Letter to the Church, circa February 1834

  • Source Note
  • Historical Introduction

Document Transcript

THE OF THE CHURCH IN , TO THEIR BRETHREN ABROAD.
Dear brethren in Christ, and companions in tribulation:
WHEN we call to remembrance the ties with which we are bound to those who embrace the , and the fellowship and love with which the hearts of the children of our Lord’s kingdom should be united, we cherish a belief, that you will bear with us, when we take this course to communicate to you some of the many thoughts which occupy our minds, and press with continued weight upon our hearts, as we reflect upon the vast importance and responsibility of your callings, in the sight of the Master of the vineyard. And though our communications to you may be frequent, yet we believe they will be received on your part with brotherly feelings; and, that from us your unworthy brethren, you will suffer a word of exhortation to have place in your hearts, as you see the great extent of the power and dominion of the prince of darkness, and realize how vast the numbers are who are crowding the road to death without ever giving heed to the cheering sound of the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ!
Consider for a moment, brethren, the fufillment of the words of the prophet; for we behold that darkness covers the earth, and gross darkness the minds of the inhabitants thereof—that crimes of every discription are increasing among men—vices of every enormity are practiced—the rising generation growing up in the fulness of pride and arrogance—the aged losing every sense of conviction, and seemingly banishing every thought of a day of retribution—intemperence, immorality, extravigance, pride, blindness of heart, idolatry, the loss of natural affection, the love of this world, and indifference toward the things of eternity increasing among those who profess a belief in the religion of heaven, and infidelity spreading itself in consequence of the same—men giving themselves up to commit acts of the foulest kind, and deeds of the blackest dye; lying, blaspheming, stealing, robbing, murdering, defaming, defrauding, blasting the reputation of neighbors, advocating error and opposing the truth, forsaking the covenant of heaven, and denying the faith of Jesus—and in the midst of all this, the day of the Lord fast approaching when none except those who have on the wedding garment will be permitted to eat and drink in the presence of the Bridegroom, the Prince of peace!
Impressed with the truth of these facts, what can be the feelings of those who have been made partakers of the heavenly gift, and have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come? Who but those who can see the awful precipice upon which the world of mankind stand in this generation, can labor in the vineyard of the Lord with a feeling sense of their deplorable situation? Who but those who have duly considered the condesention of the Father of our spirits, in providing a sacrifice for his creatures, a plan of redemption, a power of atonement, a scheme of salvation, having as one of its great objects, to bring men back into the presence of the King of heaven, crown them in the , and make them heirs with his Son to that which is incorruptible, undefiled, and which fadeth not away—can realize the importance of a perfect walk before all men, and a diligence in calling upon all men to partake of these blessings? How indescribably glorious are these tidings to mankind! Of a truth they may be considered tidings of great joy to all people; and tidings too that ought to fill the earth and cheer the heart of every one when sounded in his ears.— And the reflection, that every one is to receive according to his own diligence and perseverance while in the vineyard, ought to inspire every one who is called to be a minister of these glad tidings, to so improve upon their talent that they may gain other talents, that when the Master sits down to take an account of the conduct of his servants, that it may be said, Well done, good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things; I will now make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.
Some may presume to say, that the world in this age is fast increasing in righteousness; that the dark ages of superstition and blindness have passed over, when the faith of Christ was known and practiced only by a few, when ecclesiastic power held an almost universal control over christendom, and when the consciences of men were held bound by the strong chains of priestly power; but now, the gloomy cloud is burst, and the gospel is shining with all the resplendent glory of an apostolic day; and that the kingdom of the Messiah is greatly spreading, that the gospel of our Lord is carried to divers nations of the earth, the scriptures translating into different tongues, the ministers of truth crossing the vast deep to proclaim to men in darkness a risen Savior, and to erect the standard of Emmanuel where light has never shone, and that the idol is destroyed, the temple of images forsaken; and those who but a short time previous followed the traditions of their fathers and sacrificed their own flesh to appease the wrath of some imaginary god, are now raising their voices in the worship of the Most High, and are lifting their thoughts up to him with the full expectation, that one day they will meet with a joyful reception into his everlasting kingdom!
