The Latter-day Saints affirm that the authority to act in the name of God--the Holy Priesthood--has been restored to earth in this dispensation and age, in accordance with the inspired predictions of earlier times. But, it may be asked, what necessity was there for a restoration if the Priesthood had been once established upon earth? None indeed, had it never been taken away. A general apostasy from the primitive Church is conceded in effect by some authorities in ecclesiastical history; though few admit the entire discontinuance of priestly power, or the full suspension of authority to operate in the ordinances of the Church. This great apostasy was foretold. Paul warned the Saints of Thessalonica against those who claimed that the second coming of Christ was then near at hand: "For," said he, "that day shall not come except there come a falling away first." (II Thess. 2:3.) "Mormonism" contends that there has been a general falling away from the Church of Christ, dating from the time immediately following the apostolic period. We believe that the proper interpretation of history will confirm this view; and, moreover, that the inspired scriptures foretold just such a condition. 5
If the Priesthood had been once taken from the earth no human power could re-establish it; the restoration of this authority from heaven would be necessary. The Church claims that in the present age this restoration has been effected by the personal ministrations of those who exercised the authority in earlier dispensations. Thus, in 1829, Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery received the Lesser or Aaronic Priesthood under the hands of John the Baptist, who visited them as a resurrected being--the same Baptist who by special and divine commission held the authority of that Priesthood in the dispensation of the "Meridian of Time." Later, the Higher or Melchizedek Priesthood was conferred upon them through the personal ministrations of Peter, James, and John--the same three who constituted the presidency of the apostolic body in the primitive Church, after the departure of the Lord Jesus Christ by whom it was founded.
That the claim is a bold one is conceded without argument. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints professes to have the Priesthood of old restored in its fulness; and, moreover, while acknowledging the right of every individual as of every sect or other organization of individuals to believe and practise according to choice in matters religious, it affirms that it is the only Church on the face of the earth possessing this authority and Priesthood; and that therefore it is The Church and the only Church of Christ upon the earth today. It holds as absolutely indispensable to proper Church organization, the presence of the living oracles of God who shall be directed from the heavens in their earthly ministry; and these, "Mormonism" asserts, are to be found with the Church of Jesus Christ.
"Mormonism" emphasizes the doctrine that that which is Caesar's be given unto Caesar, while that which is God's be rendered unto him. Therefore, it teaches that all things pertaining unto earth, and unto man's earthly affairs, may with propriety be regulated by earthly authority, but that in the performance of any ordinance, rite, or ceremony, claimed to be of effect beyond, the grave, a power greater than that of man is requisite or the performance is void. Therefore, membership in the Church, which, if of any value and significance at all, is of more than temporal meaning, must be governed by laws which are prescribed by the powers of heaven. "Mormonism" recognizes Jesus Christ as the head of the Church, as the literal Savior and Redeemer of mankind, as the King of kings and Lord of lords, as the One whose right it is to reign on earth, who shall yet subdue all worldly kingdoms under his feet, who shall present the earth in its final state of redemption to the Father. It is his right to prescribe the conditions under which mankind may be made partakers of his bounty and of the privileges of the victory won by him over death and the grave.
The Church claims that faith in God is essential to intelligent service of him; and that faith, trust, confidence in God as the Father of mankind, as the Supreme Being to whom all shall render account of their deeds and misdeeds, must lead to a desire to serve him and thus produce repentance. Faith in God and genuine repentance of sin, of necessity, therefore constitute the fundamental principles of the gospel. It is reasonable to expect that after man has developed faith in God, and has repented of his sins, he will be eager to find a means of demonstrating his sincerity; and this means is found in the requirement concerning baptism as essential to entrance into the Church, and as a means whereby remission of sins may be obtained. As to the mode of baptism, the Church affirms that immersion alone is the one method sanctioned by scripture, and that this mode has been expressly prescribed by revelation in the present dispensation.
Water baptism, then, becomes a basic principle and the first essential ordinance of the gospel. It is to be administered by one having authority; and that authority rests in the Priesthood given of God. Following baptism by water, comes the ordinance of the bestowal of the Holy Ghost by the authorized imposition of hands, which constitutes the true baptism of the Spirit. These requirements, designated specifically the "first principles and ordinances of the gospel," "Mormonism" claims to be absolutely essential to membership in the Church of Christ, and this without modification or qualification as to the time at which the individual lived in mortality.
