Forgiving to be Forgiven

Once you begin to repent the real work commences. God forgives, but retaining forgiveness requires that we follow Him. We are not going to develop into His children until we have become acquainted with His way. He tells us what we must do to learn of Him. We must do His work, join in His labor to save souls:

“And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise. For if ye love them which love you, what thank have ye? for sinners also love those that love them. And if ye do good to them which do good to you, what thank have ye? for sinners also do even the same. And if ye lend to them of whom ye hope to receive, what thank have ye? for sinners also lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil. Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful. Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven: Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again.” (Luke 6: 31-38.)

Once forgiven, we forgive. We take on ourselves the role of the intercessor by accepting the shame and abuse of this world, and both forgive and pray for those who give offenses. Through this, we come to understand our Lord because we are like Him.

This is what we see in Lehi. After learning of God’s impending judgments against Jerusalem, he prayed on behalf of “his people” (those who were condemned) with “all his heart.” 1 Ne. 1: 5. His example can be found mirrored in all who repent. They display His grace by what they suffer for His cause.

Christ taught who He was, then lived the example of what a redeemed life would be. He sacrificed Himself. Similarly His followers sacrifice themselves. Perhaps not by dying, as He did and as Joseph did, and as Steven did, and Paul, and Peter, and Abinadi and Hyrum. But by the way they live – taking offenses and forgiving. This is how we obtain broken hearts and contrite spirits, because this world is always at war with the Saints of God. Here the Children of God are strangers and sojourners.

I Am a Mormon, Part 4

I am a Mormon. The church I belong to, support, and believe in has intentionally kept a good deal of its history concealed. The archives are not completely open, and have never been available to the public. One of the reasons Assistant LDS Church Historian Davis Bitton “did not have a testimony of church history” was because our history has yet to be fully written. It is a work yet to be discovered and revealed. Right now we have only glimpses and excerpts, not the full panoply of material to draw from in order for any of us to reach fully informed conclusions.

The church could remove this impediment by opening its archives. However, it is apparent they aren’t going to do this. Therefore, we all live (and I’m talking about all of us, including the ones defending this faith among our peers and friends) with the justified concern the church has something it thinks it must hide. Although I can use the materials that were released, or information that has leaked out, to show there are believers who can tolerate the foibles and weaknesses of humanity and still retain strong faith in the religion and confidence in the church, I can never advance a good enough argument to overcome the perception that there is embarrassing material that won’t see the light of day. In Passing the Heavenly Gift I show that, to the extent the history can be reconstructed from what is now available, even the moments of profound human failure are not a good enough reason to abandon belief in the faith. That is a defense of the faith, not an attack on it. I reject the idea the book was intended as an attack. It wasn’t. So, from the scattered comments I’ve heard let me continue to address concerns about that book as I understand them:

I did not criticize President Harold B. Lee about his development of Correlation. That was President David O. McKay and his counselor President Moyle. I quoted them. They were opposed to the Correlation program that Elder Lee was advancing. They thought it would lead to the apostasy of the church from abuse by  future hierarchies using their position to control and dominate other, equally deserving branches of the church. They thought it was improper for the central priesthood to claim the right to control everything instead of the separate branches having independence. I only quoted these former members of the First Presidency. (It was President Harold B. Lee who presided over the church when I joined.) Therefore, if you think that is an inappropriate idea, your quarrel is with a church president and his counselor, not me.

I did not characterize President Grant as being more interested in money than religion. That was his mother. I quoted her. Or, to be even more exact, it was President Grant quoting his mother in his own diary that I quoted. I made no independent accusation. I reported what he said about himself (and what his mother accused him of in her communication with him). Then I defended his candor and integrity because he made this self-revelation of his weakness. If you think that is an inappropriate assessment of President Grant, your quarrel is with him and his mother, not me.

It was President J. Reuben Clark who compared the modern church president to the Pope. I merely quoted him. It was LDS Church Historian Marlin Jensen who called the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve “the fifteen men.” I only quoted him. I do not think either President Clark or Elder Jensen meant any offense. Nor do I think offense should be taken. But most of all, if offense is to be taken, then place it where it belongs: with the LDS leaders I quote, and not me. I am trying to make sense of the things they have said and done from a faithful perspective. Be careful who you damn, because you are actually turning on the very leaders you think you are defending. What I have done in Passing the Heavenly Gift is to defend the faith I believe in and accept, despite human weaknesses and failings. I am realistic about the shortcomings of mere men. This is why our faith must be centered in Christ, rather than foolish and weak mankind.