But, a moment’s candid reflection upon the principles of these systems, the manner they are conducted, the individuals employed, the apparent object held out as an inducement to cause them to act, we think, is sufficient for every candid man to draw a conclusion in his own bosom, whether this is the order of heaven or not. We deem it a just principle, and it is one the force of which we believe ought to be duly considered by every individual, that all men are created equal, and that all have the privilege of thinking for themselves upon all matters relative to conscience. Consequently, then, we are not disposed, had we the power, to deprive any one from exercising that free independence of mind which heaven has so graciously bestowed upon the human family as one of its choicest gifts; but we take the liberty, (and this we have a right to do,) of looking at this order of things a few moments, and contrasting it with the order of God as we find it in the sacred scriptures. In this review, however, we shall present the points as we consider they were really designed by the great Giver to be understood, and the happy result arising from a performance of the requirements of heaven, as therein revealed, to every one who obeys them; and the consequence attending a false construction, a misrepresentation, or a forced meaning that was never designed in the mind of the Lord when he condescended to speak from the heavens to men for their salvation.
Previous to entering upon a subject of so great a moment to the human family, there is a prominent item which suggests itself to our minds which, here, in few words we wish to discuss: All regularly organized and well established governments, have certain laws by which, more or less, the innocent are protected and the guilty punished. The fact admitted, that certain laws are good, equitable and just, ought to be binding upon the individual who admits this fact, to observe in the strictest manner an obedience to those laws. These laws when violated, or broken by that individual, must, in justice convict his mind with a double force, if possible, of the extent and magnitude of his crime; because he could have no plea of ignorance to produce; and his act of transgression was openly committed againts light and knowledge. But the individual who may be ignorant, and imperceptibly transgresses or violates these laws, though the voice of the country requires that he should suffer, yet he will never feel that remorse of conscience that the other will, and that keen-cutting reflection will never rise in his brest that otherwise would, had he done the deed, or committed the offence in full conviction that he was breaking the law of his country, and having previously acknowledged the same to be just. It is not our intention by these remarks, to attempt to place the law of man on a parallel with the law of heaven; because we do not consider that it is formed in that wisdom and propriety; neither do we consider that it is sufficient in itself to bestow any thing in comparison to the law of heaven, even should it promise it. The law of men may guarantee to a people protection in the honorable pursuits of this life, and the temporal happiness arising from a protection against unjust insults and injuries; and when this is said, all is said, that can be in truth, of the power, extent, and influence of the law of men, exclusive of the law of God. The law of heaven is presented to man, and as such guarantees to all who obey it a reward far beyond any earthly consideration: it does not promise that the believer in every age should be exempt from the afflictions and troubles arising from different sources in consequence of wicked men on earth; though in the midst of all this there is a promise predicated upon the fact that it is the law of heaven, which transcends the law of man, as far as eternal life is prefferable to temporal; and the blessings which God is able to give, greater than those which can be given by man! Then, certainly, if the law of man is binding upon man when acknowledged, much more must the law of heaven be. And as much as the law of heaven is perfect, more than the law of man, so much greater must be the reward if obeyed. The law of man promises safety in temporal life; but the law of God promises that life which is eternal, even an inheritance at his own right hand, secure from all the powers of the wicked one.
We consider that God has created man with a mind capable of instruction, and a faculty which may be enlarged in proportion to the heed and diligence given to the light communicated from heaven to the intellect; and that the nearer man approaches perfection, the more conspicuous are his views, & the greater his enjoyments, until he has overcome the evils of this life and lost every desire of sin; and like the ancients, arrives to that point of faith that he is wrapped in the glory and power of his Maker and is caught up to dwell with him. But we consider that this is a station to which no man ever arrived in a moment: he must have been instructed into the government and laws of that kingdom by proper degrees, till his mind was capable in some measure of comprehending the propriety, justice, equity, and consistency of the same. For further instruction we refer you to Deut. xxxii. where the Lord says, that Jacob is the lot of his inheritance. He found him in a desert land, and in the waste howling wilderness; he led him about, he instructed him, he kept him as the apple of his eye, &c. which will show the force of the last item advanced, that it is necessary for men to receive an understanding concerning the laws of the heavenly kingdom, before they are permitted to enter it: we mean the celestial glory. So dissimilar are the governments of men, and so divers are their laws, from the government and laws of heaven, that a man, for instance, hearing that there was a country on this globe called the , could take his journey to this place without first learning the laws of this government; but the conditions of God’s kingdom are such, that all who are made partakers of that glory, are under the necessity of first learning something respe[c]ting it previous to their entering into it. But the foreignor can come to this country without knowing a syllable of its laws, or even subscribing to obey them after he arrives. Why? Because the government of the does not require it: it only requires an obedience to its laws after the individual has arrived within its jurisdiction.
