Chapter 4: Help from on High

During 2016, LDS members will be studying the latest manual published by their church, Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Howard W. Hunter We will evaluate this book regularly, chapter by chapter, by showing interesting quotes and providing an Evangelical Christian take on this manual. The text that is underlined is from the manual, with our comments following.

Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Howard W. Hunter, 2015

Teachings of Howard W. Hunter

Like Joseph Smith, we can turn to the scriptures and prayer to be taught from on high. The boy-prophet Joseph Smith … sought to know the mind and will of the Lord at a time of confusion and concern in his life. … The area near Palmyra, New York, had become a place of “unusual excitement on the subject of religion” during young Joseph’s boyhood years there. Indeed, the entire district appeared to him to be affected by it, with “great multitudes,” he wrote, uniting themselves to the different religious parties and causing no small “stir and division” among the people [Joseph Smith—History 1:5]. For a boy who had barely turned fourteen, his search for the truth was made even more difficult and confusing because members of the Smith family differed in their religious preferences at the time.

Now, with that familiar background and setting, I invite you to consider these rather remarkable thoughts and feelings from a boy of such a tender age. He wrote:

“During this time of great excitement my mind was called up to serious reflection and great uneasiness; but though my feelings were deep and often poignant, still I kept myself aloof from all these [factions] … ; so great were the confusion and strife among the different denominations, that it was impossible for a person young as I was, and so unacquainted with men and things, to come to any certain conclusion who was right and who was wrong.

“My mind at times was greatly excited, the cry and tumult were so great and incessant. …

“In the midst of this war of words and tumult of opinions, I often said to myself: What is to be done? Who of all these parties are right; or, are they all wrong together? If any one of them be right, which is it, and how shall I know it?

Most of the above was taken from Joseph Smith-History chapter 1. While this story is certainly repeated over and over again and believed by millions of Latter-day Saints, the problem is that what has been written about this landmark LDS event is just not true. According to Mormonism, Joseph Smith’s First Vision took place in 1820 when Smith was just 14 years of age. Yet according to this paragraph, there was a revival during this time. Consider what was explained years ago by Christian research Wesley Walters in an article titled First Vision: Fact or Fiction? who described how there was “no 1820 revival”:

First, his neighborhood in 1820 experienced no revival such as he described, in which “great multitudes” joined the Methodist, Baptist and Presbyterian churches. The Presbyterian records for the Palmyra Presbyterian Church show that it experienced no revival in 1820. (See Geneva Presbytery “Records,” Presbyterian Historical Society.) The local Baptist church gained only six on profession of faith the entire year (“Records for the First Baptist Church in Palmyra,” American Baptist Historical Society) while the Methodists actually lost members that year as well as the preceding and following years (Minutes of the Annual Conference).

Joseph Smith claimed that his mother, sister and two brothers were led to join the local Presbyterian Church as a result of that 1820 revival. However, four years before he made this claim, his own church paper had stated that the revival in which his family had been led to join the Presbyterian Church took place in 1823 (Messenger & Advocate I, pp. 42, 78). In fact, that account says it was the same 1823 revival that led him to go to his bedroom (not to a sacred grove) and pray “if a Supreme being did exist” and to know that “he was accepted of him.” An angel (not a deity) is then reported to have appeared and told him of his forgiveness and of the gold plates.

Joseph’s mother, likewise, knew nothing of an 1820 vision. In her unpublished account, she traces the origin of Mormonism to a bedroom visit by an angel. Joseph at the time had been “pondering which of the churches were the true one.” The angel told him “there is not a true church on Earth. No not one” (First draft of “Lucy Smith’s History,” LDS Church Archives).

Furthermore, she tells us that the revival which led her joining the church took place following the death of her son, Alvin. Alvin died Nov. 19, 1823, and following that painful loss she reports that, “about this time there was a great revival in religion and the whole neighborhood was very much aroused to the subject and we among the rest, flocked to the meeting house to see if there was a word of comfort for us that might relieve our over-charged feelings” (p. 55-56).

She adds that although her husband would only attend the first meetings, he had no objection to her or the children “going or becoming church members.” There is plenty of additional evidence that the revival Lucy Smith refers to did occur during the winter of 1824-25. It was reported in at least a dozen newspapers and religious periodicals. The church records show outstanding increases due to the reception of new converts. The Baptist church received 94, the Presbyterian 99, while the Methodist work grew by 208. No such revival bringing in “great multitudes” occurred in 1820.