Then with propriety it may be asked:--What shall become of those who lived and died while the Priesthood was not operative upon the earth?--those who have worked out their mortal probation during the ages of the great apostasy? Furthermore, what shall be the destiny of those who, though living in a time of spiritual light, perhaps had not the opportunity of learning and obeying the gospel requirements? Here again the inherent justice of "Mormon" philosophy shows itself in the doctrine of salvation for the dead. No distinction is made between the living and the dead in the solemn declaration of the Savior to Nicodemus, which appears to have been given the widest possible application,--that except a man be born of water and of the spirit he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God. (John 3:1-5.)
"Mormonism" proclaims something more than a heaven and a hell, to one or the other of which all spirits of men shall be assigned, perhaps on the basis of a very narrow margin of merit or demerit. As it affirms the existence of an infinite range of graded intelligences, so it claims the widest and fullest gradation of conditions of future existence. It holds that the honest, though, perchance, mistaken soul who lived or tried to live according to the light he had received, shall be counted among the honorable of the earth, and shall find opportunity, if not here then in the hereafter, for compliance with the requirements essential for salvation. It teaches that repentance with all its attendant blessings shall be possible beyond the grave; but that inasmuch as the change we call death does not transform the character of the soul, repentance there will be difficult for him who has ruthlessly and willfully rejected the manifold opportunities afforded him for repentance here. It asserts that even the heathen devotee who may have bowed down to stocks and stones, if in so doing he was obeying the highest law of worship which to his benighted soul had come, shall have part in the first resurrection, and shall be afforded the opportunity, which on earth he had not found, of doing that which is required of God's children for salvation. And for all the dead who have been without the privileges, perhaps indeed without the knowledge, of compliance with Christ's law, there shall be given opportunity in the hereafter.
Nevertheless, this life of ours is no trifle, no insignificant incident in the soul's eternal course, having but small and temporal importance, the omissions of which can be rectified with ease by the individual beyond the veil. If compliance with the divine law as exemplified by the requirements of faith, repentance, baptism, and the bestowal of the right to the ministrations of the Holy Ghost, are essential to the salvation of those few who just now are counted among the living, such is not less necessary for those who once were living but now are dead. Who are the living of today but those who shortly shall be added to the uncounted dead? Who are the dead but those who at some time have lived in mortality?
Christ has been ordained to be judge of both quick and dead; he is Lord of living and dead as man uses these terms, for all live unto him. How then shall the dead receive the blessings and ordinances denied to them or by them neglected while in the flesh? "Mormonism" answers: By the vicarious work of the living in their behalf! It was this great and privileged labor to which the prophet Malachi referred in his solemn declaration, that before the great and dreadful day of the Lord, Elijah should be sent with the commission to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children and the hearts of the children to the fathers. Elijah's visitation to earth has been realized. On the 3rd of April, in the year 1836, there appeared unto Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery, in the temple erected by the. Latter-day Saints at Kirtland, Ohio, Elijah the prophet, who announced that the time spoken of by Malachi had fully come; then and there he bestowed the authority, for this dispensation, to inaugurate and carry on this labor in behalf of the departed.
As to the fidelity with which the Latter-day Saints have sought to discharge the duties thus divinely required at their hands, let the temples erected in poverty as in relative prosperity--by the blood and tears of the people--testify. Two of these great edifices were constructed by the Latter-day Saints in the days of their tribulation, in times of their direst persecution,--one at Kirtland, Ohio, the other at Nauvoo, Illinois. The first is still standing, though no longer possessed by the people who built it; and no longer employed for the furtherance of the purposes of its erection; the second fell a prey to flames enkindled by mobocratic hate. Four others have been constructed in the vales of Utah, and are today in service, dedicated to the blessing of the living, and particularly to the vicarious labor of the living in behalf of the dead. In them the ordinances of baptism, and the laying on of hands for the bestowal of the Holy Ghost, are performed upon the living representatives of the dead. 6
But this labor for the dead is two-fold; it comprises the proper performance of the required ordinances on earth, and the preaching of the gospel to the departed. Shall we suppose that all of God's good gifts to his children are restricted to the narrow limits of mortal existence? We are told of the inauguration of this great missionary labor in the spirit world, as effected by the Christ himself. After his resurrection, and immediately following the period during which his body had lain in the tomb guarded by the soldiery, he declared to the sorrowing Magdalene that he had not at that time ascended to his Father; and, in the light of his dying promise to the penitent malefactor who suffered on a cross by his side, we learn that he had been in paradise. Peter also tells us of his labors--that he was preaching to the spirits in prison, to those who had been disobedient in the days of Noah when the long-suffering of God waited while the ark was preparing. If it was deemed necessary or just that the gospel be carried to spirits that were disobedient or neglectful in the days of Noah, are we justified in concluding that others who have rejected or neglected the word of God shall be left in a state of perpetual condemnation?
