2 Nephi 28: 18-19

 
“But behold, that great and abominable church, the whore of all the earth, must tumble to the earth, and great must be the fall thereof. For the kingdom of the devil must shake, and they which belong to it must needs be stirred up unto repentance, or the devil will grasp them with his everlasting chains, and they be stirred up to anger, and perish;”
 
Remember that this comes at the end of Nephi’s ministry. He saw the vision of the great and abominable church at the beginning of his journey into the wilderness. There has been over forty years between the time of the earlier visions and the time of this summary of his great teachings. (See 2 Ne. 5: 34.)
 
Between the time Nephi saw the visions (set out beginning in 1 Nephi 11) and the time of this final instruction, Nephi has had decades to ponder on the things he was shown in vision. He has, in fact, spent those years reflecting constantly upon the visions he received. (2 Ne. 4: 16.) It is foolish to believe that Nephi, Joseph Smith or any prophet understood what they saw the day they saw it. Only time, careful, solemn and ponderous thought can unravel what a person is shown in vision by the Lord. The understanding of a prophet is not static. It unfolds. Joseph’s first impression of the first vision was personal. He thought it was a message to him about himself. By the time he had finished translating the Book of Mormon, organizing the church, and collecting a following, Joseph realized the first vision was not his, but it belonged at a minimum to a larger community of believers. Eventually he would come to see it belonged to the world. The version we have in the Pearl of Great Price reflects that changing understanding. In it he gives the first understanding in what he told his mother the day it happened: He learned that Presbyterianism was not true.  (JS-H 1: 20.)
 
So this statement goes back forty years earlier and Nephi’s vision of the fall of the great whore. This universal false religion will fail. It will “fall.” The “fall” will be “great.” It will “tumble to the earth”– meaning that it will no longer stand on its own, but will altogether collapse.
The purpose of this great calamity is to bring about repentance. The purposes of God, even in punishment, are to elevate and save others.
Notice the devil’s tool that will be used in opposition to repentance: they will “be stirred up to anger, and perish.” That is, to harden hearts and to blind eyes, anger will be the most effective tool. Rather than being humbled by the fall of the great whore, those who will continue to resist repentance will be angry for the losses. They will lament the loss of what they held so dearly.
 
This, then, is how the groups break down – For those who repent, the difficulties they encounter bring humility and contrition. For those who refuse to repent, they respond with anger at their trials.

This is the great watershed test. If your set backs in life humble you, then your heart is soft and you are a candidate for repentance.  If you become angry, accuse God of causing evil, and refuse to be comforted, you are not a candidate for repentance. Your anger is a tool used to blind you. The one employing the tool is the enemy to your soul.

 
The trials and difficulties are gifts to stir you up to repentance. That is how you ought to respond. The only way to approach the Lord is through humility. Anything that aids you in becoming humble is good, merciful and just.  You should view it as a gift. No matter the difficulty. Christ descended below it all; and none of us are greater than He.  (D&C 122: 8.)

Prophet, Seer, Revelator

I was asked this question:

“If the first presidency and the twelve really operate much like the lay members do, how then do you reconcile the MEANING of the words: Prophet; Seer; and Revelator. Aren’t these gifts unusual and set apart for the highest positions of the church? Wouldn’t one necessarily receive visions and dreams to qualify as a Prophet, Seer, or Revelator? How else would one SEE into the past, or the future, let alone clearly understanding the present? How do you reconcile the current revelatory state of the leadership with the meaning of the words, prophet, seer, and revelator?”

Inside the Church the current interpretation is that the “office” has associated with it a “title” set out in scripture.  The “office” of the President of the High Priesthood (D&C 107: 65-66) , who is the President of the Church, also bears the “title” of “prophet, seer and revelator.”  (D&C 107: 91-92.)  The current interpretation of these verses is that the possessor of the office is entitled to the title of “prophet, seer and revelator” by virtue of office alone.  Therefore, nothing more is needed in current church usage other than possession of the office, which alone gives the possessor of the office the title accorded to the office.  So, no, our current terminology does not require something other than office.

It is possible to read the words of the verses differently, of course.  First, the words we have adopted as they appear in scripture are not actually “prophet, seer and revelator” but are instead: “a seer, a revelator, a translator, and a prophet.”  Those are different words and include in the phrase “a translator” in addition to “seer, revelator and a prophet.”  We have dropped the word “translator” from the title we now use.

