Sunday, August 5, 2018

What is the Iron Rod? (Part 6 - Conclusion)

There is so little that is uplifting and good in this world. It seems like the world grows darker with every passing day. I began writing this series because I felt a desire to share with others something that has uplifted me and that could uplift others who are struggling with their faith.

However, if what I have written does not resonate with you, feel free to disregard it. I am nobody, and there’s no reason to accept anything I write without the confirmation of the Spirit.

Since the enlightenment that I received in the doctor’s office (mentioned in the previous post), I’ve continued to ponder and study and seek understanding. I am still doing so. I certainly don’t have all the answers. This post is just my current thoughts on the subject of how to lay hold upon the rod of iron.

My question from the last post was: if Christ is the iron rod, then how do I lay hold upon it or him? What would that even mean? I wouldn’t expect it to be something complicated. It must be something accessible to all, as God is willing to save all mankind.

I recently finished reading the Lectures on Faith again (hereafter referred to as “LoF”). These lectures were originally presented in the School of the Prophets under the direction of Joseph Smith, and then edited by him and added, by common consent of the Church, to the first edition of the Doctrine & Covenants in 1835. I consider them to be the best treatise anywhere about faith in God; describing both what it is and how to develop it.

There is a sentence in the seventh and last lecture that has really stuck with me:
“For God must change, otherwise faith will prevail with him.”
Similarly, Hebrews 11:6 reads:
“But without faith it is impossible to please him, for he that comes to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.”
In the common parlance of today, we use faith to describe someone’s belief system, or what religion they belong to. This is not at all how the scriptures define faith. The letter to the Hebrews calls faith the “assurance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen”. The first Lecture on Faith describes it as “the moving cause of all action” as well as “a principle of power”, saying that it was by faith that God created the heavens and the earth. The Book of Mormon describes faith in the context of receiving the Holy Ghost, working miracles, and seeing angels. In fact, it says if these things do not occur, then there is no faith (and thus, no salvation). (See Moroni 7:35-38)

Faith may begin very small, like a mustard seed.

A Mustard Seed

 However, when it is nurtured and developed it can grow into a very large tree.

A Mustard Tree

Indeed, “when it is grown, it is the greatest among herbs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air [i.e. angels] come and lodge in the branches thereof”. (Matthew 13:32)

The important thing to note here is that I am talking about faith in God. This is distinct from faith in a man, faith in a religious leader, faith in an organized religion, or a creed, or the Bible, or revelations from the Spirit world, etc. Faith in anything other than in God lacks the power to save. Faith must be centered upon, even riveted upon God. If your religious hope or trust is placed in anyone or anything else, then it is misplaced.

While I was pondering on the way to lay hold on the rod of iron, a scenario presented itself to my mind. What if there was a man who had genuine faith in God? Does it ultimately matter that the scriptures have errors, or that false prophets abound, or that false spirits prey upon us, seeking those they can “sift as wheat”? Do any of those things have the power to keep God away from a man who has genuine faith in Him?

Here is what Mormon wrote:
“...have angels ceased to appear unto the children of men? Or has he withheld the power of the Holy Ghost from them? Or will he, so long as time shall last, or the earth shall stand, or there shall be one man upon the face thereof to be saved? Behold I say unto you, Nay; for it is by faith that miracles are wrought; and it is by faith that angels appear and minister unto men; wherefore, if these things have ceased wo be unto the children of men, for it is because of unbelief, and all is vain.” (Moroni 7:36-37)
Faith prevails with God. It always does. But without it, it is impossible to please Him. Therefore, if you would lay hold upon the rod of iron-if you would hold fast unto it-then you must begin with faith. Without it, you can do nothing (D&C 8:10).