"Mormonism" claims that not only shall the gospel be carried to the living, and be preached to every creature, but that the great missionary labor, the burden of which has been placed on the Church, must of necessity be extended to the realm of the dead. It declares unequivocally that without compliance with the requirements established by Jesus Christ, no soul can be saved from the fate of the condemned; but that opportunity shall be given to every one in the season of his fitness to receive it, be he heathen or civilized, living or dead.
The whole duty of man is to live and work according to the highest laws of right made known to him, to walk according to the best light that has been shed about his path; and while Justice shall deny to every soul that has not rendered obedience to the law, entrance into the kingdom of the blessed, Mercy shall claim opportunity for all who, have shown themselves willing to receive the truth and obey its behests.
It will be seen, then, that "Mormonism" offers no modified or conditional claims as to the necessity of compliance with the laws and ordinances of the gospel by every responsible inhabitant of earth unto whom salvation shall come. It distinguishes not between enlightened and heathen nations, nor between men of high and low intelligence; nor even between the living and the dead. No human being who has attained years of accountability in the flesh, may hope for salvation in the kingdom of God until he has rendered obedience to the requirements of Christ, the Redeemer of the world.
But while thus decisive, "Mormonism" is not exclusive. It does not claim that all who have failed to accept and obey the gospel of eternal life shall be eternally and forever damned. While boldly asserting that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the sole repository of the Holy Priesthood as now restored to earth, it teaches and demands the fullest toleration for all individuals, and organizations of individuals, professing righteousness; and holds that each shall be rewarded for the measure of good he has wrought, to be adjudged in accordance with the spiritual knowledge he has gained. For such high claims combined with such professions of tolerance, the Church has been accused of inconsistency. Let it not be forgotten, however, that toleration is not acceptance. I may believe with the utmost fulness of my soul's powers that I am right and my neighbor is wrong concerning any proposition or principle; but such conviction gives me no semblance of right for interfering with his exercise of freedom. The only bounds to the liberty of an individual are such as mark the liberty of another, or the rights of the community. God himself treats as sacred, and therefore as inviolable, the freedom of the human soul.
"Know this, that every soul is free
To choose his life and what he'll be;
For this eternal truth is given,
That God will force no man to heaven.
"He'll call, persuade, direct aright,
Bless him with wisdom, love, and light;
In nameless ways be good and kind,
But never force the human mind."
"Mormonism" contends that no man or nation possesses the right to forcibly deprive even the heathen of his right to worship his deity. Though idolatry has been marked from the earliest ages with the seal of divine disfavor, it may represent in the unenlightened soul the sincerest reverence of which the person is capable. He should be taught better, but not compelled to render worship which to him is false because in violation of his conscience.
In further defense of the Latter-day Saints against the charge of inconsistency for this their tolerance toward others whom they verily believe to be wrong, let me again urge the cardinal principle that every man is accountable for his acts, and shall be judged in the light of the law as made known to him.
There is no claim of universal forgiveness; no unwarranted glorification of Mercy to the degrading or neglect of Justice; no thought that a single sin of omission or of commission shall fail to leave its wound or scar. In the great future there shall be found a place for every soul, whatever his grade of spiritual intelligence may be. "In my Father's house are many mansions," (John 14:2), declared the Savior to his apostles; and Paul adds, "There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial; but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another. There is one glory of the sun and another glory of the moon and another glory of the stars; for one star differeth from another star in glory. So also is the resurrection of the dead," (I Cor. 15:40-42). The Latter-day Saints claim a revelation of the present dispensation as supplementing the scripture just quoted. From this later scripture (see D&C, Sec. 76), we learn that there are three well-defined degrees in the future state, with numerous, perhaps numberless, gradations.
