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Signs

Signs do not produce faith. (D&C 63: 9.) Signs follow faith. (Id.)

Those who “seek signs” are wicked, often adulterous. (Matt. 12: 39, Matt. 16: 4.) Those who want a sign before they will believe cannot develop faith. (Ether 12: 6.)

Signs which follow faith do not come as a result of what men seek, but come as a result of what God wills. (D&C 63: 10.)

Signs, given by God, according to His will, create mighty works by men. (D&C 63: 11.) However, God’s mighty works are often accomplished by small means. Events that are “mighty even unto the power of deliverance” (1 Ne. 1: 20), can be accomplished by so little a means as God warning a family to flee. (1 Ne. 2: 2.)

God preserved His Son through “small means.” (Matt. 2: 13-14.)

The Lord preserved mankind through the destruction at the time of Noah using only a small family. (Gen. 7: 23.)

There will be “signs” and “small means” and “mighty works” still, but they will seem as nothing to those who do not believe. But to people of faith, they will be the power of God unto salvation.

Early Church Priorities

In 1836, Parley Pratt went to Toronto, Canada to continue his missionary work. He took a letter of introduction for John Taylor, who had been active in a religious reform movement. On May 9, 1836 Parley Pratt baptized John Taylor. That conversion was instrumental in bringing a number of others into the church who had respected John Taylor as a religious figure before his conversion.

By November, Parley Pratt was back in Kirtland and wrote a letter to his friend and recent convert. John Taylor was a new member when the letter was written, having been baptized only 6 months earlier. The content of the letter shows what was considered appropriate for even the newest of Latter-day Saints in 1836. Parley wrote:

For my part I never can rest until my eyes have seen my Redeemer. Until I have gazed like Nephi upon the glories of the Celestial world. Until I can come into full communion and familiar converse with the angels of glory and the spirits of just men made perfect through the blood of Christ. And I testify to all, both small and great, both male and female, that if they stop short of the full enjoyment of these things they stop short of the blessings freely offered to every creature in the Gospel. 

(Parley Pratt letter to John Taylor, November 27, 1836; spellings and punctuation corrected.)

This was once fundamental, even basic teaching offered even to new converts. It did no damage to John Taylor.

Charity

I’ve written about how uncharitable it is to offer truth before a person is ready for it. Choking them with information they are not ready to receive it is a technique used with some success by Mormon critics. It works. There is no need to resort to distorting things, only to tell truths before someone is prepared to receive them.

The opposite is also true. When someone needs to hear more, then to withhold it from them is equally uncharitable. We starve them, and leave them to wither and die in their faith when we tell them the longing they have to know more cannot be satisfied by the Gospel. It is unkind, uncharitable and an offense to the Lord to tell someone their endowment from God of natural curiosity should be suppressed. This longing to know more is righteous. We are supposed to hunger and thirst to know more. Some people have quenched this desire and killed the child-like attribute to search deeply and long for answers. This does not mean we all have.

No one should be left disappointed by the reply that “you don’t need to know that.” Joseph asserted the Gospel included “all truth.” Brigham Young did as well. Joseph said, “Mormonism is truth; and every man who embraces it feels himself at liberty to embrace every truth: consequently the shackles of superstition, bigotry, ignorance, and priestcraft, fall at once from his neck; and his eyes are opened to see the truth, and truth greatly prevails…” (See Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, chap. 22.)

Brigham said, “‘Mormonism,’ so-called, embraces every principle pertaining to life and salvation, for time and eternity. No matter who has it. If the infidel has got truth it belongs to “Mormonism.” The truth and sound doctrine possessed by the sectarian world, and they have a great deal, all belong to this Church. As for their morality, many of them are, morally, just as good as we are. All that is good, lovely, and praiseworthy belongs to this Church and Kingdom. ‘Mormonism’ includes all truth. There is no truth but what belongs to the Gospel. It is life, eternal life; it is bliss; it is the fullness of all things in the gods and in the eternities of the gods.” (DBY, p. 3).

We have yet to figure out some of the things restored to us from Abraham. We have not plumbed the depths of the Doctrine and Covenants. To shut down inquiry because “we don’t need to know about that” is not only bad doctrine, it is a rejection of what the Restoration was intended to bestow on us.

Of all the people on earth, Latter-day Saints ought to be the most open, most inquisitive, and most interesting people of all. We should be creative, and filled with new ideas and thought. Our church meetings were once places where exciting and interesting gospel material was openly discussed.

When our time is spent discouraging inquiries, asserting we have no business knowing about our history, and shutting minds, we run open the door for a repeat of the Dark Ages. It will be locally confined to the dogmatic and intolerant believers in the most reactionary form of Mormonism; the brand utilized by the correlating of materials. Ideas are impossible to control, but the attempt will discourage and alienate the very best minds we have among us.

Differing views are not evil. Skepticism is not vile. An honest soul struggling with our faith deserves the compassion and kindness of being allowed to express themselves without feeling like something is wrong with them. All the useful questions raised should be considered, studied and answers should be sought. We need to have the confidence to believe there are answers. Even if we haven’t discovered them yet, there are still answers. And those answers can include information that requires us to rework our understanding.