Is it really impermissible for a faithful member, who wants those who are worried about history, to quote from the diaries and letters of former First Presidency members? Have only the critics the right to tell more accurate history of our faith? Do those who believe have no permission to also be candid with the public while defending the faith? How, exactly, is that supposed to work out in our favor? I’m willing to be enlightened about that approach, and if you can persuade me the truth must be avoided then I will fall in line with what I’m required to do; but with all due respect the problem is not me. The problem is that from top to bottom our faith must be more truthful in this Internet age or we risk being mere charactures and not real functioning adults with bona fide and defensible beliefs. We risk putting “fiction and fairy tales” above a sound defense of the faith. We begin to look as foolish and as immature as our critics want to paint us. Is that the goal? If not, then how should we deal with problems in history? Are we only allowed to ignore them? Or to tell versions of events that can be easily disproven? Does not the current collapse in faith among adult members who have been previously lifelong active members raise the concern that we must be more truthful? How much more damage are you willing to inflict on the religion before you reach the conclusion we must be truthful, even when the truth is unflattering?

All of the “problems” are already before us on the Internet. If you only study what is Correlated and sanitized, your children won’t. If you have no answers, then you will find you are unequal to the challenges that lie ahead of you and your family. Whether you are ready for it or not, the waves of challenges are breaking upon us. Our missionaries return with more questions than answers because there is an organized opposition working to challenge all of our teachings, doctrines and history. We MUST be better prepared. Not from composing more limited fiction, but from facing what is known to be true.

I am not worried about the faith collapsing under the weight of truth. It will instead be vindicated by the truth. It is far more handicapped by the fiction we presently serve as the defense of our faith than by a rigorous application of truth in examining the failures of men. Even when men fail, the faith is unaffected.

It is my belief that the recent assertion by the church in the Professor Bott matter did more damage to the interests of the church than anything I’ve ever done. The official statement was:

The origins of priesthood availability are not entirely clear. Some explanations with respect to this matter were made in the absence of direct revelation and references to these explanations are sometimes cited in publications. These previous personal statements do not represent Church doctrine.” 

In my view, this is no defense of the faith or our history. It is a worse condemnation of previous leaders than anything I’ve ever written. How does this kind of statement get approved as a public statement by the church? Can a “revelator” speak (as did Brigham Young, John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff, and many others in the first presidency and twelve) about this crucial matter for over a hundred years “in the absence of revelation?” How, if this critical issue involving the personal lives of so many faithful church members for generations was wrong and did not represent church doctrine, can we now trust that anything that is said by anyone on any topic represent church doctrine? There were faithful Saints kept out of the temple because of this doctrine. There were heartwrenching discoveries of genealogy issues for people who were previously ordained who were told they could no longer use their ordination to serve in the church. They were turned down because these men at the highest levels were acting “in the absence of revelation?” Why? This is not a defense of Mormonism by the church, it is an abdication of responsiblity. It makes the church look far worse than quoting President McKay’s concern that Correlation will lead to apostasy.

Again, I am not worried about the faith collapsing under the weight of truth. It will instead be vindicated. It is far more handicapped by efforts to appear consistent when we are completely inconsistent than by admitting we made a mistake. We are human. We fail. That is one of the great features of humanity. We tend to let ourselves make sometimes terrible mistakes and wish we could do them over. Christ died to make that possible. He is the champion of forgiveness. Why can’t we acknowledge that from time to time the church itself needs to ask for forgiveness? It would be given. Members at the lowest level of this organization are rooting for you, supporting you, and upholding you with our prayers. We want you to do your best, and know that sometimes that won’t be good enough. We know you’re going to fail us. I am perfectly willing to forgive you when you do. It is alright. I do not expect perfection, but I do hope for honesty. Lying to cover up a mistake is not easily forgiven. That inspires contempt, not forgiveness or respect. We forgive readily your mistakes because we all make them, but not everyone is going to lie to spare themselves embarrassment. Those who do, break trust with the public and with membership of the church. The first step in repentance is confession, and we know you forsake sins when you first confess them. (D&C 58: 43.)

This is why in all I’ve written I’ve tried to tell it as truthfully and honestly as I am able. I know that the Lord will forgive me when I fall short. I hope the church is willing to allow itself, and me, to fall short and still be friends mutually supporting one another in a greater cause. That greater cause is where God is involved. Our mutual mistakes are our creation, not God’s. So we shouldn’t pretend we are better, or more inspired, or less flawed than we all are. I am certain I will disappoint you, because I have not been and never will be free from sin and error in this mortal estate. But my heart is in the right place. I’m not trying to cover anything of myself up. I’m not pretending I am better than I am. I have repeatedly acknowledged I am flawed, and not worth following. I point to the Lord, because He is worth following. I readily admit I think the church and its members oftentimes pretend to be better than we are. I still defend her and hope for her best interests. My weakness does not limit God’s grace and forgiveness. The weaknesses and mistakes of the church are able to be overcome, too, through God’s grace and forgiveness.