It is clear that the revival Joseph Smith, Jr. described did not occur in 1820, but in 1824. Joseph Smith arbitrarily moved that revival back four years to 1820 and made it fit a First Vision story that neither his mother nor other close associates had heard of in those early days. The historical facts completely discredit Joseph Smith’s First Vision story. (For further details, see “Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought” Spring 1969, pp. 59-100.)

According to Mormon leaders, the historicity of the First Vision is crucial for Mormonism to be able to stand up to truth. President Gordon B. Hinckley explained how vital this event is to this religion:

I would like to say that this cause is either true or false. Either this is the kingdom of God, or it is a sham and a delusion. Either Joseph talked with the Father and the Son, or he did not. If he did not, we are engaged in blasphemy (Conference Reports, October 1961, p. 116).

Consider the following quote by Seventy F. Burton Howard:

Our own personal salvation depends upon whether we accept and have a testimony of what Joseph Smith saw and heard in the spring of 1820 (“One’s Salvation rests on belief in First Vision,” Church News, May 7, 2005, p. 7).

If this is the case and the First Vision didn’t take place in 1820, which Howard states is important, then the faithful Latter-day Saint has a terrible problem. While some Latter-day Saints have resorted to spiritualizing the event, this can’t be done in a logical manner. As Hinckley has said, it either did happen or it didn’t happen. There is no in between. Mormonism as a religion should be rejected if this is not a historical event.

For more information on this very important topic, I recommend the following articles on the mrm.org website:

“While I was laboring under the extreme difficulties caused by the contests of these parties of religionists, I was one day reading the Epistle of James, first chapter and fifth verse, which reads: If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.

“Never did any passage of scripture come with more power to the heart of man than this did at this time to mine. It seemed to enter with great force into every feeling of my heart. I reflected on it again and again, knowing that if any person needed wisdom from God, I did; for how to act I did not know, and unless I could get more wisdom than I then had, I would never know” [Joseph Smith—History 1:8–12].

The way that Joseph Smith interpreted James chapter 1 is faulty. First of all, it should be noted that Joseph Smith disregarded the immediate context of James 1:5, which speaks of gaining wisdom, not knowledge. Wisdom is the proper application of knowledge. In addition, James tells his Christian audience to ask God for wisdom when they are undergoing trials and temptations, not for testing various truth claims. First John 4:1 tells believers to “try [test] the spirits.” Why? Because many false prophets have gone out into the world. The Bereans in Acts 17:11 were considered noble because they “searched the scriptures daily” and tested Paul’s words against what God had already revealed. In other words, Christians are to inspect all truth claims by comparing what they say to the Bible, not with subjective experiences, even if that experience involves a supernatural “vision.”

Of course, what happened next changed the course of human history. Determining to “ask of God,” young Joseph retired to a grove near his rural home. There, in answer to his fervent prayer, God, the Eternal Father, and his Son, Jesus Christ visited Joseph and counseled him. That great manifestation, of which I humbly testify, answered many more questions for our dispensation than simply which church young Joseph should or should not join.

Besides James 1:5, Moroni 10:4 in the Book of Mormon is also regularly referenced by Mormon missionaries as support for praying, as Smith did, about the authenticity and truthfulness of a particular scripture (in their case, the Book of Mormon). It reads, “And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.”

An investigator is told that, through prayer, God will help a person understand that Mormonism really is true. Doctrine and Covenants 9:8 reads, “But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right.”

While it is important to be respectful to our Latter-day Saint friends and not minimize their experiences, we need to point out that the rules have been rigged since the prayer’s request really has but one answer. After all, the investigator who declines the invitation to pray may be accused of not believing in prayer. On the other hand, those who agree to pray but don’t receive the “right” answer will probably be thought of as not having a sincere heart, real intent, or adequate faith. In response to the question “Shouldn’t Moroni’s promise always work” with someone who “has not received a testimony of its truthfulness?” Daniel Ludlow, the director of LDS Church Correlation Review, confirms this suspicion:

God cannot and does not lie, and his promises made through his prophets are sure. Therefore, any person who claims to have followed the various requirements but says he has not gained a testimony should check to see which step he has not followed faithfully or completely:

  1. He should read and ponder the Book of Mormon—all of it.
  2. He should remember the methods God has used in working with the peoples of both the Book of Mormon and the Bible—and ponder these things in his heart.
  3. He should put himself in a frame of mind where he would be willing to accept (receive) all of “these things”—the Book of Mormon, the Bible, and the way God works with men.
  4. “With a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ,” he should ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Jesus Christ “if these things are not true.”
  5. He should be able to recognize the promptings and feelings which will be evidences to him of the truth of “these things” (including the Book of Mormon) as they are made manifest unto him “by the power of the Holy Ghost.”