Second, it is possible that the following words may be viewed to mean something different than the way we currently read them, “to be like unto Moses— Behold, here is wisdom; yea, to be a seer, a revelator, a translator, and a prophet,”  (D&C 107: 91-92).  They could be read to mean that before you fill the office of President of the High Priesthood you must first locate “a seer” who is also, by definition, “a revelator” and “a translator” who is undoubtedly therefore “a prophet” and, having found such a person, you are to sustain him into the office.  The office doesn’t make the man, but the Lord makes a man into such an instrument, and having done so then the church is to put him into the office.  There are of course those who have these gifts.  Many of them have no church office involving priesthood, because they are female.  They may possess gifts, but they are disqualified for office.  Then there are men who possess such gifts, but they may be living in South America, serving in a small branch, and completely unnoticed by the leadership, and therefore, never called.

The problem with the second point is that it invites near chaos.  You would have dozens, hundreds or perhaps thousands of people who would step forward and make the claim that they are entitled to the office.  Ambitious men who are either deceived or, worse still, cunning and dishonest, would seek to gain the office to further their ambitions.  Such a parade of the deluded or the dishonest would be foisted upon the Saints every time the President died.  Therefore, no matter how much merit you may think the second interpretation holds, it would be far more problematic to implement than the current interpretation and method.

The advantage of the current system is that the man who fills the vacancy is distinguished by how long he has held the church’s office of Apostle.  Generally that means an elderly man, often suffering from the decline of advanced years and poor health.  That means you are likely to have a man whose ambitions and exuberance are tempered by the maturity of age and the wisdom that comes from long life’s experience.  It gives stability to the decision, as well as the person chosen.

If the second approach were to be adopted, then the choice would need to be made by the serving President before he left office (died), by making the choice of his successor as part of his official service.  This is the method that the Lord revealed to Joseph Smith. (D&C 43: 3-4.) Joseph attempted this, but the one he chose to succeed him died with him (his brother Hyrum). So the office was left vacant and we had to sort it out.

There is another method that we haven’t tried, so far as I know.  That would be to use “lots” to choose from every male in the church.  This method was used to fill Judas’ vacancy in the original Twelve in Jerusalem.  (Acts 1: 21-26.)  The description there is ambiguous, but was intended to be random, unpredictable and not just a vote.  It was a recognized way to choose someone.  (See, e.g., 1 Ne. 3: 11.)  It has been used to sort through the entire nation of Israel when all twelve tribes were assembled.  Someone had stolen an idol, resulting in the withdrawal of the Lord’s Spirit from them in battle.  The result was defeat for Israel and the death of many men.  They needed to find the one who committed the offense.  So they had to choose from the entire gathering of all twelve tribes.   Beginning at the tribe level, they sorted through to find the right tribe (Judah).  Then proceeded to sort through the tribe to locate the larger family involved (Zarhites).  Then went through the family to find the individual involved (Achan).  The whole thing is in the scriptures.  (Joshua 7: 13-23.)  

Such a system was uncontrolled by man, done by lot, completely random, but produced the right person.  Left to God, it obtained God’s answer.  Did with the sons of Lehi, and with the vacancy in the Twelve in the Book of Acts, too.  There is no reason why such a system wouldn’t generate the Lord’s choice today.  

If the President died without a successor having been designated, then random choosing using a lot system would put the choice in the Lord’s hands.  But I suppose we don’t have the stomach to try it, particularly when we already have a system that seems to work for us.

Your question raises the issue of “authority” or office on the one hand, and “power” or gifts of the Spirit on the other hand.  You should read President Packer’s talk in last General Conference for a recent statement by a respected church leader on that subject.  I think I’ve commented on that talk enough already.  As I re-read it this week I was again stirred by President Packer’s sagacity.  I believe he is being candid, honest and giving the Saints the absolute best advice and counsel he can at this time.

Interesting subject.  Something worth contemplating.  Perhaps there will come a time when we are able to implement the system in D&C 43. Or when we put the Lord’s hand to work by using lots to choose a President.  Though I do not expect to see any change made during my life.