As we previously remarked, we do not attempt to place the law of man on a parallel with the law of heaven; but we will bring forward another item, to further urge the propriety of yielding obedience to the law of heaven, after the fact is admitted, that the laws of man are binding upon man. Were a king to extend his dominion over the habitable earth, and send forth his laws which were of the most perfect kind, and command his subjects one and all to yield obedience to the same; and annex as a reward to those who obeyed them, that at a certain period they should be called to attend the marriage of his son, who in due time was to receive the kingdom, and they should be made equal with him in the same; and annex as a penalty for disobedience that every individual should [p. 135] be cast out at the marriage feast, and have no part nor portion with his government; and what rational mind could for a moment accuse the king with injustice for punishing such rebellious subjects? In the first place his laws were just, easy and perfect: nothing was required in them of a tyranical nature; but their very construction was equity and beauty; and when obeyed would produce the happiest situation possible to all who adheard to them, beside the last great benefit of sitting down with a royal robe in the presence of the king at the great grand marriage supper of his son, and be made equal with him in all the affairs of the kingdom.
When these royal laws were issued, and promulgated throughout the vast dominion, every subject, when interrogated whether he believed them to be from his sovereign answered, Yes, I know they are, I am acquainted with the signature, for it is as usual, THUS SAITH THE KING! This admitted, the subject is bound by every consideration of honor to his country, his king, and his own personal character, to observe in the strictest sense every requisition in the royal edict. Should any escape the search of the embassadors of the king, and never hear these last laws, giving his subjects such exalted privileges, an excuse might be urged in their behalf, and they escape the censure of the king. But for those who had heard, who had admitted, and who had promised obedience to these just laws no excuse could be urged, and when brought into the presence of the king, certainly, justice would require that they should suffer a penalty! Could that king be just in admitting these rebellious individuals into the full enjoyment and privileges with his son, and those who had been obedient to his commandments? Certainly not. Because they disregarded the voice of their lawful king; they had no regard for his virtuous laws, for his dignity, nor for the honor of his name; neither for their own country’s sake, nor their private virtue! They neither regarded his authority enough to obey him, neither did they regard the immediate advantages and blessings arising from these laws if kept, to observe them, so destitute were they of virtue and goodness; and above all, they regarded so little the joy and satisfaction of a legal seat in the presence of the king’s only son, and to be made equal with him in all the blessings, honors, comforts, and felicities of his kingdom, that they turned away from an anticipation of them, and considered that they were beneath their present notice, though they had no doubt as to the real authenticity of the royal edict.
We ask, again, would the king be just in admitting these rebels to all the privileges of his kingdom, with those who had served him with the strictest integrity? We again answer, No! such individuals would be dangerous characters in any government, good & wholesome laws they dispised; just and perfect principles they trampled under their feet as something beneath their notice, and disregarded those commands of their sovereign entirely which they had once acknowledged to be equitable! How could a government be conducted with harmony if its administrators were possessed with such different dispositions and different principles? Could it prosper? Could it flourish? Would harmony prevail? Would order be established, and could justice be executed in righteousness in all branches of its department? No! In it were two classes of men as discimilar as light is from darkness, virtue from vice, justice from injustice, truth from falsehood, and holiness from sin! One class were perfectly harmless and virtuous: they knew what virtue was for they had lived in the fullest enjoyment of it, and their fidelity to truth fairly tested by a series of years of faithful obedience to all its heavenly precepts. They knew what good order was, for they had been orderly and obedient to the laws imposed on them by their wise sovereign, and had experienced the benefits arising from a life spent in his government till he had now seen proper to make them equal with his son.— Such individuals would indeed adorn any court where perfection was one of its main springs of action, and shine far more brilliant than the richest gem in the diadem of the prince.
The other class were a set of individuals who disregarded every principle of justice and equity, whatever: and this is demonstrated from the fact, that when just laws were issued by the king, which were perfectly equitable, they were so lost to a sense of righteousness that they disregarded those laws, notwithstanding an obedience to them would have produced the happiest result possible, at the time, as regarded their own personal comfort and advantage. They were entirely destitute of harmony and virtue, so much so that virtuous laws they dispised. They had proven themselves unworthy a place in the joys of the prince, because they had for a series of years lived in open violation of his government. Certainly, then, those two clases of men could not hold the reins of the same government at the same time in peace; for internal jars, broils, and discords would rack it to the center, were such a form of government to attempt to exist under such a system. The virtuous could not enjoy peace in the constant and unceasing schemes and evil plans of the wicked; neither could the wicked have enjoyment in the constant perseverance of the righteous to do justly. And that there must be an agreement in this government, or it could not