Sunday, March 21, 2010

Wife Rule #133: Why I Love Your Mother (to my children) Chapter Nine: The Latter-day Restoration

Awake and arise, O ye slumbering nations!
The heavens have opened their portals again.
The last and the greatest of all dispensations
Has burst like a dawn o’er the children of men!

The dream of the poet, the crown of the ages,
The time which the prophets of Israel foretold,
That glorious day only dreamed by the sages
Is yours, O ye slumbering nations; behold!

Oh, lift up your voices in song and in story.
Let banners of peace in all lands be unfurled,
For truth, heaven-born, in its beauty and glory
Is marching triumphantly over the world.

--Theodore E. Curtis, Hymns of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, no. 8

The fulfilment of all the promises the Lord has made to His prophets through all the dispensations of this world was to be commenced in the latter days, with the restoration of His true and living church (see D&C 1:30) through a latter-day prophet. Thus, the Lord continues his pattern, established with Father Adam, of bestowing divine truth and keys of priesthood authority upon a chosen servant, who will then be able to spread the blessings of the Gospel to all who will listen and obey, setting in motion anew God's great plan of salvation in its fullness. With the backdrop of centuries of apostasy and spiritual darkness, this promised day of restoration has been anticipated with joyful reverence, being called "a marvelous work and a wonder" (Isaiah 29:14 and 2 Nephi 25:17).

The miraculous accomplishment of the Lord's work in this latter-day dispensation, wherein He is literally and spiritually gathering lost Israel home again to their promised lands in preparation for the return to earth of the Savior Jesus Christ, is so great that the prophet Jeremiah foretold that it would change forever the way we view the Lord. No longer will He be called the Lord that brought the children of Israel out of Egypt, but rather the Lord who gathered Israel home from their literally and spiritually scattered condition (Jeremiah 16:14-16).

The world was many hundreds of years in preparation for this glorious day, however. After the death of the apostles, corrupt political leaders seized control of what was left of the early Christian church and changed doctrines and ordinances for a variety of reasons, including political expediency and power expansion. Multiple schisms occurred as power-hungry church leaders fought for control, further obfuscating the truth on many doctrinal points.

Centuries later, enlightened reformers such as Martin Luther began to recognize that these churches, which claimed to be the true Christian church, no longer resembled the church that Christ had organized. Luther and other brave reformers risked--and often gave--their very lives for their conviction that the church had gone astray and needed to return to Biblical Christianity.

The advent of the printing press and translations of the Bible into modern languages, such as Martin Luther's German edition and John Wycliffe's and William Tindale's English editions, provided widespread availability of God's word for the first time in centuries. This explosion of available truth further exposed just how far the Christian church had drifted from the truths and practices that Christ taught--and some of these valiant men, such as Tindale, paid for this exposure with their lives.

But the truth, once unleashed, proved to be a hydra that could not be contained. From the legacy of these brave reformers sprung centuries of efforts to remodel Christianity back to what it once was. The only problem was that there were nearly as many different ideas about exactly how to fix the Christian church as there were people interested in fixing it. These differences in opinion were further exacerbated as political and religious freedom began their glorious march across the globe, including the establishment of a whole nation founded on the fundamental belief that each person should not be forced to conform to any established religion, but be entitled to worship--or not--as he chooses.

In this new land, the United States of America, the establishment of new Christian sects proceeded rapidly, until there were literally hundreds of different churches. Each had its own unique doctrines and practices, and each had a sincere desire to follow the Savior, but none had divine authority or prophetic revelation. The very existence of these countless churches, when the apostles clearly taught "One Lord, one faith, one baptism" (Ephesians 4:5) was ample testimony of the great apostasy away from Christ's original church. Never had the world been farther from the "unity of the faith" (Ephesians 4:13). Never had there been more evidence that the great "falling away" from the truth had occurred (2 Thessalonians 2:3). Never had there been more need for apostles and prophets (Ephesians 4:11) than there was in the early nineteenth century.

It was at this time that a young, unlearned farm boy from a poor family began an earnest quest to find the truth. Joseph Smith's parents had suffered years of economic failures that forced them to move from place to place until they ended up in Manchester, New York. By 1820, Joseph's interest in finding and joining with Christ's true church was excited by the general uproar on the subject of religion in the area. Joseph correctly reasoned that two preachers holding opposing viewpoints about religious doctrines could not both be entirely right. He wondered how a young, ignorant boy such as himself was to find out the truth about which church to join.