Charity flows both ways: from telling too much without preparation, to hiding information from those who are ready to hear more truth. Charity also requires us to accept and fellowship with people who are scattered along a broad spectrum, from immature faith to mature understanding. How often could we benefit from hearing from others about issues which they have struggled to understand, but who remain silent because they fear our reaction?

When

When will there ever be a generation willing to learn from the mistakes of the past? Why are the patterns and errors endlessly repeated? Will there never be people willing to let the Holy Spirit guide them rather than relying on their own conceit?

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.

Weakness and Repentance

We are all given weakness as part of life here in mortality. It is a gift from God. (Ether 12: 27.) Repentance requires us to turn away from sin, and to face a new direction where God is found.

Despite our hopes, and our desires, and our best efforts, we are confined to a place and occupy circumstances where we are “weak.” (Id.) The Lord promises, however, that He will “make weak things strong.” (Ether 12: 27.) What does that mean? How does our “weakness” become “strong?”

It does not involve any magic. We do not get some easy and effortless cure to our weakness just because we desire to change. We must actually change. How do we change? The Lord explains that to Moroni in the same conversation: “I will show unto them that faith, hope and charity bringeth unto me– the fountain of righteousness.” (Ether 12: 28.) Or, in other words, the “strength” we hope to receive comes from “faith” in Christ. Our “hope” is found through Him. Our “charity” is a gift also.

The “strength” is entirely borrowed. We are only as strong as our dependence on Him. Our “weakness” is strength only as we depend on Him and His rescue.

For some of us, that “strength” will involve longsuffering and continual reminders through our failure that we have been “given weakness” for a purpose – that we may be humble. As we struggle, we find exposed to our view the weakness we despise in ourselves, long to overcome, and struggle with daily, like a thorn in our flesh tearing at us. Paul begged the Lord to remove his, and was told repeatedly this weakness would remain there to afflict him so he might be humble. (2 Cor. 12: 7-9.) Therefore, Paul took consolation in the knowledge this struggle was godly. (2 Cor. 12: 10.)

Why should you be spared the struggle? Why should you not be kept humble by the weakness you have within? Why should you not take up your cross and follow Him? (Mark 10: 21.) Should your cross be anything other than a revelation to you of your own dependence on God, and need for Him?

Repentance is the start of a journey undertaken between you and your Lord. He will reveal you and Him to you through that journey. Hence the requirement for repentance in order to enter into His kingdom.

Freedom from Sins

The reason “confession” of sin is required, is to free the victim. (D&C 58: 43.) Confession robs the accuser of his power to accuse. (Rev. 12: 10.)

Once the sins of Alma and Younger and the sons of Mosiah were known, confessed and public, the sins no longer had any control over them. They felt no shame for these sins because confessing and admitting they were sinful robbed sin of its power. Similarly, the Apostle Paul’s admission of his sinful past allowed him to move on to accepting and celebrating God’s grace. (1 Tim. 1: 12-16.)

There is power in confessing. It puts the confessor above his sin. (James 5: 16.) We confess to celebrate God’s great deliverance of us. We are all weak. It is part of worshipping Him. (D&C 59: 12.) This is why the testimony of God’s redemption by Alma the Younger included confession of his own sins. (Alma 36: 6, 12-14.)

Those who claim they are holy men, without sin, and thereby cover their weaknesses while courting the praise and admiration of others, have no truth in them. (1 John 1: 8.) But if we confess we are sinful and weak, God is faithful to forgive us. (1 John 1: 9.)

Freedom from sin can only come through admitting your sinful nature. When we confess, He forgives. (D&C 64: 7.)

Time Required to Repent

Repentance does not require a time period. Look at Alma the Younger, the sons of Mosiah, and the Apostle Paul. Now these were encounters with God, but so were the conversions of many of the Lamanites. (Alma 18: 40-42; 22: 18, among others.)

The Lord tells you to repent. If you do, He remembers your sins no longer. Confess and forsake them, and you will be forgiven. (D&C 58: 42-43.) Or, in other words, change. Turn away from your sins and face God instead.

All those labors performed by Alma the Younger, the sons of Mosiah, and the Apostle Paul, after repentance, were not to obtain forgiveness. They were the “fruit” of repentance, or the result of the new direction that they were heading. (See Matt. 3: 8; Luke 3: 8; Alma 5: 62; 13: 13; Moroni 8: 24-26.)

God alone forgives. His forgiveness is not dependent on your good works; your good works are proof of His forgiveness. (Helaman 12: 24; Gal. 5: 22-25.)

A Few Details

The following excerpt comes from an article by Susan Easton Black, published in BYU Studies:

After the death of Emma Smith in 1879 and the demolition of the bee house that had once sheltered the graves, conjecture arose over the exact location of the martyrs’ burial site. Family members could not point with confidence to where the bodies were laid. Joseph Smith III reported, “I didn’t see the bodies buried. I saw them dig them up. I saw them take a knife and cut a lock of hair off of Joseph and give to Emma, but I didn’t follow over and watch them bury them.” David Hyrum Smith, youngest son of Joseph Smith Jr., composed “The Unknown Grave”:

There’s an unknown grave in a green lowly spot,
The form that it covers will ne’er be forgot.
Where haven trees spread and the wild locusts wave
Their fragrant white blooms over the unknown grave,
Over the unknown grave.

