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Abinadi’s message

The significance of a prophet’s message can never be measured by the extent to which he is accepted or even acknowledged by his peers.  In the case of Abinadi, he was an outcast whose origins and even ethnic affiliation are unknown.  He is the only person in the Book of Mormon with this name.  His lineage cannot be determined from the name, and whether he is Nephite, Lamanite, or some “other” is not disclosed.

His only credential was his message.  He came to announce warnings, was rejected, and ultimately killed.  He had no success with the people, and made only one convert.

Abinadi is a hinge character around whom the entire remainder of the Book of Mormon will center.  His one convert, Alma, will become the spiritual leader of the Nephites, and that convert will become the leading writer of the Book of Mormon. Then his posterity will be the focus of the remaining history of the Book of Mormon.

Abinadi’s prophecies were cited from the time he delivered them to the end of the Book of Mormon. But measured by the events of his life, he failed.  His one convert fled persecution and hid in the wilderness.

However, measured by the full sweep of history, he is the pivotal character, the central figure from the time of his appearance until the end of the Book of Mormon.

I think there’s a profound lesson in Abinadi’s appearance and legacy.  If the Book of Mormon was edited by those who “saw our day,” and was edited to foreshadow our own history, then we ought to be cautious about discarding a message from someone like Abinadi.

The only meaningful credential is the content of the message.  Trappings of office, genealogy, name, status, and standing were all irrelevant to Abinadi.

Truth

There is “truth” which exists independent of what we think or believe.  (I use the word in the same sense as D&C 93: 24-25.)  Our collective forgetfulness does not erase truth.  Nor does our vain imagination alter truth. 
 
Whenever a doctrine is changed because of man’s planning or arguments, then we are teaching for commandments the doctrines of men; just as Christ complained to Joseph in the First Vision.  (JS-H 1: 19.)
 
During the Third and Fourth Centuries the debates over “adoptionism” were causing doctrinal havoc for the Christian movement.  As they solidified control over the movement, the leaders of the developing Historic Christian faith had a plan to cure the schism involving arguments that Christ was just a man who had been “adopted” at His baptism to become the Son of God.  The original words spoken at His baptism came from Psalms 2: 7.  These words supported the “adoptionist’s” arguments.  The answer was simple – change the text of the Gospels.  So they edited the words and changed them from saying, “Thou art my son, this day have I begotten thee” to instead, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”  (Matt. 3: 17.)  That drove a stake in the heart of the “adoptionist” arguments.
 
Bart D. Ehrman has shown how this, and other controversies, affected the text of the New Testament in his book The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture: The Effect of Early Christological Controversies on the Text of the New Testament.
 
Patterns in history have a way of repeating themselves.  Men almost always find it easier to change doctrine than to conform to the truth; and to edit books to fit their failures than to follow direction.  Our challenge is to learn the right lessons from history. We should not succumb to the easy advantages of changing the principles our religion is founded on, in order to accomplish “good” and repel criticism by adapting to meet the critics’ arguments.
 
Truth is immutable and unchanging.  We either conform to it or apostatize from it.  We can’t change it.
 
How grateful I am to still have prophets among us.

First principles of the Gospel

Someone asked this question:

In one part of Come, Let Us Adore Him you talk about the Dispensation in the Meridian of Time.  How “Men of good faith and sincere desire doing their best to follow after God, lost the light of the Spirit, then lost sound doctrine, and ultimately lost their covenant status and drifted into darkness.” Did you mean this collectively?  Over time as a group?  As an individual of good faith, sincere desire, doing their best to follow after God, losing the light of the spirit, then sound doctrine and later drifting into darkness….   How tragic.  If after all that they still failed, what then is our hope for an individual now, in our dispensation?  Are we doomed to the same outcome?  I see many following the same course as anciently.  

My answer:

It is troubling.  It is the terrible problem of mortality.  We are all prone to drift and fail.  It is only by constant renewal of faith that we can hope to succeed.  No matter how far we have come, what great things we have obtained, we are still subject to failure.  This is why the FIRST principles and ordinances of the Gospel are: “faith, repentance, baptism and laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.”  We never outgrow these FIRST principles.