Probably at the suggestion of a preacher from one of the many churches Joseph frequented, he turned to the words of the prophets--the scriptures. In his own words:

11 While I was laboring under the extreme difficulties caused by the contests of these parties of religionists, I was one day reading the Epistle of James, first chapter and fifth verse, which reads: If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.
12 Never did any passage of scripture come with more power to the heart of man than this did at this time to mine. It seemed to enter with great force into every feeling of my heart. I reflected on it again and again, knowing that if any person needed wisdom from God, I did; for how to act I did not know, and unless I could get more wisdom than I then had, I would never know; for the teachers of religion of the different sects understood the same passages of scripture so differently as to destroy all confidence in settling the question by an appeal to the Bible.
13 At length I came to the conclusion that I must either remain in darkness and confusion, or else I must do as James directs, that is, ask of God. I at length came to the determination to “ask of God,” concluding that if he gave wisdom to them that lacked wisdom, and would give liberally, and not upbraid, I might venture.
(Joseph Smith History (JS-H) 1:11-13)

So it was that on a beautiful spring morning in 1820, fourteen-year-old Joseph Smith retired to a secluded grove of trees near his family's home, and knelt down to ask God which church he should join. His youthful faith was pure and he fully intended to obey whatever instruction he received.

Satan, who has opposed the agency-giving light and truth that prophets have dispensed from the beginning, and sensing that Joseph was destined to become a serious "disturber and an annoyer of his kingdom" (JS-H 1:20), threw all of his terrible forces at the young boy, causing great fear to come upon him and binding his tongue so that he could not speak.

16 But, exerting all my powers to call upon God to deliver me out of the power of this enemy which had seized upon me, and at the very moment when I was ready to sink into despair and abandon myself to destruction—not to an imaginary ruin, but to the power of some actual being from the unseen world, who had such marvelous power as I had never before felt in any being—just at this moment of great alarm, I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me.
17 It no sooner appeared than I found myself delivered from the enemy which held me bound. When the light rested upon me I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air. One of them spake unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other—This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!
18 My object in going to inquire of the Lord was to know which of all the sects was right, that I might know which to join. No sooner, therefore, did I get possession of myself, so as to be able to speak, than I asked the Personages who stood above me in the light, which of all the sects was right (for at this time it had never entered into my heart that all were wrong)—and which I should join.
19 I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong; and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt; that: “they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof.”
20 He again forbade me to join with any of them; and many other things did he say unto me, which I cannot write at this time....
(JS-H 1:16-20)

Thus it was that a young, obscure boy was called upon from heaven and given commandments by direct revelation from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, in a personal appearance unmatched during centuries of spiritual darkness and confusion. Thus it was that the heavens were opened again and a prophet of God was called in the last days of the earth, commencing the great preparation of the world for the second coming of the Savior.

There was no deception in the sacred grove, as some unbelievers have contended--Joseph felt and discerned clearly the polar opposites of Satan's hatred and God's love, as one attempted to destroy him and the Other delivered him. There was no mistaking the divine calling of a new prophet for a new dispensation. Joseph Smith, like Enoch, Samuel, David, and others before him, was prepared from the foundation of the world to be a prophet to the nations in the latter days, even if called in his youth.

My dear children, I cannot overemphasize the importance of the reality of Joseph Smith's first vision. The light it sheds on the world is of everlasting value. Its implications are of eternal worth. And it really happened--to this I testify!

The world has, in the Bible, a priceless collection of inspired gems of truth about the reality of the Savior and His doctrine. These gems of truth, to fully enable our agency and facilitate our salvation, must be organized and fit together into a single, coherent system, or Church. But this organization must be according to God's divine designs, not man's. The highly fractured state of Christianity today, nearly two thousand years after the last epistles of the New Testament were written, is plain evidence that the Bible alone is insufficient to unite the people of the world under a single banner of faith. The Bible, while full of precious truth, has been interpreted differently by each sect. It is clear that new revelation through a living prophet--one who could proclaim the truth with authority from God--is the only way to resolve the questions and disputes that have so long fractured the Christian world, and restore that portion of the truth which was changed, or lost, or never included in the set of writings that constitutes our present-day Bible.

Neither can the Bible alone bestow divine priesthood authority on anyone. This takes a direct calling from God, as Paul observed: "no man taketh this honour unto himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron" (Hebrews 5:4, see 1-4). And how was Aaron called? By direct revelation from God through the prophet Moses (Exodus 28:1). How was the prophet Moses called? Directly by the voice of God Himself. It has been this way from the beginning, and the pattern has not changed!

But how can we know that Joseph Smith really was a prophet of God? How can we know--among the bewildering array of Christian churches out there, currently totalling over 38,000 different sects--which church is divinely sanctioned, or whether any are at all?

