Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Doctrine and Covenants Lesson #23 "Seek Learning by Study and Also By Faith"



Contrary to the beliefs of some (particularly the anti-Mormon contingent in Utah), the Mormon Church advocates a high degree of education, continual life-long learning, and the asking of questions, questions, questions.  An interesting article by FAIR, "Education, Scholarship, and Mormonism," gives specific data.  Mormons in the U.S. are almost twice as likely as the general population to attend college.  And even more interestingly, nearly 80% of Mormon scientists say that have a very strong belief that Joseph Smith was a prophet.  No data is presented to compare whether that is a higher percentage than the general Mormon population, but it is noted that the more years of education a Latter-day Saint has, the more active he tends to be.  Those with 8 years or less of education are in the 30-50% church activity bracket while those with 16 years of education (college graduates) are in the 70-80% church activity bracket.

Here is another interesting set of graphics from a study done at Princeton showing that in many churches, higher education leads to lessened faith, but in the LDS Church the two correspond:  "Education and Religiosity: Mormons Buck the Trend".

The statistics do not show Mormons to be uneducated people, blindly following their leaders.  In fact, we follow our leaders in their counsel to get as much education as we can!

 President John Taylor prophesied clearly how it shall be: “You mark my words, and write them down and see if they do not come to pass. You will see the day that Zion will be far ahead of the outside world in everything pertaining to learning of every kind as we are today in regard to religious matters.” (Sermon, 20 Sept. 1857., quoted in President Spencer W. Kimball, "Seek Learning, Even by Study and Also by Faith," Ensign, Sept. 1983) 

In what other church do you find the leaders teaching doctrine, administering programs, and giving counsel while fully expecting that each church member has the ability, through prayer and personal revelation, to have that information confirmed to them by the Holy Ghost?  In fact, no one is allowed to join the Church unless they can pass a baptismal interview in which they assert that they have received a personal witness of the truthfulness of the restored Church!

The Mormon Church expects the exact opposite of blind, uneducated obedience, the only religion that teaches, "The glory of God is intelligence" (D&C 93:36) and that "whatever principle of intelligence we attain unto in this life, it will rise with us in the resurrection." (D&C 130:18)


For the rest of this lesson, I cannot do any better than to refer to President Kimball's excellent article, linked above.  He covers it all.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Doctine and Covenants Lesson #20 The Kingdoms of Glory


D&C 76

INTRODUCTION: VALUE OF THE VISION
President Wilford Woodruff: “I will refer to the ‘Vision’ alone, as a revelation which gives more light, more truth, and more principle than any revelation contained in any other book we ever read. It makes plain to our understanding our present condition, where we came from, why we are here, and where we are going. Any man may know through that revelation what his part and condition will be” (G. Homer Durham, ed., Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, p. 47-48).

President Joseph Fielding Smith: “Section 76 of the Doctrine and Covenants, in its sublimity and clearness in relation to the eternal destiny of the human family, has not been surpassed. It should be treasured by all members of the church as a priceless heritage. It should strengthen their faith and be to them an incentive to seek the exaltation promised to all who are just and true” (Joseph Fielding Smith, Church History and Modern Revelation, 2:50).

BACKGROUND FOR THE VISION
When Joseph Smith was translating the Bible in 1832, with Sidney Rigdon as his scribe, they came upon a remarkable passage of scripture, John 5:29. “ And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation” (John 5:29). (See heading to D&C 76.)

When they translated this verse, the Lord changed it slightly. The change is noted in D&C 76:17 “And shall come forth; they who have done good, in the resurrection of the just; and they who have done evil, in the resurrection of the unjust.”  “The resurrection of life” was clarified to “the resurrection of the just,” and “the resurrection of damnation” to “the resurrection of the unjust.” Joseph and Sidney had learned about being justified because that came up in the translation work on Genesis a year and a half previous, which we now call the Book of Moses in the Pearl of Great Price. 

“That by reason of transgression cometh the fall, which fall bringeth death, and inasmuch as ye were born into the world by water, and blood, and the spirit, which I have made, and so became of dust a living soul, even so ye must be born again into the kingdom of heaven, of water, and of the Spirit, and be cleansed by blood, even the blood of mine Only Begotten; that ye might be sanctified from all sin, and enjoy the words of eternal life in this world, and eternal life in the world to come, even immortal glory”  (Moses 6:59).

This was in last week’s lesson: the just are those who have had their sins forgiven, those who have “opened” the gift of Christ’s grace through exercising the first principles and ordinances of the gospel. So, the summation of this scripture is that those who are justified and sanctified are resurrected to eternal life.

Yet here it says in the writings of John that the “unjust” are also resurrected. Huh?  

“Now this caused us to marvel, for it was given unto us of the Spirit” (D&C 76:18). They were sure the change was correct, because it had been “given [to them] of the spirit.” They pondered about it and decided that, obviously, there was something more about the afterlife that they had not yet learned. 

”And while we meditated upon these things, the Lord touched the eyes of our understandings and they were opened, and the glory of the Lord shone round about” (D&C 76:19).

They found out the answer to their question by way of a grand and glorious vision which they were commanded to write down for us “while still in the spirit,” before they could make any human error in recall. That is the glorious chapter of scripture we now call Section 76.

But before they wrote down the glorious vision, they felt to testify to us of another great truth that was reaffirmed to them because of the experience.

