In this attempt to treat the philosophy of "Mormonism" it is assumed that no discussion of Christianity in general nor of the philosophy of Christianity is required. The "Mormon" creed, so far as there is a creed professed by the Latter-day Saints, is pre-eminently Christian in theory, precept, and practise. In what respect, then, may be properly asked, does "Mormonism" differ from the faith and practise of other professedly Christian systems--in short, what is "Mormonism?"
First, let it be remembered that the term "Mormon," with its derivatives, is not the official designation of the Church with which it is usually associated. The name was originally applied in a spirit of derision, as a nick-name in fact, by the opponents of the Church; and was doubtless suggested by the title of a prominent publication given to the world through Joseph Smith in an early period of the Church's history. This, of course, is the Book of Mormon. Nevertheless, the people have accepted the name thus thrust upon them, and answer readily to its call. The proper title of the organization is "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints." The philosophy of "Mormonism" is declared in the name. The people claim this name as having been bestowed by revelation and therefore that, like other names given of God as attested by scriptural instances, it is at once name and title combined.
The Church declines to sail under any flag of man-made design; it repudiates the name of mortals as a part of its title, and thus differs from Lutherans and Wesleyans, Calvinists, Mennonites, and many others, all of whom, worthy though their organizations may be, elevating as may be their precepts, good as may be their practises, declare themselves the followers of men. This is not the church of Moses nor the prophets, of Paul nor of Cephas, of Apollos nor of John; neither of Joseph Smith nor of Brigham Young. It asserts its proud claim as the Church of Jesus Christ.
It refuses to wear a name indicative of distinctive or peculiar doctrines; and in this particular, it differs from churches Catholic and Protestant, Presbyterian, Congregationalist, Unitarian, Methodist and Baptist; its sole distinguishing features are those of the Church of Christ.
In an effort to present in concise form the cardinal doctrines of this organization, I cannot do better than quote the so-called Articles of Faith of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which have been in published form before the world for over half a century. 4
1. We believe in God, the Eternal Father, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost.
2. We believe that men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam's transgression.
3. We believe that, through the atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel.
4. We believe that the first principles and ordinances of the gospel are: First, Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; second, Repentance; third, Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; fourth, Laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.
5. We believe that a man must be called of God, by prophecy, and by the laying on of hands, by those who are in authority, to preach the gospel and administer in the ordinances thereof.
6. We believe in the same organization that existed in the primitive church, namely, apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers, evangelists, etc.
7. We believe in the gift of tongues, prophecy, revelation, visions, healing, interpretation of tongues, etc.
8. We believe the Bible to be the word of God, as far as it is translated correctly; we also believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God.
9. We believe all that God has revealed, all that he does now reveal, and we believe that he will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.
10. We believe in the literal gathering of Israel and in the restoration of the Ten Tribes; that Zion will be built upon this [the American] continent; that Christ will reign personally upon the earth, and that the earth will be renewed and receive its paradisiacal glory.
11. We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.
12. We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers and magistrates, in obeying, honoring and sustaining the law.
13. We believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men; indeed we may say that we follow the admonition of Paul, We believe all things, we hope all things, we have endured many things, and hope to be able to endure all things. If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.--JOSEPH SMITH.
This brief summary of "Mormon" doctrine appears over the signature of Joseph Smith--the man whom the Latter-day Saints accept as the instrument in divine hands of re-establishing the Church of Christ on earth, in this the Dispensation of the Fulness of Times. Let it not be supposed, however, that these Articles of Faith are, or profess to be, a complete code of the doctrines of the Church, for, as declared in one of the "Articles," belief in continuous revelation from Heaven is a characteristic feature of "Mormonism." Yet it is to be noted that no doctrine has been promulgated, which by even strained interpretation could be construed as antagonistic to this early declaration of faith. Nor has any revelation to the Church yet appeared in opposition to earlier revelation of this or of by-gone dispensations.
To most of the declarations in the Articles of Faith, many sects professing Christianity could confidently pledge allegiance; to many of them, all Christian organizations could and professedly do subscribe. Belief in the existence and powers of the Supreme Trinity; in Jesus Christ as the Savior and Redeemer of mankind; in man's individual accountability for his doings; in the acceptance of sacred writ as the Word of God; in the rights of Worship according to the dictates of conscience; in all the moral virtues;--these professions and beliefs are as a common creed in the realm of Christendom. There is no peculiarly "Mormon" interpretation, in the light of which these principles of faith and practise are viewed by the Latter-day Saints, except in a certain simplicity and literalness of acceptance--gross literalness, unrefined materialism, it has been called by some critical opponents.
The gospel plan as accepted and taught by the Latter-day Saints is strikingly simple; disappointing in its simplicity, indeed, to the mind that can find satisfaction in mysteries alone, and to him whose love for metaphor, symbolism, and imagery are stronger than his devotion to truth itself, which may or may not be thus embellished. The Church asserts that the wisdom of human learning, while ranking among the choicest of earthly possessions, is not essential to an understanding of the gospel; and that the preacher of the Word must be otherwise endowed than by the learning of the schoolmen. "Mormonism" is for the wayfaring man, not less than for the scholar, and it possesses a simplicity adapting it to the one as to the other. A few of the characteristically "Mormon" tenets may perhaps be profitably considered.