Great faith appears to be a rare thing in this toxic world we live in. When it appears, it always seems tenuous and fleeting. It is possible that there are many that believe they have repented, been baptized, and received the gift of the Holy Ghost, and yet they haven't ever exercised the required degree of faith. Without the required faith, those other things would lack the power to save, because without faith there is no salvation. (Moroni 7:38)
Let us here observe that after any portion of the human family are made acquainted with the important fact that there is a God who has created and does uphold all things, the extent of their knowledge, respecting his character and glory, will depend upon their diligence and faithfulness in seeking after him, until like Enoch, the brother of Jared, and Moses, they shall obtain faith in God and power with him to behold him face to face. (LoF 2:56)
How do men obtain a knowledge of the glory of God, his perfections and attributes?
A: By devoting themselves to his service, through prayer and supplication incessantly, strengthening their faith in him, until like Enoch, the brother of Jared, and Moses, they obtain a manifestation of God to themselves. (LoF 2: Question 146)
Joseph used Enoch, the Brother of Jared, and Moses as examples of men with great faith. Why was their faith great? Because each of them sought God, and found Him, because of their faith in Him. The purpose of exercising faith in God is to obtain a manifestation of God for oneself. In its fulness, this manifestation will consist of knowing God, which is the definition of eternal life. (See John 17:3)
 ...we will find it the testimony of all inspired men or Heavenly messengers that all things that pertain to life and godliness are the effects of faith and nothing else: all learning, wisdom, and prudence fail, and everything else as a means of salvation but faith. This is the reason that the fishermen of Galilee could teach the world — because they sought by faith and by faith obtained...This is the reason that the Former Day Saints knew more and understood more of Heaven and of Heavenly things than all others beside, because this information is the effect of faith — to be obtained by no other means. And this is the reason, that men, as soon as they lose their faith, run into strifes, contentions, darkness and difficulties. For the knowledge which tends to life disappears with faith, but returns when faith returns, for when faith comes, it brings its train of attendants with it — apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, teachers, gifts, wisdom, knowledge, miracles, healings, tongues, interpretation of tongues, etc. All these appear when faith appears on the earth and disappear when it disappears from the earth. For these are the effects of faith, and always have and always will attend it. For where faith is, there will the knowledge of God be also, with all things which pertain thereto — revelations, visions, and dreams, as well as every other necessary thing in order that the possessors of faith may be perfected and obtain salvation. For God must change, otherwise faith will prevail with him. And he who possesses it will, through it, obtain all necessary knowledge and wisdom until he shall know God and the Lord Jesus Christ whom he has sent, whom to know is Eternal life. Amen. (LoF 7:20)
So, the one who possesses faith will never lack for the knowledge of God. Everything that is necessary in order that the possessor of faith can be perfected and obtain salvation is acquired by faith in the Lord. Seeing these things, what else could allow one to lay hold upon the iron rod except faith in God?

Genuine, enduring faith in God has the power to render all the tools of the adversary powerless, to pierce the mists of darkness, and bring the man of God on a straight course to the tree of life; because God always favors those who have faith in Him. The one with faith in God will be endowed with the word of God that "is quick and powerful, sharper than a two-edged sword, to the dividing asunder of both joints and marrow". (D&C 12:2) By this means, the man of God can have the scriptures laid open to his understanding. He will be able to tell the false prophets from the true messengers and know the workings of all spirits. Nothing will be withheld from those who have faith. Christ is "mighty to save" and can guide any honest seeker to the truth.

Here, then, is the good news. We are all authorized to exercise faith in God. We are all authorized to strengthen our faith in Him until, like Enoch, the Brother of Jared, and Moses, we obtain a manifestation of God for ourselves. The scriptures, especially the Book of Mormon, are filled with promises like this:
Behold, I say unto you that whoso believeth in Christ, doubting nothing, whatsoever he shall ask the Father in the name of Christ it shall be granted him; and this promise is unto all, even unto the ends of the earth. (Mormon 9:21)
 May we all accept the invitation the Lord has extended to have faith in Him unto salvation. May we all lay hold upon (and "continually hold fast" onto) the iron rod. May the Lord "find faith on the earth" again.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

What is the Iron Rod? (Part 5)

In the last three posts, I have looked at the scriptures, prophets, and personal revelation. These are the three primary means of communication between God and man. However, all three of them are flawed in some way. In each case, there must be individual discernment of truth and error. None of them can always provide the pure, unspoiled word of God. Therefore, they all fall short of the standard of the iron rod in Lehi’s dream. The iron rod was able, without fail, to guide all who lay hold upon it to the tree of life. Where can one turn to find something that true and perfect in this corrupt world? What is the iron rod really?

This question had troubled me for many months. I prayed earnestly many times for wisdom. I saw so much confusion in the religious world, and so many flaws in what has been left behind by previous dispensations that I couldn’t see how there could possibly be an iron rod. But, I believed James 1:5 to be true. I believed God could give me wisdom to see what I couldn’t see for myself.

In order to share the answer I received to my prayers, I first want to recount a recent personal experience. It may seem unrelated, but bear with me. There is a point.

My family has two pet cats. One cat is about 14 years old. He’s our grumpy senior citizen. The other cat is only 4 years old, so he’s still young and spry. I have often, in the past, picked up the younger cat by the scruff of his neck in order to carry him around and he’s never had a problem with it.