“For thus saith the Lord—I, the Lord, am merciful and gracious unto those who fear me, and delight to honor those who serve me in righteousness and in truth unto the end.  Great shall be their reward and eternal shall be their glory.  And to them will I reveal all mysteries, yea, all the hidden mysteries of my kingdom from days of old, and for ages to come, will I make known unto them the good pleasure of my will concerning all things pertaining to my kingdom.  Yea, even the wonders of eternity shall they know, and things to come will I show them, even the things of many generations.  And their wisdom shall be great, and their understanding reach to heaven; and before them the wisdom of the wise shall perish, and the understanding of the prudent shall come to naught.  For by my Spirit will I enlighten them, and by my power will I make known unto them the secrets of my will—yea, even those things which eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor yet entered into the heart of man” (D&C 76:5-10).

CHRONOLOGICAL PERSPECTIVE OF THE VISION
The Kirtland Temple was dedicated in 1836. This vision of the three degrees of glory was given February 16, 1832. There was no temple of any kind on the earth for the Lord to visit, so he visited the two brethren in Joseph Smith’s temporary residence, the John Johnson home, in Hiram, Ohio.

Photograph from Mormon Historic Sites Foundation

By the way, do you know what other significant event occurred here, six weeks later? The first physical mob violence, completely unforeseen and unprovoked, led by two apostates, Simonds Rider and Ezra Booth, the tarring and feathering of the Prophet in the middle of the night. This action also led to the first martyrdom of the Church, the death of Joseph’s eleven-month-old baby, Joseph Murdock Smith, 4 days later, as a result of the exposure he endured. Heaven and hell in the same house. (Another interesting note is that little Joseph’s biological father, John Murdock, was on a mission at the time and didn’t hear about his baby’s death until he returned in June.) After that, as you know, mob action continued to escalate everywhere the saints moved to escape it. But at the same time, for those faithful in the church, visions and revelations and the bestowal of light and knowledge also escalated, giving the saints the eternal perspective that they needed to endure the difficulties that arose.

ELEMENTS OF THE VISION
We think of this as one vision, but as recorded, it was actually seven visions stuck together. Seven very important truths, six of which they were commanded to bear record of in writing. What were they, and in what order?
1.       The Vision of Jesus Christ. D&C 76:20-24.
2.       The Vision of Satan. D&C 76:25-29.
3.       The Vision of Sons of Perdition. D&C 76:30-49.
4.       The Vision of the Resurrection of the Just (Celestial Kingdom). D&C 76:50-70.
5.       The Vision of the Terrestrial World. D&C 76:71-80.
6.       The Vision of the Telestial World. D&C 76:81-113.
7.       The Unutterable Vision. D&C 76:114-118.

The Unutterable Vision. Joseph Smith said of this vision, “I could explain a hundredfold more than I ever have of the glories of the kingdoms manifested to me in the vision, were I permitted, and were the people prepared to receive them.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 304)

The Vision of Jesus Christ—This great testimony has been an anchor to many Saints ever since that day. 

The Vision of Satan—Why was it important for us to have a vision of Satan? When it comes to having an eternal perspective, understanding the reality of Satan is important, just as is knowing Christ. We cannot resist something we know nothing about.

The Vision of Sons of Perdition
Joseph Smith: “What must a man do to commit the unpardonable sin [and become a son of perdition]? He must receive the Holy Ghost, have the heavens opened unto him, and know God, and then sin against Him. After a man has sinned against the Holy Ghost, there is no repentance for him. He has got to say that the sun does not shine while he sees it(Teachings, p. 358).

Are we in daily jeopardy of committing the unpardonable sin?  President Spencer W. Kimball answers the question: “The sin against the Holy Ghost requires such knowledge that it is manifestly impossible for the rank and file to commit such a sin” (Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, p. 23).

The Vision of the Telestial World
 “These are they who received not the gospel of Christ, neither the testimony of Jesus” (D&C 76:82). And yet, “These are they who deny not the Holy Spirit.  These are they who are thrust down to hell.”  And yet, they will not stay there.  “These are they who shall not be redeemed from the devil until the last resurrection, until the Lord, even Christ the Lamb, shall have finished his work” (D&C 76:83-85). 

“These are they who say they are some of one and some of another—some of Christ and some of John, and some of Moses, and some of Elias, and some of Esaias, and some of Isaiah, and some of Enoch; But received not the gospel, neither the testimony of Jesus, neither the prophets, neither the everlasting covenant” (D&C 76:100-101).

 "When Jesus came into the coasts of C├Žsarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I the Son of man am? And they said, Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets. He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am? And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven" (Matt. 16:13-18).

Knowing that Jesus is the CHRIST, the SON OF GOD and not just another great teacher is of utmost importance to our salvation. If we deny this, we are lumped together with ”liars, and sorcerers, and adulterers, and whoremongers, and whosoever loves and makes a lie.  These are they who suffer the wrath of God on earth.  These are they who suffer the vengeance of eternal fire. These are they who are cast down to hell and suffer the wrath of Almighty God, until the fulness of times, when Christ shall have subdued all enemies under his feet, and shall have perfected his work." (D&C 76:103-106).

They still will be resurrected to a kingdom of glory, because, unlike the devil and the sons of perdition, they did not deny the Holy Spirit, but they will have to sit in hell for quite some time, because that is the fruit of their actions on earth. Unfortunately, they are “as unnumerable as the stars in the [sky] or the sand upon the seashore. (See verse 109.)

