Saturday, October 22, 2011

James: "Pure Religion"



In Northern Utah, five minutes from my house, there is a beautiful canyon, Logan Canyon, and right along the road that goes through Logan Canyon there is a huge spring coming out of a cave.

Ricks Spring

In 1899, Brigham Young asked the Cache Valley saints to build a road through Logan Canyon to the Bear Lake Valley.  Thomas E. Ricks was the leader of that group, and the canyon road was built to what became known as Ricks Spring that first winter.  From its earliest discovery, Ricks Spring was very popular.  It was a great place for canyon travelers to stop and stretch and enjoy the cool air and icy water that came from the cave.  Everyone drank from the spring and people often took home jugs or bottles of the clear, cold water.  A rock and cement drinking fountain was installed next to the cave, fed by the spring water through pipes for those who didn't bring cups with them.

In the 1950s, hydrologists noticed that there seemed to be some connection between the water level at Ricks Spring and the Logan River, which winds through Logan Canyon and is filled with fish, beavers, ducks, geese, muskrats, deer and moose. 

Logan River in Logan Canyon

But it wasn't until 1972, when the Logan River froze in an unusually cold winter, water backed up above the ice, and Ricks Spring began to flow earlier than usual that the terrible discovery was made, confirmed by dye testing:  the water in Ricks Spring came from the Logan River across the road, from Tony Grove Lake a few miles away, and even from a livestock camp higher up the mountain. 

It was actually filthy water.  That would explain the digestive distress people sometimes got after a trip through the canyon.  Although there are many clear, clean springs in the Bear River Mountain range, Ricks "Spring" is not one of them.

Just for fun, you could bring a bottle of water labeled as Ricks Spring Water and ask if anyone in class wants to drink it.  Point out that it looks okay to you...

The apostle James lived in the Jordan Valley, an area with similar water purity challenges.  Being a seismic region, it contained both fresh water springs and mineral springs.  Great effort had to be taken to keep them separate and preserve clean drinking water.  (See Ogden & Skinner, New Testament Apostles Testify of Christ, p. 269).

The Jordan River

"Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter?  Can the fig tree, my brethren, bear olive berries?  either a vine, figs? so can no fountain both yield salt water and fresh.  Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? let him shew out of a good conversation [better translation: "conduct" or "way of life"] his works with meekness of wisdom" (James 3:11-13).

Christ is the Living Water.  He teaches the ways to life and spiritual health.  His truth comes straight from the heavens as clear, clean rain or snow, (revelation, including personal revelation) or has sunk and been stored deep in the earth where all contaminants have been filtered out (scripture).

"But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not and lie not against the truth.  [Thinking yourself righteous (glorying) is a lie if you carry envy or strife.]  This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish.  For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work."  (James 3:14-16).

Satan feeds us poison water that appears to be pure.  He hides the truth that his "wisdom" has come up through the ground from murky river water, fields of cowpies, and lakes full of algae and tadpoles, and is therefore filled with pollutants and disease.

"But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.  And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace" (James 3:17-18).

"The wisdom that is from above" is pure religion, and is actually the topic of the entire epistle of James.


The Epistle of James is one of the earliest writings in the New Testament and was written to Church members in general.  James was the half-brother of Jesus, known by the Hebrew name Jacob (James is the Greek form), and was converted after the resurrection, possibly at the ascension of his Brother into heaven.  He was probably an Apostle, was the leader of the Church in Jerusalem, and was stoned to death by the Sanhedrin in A.D. 62, about 15 years after this epistle was written.  (See Ogden and Skinner, p. 264).

Because of its emphasis on the importance of works, this epistle presents problems for those who believe that grace alone saves--Martin Luther, for example.  But the Epistle of James is a wonderful pure source of the Living Water of Christ:  A book of practical religion.


Assign a chapter to each person or group in the class, to dig out some principle of pure religion.  Give each a piece of paper and a marker to write the principle on, or if it is a small class, give each a large Post-It note.  Ask them also to identify a present-day example of the principle.  As they share their ideas, you can post their papers on the board and give additional information from the comments below. 

Be sure to refer to the many JST footnotes.

Chapter One

1:2-4  "My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations [trials]; knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience.  But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing."

"No pain that we suffer, no trial that we experience is wasted.  It ministers to our education, to the development of such qualities as patience, faith, fortitude and humility.  All that we suffer and all that we endure, especially when we endure it patiently, builds up our characters, purifies our hearts, expands our souls, and makes us more tender and charitable, more worthy to be called the children of God" (Orson F. Whitney, quoted in Spencer W. Kimball, Faith Precedes the Miracle, p. 98).

1:5  "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."

