to a darkness of countenance (i.e., not having the light of Christ shining in one’s countenance or eyes; being full of darkness instead of light)]. Within both Puritanism and Mormonism there is counsel against idleness.

Puritanism likely had some degree of influence on the culture of Mormonism (culture is not the same as doctrine), just as it had (and has) on American culture. While some doctrines of Puritanism were similar to those of the LDS faith, there were significant differences, predestination was one of the biggest differences. However, differences aside, Puritanism helped pave the way for the Restoration.

Reference

Fischer, D. H. (1989). Albion’s Seed: Four British Folkways in America. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Blessings of the Aaronic Priesthood, Part 3

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“Upon you my fellow servants.” When you are given the Aaronic Priesthood, you are given the responsibility to serve others. As Deacons, you will be able to pass the sacrament – the sacrament is the single most important thing that we do at church, and Deacons are a part of it and partially responsible for it. That is a lot of responsibility! The most important thing we do at church is mainly done, under the direction of the Bishop, by the young Aaronic Priesthood holders – ages 12 to 18. There is nothing more important Deacons can do than to faithfully pass the sacrament and live worthily to do so. The sacrament is so important that the Savior blessed and passed it around Himself at the Last Supper; He now delegates this responsibility to the Aaronic Priesthood.

The Aaronic Priesthood also holds the keys to the ministering of angels. Think about that. As a bearer of the Aaronic Priesthood, you are entitled to the ministering of angels – for angels to strengthen and teach you; even if you don’t ever see them, they are there. Elder Holland spoke on this topic at the Oct. 2008 General Conference:

“I testify that angels are still sent to help us, even as they were sent to help Adam and Eve, to help the prophets, and indeed to help the Savior of the world Himself. Matthew records in his gospel that after Satan had tempted Christ in the wilderness ‘angels came and ministered unto him.’ Even the Son of God, a God Himself, had need for heavenly comfort during His sojourn in mortality. And so such ministrations will be to the righteous until the end of time.”

Elder Holland went on to explain to whom angels minister:

“As Mormon said to his son Moroni, who would one day be an angel: Has the day of miracles ceased? Or have angels ceased to appear unto the children of men? Or has he withheld the power of the Holy Ghost from them? Or will he, so long as time shall last, or the earth shall stand, or there shall be one man upon the face thereof to be saved? Behold I say unto you, Nay; for…it is by faith that angels appear and minister unto men…. For behold, they are subject unto [Christ], to minister according to the word of his command, showing themselves unto them of strong faith and a firm mind in every form of godliness.”

Those who hold the Aaronic Priesthood – and everyone else – who have strong faith and a firm mind will be able to see ministering angels. Seeing angels may not necessarily involve vision; seeing angels might simply be discerning their hand – the Lord’s hand – in our lives and in the world around us. However, I believe what the scripture says – those with a firm mind in every form of godliness will have the privilege of seeing angels. I should note, that a pure heart is not always a pre-requisite for beholding heavenly messengers – Nephi’s brothers Laman and Lemuel saw an angel and heard it speak but they were not strong in faith or with firm minds in the faith. Even the viewing of angels is not enough to dispel the darkness of disbelief but it can strengthen the faith and lives of those with strong faith.

Blessings of the Aaronic Priesthood, Part 2

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Within the Aaronic Priesthood, there are four offices: deacon, teacher, priest, and bishop. Bishops also hold the Melchizedek Priesthood and are ordained High Priests but they are mainly responsible for the Aaronic Priesthood in the ward.

What are some of the things you can and should do when you hold the Aaronic Priesthood? “With the authorization of the presiding priesthood leader (usually the bishop or branch president), deacons pass the sacrament. They help the bishop or branch president watch over Church members by giving service and assisting with temporal matters such as gathering fast offerings. Teachers may perform all the duties of deacons, and they also receive other opportunities to serve. They prepare the sacramental bread and water and serve as home teachers. Priests may perform all the duties of deacons and teachers. With the authorization of the presiding priesthood leader, they may also bless the sacrament, baptize, and ordain others to the offices of priest, teacher, and deacon.” (Source)
John the Baptist came and restored the Aaronic Priesthood to the earth. We even know what he said when he gave the Aaronic Priesthood to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery. We find a record of John’s words in D&C; Section 13 (and Joseph Smith History 1:69). What does it say and what does it tell us about the responsibilities the bearers of the Aaronic Priesthood have?
“Upon you my fellow servants, in the name of Messiah, I confer the Priesthood of Aaron, which holds the keys of the ministering of angels, and of the gospel of repentance, and of baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; and this shall never be taken again from the earth until the sons of Levi do offer again an offering unto the Lord in righteousness.”

The Mountain of the Lord’s House – An LDS Perspective on Temples, part 2

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The prophet Isaiah saw in vision latter-day temples and the church members who attend them: “And it shall come to pass in the last days, when the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills, and all nations shall flow unto it. And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths” (2 Ne. 12: 2-3).

In the last days – in our day – comes the clarion call to the temple. It is a call to learn the ways of God and to walk in the paths the Lord has marked. It is a call to one and all to visit the house of God as individuals and as families in order to receive the blessings of time and eternity. Why is the temple so important? A temple is the House of the Lord. It is the place where ordinances necessary for exaltation are performed. Temple ordinances weld generation to generation; husband to wife, mother to daughter, and sister to brother. A temple is a place of covenant – it is a house of holiness.

To be holy means to be dedicated, set-apart, or consecrated. When we are holy we consecrate all our lives and everything we have to the work of the Lord. The prophet Zechariah spoke about consecration: “In that day shall there be upon the bells of the horses, HOLINESS UNTO THE LORD…Yea, every pot in Jerusalem and in Judah shall be holiness unto the Lord of hosts” (Zechariah 14: 20-21). Zechariah envisioned the day when even the horses and dishes would be consecrated for the work of the Lord. Many of us do this in our lives – we drive our children and the children of others to church activities or we drive to our visiting or home teaching appointments; we also use our dishes to take food to those who are ill or in need. Those may seem like small matters, but that is the essence of consecration – it is using our means to serve and support others and further the work of the Lord.