I am a Mormon. Devoutly and actively. I intend to die as a faithful Mormon. You should never think my form of faith is too insubordinate, too candid and too open to be endured. In my view that is not a problem at my end. Exactly what is it about the truth of human failure you find so threatening? I can associate without condemning, with fellow Mormons who advocate a very shallow view of the faith I hold as true. I can let them alone and never foist my views on them. However, in the exchange of ideas among those who are actively searching the Internet and bookstores to find truth, I should be allowed to explain how I have maintained faith and active support of the church in the face of troubling history. No one is required to read what I’ve written. You don’t have to come to this blog and let me interrupt your view of Mormonism. Go your way, believe as you like. Let those who struggle, for whom I provide some aid in coping with the difficult things they’ve learned about our past and our doctrine, be permitted to peacably consider how I’ve come to reconcile the Gospel with these many challenges.

I think those who condemn it, rather than offer a reasonable explanation and defense of their beliefs, do not understand Mormonism. They do not understand our scriptures. They do not understand what Joseph Smith said of the religion he gave his life to restore. I’ve studied for years, hours a day, to gain through hard effort and prayer the things I have learned. Then I have spent decades sincerely applying those things I learned. I am most certainly a Mormon. My faith is only gained by the kind of diligence and heed I’ve given to it. If you don’t understand or sympathize with my practice of Mormonism, that does not make me less a Mormon nor you more one. It just makes us different in how we accept this great latter-day gift from God.

The fellow-Mormons who condemn me without reading what I’ve written employ means that are brutal, unkind, coercive, and intimidating. They should be trying to reclaim me from the error they think I have made. I have tried through persuasion and knowledge to bring about understanding. I cannot be intimidated by what others say or do. I know He whom I serve. And therefore I must speak boldly about this faith I hold so dear.

Repentance

I received a question: “Knowing that the local church leaders sometimes misjudge the repentance process and sometimes struggle to know what the individual truly needs. Is it possible to properly repent for serious sins and have the repentance process be between just you and the Lord, without confessing your sins to your bishop? On many occasions, we read in the scriptures that repentance was done by confession to the Lord alone. If you truly had a change of heart and had abandon the sin, wouldn’t it be ok for you and I to do the same today, as recorded in the scriptures, without confessing to church authorities?”

This question is a reflection of just how “institutional” our orientation has become. The church is powerless to forgive sins. Christ forgave sins during His mortal ministry. (Mark 2: 5-12.) Christ forgives sins in His current ministry. (D&C 61: 2.)

Christ may allow men to possess the power to forgive sins as in the case of Joseph Smith (D&C 132: 46), but that has definite limits. Men are given such power because they will never use it independently of the Lord’s will. (Helaman 10: 5.) Even those who will be allowed to “judge” others in the final judgment, will not have independent reign, but must announce Christ’s judgment, not their own. (3 Ne. 27: 27.)

The only one who can forgive sin is Christ. He requires us to forgive one another, but will Himself determine whose sins He will forgive. (D&C 64: 10.) He is the only gatekeeper for forgiveness. (2 Ne. 9: 41.)

If you think the church leader is attuned to the Lord’s voice and can give you comfort, encouragement to come to Christ, and help guide you in the path, then counseling with such a man is very worthwhile, but he cannot forgive sins, for that you are required to look to the Lord.

3 Nephi 13: 14-15

3 Nephi 13: 14-15:

For, if ye forgive men their trespasses your heavenly Father will also forgive you; But if ye forgive not men their trespasses neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

This is an absolute condition. It is mandatory.

If you forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive you your trespass.

You can’t be forgiven by the Father if you do not forgive others.

It can’t be done.

That grudge you harbor prevents the Father from forgiving you.

Those resentments you think are justified are keeping you from being forgiven by the Father.

Those injustices imposed upon you by others who are unthinking or cruel must be surrendered.

The early Saints were victimized by mobs in Missouri and Illinois. They wanted revenge. Brigham Young implemented a covenant to seek vengeance upon the murderers of Joseph Smith until the third and fourth generation. They did not build Zion.

The opposite of this is forgiveness. If you forgive, your Heavenly Father WILL forgive you. Offenses are opportunities for you to gain forgiveness. All you need to do is forgive them.