Several weeks ago, my wife was out of town with my daughters, so it was just me and my son at home. I was putting the two cats away for the night. Tonight, however, my older cat was sitting in a spot that made him a little difficult to pick up any other way, so without thinking, I grabbed him by the scruff of the neck and picked him up. At first he complained only a little, but as I started walking him over to the room where they go at night, he freaked out on me. He started acting crazy as if I was trying to kill him; screeching, twisting, biting, and scratching me in whatever way he could. At that moment, I panicked. I didn’t understand why he was acting this way. I assumed that if I let him go he would continue attacking me. So, my split-second decision was to not let go of him and put him in his room (which was only a few feet away) as fast as I could.

However, as I made this decision, I started feeling sharp pains in my left calf. I looked down and found that my younger cat had come to the “rescue” of his older feline friend and was proceeding to viciously bite and claw my leg. All I could think to do (while still holding the furious older cat in my left hand) was to reach down with my right hand and grab the younger cat (also by the scruff) and then throw the both of them into their room and shut the door. This all happened in a matter of seconds.

Once the two cats were safely put away, I examined myself and found multiple bite marks and scratches on both hands and up my arm. I also found several bites on my legs, one which was very deep. By this time, I was exhausted. So, I tried to clean myself up by taking a shower and hastily applying some bandages. Then, I went to bed.

The next day, I went to the office as usual, but by midday I was feeling foggy in the brain. I also started feeling body aches, like what is common with a fever. I realized I was getting an infection. So, I checked out of work and went straight to an Urgent Care facility. I was in the lobby for some time, waiting for them to call my name. Then, after the nurse had seen me, I waited again in an empty office for what seemed like an hour, waiting for the doctor to come look at me.

As I sat there - humbled, in a daze because of the fever, and feeling sorry for myself - I remembered once again what I had been praying for. I decided to pass the time by praying once again for understanding. I prayed to know what the iron rod is.

The answer came quickly, in a flash of understanding. I believe it came then, because I was now humble enough to receive it. The answer surprised me. It was something that I had never considered before. Yet, at the same time, I immediately knew it was true; because as soon as it came, a flood of scriptures came to mind that confirmed it to me.

The iron rod is Jesus Christ. I wasn’t given to understand that to mean Christ’s words, which can be altered, or knowledge about Christ. The iron rod is Christ Himself or the person of Christ. I didn’t comprehend what that meant, at first. How can someone lay hold upon a person?

Then, these scriptures came to mind.
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
2 The same was in the beginning with God.
3 All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.
4 In him was life; and the life was the light of men.
5 And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not...
10 He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not.
11 He came unto his own, and his own received him not.
12 But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name:
13 Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.
14 And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth. (John 1:1-5, 10-14)
10 Be it known unto you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead, even by him doth this man stand here before you whole.
11 This is the stone which was set at nought of you builders, which is become the head of the corner.
12 Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved. (Acts 4:10-12)
12 And now, my sons, remember, remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall. (Helaman 5:12)
See also John 15:1-10, 2 Nephi 9:41-43, Alma 37:38-46, and Lectures on Faith 7:9.

Among the many titles that apply to Christ are these: the Word of God, the Cornerstone, and the Sure Foundation.

The answer to my prayer may seem like a subtle distinction to some, but to me it changes everything. The path to salvation lies not in becoming a scholar of the scriptures, or in following the sayings of some man who claims to speak for God, or in receiving revelatory experiences by opening your mind’s eye through some drug. The path to salvation is literally Christ. Not only is He the prototype of a saved being, He is also the one who will guide you to salvation, if you allow it. He is the perfect standard, who can and will lead anyone who clings to him to the tree of life.

But, once I received this answer, another question immediately presented itself. If Christ is truly the iron rod, then what does it really mean to be “clinging to the rod of iron” or “continually holding fast to the rod of iron”? It must be something that many multitudes have done in the past, or will do in the future.

This is the question that I want to try to address in my concluding post next week.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

What is the Iron Rod? (Part 4)

In my last two posts, I examined the written scriptures and the teachings or commandments of men. I found that they both fall short of the standard of the iron rod. While they both can and do provide light and truth, they also can contain error, contradiction, and darkness. Today, I want to look at personal revelation.

What role does personal revelation play in our path back to God’s presence? Does personal revelation meet the standard of the iron rod, providing a straight, unerring path back to the tree of life?