* * *
The prophet whose life was destroyed by his foes
Sleeps now where no hand may disturb his repose,
Till trumpets of God drown the notes of the wave
And we see him arise from his unknown grave,
God bless that unknown grave.

When the waters of Lake Cooper threatened to flood the area where the graves were thought to be, leaders of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints decided to locate the bodies and remove them to higher ground and to place an appropriate monument over their graves. W. O. Hands was appointed to direct a small group of surveyors and engineers to search for the missing graves. They began digging on 9 January 1928, and on 16 January they found them. The remains of Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum, as well as those of Emma, were exhumed from their resting place. The remains were arranged in silk-lined wood boxes that were placed side-by-side seventeen feet north of where the bodies of Joseph and Hyrum had been exhumed. Then the bodies were reburied on Friday, 20 January 1928, and the graves were marked. 

On 21 January 1928 Samuel O. Bennion, president of the Central States Mission, wrote to President Heber J. Grant and his counselors about the “exhuming of the bodies of the Prophet and his brother Hyrum.” In his letter he reported asking Frederick M. Smith, president of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, “Why didn’t you let the bodies of these men rest where they were?” In response, he was told, “[I] wanted to find out if the graves of these men were down by what was once called the Spring House.” President Bennion wrote, “It is my impression brethren that he had heard reports that Brigham Young took the bodies of Joseph and Hyrum to Utah and that he wanted to prove it untrue.” Bennion stated, “I could hardly keep the tears back.”

In 1991, under the joint direction of leaders from the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, new tombstones marking their remains became the focus of a gardenlike cemetery near the Homestead in Nauvoo. On 4 August 1991 the newly renovated cemetery was dedicated by Wallace B. Smith, great-grandson of Joseph Smith and president of the RLDS Church. Elder M. Russell Ballard, a great-great-grandson of Hyrum Smith, represented the LDS Church.

If Joseph was resurrected in 1886, his body could not have been relocated in 1928.

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Lorin C. Woolley spoke throughout as an interloper. He was spying and overhearing, but wasn’t invited into the events. Therefore, his statements should be viewed from that vantage point. On the Mount of Transfiguration Peter, James and John were invited by the Lord precisely so they would witness what took place. They saw and heard as invited participants, not interlopers. If Lorin C. Woolley was invited to witness the events, the description would have been otherwise and read much differently.

When Philo saw Joseph “in the midst of a magnificant glory” that was Joseph experiencing the glory, not Philo. Joseph was in the midst of this experience, seeing the Father and Son at the Throne of God. But that description is of Joseph’s being in the “midst” of the experience. Others understood what Joseph was undergoing from the words being spoken.

When he states he “saw the glory and felt the power, but did not witness the vision” he is referring to the same thing any of us witness when reading Section 76. It was this section which got me serious about considering Mormonism. It is glorious. It radiated power to me the instant I first read it. But seeing the glory of that great vision as I read it, like Philo Dibble’s experience hearing it dictated by Joseph, did not involve blinding light–nor seeing light from under a doorway. It was and still is a glorious document and vision. You can still feel the power of it today.

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Brigham Young was a necessary preserver of the faith. Without him the church would have stumbled. Sidney Rigdon was impaired, and we would not have done as well, and may have done much worse, with him at the helm. The point is that the church was faced with a dilemma with the loss of BOTH Joseph and Hyrum. We had no good alternative. We took the one which was probably the most practical. We have to live with it.

But that does not mean we should avoid understanding the full implications of the choice. Every choice has consequences. Until we gather together our best understanding of what happened, and sort out what was going on, we can’t know much of God’s dealing in our day.

We should not just bury our heads and trust happy stories. WE are responsible for our own salvation or damnation.
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I am the best kind of church member: I willingly accept full responsibility for the eternal outcome. As God is my witness, I will never point to Brigham Young, or Spencer W. Kimball, or Bruce R. McConkie, or Boyd K.Packer, or Thomas S. Monson in the afterlife and blame them for my own condition. I will accept sole responsibility for my eternal state. No man is my leader. No man is responsible for my understanding. I alone will blame myself for any failure, and accept no credit for what I got right. I trust only in the grace and mercy of Christ and rely utterly on His power to save me. The general authorities and local leaders ought to want every church member to be like that.

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If a Fundamentalist were to return to church, they would not be welcomed by the institution. They wouldn’t have membership records, nor receive callings, nor be able to pay tithing. But they could worship there, and in many wards would be fellowshipped by the members even if the institution excluded them. They would be “visitors” and not members. But that shouldn’t deter them. In fact, if enough of them began this practice, the institution would not be oblivious to their presence. When a significant number of people were doing this, policies would be adapted to allow sincere people to repent and return. The leadership of the church would respond. But faithful return will have to precede that even being possible. It would require humility, to be sure.