I believe them to be “FIRST” in the sense of primacy, not a singular event which happens and then you can take them off the list of stuff to do.  They are primary. They are foundational.  They are required to be used constantly.  Therefore, they are “FIRST.”

So, we always go forward in faith.  No matter how much we already know, we must use faith to go forward.  We live within the limitation of linear time.  We experience things in a flow that happens without our control.  Life unfolds as an unknown to us, and we must cope with all it hands us from day to day.  That requires faith to confront this uncontrolled, unfolding stream of time in which we are presently confined. 

Repentance is required because even if we are doing what we should be doing we are always going to learn more.  It is the nature of the Gospel that our light should increase.  Whenever we learn more, we must change to reflect what we have just gained.  Change is the heart of repentance. 

Baptism is to have sins washed away.  If you are already baptized, then the ordinance does not need to be done again, but the remission of sins and washing them away is required repeatedly.  For those already baptized, this is done through the Sacrament. It is still required for us to have sins remitted.

The Holy Ghost is should be a regular participant in our lives.  Its renewed companionship is also primary.  Its witness to us that we are on the right path is the only way to wage the necessary war against entropy which seeks to take you into darkness.  It is the source of renewed light that always enlightens when it comes. 

These are the only means by which we can avoid the same dismal fate as all others of all prior dispensations.  We must do this individually.  It does not matter if it is done collectively. I’ve yet to see any reason in the scriptures to expect great collective success by the Gentiles who inherit the Gospel in our dispensation.  There are individual promises to the few Gentiles who will repent, have faith, be baptized, enter into the covenant and remain faithful.  But the collective outcome is not particularly rosy.

White stone and a new name

I was asked whether the white stone and new name in D&C 130 are the same as the Second Comforter.  It was an interesting question and I thought I’d put the answer up here:
There are some equivalents (ie., if A=B and B=C, then A=C) in the Gospel when it comes to this subject. The ministry of the Second Comforter is to bring those to whom He ministers to the Father, and have them accepted by Him.  This means that the Father accepts them as a member of the Heavenly Family, or in other words, promises them exaltation.
Since the end of that ministry is to have the person accepted by the Father as a son or daughter of God, then an equivalency can be drawn between the final outcome and the Second Comforter.  This is what is done in D&C 88: 3-5.  Joseph Smith did something similar in a statement he made in which he put the voice declaring a person’s exaltation first, and the visit of Christ and the Father with that person second.  You can read about it in the Words of Joseph Smith, pages 3-6, but the most relevant excerpt is found below:

The other Comforter spoken of is a subject of great interest & perhaps understood by few of this generation, After a person hath faith in Christ, repents of his sins & is Baptized for the remission of his sins & received the Holy Ghost (by the laying on of hands) which is the first Comforter then let him continue to humble himself before God, hungering & thirsting after Righteousness. & living by every word of God & the Lord will soon say unto him Son thou shalt be exalted. &c When the Lord has thoroughly proved him & finds that the man is determined to serve him at all hazard. then the man will find his calling & Election made sure then it will be his privilege to receive the other Comforter which the Lord hath promised the saints as is recorded in the testimony of St John in the XIV ch from the 12th to the 27 verses Note the 16.17.18.21.23. verses. (16.vs) & I will pray the father & he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you forever; (17) Even the Spirit of Truth; whom the world cannot receive because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him; but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you & shall be in you. (18) I will not leave you comfortless. I will come to you (21) He that hath my commandments & keepeth them, he it is that loveth me. & he that loveth me shall be loved of my father. & I will love him & will manifest myself to him (23) If a man Love me he will keep my words. & my Father will love him. & we will come unto him, & make our abode with him.
Now what is this other Comforter? It is no more or less than the Lord Jesus Christ himself & this is the sum & substance of the whole matter, that when any man obtains this last Comforter he will have the personage of Jesus Christ to attend him or appear unto him from time to time. & even he will manifest the Father unto him & they will take up their abode with him, & the visions of the heavens will be opened unto him & the Lord will teach him face to face & he may have a perfect knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom of God, & this is the state & place the Ancient Saints arrived at when they had such glorious vision Isaiah, Ezekiel, John upon the Isle of Patmos, St Paul in the third heavens, & all the Saints who held communion with the general Assembly & Church of the First Born &c.
(This is an excerpt from Willard Richards’ Pocket Companion contained in The Words of Joseph Smith.) 