Joseph Smith wrote: no man knows the things of God, but by the Spirit of God, so no man knows the spirit of the Devil, and his power and influence, but by possessing intelligence which is more than human, and having unfolded through the medium of the Priesthood the mysterious operations of his devices; without knowing the angelic form, the sanctified look and gesture, and the zeal that is frequently manifested by him for the glory of God, together with the prophetic spirit, the gracious influence, the godly appearance, and the holy garb, which are so characteristic of his proceedings and his mysterious windings.
Did you catch that? The devil can have an “angelic form”, a “sanctified look and gesture”, and a “zeal” for the glory of God”. He can appear “prophetic”, “gracious”, of a “godly appearance”, wearing a “holy garb”.

Joseph continued:
A man must have the discerning of spirits before he can drag into daylight this hellish influence and unfold it unto the world in all its soul-destroying, diabolical, and horrid colors; for nothing is a greater injury to the children of men than to be under the influence of a false spirit when they think they have the Spirit of God. Thousands have felt the influence of its terrible power and baneful effects. Long pilgrimages have been undertaken, penances endured, and pain, misery, and ruin have followed in their train; nations have been convulsed, kingdoms overthrown, provinces laid waste, and blood, carnage and desolation are habiliments in which it has been clothed. 
The Turks, the Hindus, the Jews, the Christians, the Indian in fact all nations have been deceived, imposed upon, and injured through the mischievous effects of false spirits.
He didn’t exempt the Latter-day Saints from feeling this influence, as he also added:
...who can drag into daylight and develop the hidden mysteries of the false spirits that so frequently are made manifest among the Latter-day Saints?
Anyone familiar with the restoration knows the story about how Joseph and Martin Harris lost the 116 pages of the Book of Lehi. We know now that Joseph erred at that time in that he trusted more in the persuasions of men than in the counsels of God. Toward the end of his life, David Whitmer, one of the 3 witnesses to the Book of Mormon, wrote a letter in which he related another story about Joseph that I think teaches a powerful lesson.
“...How easy it is for a man to drift into errors, and think at the time that he is doing God's will. Brethren, few of us know how wily and cunning Satan works, and how easy a man can be deceived and led into errors. Satan works in many ways to lead the spiritual man into error step by step. I will state a few facts concerning some of Brother Joseph's errors in the beginning, also the errors of us all, in order to show you these most important truths, viz: How humble and contrite in heart a man must be to receive revelations from God: and how very weak man is, and how liable to be led into error, thinking at the time that he is doing God's will. 
At times when Brother Joseph would attempt to translate, he would look into the hat in which the stone was placed, he found he was spiritually blind and could not translate. He told us that his mind dwelt too much on earthly things, and various causes would make him incapable of proceeding with the translation. When in this condition he would go out and pray, and when he became sufficiently humble before God, he could then proceed with the translation. Now we see how very strict the Lord is; and how he requires the heart of man to be just right in His sight, before he can receive revelation from him. 
When the Book of Mormon was in the hands of the printer, more money was needed to finish the printing of it. We were waiting on Martin Harris who was doing his best to sell a part of his farm, in order to raise the necessary funds. After a time Hyrum Smith and others began to get impatient, thinking that Martin was too slow and under transgression for not selling his land at once, even if at a great sacrifice. Brother Hyrum thought they should not wait any longer on Martin Harris, and that the money should be raised in some other way. Brother Hyrum was vexed with Brother Martin, and thought they should get the money by some means outside of him, and not let him have anything to do with the publication of the Book, or receiving any of the profits thereof if any profits should accrue. He was wrong in thus judging Bro. Martin, because he was doing all he could toward selling his land. Brother Hyrum said it had been suggested to him that some of the brethren might go to Toronto, Canada, and sell the copy-right of the Book of Mormon for considerable money: and he persuaded Joseph to inquire of the Lord about it. Joseph concluded to do so. He had not yet given up the stone. Joseph looked into the hat in which he placed the stone, and received a revelation that some of the brethren should go to Toronto, Canada, and that they would sell the copy-right of the Book of Mormon. Hiram Page and Oliver Cowdery went to Toronto on this mission, but they failed entirely to sell the copy-right, returning without any money. Joseph was at my father's house when they returned. I was there also, and am an eye witness to these facts. Jacob Whitmer and John Whitmer were also present when Hiram Page and Oliver Cowdery returned from Canada. Well, we were all in great trouble; and we asked Joseph how it was that he had received a revelation from the Lord for some brethren to go to Toronto and sell the copy-right, and the brethren had utterly failed in their undertaking. Joseph did not know how it was, so he enquired of the Lord about it, and behold the following revelation came through the stone: "Some revelations are of God: some revelations are of men: and some revelations are of the devil." So we see that the revelation to go to Toronto and sell the copy-right was not of God, but was of the devil or of the heart of man. When a man enquires of the Lord concerning a matter, if he is deceived by his own carnal desires, and is in error, he will receive an answer according to his erring heart, but it will not be a revelation from the Lord. This was a lesson for our benefit and we should have profited by it in future more than we did. Without much explanation you can see the error of Hyrum Smith in thinking evil of Martin Harris without a cause, and desiring to leave him out in the publication of the Book; and also the error of Brother Joseph in listening to the persuasions of men and enquiring of the Lord to see if they might not go to Toronto to sell the copy-right of the Book of Mormon, when it was made known to Brother Joseph that the will of the Lord was to have Martin Harris raise the money.”
The counsel "Some revelations are of God: some revelations are of men: and some revelations are of the devil." was confirmed later in a revelation given in March 1831 wherein the Lord said:
But ye are commanded in all things to ask of God, who giveth liberally; and that which the Spirit testifies unto you even so I would that ye should do in all holiness of heart, walking uprightly before me, considering the end of your salvation, doing all things with prayer and thanksgiving, that ye may not be seduced by evil spirits, or doctrines of devils, or the commandments of men; for some are of men, and others of devils.
Wherefore, beware lest ye are deceived; and that ye may not be deceived seek ye earnestly the best gifts, always remembering for what they are given; (D&C 46:7-8) 
So, the Lord can and does reveal His will to us by revelation, but we must be humble and ever watchful, lest we are deceived. Evil spirits can appeal to our pride and ambitions, our lusts, our unbelief, or anything about which we are weak. So, the Lord says "beware lest ye are deceived". Is revelation, therefore, the iron rod, upon which we can hold fast to without hesitation? Is it the means that multitudes laid hold upon to enter into eternal life? Haven't multitudes been deceived by that same power?