And yet, “thus we saw, in the heavenly, vision, the glory of the telestial, which surpasses all understanding” (D&C 76: 89).  It will still be a glorious heaven, because eventually “These all shall bow the knee, and every tongue shall confess to him who sits upon the throne forever and ever” (D&C 76: 110). We can gain a testimony that Jesus is the Savior now, or we can gain it later, but when we gain it makes all the difference in eternity.

 photo from nasa.gov

The Vision of the Terrestrial World

“Behold, these are they who died without law; and also they who are the spirits of men kept in prison, whom the Son visited, and preached the gospel unto them, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh” (D&C 76:72-73).

Is it fair that these never had “the law,” or in other words, never had the chance to learn the gospel in this life?  Elder Melvin J. Ballard gives a reason why this might be so:

“Now, those who died without law, meaning the pagan nations, for lack of faithfulness, for lack of devotion in the previous life, are obtaining what they are entitled to. I don’t mean to say that all of them will be barred from entrance into the highest glory. Any one of them who repents and complies to the conditions might also obtain celestial glory, but the great bulk of them will only attain terrestrial glory” (Sermons of Melvin J. Ballard, p. 251).

These are they “Who received not the testimony of Jesus in the flesh, but afterwards received it.  These are they who are honorable men of the earth, who were blinded by the craftiness of men”  (D&C 76:74-75).

It seems unfair that the eternal reward of these people is messed up because others deceived them, but the reason this happened could only be that they listened to men, rather than listening to the promptings of the Spirit, which would have guided them to the truth. In the next life, they are given a second chance to gain a testimony of Jesus, and, as the scripture says, “every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is the Christ.” They will realize that he is the Christ while they are being taught in Spirit Prison.

Saddest of all in this group are those who knew the truth and let it go: “These are they who are not valiant in the testimony of Jesus; wherefore, they obtain not the crown over the kingdom of our God” (D&C 76:79).

President Ezra Taft Benson: “Not to be valiant in one’s testimony is a tragedy of eternal consequence. These are members who know this latter-day work is true but who fail to endure to the end. Some may even hold temple recommends, but do not magnify their callings in the Church. Without valor, they do not take an affirmative stand in the kingdom of God. Some seek the praise, adulation, and honors of men; others attempt to conceal their sins; and a few criticize those who preside over them” (Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, p. 292-293).

Who thinks you fit here? If you have sins, such as President Benson mentioned, you need to give them up and follow Christ, and you have that opportunity every Sacrament Meeting. Membership in the Church alone does not get you into the Celestial Kingdom, it is true. You cannot join the Church and then sit still. You must use the gift of the atonement, by exercising the first principles and ordinances of the gospel continually.

But too many times we think that because we didn’t ever make the cut as bishop or apostle or we didn’t have cute enough wood cut-out projects when we were den leaders, or we never learned to garden or can, we will be limited to the Terrestial Kingdom, because that is the place for mediocre people. The Celestial Kingdom, we think, is only for the few gospel valedictorians, or the doctrinal overachievers. However, that is not true:  To make mistakes, to have character flaws, to get tired, to try and not succeed, to find that your best was not quite good enough—that is not to not be valiant. That is to be human and to need a Savior.  The Celestial Kingdom will be full of people like this.

photo from lds.org

The Vision of the Resurrection of the Just (D&C 76: 50-70)

As we learned in Moses 6:60 last week, and as Joseph Smith had learned a year or two earlier, those who exercise faith in Christ and are baptized for the remission of their sins and receive the Gift of the Holy Ghost by one in authority, and who endure to the end (or, as verse 53 says, “overcome by faith,”) will be perfected in Christ so that they will belong here.  They will be Celestial people. Christ will “subdue all enemies under [their] feet,” even those within themselves. (See verse 61.) Just as we learned last week, they open the “gift” of grace by exercising the first principles and ordinances of the gospel, and they continue to use that gift throughout their lives by constantly trying to adhere to those principles and ordinances, and eventually, through Christ, all the difficulties will be overcome.

“ Wherefore, as it is written, they are gods, even the sons of God— Wherefore, all things are theirs, whether life or death, or things present, or things to come, all are theirs and they are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s. And they shall overcome all things. Wherefore, let no man glory in man, but rather let him glory in God, who shall subdue all enemies under his feet” (D&C 76:58-61).

There is another term for the members of this kingdom introduced to us here in this vision. D&C 76:54 – They are they who are the church of the Firstborn. The Church of the Firstborn. Where else can we find this in the scriptures? You really have to hunt. The Topical Guide and the Bible Dictionary will not help you much. It is found in the Joseph Smith Translation appendix in the beautiful passage which I call the “Covenant of the Rainbow,” given to Noah after the flood. JST Genesis 9:21-23 –

And the bow shall be in the cloud; and I will look upon it, that I may remember the everlasting covenant, which I made unto thy father Enoch; that, when men should keep all my commandments, Zion should again come on the earth, the city of Enoch which I have caught up unto myself.

And this is mine everlasting covenant, that when thy posterity shall embrace the truth, and look upward, then shall Zion look downward, and all the heavens shall shake with gladness, and the earth shall tremble with joy;

And the general assembly of the church of the firstborn shall come down out of heaven, and possess the earth, and shall have place until the end come. And this is mine everlasting covenant, which I made with thy father Enoch.