It is a simple, direct cause and effect. It was ordained before the world was founded, and applies universally in all ages and among all people.

The world is in Satan’s grip largely because the world seeks vengeance and refuses to forgive.

Zion, on the other hand, will be filled with those who forgive. Of course that puts an absolute limit on those who can dwell there.  …Very few indeed.

3 Nephi 13: 9-13:

 
“After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.  And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.  And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.  For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.”
 
Simple. Direct. Plain.
 
Christ assures us that He is “Our Father” and not just His. We are all united in sharing that status with Christ. We are a family.
 
First He identifies the Father as “ours” and then, least we should presume too great a familiarity, He adds “hallowed be thy name.” A name is important for many reasons. In the case of Deity, it was an ancient presumption that if you knew the name of an angel, demon, or god you could summon such a being by using that name. Here, however, Christ is applying sacred status to the Father’s name. It is His Fatherhood that is emphasized, not His hallowed name.
 
The Father’s will is not done on earth. Here, there is rebellion, rejection, chaos and despair. Here, order is imposed by the strong upon the weak. Men exploit, abuse and misrule. In heaven, however, the Father’s rule establishes order, kindness and equity. Anyone who is aware of the fallen conditions here will ask for the Father’s will to be done on earth, as it is in heaven.
That petition can also be read to mean: “Let me live on earth as if I were in heaven.” Or, “let the Father’s will come to earth by the life I live here.” Or, “let me prove myself worthy of heaven’s companionship, though I live here on earth.”
 
The prayer links forgiving others to being forgiven. This is not merely a wise petition, it is also a statement of cause and effect. We merit forgiveness as we give it. It is by forgiving that we are forgiven.
 
We pay our debts by giving others forgiveness of their debts to us. I’ve written a chapter about this in Come, Let Us Adore Him. We merit what we give to others. We establish the criteria by which we will be judged as we decide how to treat others. He will return to this concept in 3 Nephi 14: 2.
 
When the Father leads you it will never be into temptation, but will always deliver you from evil. This is a petition which reminds us to be willing to be led. We are literally to ask the Father to help us be led by Him. Through Him we will obtain deliverance.
 
The Father owns the kingdom, the power and glory. Mankind does not confer that upon Him. It is His. But mankind can acknowledge it. By making that acknowledgement we are able to have confidence in Him. We can trust His power to deliver, His ability to bring again His kingdom, and to bear and share in His glory as He has promised.
 
Many of these simple statements are confessions of our own desires and clarify we have understanding. God’s kingdom, power and glory exist independent of our prayers. But when our prayers attest that we understand this, we are making our submission and meekness known to Him. We are stating our trust in Him.
We acknowledge His kingdom is His, to be restored in His time, with His power. It is His to control. We do not envy that control, nor attempt to force Him to do our bidding. We acknowledge that His right exists, independent of man’s will or ambition. He will decide and we will accept. We can ask, but He will determine the events that will take place and when they will unfold.
 
This prayer is an acknowledgement that we are not trying to control God, but instead are willing to be subject to Him. He is the sovereign, we are the subjects.
 
We ask, He decides. If He determines to do a work we defer to Him. The greater the recognition of His kingdom, power and glory, the greater the confidence we have in His decisions. The less we are inclined to argue with Him or to substitute our desires for His.
 
When the Lord decides to bring again Zion, it will be because the Father has decided it is time to do so. It will not be because a group has volunteered to accomplish it. When He decides, and He is the author of it, no power under heaven will stand against it. When men have ambition to create what is in His power alone to do, then they will not just fail but will be swept away.
This petition to the Father instructs us in patience and faith.

3 Nephi 12: 43-45

3 Nephi 12: 43-45:

“And behold it is written also, that thou shalt love thy neighbor and hate thine enemy;  But behold I say unto you, love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them who despitefully use you and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father who is in heaven; for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good.”
Loving the ones you care for, associate with, and live nearby is sometimes easy. Hating those who show you disrespect or cause you injury is normal.  Nevertheless, Christ teaches to love enemies, bless those who are trying to do you harm, and pray for your persecutors.
This is the only way to become like Him. He is an intercessor. As I’ve explained in The Second Comforter, becoming an intercessor for others is part of development, through grace, to become as He is.  It is through this that charity becomes a part of your character. (Moro. 7: 46.) And charity is a necessary attribute in character. (2 Nephi 26: 30; Moro. 7:47.)
This treatment of enemies is how you prove your inner self. Only by suffering, do we learn if we are converted. If you receive only praise and adulation,    authority and wealth, prestige and acceptance as a result of following Christ, then you’ve never been proven. It is through the sacrifice of your good name, reputation, position, wealth and social standing that you learn if you truly trust in Christ.
When you actually do sacrifice all earthly things for Him, you will have knowledge that the course of your life is pleasing to Him. Anything less than this will leave your mind in doubt. (See Lecture 6 discussed previously.)
If you follow this teaching by Christ, you will convert yourself first, then others. No-one can doubt the goodness of a life lived as this teaching commends.  Though such a life may not convert others immediately, it will triumph.
Sometimes people die teaching the truth. They surrendered all they were on the altar, thereby coming to know God. This teaching would allow anyone to do the same. You would have to not only accept the idea, you would need to implement it.
Abinadi returned to bear witness of the truth, and then die. Alma was his only convert. But from the moment of Alma’s conversion to the end of the Book of Mormon, every character who wrote in the plates descended from Abinadi’s single convert.