"This single verse of scripture has had a greater impact and more far-reaching effect upon mankind than any other single sentence ever recorded by any prophet in any age" (Bruce R. McConkie, Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3:246-247).

1:27  "Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the vices of the world."

Here is a simple definition of religion:  1) to serve others, and 2) to purify ourselves.  All of our righteous aims in life can be contained in these two categories. 

Why the "fatherless and widows" specifically?  They symbolize those from whom we can expect no return favor.

And how does religion purify us?  C.S. Lewis explains:  "People often think of Christian morality as a kind of bargain in which God says, 'If you keep a lot of rules I'll reward you, and if you don't I'll do the other thing.' I do not think that is the best way of looking at it.  I would much rather say that every time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different from what it was before.  And taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing either into a heavenly creature or into a hellish creature: either into a creature that is in harmony with God, and with other creatures, and with itself, or else into one that is in a state of war and hatred with God, and with its fellow-creatures, and with itself.  To be the one kind of creature is heaven: that is, it is joy and peace and knowledge and power.  To be the other means madness, horror, idiocy, rage, impotence, and eternal loneliness.  Each of us at each moment is progressing to the one state or the other" (C.S. Lewis, from Mere Christianity, quoted in The C.S. Lewis Bible, p. 1398).

Chapter 2

2:16 JST  "If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, and one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth your faith profit him?"

"I am often, I believe, praying for others when I should be doing things for them.  It's so much easier to pray for a bore than to go and see him" (C.S. Lewis, from Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer, quoted in The C.S. Lewis Bible, p. 1397).

2:14-24  "What profit is it, my brethren, for a man to say he hath faith, and hath not works? can faith save him?  Yea, a man may say, I will show thee I have faith without works; but I say, Show me thy faith without works, and I will show thee my faith by my works.  For if a brother or sister be naked...(see above)...Even so faith, if it have not works is dead, being alone.  Therefore wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead and cannot save you?  Thou believest there is one God; thou doest well; the devils also believer, and tremble; thou hast made thyself like unto them, not being justified.  Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar?  Seest thou how works wrought with his faith, and by works was faith made perfect?"

"Christians have often disputed as to whether what leads the Christian home is good actions, or Faith in Christ.  I have no right really to speak on such a difficult question, but it does seem to me like asking which blade in a pair of scissors is most necessary.  A serious moral effort is the only thing that will bring you to the point where you throw up the sponge [Americans might say "throw in the towel"].  Faith in Christ is the only thing to save you from despair at that point: and out of that Faith in Him good actions must inevitably come" (C.S. Lewis, from Mere Christianity, quoted in The C.S. Lewis Bible, p. 1396).

Chapter 3

3:2-10  "For in many things we offend all.  If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able to bridle the whole body.  Behold, we put bits in the horses' mouths, that they may obey us; and we turn about their whole body.  Behold also the ships, which though they be so great, and are driven of fierce winds, yet are they turned about with a very small helm, withersoever the governor listeth.

"Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things.  Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth?  And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity; so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell.

"For every kind of beasts, and of birds, and of serpents, and of things in the sea, is tamed, and hath been tamed of mankind; but the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.  Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God.  Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing.  My brethren, these things ought not so to be."

"The Prophet Joseph Smith deepened our understanding of the power of speech when he taught, 'It is by words … [that] every being works when he works by faith. God said, ‘Let there be light: and there was light.’ Joshua spake, and the great lights which God had created stood still. Elijah commanded, and the heavens were stayed for the space of three years and six months, so that it did not rain. … All this was done by faith. … Faith, then, works by words; and with [words] its mightiest works have been, and will be, performed... 

"The voice that bears profound testimony, utters fervent prayer, and sings the hymns of Zion can be the same voice that berates and criticizes, embarrasses and demeans, inflicts pain and destroys the spirit of oneself and of others in the process. 'Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing,' James grieves. 'My brethren [and sisters], these things ought not so to be.'

"Our words, like our deeds, should be filled with faith and hope and charity, the three great Christian imperatives so desperately needed in the world today. With such words, spoken under the influence of the Spirit, tears can be dried, hearts can be healed, lives can be elevated, hope can return, confidence can prevail."  (Jeffrey R. Holland, "The Tongue of Angels," April 2007 General Conference)

Chapter 4

4:3  "Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts."

"It may be clear that we shouldn’t ask for the wrong things, but sometimes it is not as clear how we determine what the right things are to ask for. Asking to pass a test we didn’t study for or to win a lottery are clearly on the 'amiss' side of the equation. But what about praying for obstacles to be removed in our lives, relief from afflictions, or help in directions we want to go?