The Church of the Firstborn is the City of Enoch, or Zion. When we “embrace the truth, and look upward,” (as we have said, we get on the path and keep heading in the right direction), Zion will “look downward” upon us and “come down out of heaven and possess the earth.” That would be the Celestial Kingdom, This is the covenant of Enoch.

“They are they into whose hands the Father has given all things— They are they who are priests and kings, who have received of his fulness, and of his glory; And are priests of the Most High, after the order of Melchizedek, which was after the order of Enoch, which was after the order of the Only Begotten Son” (D&C 76:55-57).

Where else can we find the order of Melchizedek and the order of Enoch in the scriptures? Speaking of Melchizedek , “And thus, having been approved of God, he was ordained an high priest after the order of the covenant which God made with Enoch, It being after the order of the Son of God; which order came, not by man, nor the will of man; neither by father nor mother; neither by beginning of days nor end of years; but of God; And it was delivered unto men by the calling of his own voice, according to his own will, unto as many as believed on his name.”  (JST Genesis 14:27-29) 

This wonderful covenant of the order of Melchizedek and the order of Enoch, is offered simple to “as many as [believe] on his name.” (See verse 29.) The people of Melchizedek kept the covenant of their father Enoch.  “And his people wrought righteousness, and obtained heaven, and sought for the city of Enoch which God had before taken, separating it from the earth, having reserved it unto the latter days, or the end of the world...And this Melchizedek, having thus established righteousness, was called the king of heaven by his people, or, in other words, the King of peace”  (JST Genesis 14:34, 36).

Photograph from lds.org

They embraced the truth and looked upward, and joined Zion in Heaven, just as we will be able to do someday, through the grace of Christ, if we keep those same covenants.

Being of the Church of the Firstborn, of the Order of Melchizedek and the Order of Enoch, and the Order of the Son of God, are marvelous and beautiful titles, but when it comes down to it, they are all summed up easily in D&C 76:69 – “These are they who are just men made perfect through Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, who wrought out this perfect atonement through the shedding of his own blood.  They are “just men” (justified by Christ’s atonement, or made holy and worthy of the Celestial Kingdom—but it is also appropriate to say, they are “just men” or simply men or ordinary men, made perfect by Christ).

If you are a member of the Church, but do not fit in the pattern of one who is “valiant in the testimony of Christ,” you just need one sacrament meeting to start becoming so. And then by the next week, you will need the next sacrament meeting to keep “looking to Heaven.” And so on until you get there.


As my favorite Bruce R. McConkie quote goes:

“As members of the Church, if we chart a course leading to eternal life; if we begin the processes of spiritual rebirth, and are going in the right direction; if we chart a course of sanctifying our souls, and degree by degree are going in that direction; and if we chart a course of becoming perfect, and step by step and phase by phase, are perfecting our souls by overcoming the world, then it is absolutely guaranteed—there is no question whatever about it—we shall gain eternal life.  Even though we have spiritual rebirth ahead of us, perfection ahead of us, the full degree of sanctification ahead of us, if we chart a course and follow it to the best of our ability in this life, then when we go out of this life we’ll continue in exactly that same course.  We’ll no longer be subject to the passions and the appetites of the flesh.  We will have passed successfully the tests of this mortal probation and in due course we’ll get the fullness of our Father’s kingdom—and that means eternal life in his everlasting presence.”  (Bruce R. McConkie, "Jesus Christ and Him Crucified," Brigham Young University 1976 Devotional Speeches of the Year, p. 400-401, quoted in Robert Millet, Within Reach, p. 14—emphasis added.  The entire speech is available online at this link.)

“And thus we saw the glory of the celestial, which excels in all things—where God, even the Father, reigns upon his throne forever and ever;  Before whose throne all things bow in humble reverence, and give him glory forever and ever. They who dwell in his presence are the church of the Firstborn; and they see as they are seen, and know as they are known, having received of his fulness and of his grace;
And he makes them equal in power, and in might, and in dominion” (D&C 76:92-95).


CONCLUSION

As Joseph Smith said: “Nothing could be more pleasing to the Saints…than the light which burst upon the world through [that] vision. Every law, every commandment, every promise, every truth, and every point touching the destiny of man, from Genesis to Revelation, where the purity of the scriptures remains unsullied by the folly of men, go to show the perfection of the theory, and witnesses the fact that the document is a transcript from the records of the eternal world, the sublimity of the ideas; the purity of the language, the scope for action; the continued duration for completion, in order that the heirs of salvation may confess the Lord and bow the knee; the rewards for faithfulness, and the punishments for sin, are so much beyond the narrow-mindedness of men, that every honest man is constrained to explain: “It came from God” (Histoy of the Church 1:252-253).

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Doctrine and Covenants Lesson #19 The Plan of Salvation

Visual Aids:
A princess doll or a picture of a princess or a tiara

Beautifully wrapped gift, with a picture of Christ inside


Write on the board, “And they lived happily ever after”


INTRODUCTION


Hand out the following story segments from the fairy tale “Cinderella” to class members.  Have them read in random order.

Once there was a lovely young girl named Cinderella.  She lived in a mansion with her father and mother, who loved her very, very much.

Sadly, Cinderella's mother died and her father remarried after which her father also died.  

Cinderella, her stepmother and stepsisters became poor and moved to a cottage.  

Although Cinderella's stepmother treated her unkindly and forced her to work all day like a slave, Cinderella maintained her kind and loving character.