The answer has always been the same: through the power of the Holy Ghost. God's method of communicating with us is the same way he has generally communicated with His prophets (see D&C 8:2-3)--we are just as entitled to inspiration as they are. Surely a loving Father who knows that the progression of His children depends on how well they can identify and follow divine truth, or law, would ensure there was a reliable way to sort out truth from error.

To assist in this quest of eternal importance, God has given us a powerful tool--the Book of Mormon. Three years after Joseph Smith was first called of God in the grove, an angel named Moroni began a series of heavenly visitations (see JS-H 1:27-54). Just as Adam, Abraham, Jacob, David, Elijah, John the Baptist, Paul, John the Revelator, and others were assisted and taught by angels in their ministries, so was young Joseph. These visits culminated in the angel bestowing an ancient record to Joseph that he, Moroni, had finished writing and sealed up centuries before, as a prophet-historian in the land where Joseph now lived.

Over a miraculously short period of time, Joseph Smith translated this ancient record through the gifts of prophecy and revelation. The Book of Mormon tells brief histories--as written through prophets' eyes--of several nations of people brought by the Lord to the Western hemisphere over a period of about a thousand years. It shows God's dealings with these people, and how their use of agency for good or evil brought about their salvation or damnation. It expounds upon the blessings and covenants of the Lord relative to the inhabitants of this land as well as the whole house of Israel. Most importantly, it contains the testimonies of numerous prophets of God that "Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God, manifesting himself unto all nations" (Title Page)--including an account of the personal ministry of Jesus Christ to the people of this continent after His resurrection. It was compiled by prophets with a view of our day--the latter day--and written with us as the intended audience. It is of inestimable worth.

The Book of Mormon--that remarkable book--has influenced my life for good more than any other book. As I have told you before, my precious children, it is from reading the Book of Mormon that I first felt the unmistakable witness that Jesus Christ lives and that He is the Son of God and the Savior of mankind. It is from reading that book that I first came to know that God loves me and that He has a divine will and plan for my life. It is from reading that book that I first gained my witness that Joseph Smith was a true prophet of God. It is from reading that book that my love of the Bible, and of all truth, has blossomed and grown. It is from reading that book that springs my entire testimony of the restored Church of Jesus Christ in these latter days. Indeed, that book is the "keystone of [my] religion" (see Joseph Smith's quote in the Introduction). It is a gift, directly from heaven, that came to us as a single, seamless revelation of the precise truths we would need in the latter days to combat Satan and fortify our faith in Christ. It is a miracle you can hold in your hands. It teaches the gospel of Jesus Christ in beautiful purity and simplicity. I testify that the Book of Mormon is true! I know it is, and you can too! Read it with faith, ponder it with gratitude, and pray about it with sincere intent to act upon the revelation you receive, as Moroni directs (see Moroni 10:3-5), and I promise you that you will know through the covincing witness of the Holy Ghost, as I do.

Prior to organizing Christ's latter-day church, Joseph Smith had received divine priesthood keys from angelic visitations of John the Baptist and Peter, James, and John, who held the keys in the ancient Christian church. Being now endowed with authority to do so, just months after the English edition of the Book of Mormon was published came the official organization of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on April 6, 1830. During the first meeting of the Church, Joseph Smith was sustained as the first prophet, seer, and revelator in this, the "dispensation of the fulness of times" (Ephesians 1:10).

But the translation of the Book of Mormon, and the subsequent organization of the Church, did not mark the end of the revelation of divine truth. Like all other prophets before him, Joseph continued to receive revelations during his service as the Lord's prophet. Over a hundred of these precious gems of truth are compiled into the Doctrine and Covenants, and others are included in the Pearl of Great Price. I know that these two volumes, combined with the Book of Mormon and the Holy Bible, constitute the core of an open and ever-expanding canon of scriptural truth given through the gifts of prophecy and revelation to the Lord's continuing line of prophets. Never has so much of the word of God been so available to so many people as it is today; we are truly blessed!

Nor were the visits of the ancient apostles to Joseph Smith the end of the bestowing of priesthood keys. One of the most sacred of the revelations records the visitation of numerous ancient prophets to Joseph, each of which bestowed upon him authority and keys to conduct the work of the Lord in the latter days (see D&C 110).

But why? Once the authority to organize the Lord's true church, and to baptize and bestow the gift of the Holy Ghost was given, what else was there? Well, in answering these questions lies the very key to the reason why I love your mother so very dearly, and we find ourselves on the threshold of the grand conclusion of my thoughts on the subject.

Part nine of a twelve-chapter essay. Read more: Ch 1 | Ch 2 | Ch 3 | Ch 4 | Ch 5 | Ch 6 | Ch 7 | Ch 8 | Ch 9 | Ch 10 | Ch 11 | Epilogue

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