Since the white stone and new name mentioned in D&C 130: 10-11 are referring to the state of exaltation and inheritance, and since the promise which the Second Comforter (Christ) is working to obtain for those to whom He ministers is the promise of exaltation, that equivalency may also be made.  The difference as I see it is that those described in the verses in D&C 130 are in a future state, in which they have actually inherited the condition of exaltation, have entered into the Celestial Kingdom to dwell there and possess the white stone on which their new name is written; whereas the promises Joseph speaks of in the quote above and the promises in D&C 88 are given to a mortal and are to be realized fully in the future.

Now the promise of the Lord is reality itself.  What He says will happen.  His Word becomes the law of the universe.  (See D&C 1: 38.)  Therefore when viewed with the eyes of faith, the Word is the reality, and the inheritance is immediate for those with faith.  This is the reason why Joseph said when a man receives “this last Comforter he will have the personage of Jesus Christ to attend him or appear unto him from time to time. & even he will manifest the Father unto him & they will take up their abode with him, & the visions of the heavens will be opened unto him & the Lord will teach him face to face & he may have a perfect knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom of God[.]”  

Finally, since the mortal who receives these things is already in company with the Lord and the Father, they are already occasional visitors in a Celestial Kingdom although they are still here in mortality, required to endure to the end, suffer death and then await resurrection.  Despite this, they are celestial and their lives are punctuated by contact with celestial beings from time to time, as the Lord determines is appropriate or necessary.

The education of all of us

I’ve been marveling at the irrelevance of higher education to the process of receiving light and truth.

PhD’s are generally so schooled in their discipline that they view the Gospel in the light of their educational training.  A scholar studies economics and then everything looks to him like it can be explained in economic terms.  Or a scholar studies philosophy and then everything looks like it can be fit into a paradigm matching their school of thought.

I suspect the only book Nephi or Lehi had for their migration was the brass plates containing a version of the Old Testament.  Slim library pickings for what great things those two prophets were able to receive through their lives.  It isn’t the volume of the books we possess which helps our search into deep truths.  Indeed, our libraries may well interfere with knowing God.  It is the depth of how we live the basic principles contained in the scriptures which let the light of heaven shine into our lives.

Joseph Smith’s early education was so limited that our children have a comparable education at the conclusion of fourth grade.  But what he learned from on-high, by revelation, made him a towering pillar of light and truth.

Joseph once commented that if you could gaze into heaven for five minutes you would know more that if you read everything that had ever been written on the subject.  Now imagine the libraries that are filled with material written by the world’s scholars and theologians about heaven.  Those who have written include such luminaries as St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Augustine, Dante, Rabbi Bacharach and Buddha.  Yet five minutes of “gazing” would supplant all they had to offer.

The wonder of it all is that so few are willing to trust a prophet’s advice.  We read endlessly uninspired books written by the uninformed, and bypass the process commended to us by the scriptures.

A bad education (which is most educations) is worse than no education when it comes to the things of heaven.  When men are learned they think they are wise, and therefore have little reason to trust in God or revelation from Him to correct their misunderstanding. I think the Book of Mormon had something to say about that.  (See 2 Ne. 9: 28-29, 42.)  I consider myself a fool.  (That is the one advantage I have over those who also hold doctorates.  I know it does not provide me with any advantages, but does impose considerable disadvantages because of its corrosion to my thinking.) 

Heaven is an endless source of surprises.  There’s nothing mundane going on there.

Godliness

I was asked about godliness. 
 