stand, must be admitted by all. Should the king convey the reins into the hands of the rebellious the government must soon fall; for every government, from the creation to the present; when it ceased to be virtuous, and failed to execute justice, sooner or later has been overthrown. And without virtuous principles to actuate a government all care for justice is soon lost, and the only motive which prompts it to act is, ambition and selfishness. Should the king admit these rebels into his house to make them equal with the others, would be condescending beneath his character; because he once issued virtuous laws which were received by a part of his subjects, and the reward annexed was a seat at the marriage feast, and an adoption into his own family as lawful heirs. So should he now offer any thing differently he would blast forever his own reputation, and destroy forever that government which he once so diligently labored to establish and preserve, and which he once had wisdom to organize. Such individuals as the last named, would be a bane to a virtuous government, and would prove its overthrow if suffered to hold a part in conducting its h[e]lm!
We take the sacred writings into our hands. and admit that they were given by direct inspiration for the good of man. We believe that God condescended to speak from the heavens and declare his will concerning the human family: give to them just and holy laws to regulate their conduct, and guide them in a direct way, that in due time he might take them to himself, and make them joint heirs with his Son. But when this fact is admitted, that the immediate will of heaven is here contained, are we not bound as rational creatures to live in accordance to all its precepts? Will the mere admision, that this is the will of heaven ever benefit us if we do not comply with all its teachings? Do we not offer violence to the Supreme Intelligence of heaven, when we admit the truth of its teachings, and do not obey them? Do we not condescend beneath our own character, and the better wisdom which heaven has endowed us with, by such a course of conduct? For these reasons, if we have direct revelations given us from heaven, surely, those revelations were never given to be trifled with, without the triflers incuring displeasure, and assuring vengeance upon their own heads, if there is any justice in heaven; and that there is, must be admitted by every individual who admits the truth and force of its teachings; its blessings and cursings, as contained in the sacred volume.
Here, then, we have this part of our subject immediately before us for consideration: God has in reserve a time, or period appointed in his own bosom, when he will bring all his subjects, who have obeyed his voice and kept his commandments, into his rest. This rest is of such perfection and glory, that man has need of a preparation before he can, according to the laws of that kingdom enter it and enjoy its blessings.— This being the fact, God has given certain laws to the human family, which, if observed, are sufficient to prepare them to inherit this rest. This, then, we conclude, was the purpose of God in giving his laws to us: if not, why, or for what were they given? If the whole family of man were as well off without them as they might be with them, for what purpose or intent were they ever given? Was it that God wanted to merely show that he could talk? This would be nonsense, to suppose that he would condescend to talk in vain; for it would be in vain, and to no purpose whatever: because, all the commandments contained in the law of the Lord, have the sure promise annexed of a reward to all who obey; predicated upon the fact, that they are really the promises of a Being who cannot lie, and who is abundantly able to fulfil every tittle of his word: and if men were as well prepared, or could be as well prepared, to meet God without their ever having been given in the first instance, why were they ever given? for certainly, in that case they can now do him no good.
As we previously remarked, all well established and properly organized governments have certain fixed and prominent laws for the regulation and management of the same.— If man has grown to wisdom and is capable of discerning the propriety of laws to govern nations, what less can we expect from the Ruler and Upholder of the universe? Can we suppose that he has a kingdom without laws? Or do we believe that it is composed of an innumerable company of beings who are entirely beyond all law? Consequently have need of nothing to govern or regulate them? Would not such ideas be reproachful to our Great Parent, and an attempt to cast a stigma upon his glorious character! Would it not be asserting, that we had found out a secret beyond Deity? that we had learned that it was good to have laws, and yet He, after existing from eternity, and having power to create man, had not found out the fact, that it was proper to have laws for his government! We admit that God is the great source and fountain from whence proceeds all good; that he is perfect intelligence, and that his wisdom is alone sufficient to govern and regulate the mighty creations and worlds which shine and blaze with such magnificence and splendor over our heads, as though touched with his finger and moved by his Almighty word. And if so, it is done and regulated by law; for without law all must certainly fall into chaos. If, then, we admit that God is the source of all wisdom and understanding, we must admit that by his direct inspiration he has taught man that law was necessary in order to govern and regulate his own immediate interest and welfare: For this reason, it is beneficial to promote peace and happiness among men: And as before remarked, God is the source from whence proceeds all good; and if man is benefitted by law, then certainly, law is good; and if law is good, it, or the principle of it emanated from God: for God is the source of all good; consequently, then, he was the first Author of law, or the principle of it, to mankind.
To be continued. [p. 136]