There is a psychological edge that the Mormon missionaries have when someone agrees to their challenge. After all, the investigator may eventually get the “right” answer in an attempt to please the missionaries, close family members, or friends who have come to the same conclusion. In the end, one’s good feelings may win the day, even if the object of the prayer is false.

The Bible makes it very clear that subjective feelings can be deceptive. Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” Proverbs 14:12 warns, “There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death,” while Proverbs 28:26 adds that only fools trust in their heart. Because everyone is a fallen and sinful creature, it is possible to be swayed by emotions and desires. To believe something is true merely because one feels it to be true is no guarantee of truth. Jesus commanded His followers in Mark 12:30 to love God “with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength.”

Paul explained in 2 Timothy 2:15 that the believer must make the effort to study in order to correctly understand truth. In the next chapter (3:16–17), he added that all Scripture given by inspiration of God is “profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” so that the man or woman of God might be competent and equipped to do good works. Christians are commanded in 1 Thessalonians 5:21 to “prove all things; hold fast that which is good.” While it is true that faith does involve believing things that can’t be proven, it is foolishness to believe something that has already been disproven. If the Bible doesn’t support a spiritual truth claim, it must be rejected.

If praying about the Book of Mormon is the means for finding truth, shouldn’t this test also apply to other religious books? It is curious how very few Mormons have taken the time and effort to read (and pray about) the scriptures of other religions. Using the rationale that people should pray about Mormonism’s scripture, why shouldn’t every religion’s scriptures—such as the Qu’ran (Islam), the Vedas and the Bhagavad Gita (Hinduism), and the Tripitaka (Buddhism)—also be read and contemplated through prayer? How can the Mormon know the accuracy of Mormonism until he or she personally tests all religions in this way?

Though we certainly are instructed to use prayer as a guide in the search for truth, it should not be the only litmus test. Hopefully, prayer will lead us to the information we need in order to make an informed and proper decision. Just as Joseph Smith improperly used James 1:5, so does anyone who uses a prayer as the primary means to determine whether or not the Book of Mormon is true.

But my purpose … is not to outline the first moments of the Restoration, though it is one of the most sacred stories in the scriptures. I wish, rather, simply to emphasize the impressive degree of spiritual sensitivity demonstrated by this very young and untutored boy. How many of us, at fourteen or any age, could keep our heads steady and our wits calm with so many forces tugging and pulling on us, especially on such an important subject as our eternal salvation?

As explained earlier, even if the First Vision is true, this event couldn’t have happened when Smith was 14; instead, he would have been 18. Could a 14-year-old year hear from God just as easily as an 18-year-old? Of course. But the point is that Mormonism has pegged Smith to be 14 when this happened, yet there are too many conflicts.

If this plays such a major role in Mormonism’s history, why is there no mention of it in the early years of the church among the writings of LDS leaders or members, including Joseph Smith himself? Mormon historian James B. Allen concedes that the First Vision narrative, as understood by modern LDS members, is suspiciously absent for much of Mormonism’s early history. He wrote,

According to Joseph Smith, he told the story of the vision immediately after it happened in the early spring of 1820. As a result, he said, he received immediate criticism in the community. There is little if any evidence, however, that by the early 1830’s Joseph Smith was telling the story in public. At least if he were telling it, no one seemed to consider it important enough to have recorded it at the time, and no one was criticizing him for it. Not even in his own history did Joseph Smith mention being criticized in this period for telling the story of the first vision. The interest, rather, was in the Book of Mormon and the various angelic visitations connected with its origin (“The Significance of Joseph Smith’s ‘First Vision’ in Mormon Thought,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Autumn 1966, 30.

Allen continued to say “that none of the available contemporary writings about Joseph Smith in the 1830s, none of the publications of the Church in that decade, and no contemporary journal or correspondence yet discovered mentions the story of the first vision is convincing evidence that at best it received only limited circulation in those early days.” (Ibid., pp. 30-31) If the First Vision story were actually being circulated, Smith’s detractors would have found this to be a lightning rod for criticism. Yet Allen stated that “the earliest anti-Mormon literature attacked the Book of Mormon and the character of Joseph Smith but never mentioned the first Vision.” (Ibid., p. 31).

Smith’s critics included Alexander Campbell, E. D. Howe, Ezra Booth, John Corrill, and J. B. Turner. Allen went on to say,

Not until 1843, when the New York Spectator printed a reporter’s account of an interview with Joseph Smith, did a non-Mormon source publish any reference to the story of the first vision. In 1844 I. Daniel Rupp published An Original History of the Religious Denominations at Present Existing in the United States, and this work contained an account of the vision provided by Joseph Smith himself. It seems probable; however, that as far as non-Mormons were concerned there was little, if any, awareness of it in the 1830’s (Ibid).