Communication from the Lord

I was asked how a witness of the Spirit is felt.  Here are a variety of ways in which we receive communications from the Lord:
 
There was a talk I still recall where Elder LeGrand Richards used the expression “goose flesh.”  He was referring to the feeling he got upon hearing something he knew to be true as soon as it was spoken.  He got “goose flesh” as he listened. That is not a bad way to describe how some people feel the witness from the Spirit.  This form can also be replicated by stirring music, art or other performances.  So if this is how one feels the Spirit, they must distinguish between an emotional outpouring and a manifestation from the Lord.
 
I believe that everyone’s capacity to hear the Spirit bear testimony to them is more or less equal, as all have given to them the “light of Christ.”  (D&C 84: 46; 88: 7; Moroni 7: 19.)
 
How someone recognizes the witness to them is person-specific at the start.  Whether it is Elder Richards’ “goose flesh” or a burst of unmistakable insight coming from beyond, or a warmth in the heart as D&C 9: 8 describes, is based upon individual sensitivities.  How you feel this may differ from how I do.
 
When it has progressed from these initial stirrings to the “voice” which you hear within you, that assumes a more uniform experience.  The “voice” is clearly not your own, and introduces ideas or concepts that are clearly not your own.  You can have a dialogue with this “voice” in which your ideas are juxtaposed with those coming to you.  It is not audible, but you hear it inside.  It is clearly not your own voice, but that of another. 
 
When you have proven yourself faithful and true to all required of you by the “voice” that comes into your mind and heart, then it becomes possible for angels to visit with you.  Angels all come from this earth and have their mortality here.  (D&C 130: 5.)  If they appear as disembodied (not-resurrected) spirits, they may appear only as beings dressed in white.  They will not make physical contact with you.  Satan may attempt to appear as such a being, but since he invariably tries to deceive, if you attempt to make physical contact he will reciprocate as part of his deception.  As a disembodied spirit, however, you can detect his lack of physical presence when such contact is attempted.  A true messenger who lacks a body will not attempt physical contact, but will deliver his message to you.  If a visitor is either resurrected or translated, they may appear without glory, in which case their physical appearance will be as any other person.  The only difference you will likely note is that their countenance is pure and radiates a purity that other mortals rarely manifest.  If resurrected and appearing in glory, they bear unmistakable signs of Celestial Glory.
 
The closest image I have seen to the glory shown by a resurrected, glorified, celestial personage is the upper pattern, in gold, imprinted onto the Dome of the Rock Mosque.  When I saw it for the first time a few months ago, I was startled by the pattern and its radiant glory.  It is the closest earthly pattern I have seen to depicting a Celestial Glory.  I do not know who fashioned the pattern, but they were depicting something that I recognized to be inspired by what lies beyond the veil and patterned after Celestial Glory itself.
 
Beings appearing in Celestial Glory do not show themselves, or in other words, cannot be seen, except by those only who are prepared to behold them.  Others who may be present when they appear will feel a presence that often frightens them, as in the case of Daniel’s companions in Daniel Chapter 10.

The final stage in development requires one to “see” the things that are being communicated.  This happens when the “answer” to the inquiry is opened to view, but only inside the mind. You can actually “behold” something as if it were before you, without actually being there. Such a process is physically demanding, despite the fact it is so intangible a matter as to defy description.  Seeing things by this process is not limited to time, place or location.  A person exercising this gift, for example, may be able to behold Abraham as he receives the box containing the records from his father, who held the box in no particular regard because he could not open it.  

 
When the person has developed the ability to “see,” the answers to inquiries come almost entirely through the exercise of this gift.  Although all these forms of messages and communication from the Lord and His messengers are still available to a seer when conditions or the circumstances warrant it.
 
There are seers among us.  In fact, we “sustain,” institutionally, fifteen men to be such every General Conference.  The development of the gift, however, comes not by consequence of office alone but by the diligence of the individual.  All are on equal footing before the Lord.  Therefore, although it may be conferred upon you or them, the realization of these blessings depends upon their/your faithfulness.  Elder Scott, for example, uses terms in some of his talks which intimate seership.  The Vision of the Redemption of the Dead (D&C 138) has language I recognize as a seer’s.  So does D&C 76.