One day the Prince held a ball in order to find a suitable wife.  

Cinderella's stepmother and stepsisters went to the ball without her.  Cinderella had no way to get there, and no dress to wear.

In the midst of her despair, Cinderella's Fairy Godmother appeared, turned mice into horses, and a pumpkin into a golden carriage so that she could get to ball.

Then she dressed Cinderella in a beautiful gown with jewels, and sent her to the palace.  

At the ball, Cinderella won the Prince's heart. 

Cinderella had to leave the ball without revealing her identity.

On the way out of the castle, she lost one of her glass slippers.

The Prince found the glass slipper and searched the kingdom, looking for its owner.  

Finally the Prince found Cinderella.  Although she was in servant's clothing, he knew she was the right girl because she fit the slipper.  

The Prince took Cinderella to his castle where they were married.  And they lived happily ever after. 

If you take one piece of the story out of context of the whole plot, it makes very little sense, doesn't it? Even if we put these segments in order, it wouldn’t make too much sense without the beginning and the end of the story. The beginning of the story is that Cinderella’s mother and father loved her dearly, but her mother died, and her father remarried. After he died the true nature of the mean and selfish stepmother was revealed in her treatment of Cinderella. And the end of the story is that Cinderella, having kept the kind and noble character her father blessed her with, met and married Prince Charming and lived with him in the castle, happily ever after.

Just like this story, or like a three-act play, our existence has three parts. We are in the middle part, right now, here on earth. As President Packer says, “The one in which you will be tested by temptation, by trials, and perhaps by tragedy.” And then he says, “Remember this! The line ‘And they all lived happily ever after’ is never written into the second act. That line belongs in the third act, when the mysteries are solved and everything is put right.” (The Play and the Plan Satellite Broadcast May 7, 1995. Quoted in manual p. 108)

So, let’s very briefly look at the whole play, all three acts of the story of our existence.

THE STAGE SETTINGS



(Draw the classic map of “the plan of salvation” with pre-existence, veil & birth, earth life, veil & death, spirit world, divided into paradise and prison, judgment, and the three kingdoms.) Now, we tend to label this little diagram, “The Plan of Salvation,” but this is not the plan of salvation. Let me say that one more time: this is not the plan of salvation. This is merely the chronology of our existence, the framework within which the plan of salvation works, or, we could say, the stage settings for the play. (Label the chart “Chronology of Existence.”

We could just as well draw the stage settings for the fairy tale of Cinderella. (Draw boxes labeled “mansion” under the preexistence, “cottage” under earth life, and “castle” under the three kingdoms.)

THE PLAN OF SALVATION

So if this is not the plan of salvation, what is? Moses 6:58-62 --

“Therefore I give unto you a commandment, to teach these things freely unto your children, saying:

That by reason of transgression cometh the fall, which fall bringeth death, and inasmuch as ye were born into the world by water, and blood, and the spirit, which I have made, and so became of dust a living soul, even so ye must be born again into the kingdom of heaven, of water, and of the Spirit, and be cleansed by blood, even the blood of mine Only Begotten; that ye might be sanctified from all sin, and enjoy the words of eternal life in this world, and eternal life in the world to come, even immortal glory;

For by the water ye keep the commandment; by the Spirit ye are justified, and by the blood ye are sanctified;

Therefore it is given to abide in you; the record of heaven; the Comforter; the peaceable things of immortal glory; the truth of all things; that which quickeneth all things, which maketh alive all things; that which knoweth all things, and hath all power according to wisdom, mercy, truth, justice, and judgment.

And now, behold, I say unto you: This is the plan of salvation unto all men, through the blood of mine Only Begotten, who shall come in the meridian of time.”

So, what did it say? “This is the plan of salvation,” and the entire thing operates “through the blood of mine Only Begotten who shall come in the meridian of time.” Obviously, after reading that, we can see that this chart here on the board is not the plan of salvation because the whole thing operates through the blood of Christ and he isn’t even mentioned here. And the three essential elements to the plan, water, blood, and spirit, are also not noted on this chart. There is nothing wrong with this chart, unless we are going to label it the Plan of Salvation.

But it is the stage setting for the plot, which includes the Plan of Salvation.

The plot, very briefly, as noted in Moses 6 is this: In the pre-existence, we were all spirit children of our Father. He wanted us to be able to progress to be like him and to be with him, where we could be happy. (That’s why the plan is also called the Plan of Happiness.) This required our gaining knowledge and experience. It also required placing us in a perilous position from which we could not recover on our own, that of mortal existence with its failings and temptations. To remedy this problem, he planned that a Savior would pay the price to enable us to succeed. That solution is the Plan of Salvation. We could also call it the Gospel, as it is called in 3 Nephi 27.

“Behold I have given unto you my gospel, and this is the gospel which I have given unto you—that I came into the world to do the will of my Father, because my Father sent me.

And my Father sent me that I might be lifted up upon the cross; and after that I had been lifted up upon the cross, that I might draw all men unto me, that as I have been lifted up by men even so should men be lifted up by the Father, to stand before me, to be judged of their works, whether they be good or whether they be evil—”

And for this cause have I been lifted up; therefore, according to the power of the Father I will draw all men unto me, that they may be judged according to their works.  (3 Nephi 27:13-15)

Even if we have been members of the Church all our lives, we sometimes do not understand the gospel (the plan of salvation). There are some who think that there is no way that they will ever be good enough to get into the Celestial Kingdom. They have learned this chart on the board very well, but this chart is missing the essential element of the plan of salvation. If at the end of the lesson, any of you still think that there is no chance you will gain exaltation, I will have failed as a teacher. And I don’t want to fail, so listen up!