"Mormonism" affirms its unqualified belief in the Godhead as the Holy Trinity, comprising Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; each of the three a separate and individual personage; the Father and the Son each a personage of spirit and of immortalized body; the Holy Ghost a personage of spirit.
The unity of the Godhead is accepted in the literal fulness of scriptural declaration--that the three are one in purpose, plan and method, alike in all their Godly attributes; one in their divine omniscience and omnipotence; yet as separate and distinct in their personality as are any three inhabitants of earth. "Mormonism" claims that scriptures declaring the oneness of the Trinity admit of this interpretation; that such indeed is the natural interpretation; and that the conception is in accord with reason.
We hold that mankind are literally the spiritual children of God; that even as the Christ had an existence with the Father before coming to earth to take upon himself a tabernacle of flesh, to live and to die as a man in accordance with the fore-ordained plan of redemption, so, too, every child of earth had an existence in the spirit-state before entering upon this mortal probation. We hold the doctrine to be reasonable, scriptural and true, that mortal birth is no more the beginning of the soul's existence than is death its end.
The time-span of mortal life is but one stage in the soul's career, separating the eternity that has preceded from the eternity that is to follow. And this mortal existence is one of the Father's great gifts to his spiritual children, affording them the opportunity of an untrammeled exercise of their free agency, the privilege of meeting temptation and of resisting it if they will, the chance to win exaltation and eternal life.
We claim that all men are equal as to earthly rights and human privileges; but that each has individual capacity and capabilities; that in the primeval world there were spirits noble and great, as there were others of lesser power and inferior purpose. There is no chance in the number or nature of spirits that are born to earth; all who are entitled to the privileges of mortality and have been assigned to this sphere shall come at the time appointed, and shall return to inherit each the glory or the degradation to which he has shown himself adapted. The gospel as understood by the Latter-day Saints affirms the unconditional free-agency of man--his right to accept good or evil, to choose the means of eternal progression or the opposite, to worship as he elects, or to refuse to worship at all--and then to take the consequences of his choice.
"Mormonism" rejects what it regards as a heresy, the false doctrine of pre-destination as an absolute compulsion or even as an irresistible tendency forced upon the individual toward right or wrong--as a pre-appointment to eventual exaltation or condemnation; yet it affirms that the infinite wisdom and fore-knowledge of God makes plain to him the end from the beginning; and that he can read in the natures and dispositions of his children, their destiny.
"Mormonism" claims an actual and literal relationship of parent and child between the Creator and man--not in the figurative sense in which the engine may be called the child of its builder; not the relationship of a thing mechanically made to the maker thereof; but the kinship of father and offspring. In short it is bold enough to declare that man's spirit being the offspring of Deity, and man's body though of earthy components yet being in the very image and likeness of God, man even in his present degraded--aye, fallen condition--still possesses, if only in a latent state, inherited traits, tendencies and powers that tell of his more than royal descent; and that these may be developed so as to make him, even while mortal, in a measure Godlike.
But "Mormonism" is bolder yet. It asserts that in accordance with the inviolable law of organic nature--that like shall beget like, and that multiplication of numbers and perpetuation of species shall be in compliance with the condition "each after his kind," the child may achieve the former status of the parent, and that in his mortal condition man is a God in embryo. However far in the future it may be, what ages may elapse, what eternities may pass before any individual now a mortal being may attain the rank and sanctity of godship, man nevertheless carries in his soul the possibilities of such achievement; even as the crawling caterpillar or the corpse-like chrysalis holds the latent possibility, nay, barring destruction, the certainty indeed, of the winged imago in all the glory of maturity.
"Mormonism" claims that all nature, both on earth and in heaven, operates on a plan of advancement; that the very Eternal Father is a progressive Being; that his perfection, while so complete as to be incomprehensible by man, possesses this essential quality of true perfection--the capacity of eternal increase. That therefore, in the far future, beyond the horizon of eternities perchance, man may attain the status of a God. Yet this does not mean that he shall be then the equal of the Deity he now worships nor that he shall ever overtake those intelligences that are already beyond him in advancement; for to assert such would be to argue that there is no progression beyond a certain stage of attainment, and that advancement is a characteristic of low organization and inferior purpose alone. We believe that there was more than the sounding of brass or the tinkling of wordy cymbals in the fervent admonition of the Christ to his followers--"Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect." (Matt. 5:48.)
But it is beyond dispute that in his present state, man is far from the condition of even a relatively perfect being. He is born heir to the weaknesses as well as to the excellencies of generations of ancestors; he inherits potent tendencies for both good and evil; and verily, it seems that in the flesh he has to suffer for the sins of his progenitors. But divine blessings are not to be reckoned in terms of earthly possessions or bodily excellencies alone; the child born under conditions of adversity may after all be richly endowed with opportunity, opportunity which, perhaps, had been less of service amid the surroundings of luxury. We hold that the Father has an individual interest in his children; and that surely in the rendering of divine judgment, the conditions under which each soul has lived in mortality shall be considered.