Seeing now that the scriptures, the words of men, and even personal revelation all fall short of the perfect standard of the iron rod, what did God mean by representing His word as a rod of iron? The whole world, and everything in it, is subject to corruption and error because the hearts of men are corrupt and desperately wicked. So, how could there be something like an unerring guide in this world that leads to eternal life? And how could it exist so that it was within the capacity of many multitudes to lay hold upon it and “cling to” or “hold fast” to it? Where can one go to find the Word of God, unspoiled by man?

This is the question that has troubled me for a long time. It was confusing to me such that I could see how anything could fit the description of an iron rod as seen in Lehi's dream. I prayed many times for understanding. After a great while, the answer was given to me. This is the thing that I have wanted to share. I now believe there IS an iron rod. Next week, I hope to share what it is and how I came to that answer.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

What is the Iron Rod? (Part 3)

Is there a living man or a group of men or an organization/institution that you trust to tell you the will of God? What is that trust based upon? Is it based upon an office or status held within the church you belong to?

How would you respond if a trusted leader commanded that you give to him your money to support him as he does the work of God? Is that a reasonable request? What if that man, with the money given him by you and others, buys a huge house, an expensive car, and other luxuries? Would that cause any doubt in your mind?

What would you do if, as a man, a trusted leader told you that God had commanded that you must take a second wife. What would you do if, as a woman, you were told God had commanded that you must become the wife of another man? What if that man was already married? Would you go through with it? What kind of confirmation would you need first before you were certain it was the will of God?

What if that trusted leader told you it was God’s will that he marry your underage daughter? Would you trust that, as a man of God, he really was speaking God’s will?

What if, as a man, that trusted leader told you that you were no longer allowed to have sexual relations with your wife, but instead other men, called “seedbearers”, would have the responsibility to bear children with her while you looked on. Would you have enough faith in that command to obey? If you were the wife, would you humbly submit?

What if your trusted leader commanded you to kill one of his critics or opponents? Would you do it? Would you consider yourself as Nephi, slaying Laban in order to fulfill the purposes of the Lord? Would your faith waver at any point?

What if your trusted leader commanded you to kill your family and then commit suicide for the better good? Would you meekly accept your fate? Would there be any hesitation on your part?

These are all things that have been asked of followers of different religious sects in the relatively recent past. Many of those sects were break-offs from the restoration began through Joseph Smith.

It may seem obvious to you that such commands were of men and not of God, and that those men were acting as false prophets. Yet, untold thousands have believed such men. As humans, we seem to believe our own ability to discern truth from error is greater than that of others. Yet, how much trust have you put into a man who claims to speak for God? How do you know he speaks for God? Has God told you so?