SALVATION IS A GIFT OF GRACE

Let’s take a look at someone who did not feel that way. Moroni (before he became an angel) was very certain that he would “make it” to heaven.

“And now I bid unto all, farewell. I soon go to rest in the paradise of God, until my spirit and body shall again reunite, and I am brought forth triumphant through the air, to meet you before the pleasing bar of the great Jehovah, the Eternal Judge of both quick and dead. Amen.”  (Moroni 10:34)

Moroni was a good guy, but he lived in a very wicked world and he even fought in wars that did not have just causes, and that troubled him; he wasn’t sure that he should. He had suffered many evils and he was not perfect because he was mortal like us, yet he was absolutely certain that he would be “brought forth triumphant through the air.” Why? Right before these last mortal words of his, he shared his reason. The key to it is found in a word we don’t use too often as Latter-day Saints, but we most certainly should. He uses this word 5 times in these two verses. See if you can identify it.

“Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ; and if by the grace of God ye are perfect in Christ, ye can in nowise deny the power of God.

And again, if ye by the grace of God are perfect in Christ, and deny not his power, then are ye sanctified in Christ by the grace of God, through the shedding of the blood of Christ, which is in the covenant of the Father unto the remission of your sins, that ye become holy, without spot.

And now I bid unto all, farewell. I soon go to rest in the paradise of God, until my spirit and body shall again reunite, and I am brought forth triumphant through the air, to meet you before the pleasing bar of the great Jehovah, the Eternal Judge of both quick and dead. Amen.”  (Moroni 10:32-34)

What is the key word? Grace! All of this perfection is done, not by not making any mistakes, and not even by keeping all of the commandments, but by the grace of Christ. “By his grace ye may be perfect in Christ.” It is not possible to become perfect by yourself, we only become perfect through the grace of Christ.

Unfortunately, it is beyond us to comprehend grace. Grace, like the atonement it is linked with, defies definition. But maybe we can come fairly close if we say that grace is God’s mercy and love as shown in everything that exists, but especially as manifested in the atonement. Grace is a gift, freely given from Christ. Elder Todd Christofferson says,

“Given the magnitude of the gift of grace, we would never suppose, even with all the good we could possibly do in this life, that we had earned it. It is just too great.” (June 2001 Ensign, p. 22)

D&C 14:7 -- “And, if you keep my commandments and endure to the end you shall have eternal life, which gift is the greatest of all the gifts of God.” We sometimes think that keeping the commandments and enduring to the end alone is what qualifies us for eternal life, and that’s why we are afraid we are not going to make the grade, but this scripture clearly tells us that eternal life is a gift, not an achievement. Romans 6:23 – “…the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” So why does D&C 14 tell us that we have to keep the commandments and endure to the end, if eternal life is given freely through the grace of Jesus Christ? This is what confuses our born-again friends.

RECEIVING THE GIFT

Suppose it was my birthday and my friend Janet who always gives delightful little gifts, brought a package and left it on my doorstep. But suppose that I was out of town, and didn’t see it there, and the neighbor who was watching over our house put it on the worktable in the garage with the mail and the newspapers, but our cat knocked it off and it was lost forever (which you would find very easy to believe if you had ever been in our garage).  Janet had freely given the gift, but I did not receive it, and therefore never opened it. The gift did me no good.

Christ gives us the gift of his grace freely, but we must accept it and open it. How do we open it? Through the first principles and ordinances of the gospel. We learn about Christ and exercise faith in him to repent of our sins. Then we are baptized and receive the Gift of the Holy Ghost, and at that point, we have opened the gift. (Open gift to show picture of Christ.) We are removed from our sinful state through the grace of Christ.

I remember so clearly the year that my dad figured out how to pick out an excellent Mother’s Day gift for my mother. When she opened it, I loved it too. It was an adorable little crystal basket, with a little handle—too small to be good for anything, but so cute. My mom was delighted and amazed. My dad confessed how he picked out a gift that she liked so well. He said that he simply went into the store and picked the item that looked the least useful. 
 
The gift of grace is not like that kind of gift, however. It is not meant to be opened and then set on a shelf. It is more like a bread mixer, or a scroll saw, or a vacuum cleaner—it is meant to be used every day. When we fall short because of our human nature and the faults of the world we live in, we can call upon Christ’s grace to save us. This is the part of the plan of salvation that is called “enduring to the end.” We simply continue to exercise those principles that we used to open the gift in the first place: We exercise enough faith in Christ to repent of our sins and be filled once again with the Holy Ghost, through renewing our covenants at sacrament meeting.

JUSTIFICATION AND SANCTIFICATION

Elder Christofferson tells us that the fruits of the Atonement’s infinite virtue (that is, grace) are justification and sanctification. It is important to understand the difference between these two concepts because it helps us understand what the atonement (grace) does for us. Those of us who worry that we will not “make it into the Celestial Kingdom” maybe understand the concept of justification, but not the concept of sanctification.