There is the celestial state provided for those who have lived the whole law, who have accepted the testimony of the Christ, who have complied with the required ordinances of the gospel, who have been valiant in the cause of virtue and truth. Then there is the terrestrial state, comparable to the first as is the moon to the sun. This shall be given to the less valiant, to many who are nevertheless among the worthy men of the earth, but who perchance have been deceived as to the gospel and its requirements. The telestial state is for those who have failed to live according to the light given them; those who have had to suffer the results of their sins; those who have been of Moses, of Paul, of Apollos, and of any one of a multitude of others, but not of the Christ.
We hold that there is a wide difference between salvation and exaltation; that there are infinite gradations beyond the grave as there are here, and as there were in the state preceding this.
"Mormonism" is frequently spoken of as a new religion, and the Church as a new church, a mere addition of one to the many sects that have so long striven for recognition and ascendency among men. It is new only as the springtime following the darkness and the cold of the year's night is new. The Church is a new one only as the ripening fruit is a new development in the course of the tree's growth. In a general and true sense, "Mormonism" is not new to the world. It is founded on the gospel of Christ which antedates this earth. The establishment of the Church in the present age was but a restoration. True, the Church is progressive as it ever has been; it is therefore productive of more and greater things as the years link themselves into the centuries; but the living seed contains within its husk all the possibilities of the mature plant.
This so-called new, modern gospel is in fact the old one, the first one, come again. It demands the organization and the authority characteristic of the Church in former days, when there was a Church of God upon the earth; it expects no more consideration, and scarcely hopes for greater popularity, than were accorded the primitive Church. Opposition, persecution, and martyrdom have been its portion, but these tribulations it accepts, knowing well that to bear such has been the lot of the true Church in every age.
"Mormonism" is more than a code of morals; it claims a higher rank than that of an organization of men planned and instituted by the wisdom and philosophy of men, however worthy. It draws a distinction between morality and religion; and affirms that human duty is not comprised in a mere avoidance of sin. It regards the strictest morality as an indispensable feature of every religious system claiming in any degree divine recognition; and yet it looks upon morality as but the alphabet from which the words and sentences of a truly religious life may be framed. However euphonious the words, however eloquent the periods, to make the writing of highest worth there must be present the divine thought; and this, man of himself cannot conceive.
It affirms that there was a yesterday as there is a today, and shall be a tomorrow, in the dealings of God with men; that
Through the ages one increasing purpose runs;
and that purpose,--the working out of a divine plan, the ultimate object of which is the salvation and exaltation of the human family.
The central feature of that plan was the earthly ministry and redeeming sacrifice of the Christ in the meridian of time; the consummation shall be ushered in by the return of that same Christ to earth as the Rewarder of righteousness, the Avenger of iniquity, and as the world's Judge.
The Church holds that in the light of revelation, ancient and modern, and by a fair interpretation of the signs of the times, the second coming of the Redeemer is near at hand. The present is the final dispensation of the earth in its present state; these are the last days of which the prophets in all ages have sung.
But of what use are theories and philosophies of religion without practical application? Of what avail is belief as a mere mental assent or denial? Let it develop into virile faith; vitalize it; animate it; then it becomes a moving power. The Latter-day Saints point with some confidence to what they have attempted and begun, and to the little they have already done in the line of their convictions, as proof of their sincerity.
For the second coming of the Redeemer, preparation is demanded of men; and today, instead of the single priest crying in the wilderness of Judaea, there are thousands going forth among the nations with a message as definite and as important as that of the Baptist; and their proclamation is a reiteration of the voice in the desert--"Repent Repent! for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand."
The philosophy of "Mormonism" rests on the literal acceptance of a living, personal God, and on the unreserved compliance with his law as from time to time revealed.
:5 See "The Great Apostasy: Considered in the Light of Scriptural and Secular History," by James E. Talmage. Published by the Deseret News, Salt Lake City, Utah; 176 pp.
:6 For a detailed treatment of Temples and Temple labor among the Latter-day Saints, including a study of the doctrine of vicarious labor for the dead, see "The House of the Lord, a Study of Holy Sanctuaries Ancient and Modern," including forty-six plates illustrative of modern Temples; by James E. Talmage. Published by the Church: Salt Lake City, Utah; 336 pp.