Christ prophesied that many would be deceived in our day.
And again, beware of false prophets that come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. You shall know them by their fruits...Truly I say unto you, it is not everyone that says unto me, Lord, Lord, that shall enter into the kingdom of heaven, but he that does the will of my Father who is in heaven. For the day soon comes that men shall come before me to judgment, to be judged according to their works. And many will say unto me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in your name, and in your name have cast out devils, and in your name done many wonderful works? And then will I say, You never knew me. Depart from me, you that work iniquity.
So, even those who prophesy in the name of Christ and cast out devils and do many wonderful works can be considered workers of iniquity in the eyes of God. The Lord said there will be many of those. How could so many be deceived? Someone who is prophesying in Christ’s name is not an atheist or an inactive member of some church. That sounds like someone who is actually attempting to serve God. Yet, they could be deceived and ultimately rejected by the Lord at the day of judgement.

Every volume of scripture, including the Book of Mormon, condemns placing trust in man. Therefore, no leader, even a well meaning one, can act as the "word of God" that leads to the tree of life. All men err. The iron rod does not.

Monday, July 9, 2018

What is the Iron Rod? (Part 2)

It has always seemed obvious to me that the scriptures, or standard works, are the word of God. After all, that is what was taught in Church. They do contain a great amount of light and truth and should be used as a standard or measure by which to judge other purported revelations. Yet, as I have studied them, I’ve found that problems arise when they are considered the pure and unspoiled word of God.

Most Mormons are familiar with the early history of the Restoration. It begins with the 14 year old Joseph Smith pondering his salvation amidst the religious excitement that was prevalent where he lived. Different sects were competing for converts, and he was left to wonder which of them was right. He concluded at the time that it was impossible to discern the truth from the established scriptures “for the teachers of religion of the different sects understood the same passage of scripture so differently as to destroy all confidence in settling the question by an appeal to the Bible”.

Indeed, Joseph later taught: "that many important points touching the salvation of men, had been taken from the Bible, or lost before it was compiled" (TPJS p. 9-10) Also, “I believe the Bible as it read when it came from the pen of the original writers. Ignorant translators, careless transcribers, or designing and corrupt priests have committed many errors.” (DHC, vol. 6, p. 57.)

In the Book of Mormon, Nephi gives a similar description for how the written word was corrupted.
Wherefore, these things go forth from the Jews in purity unto the gentiles according to the truth which is in God. And after they go forth by the hand of the twelve apostles of the Lamb from the Jews unto the gentiles, thou seest the formation of that great and abominable church which is the most abominable of all other churches; for behold, they have taken away from the gospel of the Lamb many parts which are plain and most precious; and also many covenants of the Lord have they taken away. And all this have they done that they might pervert the right ways of the Lord; that they might blind the eyes and harden the hearts of the children of men. Wherefore, thou seest that after the book hath gone forth through the hands of the great and abominable church, that there are many plain and most precious things taken away from the book, which is the book of the Lamb of God. And after these plain and precious things were taken away it goeth forth unto all the nations of the gentiles.
Therefore, though the original documents from which the Bible came may have been inspired and even correctly called the “word of God”, yet it had passed through so many hands, and undergone so many changes and uninspired revisions, that it could no longer be considered the pure word of God. It had become corrupted and today contains many errors. Joseph Smith did restore many things that were lost when he undertook his inspired revision of the Bible, but he was killed before was able to complete it.

But what about the restored scriptures? They are still pure, right?

Unfortunately, many of the saints in Joseph’s day, like the Jews after Moses and the Christians after Christ, were not as careful as they should have been with the oracles they received. By careful comparison, one can find numerous additions, deletions, and revisions in the revelations contained in the Doctrine & Covenants. One notable example is D&C 27. Here is the original text of D&C 27 from the Joseph Smith papers website. It was received August of 1830 and recorded in Revelation Book 1. Compare the transcript there with the version contained in the modern-day Doctrine & Covenants. Do you notice anything different?

If you paid any attention at all, you’ll notice that the version in the modern D&C is much longer. It is assumed that Sidney Rigdon was responsible for putting in the "extended edition" around 1834 or 1835. What was the justification for the additional text? Did Sidney claim to receive a revelation to modify or add to an existing revelation? There is no record of any such claim. There is also no indication that Joseph was made aware of these changes. Yet, the longer version of the revelation appeared in the 1835 Doctrine & Covenants (see here) and has remained that way until today.