Just as in Moses 6:59 it said that the elements of water and blood and spirit are all present at our mortal birth, and so we became of mere dust, living souls, we also must be born again into the Kingdom of God, and that way we can become of mere mortals, exalted beings.  “For by the water ye keep the commandment; by the Spirit ye are justified, and by the blood ye are sanctified.” (Moses 6:60)

THE GIFT OF GRACE

I hope that I am not making light of the atonement by referring back to the fairy tale of Cinderella, but it occurred to me that Walt Disney, in his animated version of the story, illustrated beautifully the concepts of justification and sanctification. Cinderella longed to leave behind her position as a scullery maid and go to the ball at the palace, but it was absolutely impossible for her. There was no way for her to get there. It was just as impossible as it is for us to get to heaven. But then her fairy godmother appeared and provided for her the transportation by turning some mice and a pumpkin into a beautiful golden carriage. That is something like justification. We have all broken the laws of God and those sins keep us out of heaven. Justification is Christ providing transportation for us into the Celestial Kingdom because we don’t have the ability to get there on our own. It’s like he has paid our bail to get us out of jail. Our sins are forgiven, but their effects upon us remain.

If you recall the Disney movie, the next thing that happened was that Cinderella looked down at herself and realized that it didn’t matter whether she had a golden carriage or not; she was completely unfit for the ball. She was dirty and dressed in rags. She would be miserable in the palace, and would be much more comfortable staying home, sitting in the corner by the chimney than going in the state she was. When the fairy godmother noticed that, she not only changed Cinderella’s clothing to a beautiful gown, she changed Cinderella herself from a soot-covered slave dressed in rags to a beautiful princess, perfectly fit for the royal extravaganza. That is something like sanctification. Sanctification is Christ transforming us so that we belong in heaven with him—our rags are changed into bejeweled robes, our faces our washed clean, a crown is placed upon our heads, and even our lineage is changed to that of royalty as children of Christ.

Another place we can find a clarification between justification and sanctification is in the song “Away in a Manger.” There are several versions of the third verse of this song. When I was in Primary, the Primary song book had this version:

Be near me, Lord Jesus, I ask thee to stay

Close by me forever, and love me, I pray.

Bless all the dear children in thy tender care,

And take us to heaven to live with thee there.

But now, as you look in the current hymnbook, there is a different version which says:

Bless all the dear children in thy tender care,

And fit us for heaven to live with thee there.

Both versions are doctrinally correct. The first version describes justification; the second describes sanctification. Maybe we should just add a repeat sign to that measure of the song and sing


And take us to heaven and fit us for heaven to live with thee there.

CONCLUSION

In review, the plan of salvation, or the gospel, is the plan for us to be saved and exalted with Heavenly Father and live “happily ever after.” This plan operates through the infinite virtue of the atonement of Christ, which virtue is also known as grace. Grace consists of two parts: Justification, or the removal of sins, and 
sanctification, or the purifying of the soul. And all of this is a gift, a wonderful gift that we open when we are baptized into the kingdom. Unlike Cinderella’s experience, though, the changing of the soul into royalty is a long-term project, once again accomplished through the grace of Christ, but bit by bit, as we continue along in life, trying to do our best, trying to keep our covenants. As the scriptures say, we must grow in grace. (D&C 50:40.)

Bruce R. McConkie, the pickiest and most perfectionist of all the apostles I remember, and the most well-versed in the doctrines of Christ, (for you younger people who don’t remember him, he was kind of like Dallin Oaks, only more so), and even as perfectionist as he was, he said,

“Everyone in the Church who is on the straight and narrow path, who is striving and struggling and desiring to do what is right, though far from perfect in this life; if he passes out of this life while he’s on the straight and narrow, he’s going to go on to eternal reward in his Father’s kingdom."  ("The Probationary Test of Mortality," address given at University of Utah, Jan. 1982, p. 2, also found in Joseph McConkie, The Bruce R. McConkie Story, p. 293.  See more of this talk on this blog and this website)

“And for this cause have I been lifted up; therefore, according to the power of the Father I will draw all men unto me, that they may be judged according to their works.

And it shall come to pass, that whoso repenteth and is baptized in my name shall be filled; and if he endureth to the end, behold, him will I hold guiltless before my Father at that day when I shall stand to judge the world.”  (3 Nephi 27:15-16)

Have you repented and been baptized? Have you been filled (with the Gift of the Holy Ghost)? Then all that remains for you to do is to endure to the end. And what does that mean? It simply means to continue. Continue to exercise faith in Christ unto repentance, so that you have the Spirit with you more and more to sanctify your souls, as we are promised in the sacramental prayers.

You may like to close with the beautiful and inspiring song “Amazing Grace,” which has my vote for the next hymnbook. It’s doctrinally correct, even including Celestial Glory and Eternal life – it just doesn’t mention the ordinances.  (But neither does “I Stand All Amazed”)  You can have a class member sing it, play a Mormon Tabernacle Choir version off YouTube, or play my favorite from a Logan East Stake native, Christina England Hale, available for free online with this link.  (Thanks, Christina!!!!  What a lovely resource!)
  
If you want to know more about every aspect of grace, go to Michaela Stephen's thorough blog post.
Additional resource:  Teachings from the D&C Video, “The Plan of Salvation,” 4:24 minutes.

Doctrine and Covenants Lesson #18 "Establish a House of God"

TEMPLE BUILDING IN THE LATTER DAYS


This painting by the amazing Walter Rane is from JosephSmith.net.