Abinadi was a hinge character around whom the story of the Nephites would pivot from his life onward. But he had little success, and was killed by those to whom he ministered. 

In some respects, dying for the cause of Christ is easier than living it. This teaching, however, shows how you can begin to live it.
It is not designed to be easy. As I discussed in Beloved Enos, sometimes it takes quite a bit of effort to come to terms with what the Lord requires of us.  But that does not alter in the least the importance of doing it, or lessen the quality of the results obtained.
Keep in mind the Lord’s admonition: “If ye love me, keep my commandments.” (John 14: 15.)
Remember also the Lord’s statement that the things He is teaching “at this time” are necessary to enter into the kingdom of Heaven. (3 Nephi 12: 20.) These are not just sayings. They are meant to be acted on. It is in the doing of them you will meet Him. When you descend below where you are at present, you will find the Lord. For He is condescending whenever He is seen.
Finally, Christ reminds us that the Lord blesses all with the sun, light, life and abundance. Both good and evil are blessed by Him. Therefore, the petty differences between the good and the bad are so insignificant when compared against an absolute standard of perfection that the relative goodness and relative badness is inconsequential. So inconsequential that for any of us to be redeemed will require the atonement. Therefore, we all owe everything to Him. Only the redeemed come to realize and accept that while here. Everyone will eventually grasp that reality.
Accepting Him is the means for healing us. His open invitation to all can be seen in the sun shining on “both the evil and on the good.” Everyone is bidden to come to the throne and receive healing, grace and forgiveness. To merit it, you must first give it. To obtain forgiveness you must give forgiveness. To have Him suffer for your sins, you must first suffer and forgive others of their sins committed against you.
Every balanced life surrenders claims for justice and shows mercy, thereby making a claim for themselves upon mercy.

3 Nephi 12: 38-39






“And behold, it is written, an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth;  But I say unto you, that ye shall not resist evil, but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also;”


This is reforming the law of retaliation or lex talionis. When first adopted, the law of retaliation was designed to limit retribution. It was merciful in the context of the time. It prevented taking a life for an eye. The scope of the injury suffered put a limit on the scope of the retaliation permitted. I taught a class on this ancient law in the BYU Education Week some years ago. It is too much to cover in this post in order to fully understand the ramifications of this law.


The popular understanding of that law is quite a distortion. The injury permitted was not actually exacted under the law. “An eye for an eye” meant that the victim was entitled to take the eye of the one causing the injury. In practice the eye was not taken. The value of the eye was agreed upon between victim and perpetrator. They sealed the agreement before two witnesses in the gate of the city. Then the debtor was obligated to pay the agreed sum (called “satisfaction”). If he defaulted the elders could take the eye as penalty for the default in payment, which stood as collateral for the debt.


Payment of “satisfaction” was permitted and given for offenses under the lex talionis except in the case of a limited class of offenses, including murder.  (Numbers 35: 31-32.) In such cases it was considered too dangerous to allow satisfaction, and therefore the penalty needed to be carried out.


Here, Christ is replacing that entire body of law by substituting forgiveness and mercy for justice and recompense. The victim is being urged to seek nothing in return for his injury. Instead, the victim is to bear the injury and allow evil against themselves without retaliation for the offense.


This may seem odd, even wrong. However, there is an example of this in the Book of Mormon. Although many lives were lost in the process, it resulted in the salvation of many souls. The Anti-Lehi-Nephites were unwilling to take up arms to defend themselves, instead allowing their enemies to slay them. The result broke the hearts of those who were killing them, and many were converted by this example. (See Alma 24: 19-27.) But the people of God were joined by more than the number who were slain.