After Joseph died, the church fractured. There were many who stepped forward to lead the now leaderless saints. Because of competing claims, some found it necessary to control access to or even modify history in order to present a more faithful view of things (translation: more faithful to their view of things). Here is how one writer described this time period:
The official History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was published in book form under the direction of the First Presidency in 1902. The introductory assurance that “no historical or doctrinal statement has been changed” is demonstrably wrong. Overshadowed by editorial censorship, hundreds of deletions, additions, and alterations, these seven volumes are not always reliable. …The nineteenth-century propaganda mill was so adroit that few outside Brigham Young’s inner circle were aware of the behind the scenes alterations so seamlessly stitched into church history. Charles Wesley Wandell, an assistant church historian, was aghast at these emendations. Commenting on the many changes made in the historical work as it was being serialized in the Deseret News, Wandell noted in his diary: “I notice the interpolations because having been employed in the Historian’s office at Nauvoo by Doctor Richards, and employed, too, in 1845, in compiling this very autobiography, I know that after Joseph’s death his memoir was ‘doctored’ to suit the new order of things, and this, too, by the direct order of Brigham Young to Doctor Richards and systematically by Richards.” The Quorum of the Twelve, under Brigham Young’s leadership, began altering the historical record shortly after Smith’s death. Contrary to the introduction’s claim, Smith did not author the History of the Church. At the time of his 1844 death, the narrative had been written up to 5 August 1838. (Richard S. Van Wagoner, Sidney Rigdon: A Portrait of Religious Excess, Signature Books (Salt Lake City, 1004), p.322.
If there were some who conspired to alter recorded history in their favor, then what are the odds that scripture remained untouched?

Even the Book of Mormon is not devoid of errors. Royal Skousen, a professor of Linguistics and English at Brigham Young University, has published a book called The Book of Mormon: The Earliest Text. From pouring over what remains of the original manuscripts written by Joseph Smith’s scribes and the printer's manuscript used in E. B. Grandin's print shop, Mr. Skousen claims to have found over 600 textual errors that still remain in standard editions of the Book of Mormon published by the various branches of Mormonism. Of those, over 250 of them affect the meaning of the passage. Unfortunately, less than a third of the original manuscript still exists. So, one could assume that there are many more errors that have changed the meaning of the text. This number of 600 only accounts for scribal errors after translating the record. Mormon admits there may be errors by him and others that were etched onto the plates. He wrote on the title page: “And now if there are faults, they are the mistakes of men; wherefore, condemn not the things of God, that ye may be found spotless at the judgment seat of Christ.” So, even Mormon did not claim that the record he left us was free of errors.

Therefore, despite the many precious truths that come to us from our present-day scriptures, do they qualify as an unerring guide to eternal life? Can we truthfully claim that they are the rod of iron, which will lead all who lay hold upon them to the tree of life? Though others may make that assumption, I cannot. If the scriptures were enough by themselves to lead men to Christ, then why is Mormonism (not to mention Christianity as a whole) so fractured? There are tens of thousands of different Christian denominations. All of them have the same Bible. Likewise, within Mormonism there have been roughly 100 different branches or sects (whether still in existence or not) that have descended from the restoration through Joseph Smith .  They also all have had access to the same revelations and scripture that Joseph received. How could there be so many diverse and contradictory ideas among them if the scriptures were enough? Is God the author of all this? Heaven forbid. The scriptures, by themselves, cannot be the iron rod shown in Lehi's dream.

In writing this, I don't mean to dismiss or denigrate the scriptures. They should be studied by anyone who wishes to come unto Christ and be saved. To me, they have served as a great key of discernment, helping me to learn how to recognize God's hand in my life and in my generation. Yet, because of their many errors, I don't see how they can qualify to be the thing that will, without fail, lead me (and anyone else who trusts them) to the tree of life.

Next, I will examine modern-day revelation, whether personal or otherwise, and see how faithful of a guide it can be.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

What is the Iron Rod? (Part 1)

In the beginning of the Book of Mormon, readers are presented with a dream wherein is depicted a "large and spacious field". Within this field, there is a "straight and narrow" path leading to a tree "whose fruit was desirable to make one happy". Multitudes would begin to walk on the path, but invariably an "exceeding great mist of darkness" would arise, so that many of those walking on the path would wander off and get lost.

However, there was also a "rod of iron" that led to the tree. In fact, the description says the path "came along by the rod of iron".

How would you describe an iron rod like the one in this dream?