The ordinances are helps, symbols and requirements.  “Helps” in that they establish milestones that memorialize passage from one stage of development to the next.  “Symbols” in that they point to a deeper meaning or spiritual reality almost always grounded in the Atonement of Jesus Christ.  “Requirements” in that they mark the defined route taken by Christ as a mortal to fulfill all righteousness.
 
The power of godliness is tied to opening the heavens and receiving assignments, confirming revelation, or blessings from God.  Promises given to others are not promises to you.  Men are rarely reliable sources from which to attain the Word of God.  It is the unfortunate condition of mankind that, so soon as the are given a little authority they begin to use unrighteous dominion.  Heaven, on the other hand, does not dictate, abuse, misuse authority or entice you to do evil. 
 
All power is tied to heaven.  When the powers of heaven are withdrawn from someone, then their authority comes to an end and they have no power.
 
The ordinances as symbols point to the real thing. The real thing is Jesus Christ and His Gospel.
 
If you want to have the power of godliness in your life, it must be gained through Jesus Christ; access to whom is available to all men on equal terms.

Near Death Experiences

I was asked about Near Death Experiences and their interface with conversion.  Here’s my take:
 
The advantage is that they know there is a continuation of life after the death of the body.  However, whether they use that knowledge to advance in light and truth or not is individually determined.
 
Some have used NDE’s to become guru’s and sell books or give talks.  That may detract from getting more light and truth.  The thing about growing in light and truth is that it is always directly connected with the humility of the person.  Humility or openness to new ideas and greater understanding is required to move from wherever you may be at present to a position of greater truth.  It is that openness to new ideas which is indispensable to gaining knowledge of God.
 
Closed minds, particularly those that may grow out of religious experiences or beliefs, are not benefited by what great things God has to offer in the continuing education of His children.  Joseph Smith once commented that it will be “a great while after we have left this life before we will have learned” enough to be saved.  It is not all to be understood in this life. 
 
Openness to ideas and further instruction is necessary to continue in the path of truth and light.  A NDE may open one’s eyes to some truths,  But the fullness of what is to be taught or gained from God is not given in a single experience or in a brief tutelage from missionaries.  It is a lifelong quest.

The problem with too much praise

I think criticism is necessary to the human condition.  When a great public official in Rome was given a victor’s parade, there would be a companion in his chariot whose responsibility it was to tell the man being celebrated that all fame is fleeting.  Rome had it right on that score.
 
Sometimes a sincere and devoted man can offer his help best by giving criticism to someone he loves.  When the only response which is tolerated is that the person is “doing great” or is “wonderful” there is stagnation and failure.  
 
I love baseball.  All young men should play baseball.  It is a game of failure.  If you only fail 70% of the time as a batter, you can become a Hall of Fame player.  No amount of praise will compensate for a .110 batting average.  Criticism is unnecessary.
 
One of the Simpson’sTreehouse of Horrors” episodes had Bart being omni-powerful.  Because of his great powers, whenever anything bad happened people would say, “it’s good Bart did that.”  This was to appease the all-powerful Bart.  It only made him worse.  Funny episode involving a cartoon character, but with a powerfully true underlying message.  Too much praise corrodes.  Worship of demigods inevitably risks making demons of them.

The importance of personal revelation

In Section 19 the Lord explains what the words “endless torment” and “eternal damnation” mean.  They are words of art, and are essentially proper nouns referring to God’s punishment.  (See D&C 19: 4-12.)
 
This is an enormous help in understanding the scriptures generally. Words are chosen carefully, and the Lord is deliberate in how He puts a message across.  Things may not mean what we initially think they mean.
 
The scriptures are designed to reveal and conceal.  They are able to reveal even very hidden and mysterious things to the understanding of mankind when we understand what is being discussed.  Until the reader has been prepared for this understanding, reading the messages will not necessarily result in greater insight.
 
It is almost as if you have to know the answer first, or have it revealed to you.  Then, while in possession of the truth, you can see that prophets and seers have been speaking about these matters since the beginning of time.
 
How often do we reflect on Christ’s “opening the scriptures” to His followers?  This is something that ought to make us all think about how little understanding we obtain without first receiving light and truth from Him.  Once again it points to the absolute necessity of personal revelation.