"Mormonism" accepts the doctrine of the Fall, and the account of the transgression in Eden, as set forth in Genesis; but it affirms that none but Adam is or shall be answerable for Adam's disobedience; that mankind in general are absolutely absolved from responsibility for that "original sin," and that each shall account for his own transgressions alone; that the Fall was foreknown of God--that it was turned to good effect by which the necessary condition of mortality should be inaugurated; and that a Redeemer was provided, before the world was; that general salvation, in the sense of redemption from the effects of the Fall, comes to all without their seeking it; but that individual salvation or rescue from the effects of personal sins is to be acquired by each for himself by faith and good works through the redemption wrought by Jesus Christ. The Church holds that children are born to earth in a sinless state, that they need no individual redemption; that should they die before reaching years of accountability, they return without taint of earthly sin; but as they attain youth or maturity in the flesh, their responsibility increases with their development.
According to the teachings of "Mormonism," Christ's instructions to the people to pray "Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven" was not a petition for the impossible, but a fore-shadowing of what shall eventually be. We believe that the day shall yet come when the Kingdom of God on earth shall be one with the Kingdom in heaven; and one King shall rule in both. The Church is regarded as the beginning of this Kingdom on earth; though until the coming of the King, there is no authority in the Church exercising or claiming temporal rule or dominion among the governments of earth. Yet the Church is none the less the beginning of the Kingdom, the germ from which the Kingdom shall develop.
And the Church must be in direct communication with the heavenly Kingdom of which the earthly Kingdom when established shall be a part. Of such a nature was the Church in so far as it existed before the time of Christ's earthly ministry; for the biblical record is replete with instances of direct communication between the prophets and their God. The scriptures are silent as to a single dispensation in which the spiritual leaders of the people depended upon the records of earlier times and by-gone ages for their guidance; but on the contrary, the evidence is complete that in every stage of the Church's history the God of heaven communicated his mind and will unto his earthly representatives. Israel of old were led and governed in all matters spiritual and to a great extent in their temporal affairs by the direct word of revelation. Noah did not depend upon the record of God's dealings with Adam or Enoch, but was directed by the very word and voice of the God whom he represented. Moses was no mere theologian trained for his authority or acts on what God had said to Abraham, to Isaac, or to Jacob; he acted in accordance with instructions given unto him from time to time, as the circumstances of his ministry required. And so on through all the line of prophets, major and minor, down to the priest of the course of Abia unto whom the angel announced the birth of John who was to be the direct fore-runner of the Messiah.
When the Christ came in the flesh he declared that he acted not of himself but according to instructions given him of the Father. Thus the Messiah was a revelator, receiving while in the flesh communication direct and frequent from the heavens. By such revelation he was guided in his earthly ministry; by such he instructed his disciples; unto such he taught his apostles to look for safe guidance when he would have left them.
During his earthly ministry Christ called and ordained men to offices in the Church. We have a record of apostles particularly, numbering twelve, and beside these, seventy others who were commissioned to preach, teach, baptize and perform other ordinances of the Church. After our Lord's departure, we read of the apostles continuing their labors in the light of continued revelation. By this sure guide they selected and set apart those who were to officiate in the Church. By revelation, Peter was directed to carry the gospel to the Gentiles; which expansion of the work was inaugurated by the conversion of the devout Cornelius and his household. By revelation, Saul of Tarsus became Paul the Apostle, a valiant defender of the faith. Holy men of old spake and wrote as they were moved upon by the Holy Ghost and depended not upon the precedents of ancient history nor entirely upon the law then already written. They operated under the conviction that the living Church must be in communication with its living Head; and that the work of God, while it was to be wrought out through the instrumentality of man, was to be directed by him whose work it was, and is.
"Mormonism" claims the same necessity to exist today. It holds that it is no more nearly possible now than it was in the days of the ancient prophets or in the apostolic age for the Church of Christ to exist without direct and continuous revelation from God. This necessitates the existence and authorized ministrations of prophets, apostles, high priests, seventies, elders, bishops, priests, teachers and deacons, now as anciently--not men selected by men without authority, clothed by human ceremonial alone, nor men with the empty names of office, but men who bear the title because they possess the authority, having been called of God.
Is it unreasonable, is it unphilosophical, thus to look for additional light and knowledge? Shall religion be the one department of human thought and effort in which progression is impossible? What would we say of the chemist, the astronomer, the physicist, or the geologist, who would proclaim that no further discovery or revelation of scientific truth is possible, or who would declare that the only occupation open to students of science is to con the books of by-gone times and to apply the principles long ago made known, since none others shall ever be discovered?
The chief motive impelling to research and investigation is the conviction that to knowledge and wisdom there is no end. "Mormonism" affirms that all wisdom is of God, that the halo of his glory is intelligence, and that man has not yet learned all there is to learn of him and his ways. We hold that the doctrine of continuous revelation from God is not less philosophical and scientific than scriptural.
:4 For extended treatment of "Mormon" doctrine see "The Articles of Faith: a Series of Lectures on the Principal Doctrines of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints," by James E. Talmage. Published by the Church: Salt Lake City, Utah; 485 pp