The book by C. Terry Warner titled The Bonds That Make Us Free: Healing Our Relationships, Coming to Ourselves explains how the actions of those who forgive are able to break the hearts of those who are forgiven. There is not merely freedom in forgiving others, there is power in it as well. Terry Warner’s book is an examination of the principles of sin and forgiveness, and worth reading if you have not done so before. 


We gain power by what things we suffer for the Lord’s sake. Christ who loved the most, sacrificed the most. Those two things are linked together.


This teaching was not only given by Christ, but it was lived by Him also. In this statement, as in no other, He is defining who He is and revealing what His conduct invariably will be. This is the Lord’s standard. This is the Lord’s manner. The choice of turning the other cheek is taken from the Messianic standard described by Isaiah. (Isa. 50: 6; also 53: 5.) We can also heal others by the things we willingly suffer. We can endure and forgive. As we do righteousness increases on the earth.


Saint Francis Assisi believed this, practiced it. In an age of darkness and apostasy, the Lord spoke with St. Francis, and sent angels to minister to him.  He is appropriately referred to as a Saint. He lived the Sermon on the Mount.  It is perhaps St. Francis, who above all others, proves a mortal may walk in the Lord’s steps. Christ did it first and more completely than would any other. But St. Francis surely followed.  


I have little doubt that the Lord’s teachings are impractical in this world. But, then again, we are not called to live for this world, are we? The reason Zion always flees from this world is precisely because the Lord will not permit the world to overwhelm those who would surely be overthrown if not for His grace and protection. He will fight their battles to spare those in Zion from the necessity of becoming warlike. (D&C 105: 14.)


I am amused by the martial inclinations of the Latter-day Saints. When the lamb and lion lie down together I suppose many of the Latter-day Saints expect to be able to hunt them both.

3 Nephi 12: 25-26

 
“Agree with thine adversary quickly while thou art in the way with him, lest at any time he shall get thee, and thou shalt be cast into prison.  Verily, verily, I say unto thee, thou shalt by no means come out thence until thou hast paid the uttermost senine. And while ye are in prison can ye pay even one senine? Verily, verily, I say unto you, Nay.”
 
This notion of agreeing with your adversaries is difficult for most people. It requires you to submit to what is sometimes unjust demands. He is saying to submit anyway. Do not rebel against the adversaries in life, but accommodate them.
 
Give to the unjust what they demand, so that they may see your good works and understand there is a higher way. Without your example, they cannot understand.
 
Retaliation continues the cycles. Someone eventually needs to lay down their just claim for retribution and simply take the injury without returning anything in return. This was what Christ did. He took everyone’s injuries and returned only forgiveness.
 
Now He asks for His followers to do some of the same. The failure to tolerate injustice can spiral into continuing the conflict, until there is prison. The prison to fear is not one made by men. But if you are cast into that prison then you cannot come out until you have paid the highest price. (D&C 76: 84-85, 105-106.) It is better to repent because this payment made even God, the greatest of all, to tremble with pain and shrink from the burden. (D&C 19: 15-18.)
 
It is not possible to pay the price while in prison. The price must be paid by a person while in the flesh. (Luke 16: 22-26.) Any who are consigned to prison dwell in darkness, awaiting deliverance from Him whom they rejected while in the flesh. (D&C 138: 20-22.) They become dependent upon others working to pay the debt on their behalf. (D&C 138: 33.)
The sermon delivered by Christ is the foundation of how man ought to relate to fellow-man. It is the pattern on which it becomes possible to dwell in peace with one another. It is the groundwork for Zion.
 
We need to look at this sermon as the guideline for changing our internal lives, so we may become a fit and proper resident with others who are Saints. Even Saints will give inadvertent offenses. Even Saints will disappoint one another from time to time. To become “one” in the sense required for redeeming a people and restoring them again to Zion is beyond any person’s reach if they cannot internalize this sermon.
 
The purpose of this sermon is not to equip you to judge others. It has no use for that. It is designed to change you. You need to become something different, something higher, something more holy. That will require you to reexamine your heart, your motivations, and your thoughts. It will require you to take offenses and deliberately lay them down without retaliation. When you do, you become someone who can live in peace with others. Living in peace with others is the rudimentary beginning of Zion. It will not culminate in a City set on the hilltop until there is a population worthy of dwelling in the high places, in peace, without poor among them. (Moses 7: 17-18.)
 
Christ’s sermon is not merely a description of what kind of person He is. It is a description of what kind of person will qualify to live with Him.  (Luke 9: 23.)

3 Nephi 11: 26

3 Nephi 11: 26:

“And then shall ye immerse them in the water, and come forth again out of the water.” 

 
The manner of baptism is clearly by immersion. To perform the ordinance, they must be put under the water and then “come forth again out of the water” to follow the instruction given by Christ.