Footnotes

  1. 1

    See Book of Mormon, 1830 ed., 61 [2 Nephi 1:21].  

  2. 2

    See Book of Mormon, 1830 ed., 131 [Jacob 5:4, 7].  

  3. 3

    See Isaiah 60:2.  

  4. 4

    See Matthew 22:1–14.  

  5. 5

    See Hebrews 6:4–5.  

  6. 6

    See Book of Mormon, 1830 ed., 132 [Jacob 5:15]; and Revelation, 9 May 1831 [D&C 50:38].  

  7. 7

    Matthew 25:23.  

  8. 8

    The phrase “that all men are created equal” is the second clause in the preamble of the United States Declaration of Independence. The phrase indicates that there are inalienable and equal human rights for all people. That all are created equal is also a biblical idea that indicates all have sinned and come short of the glory of God and that Jesus Christ is the savior for all. (See Acts 17:26; Romans 3:23; and 1 John 2:2.)  

  9. 9

    This phrase suggests the idea of moral agency. (See Book of Mormon, 1830 ed., 65, 85, 447 [2 Nephi 2:27; 10:23; Helaman 14:30]; Revelation, 6 May 1833 [D&C 93:31]; and “Of Governments and Laws in General,” ca. Aug. 1835, in Doctrine and Covenants 102:2, 1835 ed. [D&C 134:2].)  

  10. 10

    See Book of Mormon, 1830 ed., 242, 430, 563 [Alma 8:4; Helaman 8:18; Ether 12:9–10]; and Revelation, 22–23 Sept. 1832 [D&C 84:18].  

  11. 11

    See Revised Minutes, 18–19 Feb. 1834 [D&C 102:4]; and Revelation, 6 May 1833 [D&C 93:53].  

  12. 12

    This sentence appears to allude to the phrase “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” as written in the preamble of the United States Declaration of Independence, in order to contrast human-made law with God’s law, or the law of heaven. In other words, guaranteeing security of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is the aim of human-made law; the law of heaven does not guarantee those temporal benefits but assures blessings in the life to come.  

  13. 13

    See Deuteronomy 32:9–10.  

  14. 14

    See Revelation 19:9; and Revelation, 1 Aug. 1831 [D&C 58:11].  

  15. 15

    See Romans 8:17; see also Luke 12:42–44.  

  16. 16

    The “sacred volume” probably refers to the Bible, but the term could also refer to the Book of Mormon, the Book of Commandments, or any combination of these scriptures.  

  17. 17

    For more information on the concept of inheriting celestial glory, see Proverbs 3:35; Book of Mormon, 1830 ed., 253, 336 [Alma 11:37; 41:4]; Revelation, 9 May 1831 [D&C 50:5]; and Vision, 16 Feb. 1832 [D&C 76].  

  18. 18

    The next issue of The Evening and the Morning Star contained the subsequent installment of this serialized letter. (See Letter to the Church, ca. Mar. 1834.)