The sacrifices of the early Saints to build their first temples are legendary.  Here are examples of just a few.

VILATE KIMBALL

“Our women were engaged in knitting and spinning, in order to clothe those who were laboring at the building.  And the Lord only knows the scenes of poverty, and tribulation and distress, which we all passed through to accomplish it.  My wife would toil all summer.  She took 100 pounds of wool to spin on shares which, with the assistance of a girl, she spun, in order to furnish clothing for those engaged in building the temple.  And although she had the privilege of keeping half the quantity of wool for herself, as her recompense for her labor, she did not reserve even so much as would make a pair of stockings.  She spun and wove and got the cloth dressed and cut and made up into garments, and gave them to the laborers.  Almost all the sisters in Kirtland labored in knitting, sewing, spinning, etc, for the same purpose, while we went up to Missouri” (Heber C. Kimball quoted in Kelly, Latter-day History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, p. 163).


JOHN TANNER

Sometimes it’s easier to give when you don’t have very much to lose.  When a man has a lot of wealth, sometimes he tends to define himself by it and cling to it like a lifeboat.  But not John Tanner.

John Tanner was a wealthy convert.  He had outlived two wives, and then married a third (having a total of 21 children!) when the missionaries found him.  His infected leg was healed by the missionaries, and the next day he was baptized.  He committed to help the church and sustain the prophet.  He was so wealthy that he used six wagons to move his family from New York to Kirtland, and provided ten more for other church members.

The day after his arrival in Kirtland in early 1835, he met with Joseph Smith and the high council and lent them $2,000 to pay off the mortgage on the temple property, plus another $13,000 for other purposes.  He contributed to the temple building fund, and he signed a $30,000 note for merchandise to help Saints move to Kirtland.  (Whoa!  $30,000 in 1835!!!)

When he moved his family from Kirtland to gather with the saints in Missouri three years later, he had to borrow a wagon.  He had very little money left.  He endured all the trials of Missouri and Illnois.  Despite his humble circumstances, a few months before Joseph Smith was killed, “John returned the $2,000 noted signed in Kirtland as a gift to the Prophet and was blessed by Joseph that he and his posterity would never beg for bread.”

He provided food and help to the saints as they left Nauvoo, arriving in Salt Lake City himself in 1848.  He died two years later, a faithful and humble friend to the end (Garr, Cannon and Cowan, Encyclopedia of Latter-day Saint History, p. 1219-1220).

REYNOLDS CAHOON



Reynolds Cahoon had left Kirtland to serve a mission to Missouri.  After his release, he asked whether he could return to Missouri, to “Zion.”  The answer given was no, he was needed to serve on the Kirtland Temple building committee (D&C 94:14-15).  He fulfilled that position well.

Later his family was chased out of Kirtland with the rest of the saints, and then chased out of Missouri, finally settling in Nauvoo.  Again Brother Cahoon was called to the temple building committee, a calling which scared the daylights out of him.  “I think I never was placed in so critical a position since I was born,” he said.

He moved to Salt Lake City with the saints and died there in 1861.  His obituary in the Deseret News called him, “a true friend to the prophet of God while he was living, full of integrity and love for the truth and always acted cheerfully the part assigned him in the great work of the last Days.”  (Susan Easton Black, Who’s Who in the Doctrine and Covenants, p. 46-48)





SACRIFICE REWARDED

It took the saints 3 years to build the Kirtland Temple, and they had to leave it behind after only two years of service, but they took with them the blessings they had received through sacrificing to build the temple and through their participation in the temple after it was built.  The physical body of the temple decayed (later to be restored) but the spirit of the temple moved on with the saints and is still with us today.

BECOMING A TEMPLE PEOPLE

President Howard W. Hunter encouraged us to become “a temple people.”  Have you had to make any sacrifices to become "a temple person?"  

Since his prophetic call, temple building has expanded hugely.  141 temples are operating today, with 13 under construction, and 16 more announced.  That will bring the total to 160.

I hold the copyright to this picture of the Logan Temple,
but feel free to use it for teaching purposes.

Depending on whether you want to get more spiritual and personal, or whether you want to just have a fun class period, you can either ask class members which temple has a special place in their heart and why, or you can use this link for a temple trivia game from LDS Living, or this one for the LDSChurchTemples.  

TEMPLE MINI-QUIZ

How many temples are there on the earth? As of May 2017, the answer is 155 in operation, 14 under construction, and 13 announced, for a total of 182. You can find current statistics here.

This cute little temple, not quite as big as the stake center next door to it, was the first of the tiny temples commissioned by President Hinckley to serve remote areas.  Where is it?

 
                Monticello, Utah.  
Photo from LDSChurchTemples.com.

This gorgeous mountainside temple is decorated with a sego lily theme. Where is it?

Draper, Utah.  
Photo by Ryan Houston posted on Google Earth. 

This is the northernmost temple in the world. Where is it?

Anchorage, Alaska, USA
Photo from LDSTemples.com

WHICH NEW TEMPLES WILL BE DEDICATED IN 2017?

Cedar City, Utah
Dedication: December 10, 2017
Photo from LDSChurchTemples.com

 Meridian, Idaho
Dedication: November 19, 2017
Photo from LDSChurchTemples.com

Tucson, Arizona
Dedication: August 13, 2017
Photo from LDSChurchTemples.com


Paris, France
Dedication: May 21, 2017
Photo from ldschurchtemples.com