The purpose of baptism is to follow Christ’s example. (John 10: 27, John 14: 15.) It symbolizes the death of the old man of sin, and the resurrection into a new life in Christ. (Romans 6: 4.) That symbol cannot be mirrored by sprinkling. It must involve immersion.

In immersion we are placed below the surface of the water, in the same way as the dead are buried below ground.

In immersion the breath of life is cut off while under the water, and restored anew when you “come forth again out of the water.”

In the case of the officiator, they are the one who immerses and then brings the recipient up out of the water. Performing this ordinance puts the officiator in the role of the Lord who holds the keys of death (Rev. 1: 18) and resurrection (2 Nephi 2: 8).

Those who are baptized, and those who officiate, enact, by symbol, some eternal truths regarding the plan of salvation. In the very moment the ordinance is performed there is a renewal in symbol of life, innocence, forgiveness and resurrection. The earth itself is blessed by such things as baptism and other ordinances. The earth itself is defiled when the ordinances are not kept exactly as prescribed. (Isa. 24: 5; Moses 7: 28.)

The earth knows that God ordained the ordinances of heaven and earth.  (Jeremiah 33: 25.) As regular and reliable as the movements of the sun and moon are, so too should the ordinances of the Lord be kept in their appointed ways. (Jeremiah 31: 35-36.)

The heavens and earth rejoice when the ordinances are kept. They symbolize eternal hope, man’s acceptance of God’s plan, and a presence of righteousness in a fallen world. Our own participation in ordinances are vital to our own renewal, and the renewal of all creation through redemption of each individual soul.

The baptism ordinance, like all those that follow after, is intended not merely to fulfill an initiation rite. It is intended to communicate light and truth into the mind of the individual who is performing and receiving the ordinance. It is meant to enlighten.

I have discussed previously the meaning of “come forth” used by Christ in restoring life to Lazarus (John 11: 43) and therefore won’t repeat it again here. It is no accident the Lord employs the same meaning here as there. We are rising from the tomb of sin which imprisons us into the new life awaiting us in Christ.

The Lord is more than brilliant. He is filled with light and truth. The closer you draw to Him, the more light and truth you begin to receive from Him.

Come and be saved

In the preceding verses Nephi has changed from giving his own advice and counsel to quoting the Lord. He began in verse 30 with the words: “behold, thus saith the Lord” and continues quoting Him through the end of that chapter and into the next.

The third “wo” was pronounced by Nephi as a quote from the Lord. The “cursing of the gentiles” was pronounced by Nephi as a quote from the Lord.

Now I didn’t point that out as we went through the materials. It is significant enough that it requires additional attention.

Christ has divided judgment up into two separate functions. For those who will be blessed, He will delegate the honor of blessing to others, including His twelve at Jerusalem, (Matt. 19: 28, 1 Ne. 12: 9) and twelve Nephite disciples (3 Ne. 27: 27). Their judgment is honorary, however, because they are given no discretion in the matter. The Lord will decide the judgment. It is His alone, so as to insure it will be the right decision. (3 Ne. 27: 27.) For those who are to be cursed, however, Christ will be the one who pronounces the judgment. (D&C 29: 27-29.)

It is of terrible significance that these statements come from the Lord who alone holds the right to judge.  He sacrificed His life for all, and is the Savior and Redeemer, seeking to save all who will come to Him.  This is the same Lord who pronounces the words through Nephi: Cursed is he that putteth his trust in man, or maketh flesh his arm, or shall hearken unto the precepts of men, save their precepts shall be given by the power of the Holy Ghost. Wo be unto the Gentiles, saith the Lord God of Hosts!” (2 Ne. 28: 31-32.)

The message is delivered by Nephi. The words are the Lord’s. The merciful and loving Christ who suffered for all that they might not suffer if they would repent (D&C 19: 16), is announcing His pessimism about the latter-day gentile effort to obtain repentance. Why do we seem destined to fail? Why is repentance so difficult for us? What terrible “precepts of men” hold us bound in chains that we cannot break free.

Several have made comments on the question of how we are to repent and come to Christ.  There is a fundamental first step to be taken which the Lord has explained repeatedly in His teachings. I have written about this often, including in my first and last books.