"The entry under 'prayer' in the Bible Dictionary is insightful: 'Prayer is the act by which the will of the Father and the will of the child are brought into correspondence with each other. The object of prayer is not to change the will of God, but to secure for ourselves and for others blessings that God is already willing to grant, but that are made conditional on our asking for them.'

"How is our will brought into correspondence with the will of the Father? The scriptures answer: 'He that asketh in the Spirit asketh according to the will of God; wherefore it is done even as he asketh' (D&C 46:30). As we grow in the principle of prayer, we come to recognize that the Lord will guide our words by His Spirit, that the Holy Ghost will inspire us with what we should pray for." (Dan Skoubye, "Prayer: The Soul's Sincere Desire," Ensign, August 2002).

4:17  "To him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin."

See "Avoiding the Faces of Apostacy" in a previous post.

Chapter 5

5:14-16  "Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him."

"That faith that, through Priesthood, heals, is the same faith that remits sin, or justifies: the healing power of Christ" (Ogden & Skinner, New Testament Apostles Testify of Christ, p. 270).

"Although Jesus healed many people without anointing them with oil—sometimes even healed a person without touching him or her—it was a general practice for priesthood holders in the Church to anoint the sick with oil. While performing their first missionary labors, the Twelve Apostles “anointed with oil many that were sick, and healed them.” (Mark 6:13)
"The epistle of James records the most detailed description of priesthood administration preserved for us from ancient times: “Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord...

"We apply hands and oil, the physical touch and the tangible substance, but the hands and the oil do not heal. It is faith in Jesus Christ and the power of the priesthood that heals.

"So why is olive oil used?  Anciently, oil pressed from olives was considered the cleanest, clearest, brightest-burning, longest-lasting of all animal and vegetable oils. It was also the purest of oils and was thus appropriate for holy anointings. Joseph Fielding Smith has written, 'We find through all the prophetic writings that olive trees and olive oil are emblems of sacredness and purity.' (Answers to Gospel Questions, 5 vols., Joseph Fielding Smith, Jr., Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1957–66, 1:152.)" (D. Kelly Ogden, "I Have a Question," Ensign, October 1991).


"Ye adulterers and adulteresses [people who are untrue to their union with God], know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God?  whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God. Do ye think that the scripture saith in vain, The spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy?" (James 4:4-5).

Are we "friends with the world" or "friends with God?"  What if we examine ourselves and find "pure religion" lacking from one or another aspect of our lives?  Even one dirty corner of our lives will make us unclean.  What then?  Are we to be cast out?  Are we hopeless?  Read on!

"But he giveth more grace."  Grace is always available to us!  "Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble.  Submit yourselves therefore to God.  Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.  Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you.  Cleanse your hands, ye sinners [follow the letter of the law--keep the outer observances]; and purify your hearts, ye doubleminded [follow the spirit of the law--live in faith, hope and charity].  "Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness [suffer godly sorrow for your sins].  Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord and he shall lift you up." (James 4:6-10).

This also is "pure truth":  That God will always give us a way out, a way up.  But we have to stop being doubleminded adulterers, wanting one foot in the world and one in heaven; a home in Zion with vacation time in Babylon; salvation on our own terms.  To become truly free, we must become willing slaves, giving every bit of ourselves to God's will.


TJ said...

Thanks so much for posting your lessons I convert your blog post to a Kindle format and have your wonderful lessons and quotes with me at church. That has been especially helpful when I miss class to substitute in Primary.

Thanks again!

Anonymous said...

I am a mother of 7 young children and was recently called to teach Gospel Doctrine. I happened upon your blog a few weeks ago and it has been a true blessing. I wasn't sure how i would find the time to prepare but your blog has made it so much easier. Thank you for the work you put into these lessons. Please know that they are a true blessing.

Anonymous said...

Sister Jensen. I cannot thank you enough for your research, wisdom and down to earth way you present these lessons. You have definately been a blessing in my life.

Naomi said...

Sister Jensen, thank you so much for these lessons, they are such a lifesaver to me. They are my starting point every week to get a handle on what to pull out from the reading. I'm teaching in a small ward on the west coast of Wales, UK.

I also really love how scholarly your lesson plans are - I've enjoyed following up your sources just for my own interest. I was keen to read about Martin Luther's views mentioned here but your link no longer works; it goes to something COMPLETELY different - you may like to remove it!! Don't worry about hunting for the true source again, I will do some research myself for once instead of leaning on you. :)

Thanks again for all your amazing efforts and for sharing them with the world.

Nancy Wyatt Jensen said...

Thank you so much, Naomi. I appreciate readers helping with errors. I have deleted the link. Thank you also for your kind comments. Carry on the great work in Wales!