I might use adjectives like: strong, firm, steadfast, unerring, and unwavering. To someone walking on a path, but impeded by mists of darkness and the confusion of the masses, I would think a rod of iron would be a welcome sight. It would be something you could lean upon and trust to guide you. In the dream, there were multitudes who "caught hold" of the rod of iron, and by "clinging" to it or "continually holding fast" to it, they were able to arrive at the tree, despite the mists of darkness that covered the path. It appears that it was only those who attempted to walk on the path without holding on to the iron rod who wandered off and got lost. All those who held to the rod and allowed it to guide them arrived at the tree.

This dream uses powerful symbols to show the spiritual path upon which everyone alive is walking, whether they know it or not. Later in the Book of Mormon, we are given an interpretation of these elements:

the tree = "the love of God" (1 Nephi 11:21-22)
the mists of darkness =  "the temptations of the devil" (1 Nephi 12:17)
the rod of iron = "the word of God" (1 Nephi 11:25)

The tree is the obvious focal point of the scene in the dream. Many multitudes are laboring to arrive at the tree and partake of the fruit. Lehi desired that his whole family would come to the tree and partake. Yet, getting there is not easy. There are so many obstacles along the way, including other paths leading to unknown destinations, mists of darkness that cause you to get lost, a fountain and river of water where many are drowned, and a great and spacious building filled with people mocking, deriding, and attempting to mislead those on the path.

Imagine being an individual in the multitude and being subject to the uncertainty caused by the cacophony of voices and the darkness. Wouldn’t this be a frightening place to be?

Amidst all of this, the one thing that stands out to me is the iron rod. Despite all the chaos, it is the one thing that appears to be solid, grounded, firm, and steadfast. It doesn’t yield to criticism, get confused, or change course. It will not discriminate against those who hold onto it. It can be trusted.

So, in our time, place, and culture, how do we identify the iron rod? What is it? How do we lay hold upon it? Where does one go to find the word of God? It may seem obvious at first, but my experiences have shown me it is not. In fact, this is a topic that has troubled me for a long time. I want to share what I have recently learned that has changed the way I look at this dream and my life.

Until recently, my understanding was that there were two places where one could find the word of God (and thus, lay hold on the iron rod).
  1. In the scriptures or standard works, or
  2. From revelation (either personal or through an accepted source, such as a prophet)
In future posts, I would like to examine these two candidates and see whether they do indeed provide the same unwavering and reliable support to humble followers of the path as would naturally occur with an iron rod.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

The World Always Mistook False Prophets For True Ones

Who was John the Baptist to the people of his time? He wasn't like one of the Jews from the cities of Judea. He was only "the voice of one crying in the wilderness". He wore clothes made of camel's hair and ate locusts and wild honey. So, why did so many from the cities come out to him, hear his message, and get baptized?

Who was Abinadi to the people of King Noah? He possessed no credentials or office to make him worth listening to. Indeed, he spoke out against the established religious officers of his day. One might say that he was a failure, if not for one named Alma who heard his message and believed.

Who was Mary Magdalene to claim that she had seen the Lord when none of the 12 disciples had seen him? Why would the Lord appear first to a woman? Did they not follow him throughout his ministry? Why would a woman receive such an honor?

Who was Joseph Smith to the Christian ministers of his time? Why would God speak to a boy when He had not spoken to them? Who could believe such a strange tale from such a boy about an angel and gold plates?

Who was Christ to the religious scribes and Pharisees of his day? Was he not just a lowly Galilean? What right did he have to criticize the leaders of the Church who sat in Moses' seat?

Similar things could be said about Enoch, Noah, Samuel the Lamanite, and many more.

Isn't it strange how so often the messengers God sends come without honors, titles, or position? It is not hard to find this pattern in the scriptures. Perhaps it is the message they bear, and not the office they hold, that really matters. As the Lord taught, "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me."

The Lord is testing us when He sends His words through those who are unusual and without recognized authority. We reveal the condition of our hearts by how we react. In this way, the wheat and the tares are identified.

Would you have accepted John the Baptist's message, even though he was strange and came without authority? If you had lived in Joseph Smith's time, how would you have responded if someone told you a crazy story about a boy who had seen angels and received a gold bible? If God sent such a messenger today, how would you recognize him?

"The world always mistook false prophets for true ones, and those that were sent of God, they considered to be false prophets and hence they killed, stoned, punished and imprisoned the true prophets, and these had to hide themselves "in deserts and dens, and caves of the earth," and though the most honorable men of the earth, they banished them from their society as vagabonds, whilst they cherished, honored and supported knaves, vagabonds, hypocrites, impostors, and the basest of men." (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 205)