In the chapter on the Atonement in Come, Let Us Adore Him there is an explanation given of what Christ suffered and what obligations are devolving on us as a result. We must do as He did, suffer in like manner, and forgive all offenses. His infinite suffering cannot be replicated in one sense, but in our own sphere and time we do suffer offenses and abuses. We are required to forgive as He forgave. It is our own forgiveness of others that qualifies us to receive forgiveness from Him. When we harbor grudges and resentments, we cut ourselves off from His Atonement. IF we are to be forgiven we must in turn FORGIVE others.  In The Second Comforter it is shown how we must make intercession on behalf of others, even our enemies, if we are to have a hope in Christ. We must lay down the burden of sin to enter into His presence. Much of that “sin” in each of our lives has been the offenses against us, and the resentment and anger we hold from these abuses. There are people who have done you wrong. There are some who did so intentionally. When you forgive them, and plead on their behalf for the Lord to also forgive them in sincerity and love, you are not far from the Kingdom of Heaven. Your Lord did this. You must do as He did to be like Him. It is the only way to understand your Lord. In this, you must suffer as He did, choosing to forgive offenses rather than to seek justice. When you show mercy, you merit mercy. The beginning of repentance is found in forgiving others.

Your just claims for retribution must be surrendered. Your worthy desire to have vindication must be abandoned. Your right to have judgment against the ones who abused you must be forfeited. And you must go on to pray for their forgiveness.

If you have read all I have written you already know this. I am disappointed to have those who have not read what I’ve written trying to make sense of this blog. It will make absolutely no sense if it is not seen as an extension of what I’ve already covered. Even this brief statement about the relationship between your own salvation and redemption through following Christ is a brief note, a cryptic signal, and altogether inadequate to explain the matter. The careful, patient and fulsome explanation has been laid out elsewhere in what I’ve written. You must go there to see why, along with the many places in scripture where the Lord has made the matter clear.

Nephi takes no delight in pronouncing these wo’s and writing the “cursing” the latter-day gentiles face. The Lord takes even less. He suffered and died to make salvation possible for these very same latter-day gentiles. He would save them all. But to do so it is absolutely necessary to bluntly warn those whom He loves. Enos recorded his own ministry and how it was affected by the audience he addressed: “And there was nothing save it was exceeding harshness, preaching and prophesying of wars, and contentions, and destructions, and continually reminding them of death, and the duration of eternity, and the judgments and the power of God, and all these things—stirring them up continually to keep them in the fear of the Lord. I say there was nothing short of these things, and exceedingly great plainness of speech, would keep them from going down speedily to destruction. And after this manner do I write concerning them.” (Enos 1: 23.)

Why would a joyful Lord, who delights in our own happiness, speak in terms of “wo’s” and “cursing” to us? What is it about us as His audience that compels Him to rebuke us? Have you thought of the standard in Section 121 (“reproving betimes with sharpness when moved upon by the Holy Ghost”) as part of this rebuke?

He so completely loves us that John equated Him with love. (1 John 4: 8.) Can you imagine the frustration it causes our Lord to have to speak in these terms to us?

Why do we not repent? Why do we harbor and protect our sins? Why do we worship men rather than God? Why do we cleave to the precepts of men rather than the Holy Ghost? Why do we resist the truth when it is declared to us. Why do we demand that the truth be conformed to our understanding of the precepts of men? Why do we measure the things of God against our own traditions? Why do we not abandon instantly our false notions, and stop arguing against the truth which is in Christ? Why do we think any institution, fellowship, association or man can lead us to salvation instead of Christ alone who can save? (2 Ne. 31: 19.)

How long will you harden your heart against your Lord, whose pleas are aimed only at saving your soul? Why turn away and say that you prefer membership in a great and spacious building, pointing an accusing finger at those who would lead you to eternal life? (1 Ne. 8: 26-31.) Your awards and honors are nothing.  Your recognition and praise is corrosion. Everything here is doomed to decay, rot and fail. (Matt. 6: 19-20.) This is the Telestial Kingdom. Everything here, every institution, organization and order is Telestial. None of it will survive death. (D&C 132: 7.) Even the one association intended to endure (the family) will not endure unless it is through the Holy Spirit of Promise.

If you are going to be rescued from this Telestial Kingdom, it will be Christ who rescues you. His arm has been stretched out to you as long as you have been here, and it will remain stretched out until you depart here.  If you are not saved, it will be because of your rejection of Him, not His rejection of you. He has done all He could. He has sent stern warnings, warm invitations, cheerful messengers, the dignified and the undignified, to show in all things He is willing to meet you more than half way. Those who reject these widely different invitations are accountable for their failure. (Matt. 11: 7-24.)

The Lord continually asks: “What more could I have done?” (Jacob 5: 41, 47, 49, 75; 2 Ne. 15: 4.)

Apparently we will only accept the “precepts of men” and trust the “arm of flesh” and therefore merit the coming disappointments.

Come unto Christ and be saved.

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