Allen says that it was not until 1842 that a detailed account of the First Vision was printed in a Mormon publication.

The Times and Seasons began publication in 1839, but, as indicated above, the story of the vision was not told in its pages until 1842. From all this it would appear that the general church membership did not receive information about the first vision until the 1840’s and that the story certainly did not hold the prominent place in Mormon thought that it does today (Ibid., p. 32. The 1842 report of the First Vision can be found in Times and Seasons, April 1, 1842, 3:743).

To explain why this story is missing, Allen suggests that Smith may have felt “experiences such as these should be kept from the general public because of their extremely sacred nature” (p. 34). If so, should it be assumed that everyone who allegedly knew of this story had the will to set aside its evangelistic capabilities when speaking to a skeptical prospective convert? Is this even remotely reasonable when one considers that Smith’s encounter has profound importance in bolstering Mormonism’s current view of the Godhead? Consider also that such “sacredness” didn’t seem to prohibit the LDS Church from eventually using this narrative as a missionary tool.

This missing portion of early Mormon history may explain why several LDS General Authorities have given conflicting views regarding the First Vision. Note these examples:

Brigham Young (1801–1877): “The Lord did not come with the armies of heaven . . . But He did send His angel to this same obscure person, Joseph Smith Jun. . . . and informed him that he should not join any of the religious sects of the day, for they were all wrong” (Journal of Discourses 2:171).

John Taylor (1808–1887): “How did this state of things called Mormonism originate? We read that an angel came down and revealed himself to Joseph Smith and manifested unto him in vision the true position of the world in a religious point of view . . . None of them was right, just as it was when the Prophet Joseph asked the angel which of the sects was right that he might join it. The answer was that none of them are right. What, none of them? No” (Ibid., 10:127; 20:167).

George A. Smith (1817–1875): “Joseph Smith had attended these meetings, and when this result was reached he saw clearly that something was wrong. He had read the Bible and had found that passage in James which says ‘If any of you lack wisdom let him ask of God that giveth to all men liberally and upbraideth not,’ and taking this literally, he went humbly before the Lord and inquired of Him, and the Lord answered his prayer, and revealed to Joseph, by the ministration of angels, the true condition of the religious world. When the holy angel appeared, Joseph inquired which of all these denominations was right and which he should join, and was told they were all wrong,—they had all gone astray, transgressed the laws, changed the ordinances and broken the everlasting covenant, and that the Lord was about to restore the priesthood and establish His Church, which would be the only true and living Church on the face of the whole earth” (Ibid., 12:334).

Joseph Smith himself recorded a conflicting view in his 1832 diary when he claimed that he saw only “the Lord” in the “16th year of my age.” Instead of being told by two personages that all the churches were wrong, in this account he claimed to have already known that the churches “had apostatized from the true and living faith and there was no society or denomination that built upon the Gospel of Jesus Christ as recorded in the new testament” (Joseph Smith’s 1832–34 Diary, p. 5). Keep in mind that there were no other witnesses to this event. In essence, in order to accept this account, one must put complete faith and trust in Joseph Smith and him alone.

Even if it were possible for Smith to see God, D&C 84:21–22 explains that the priesthood would have been needed in order for Smith to see Him: “And without the ordinances thereof, and the authority of the priesthood, the power of godliness is not manifest unto men in the flesh; For without this no man can see the face of God, even the Father, and live.” Melvin J. Petersen, who taught church history and doctrine at Brigham Young University, acknowledged that Smith had no such priesthood in 1820, the year he claimed to have seen God. However, he pointed to John 1:18 of the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible to support the idea that Smith saw God, which reads, “No man hath seen God at any time, except he hath bourne record of the Son” (A Sure Foundation: Answers to Difficult Gospel Questions, p. 79). In noting this dilemma, Brigham Young University professor Charles R. Harrell states,

Explanations about how Joseph could have seen God before being ordained to the Melchizedek Priesthood or having received its ordinances have been varied. Early Mormon brethren who confronted this issue concluded that Joseph did hold the priesthood having, in some sense, brought it with him from the preexistence. . . .According to Joseph Fielding Smith, since the priesthood wasn’t yet on the earth, young Joseph was exempt from this requirement (This is My Doctrine: The Development of Mormon Theology, 146, footnote 65).

If you are a Latter-day Saint, how is it possible to resolve these issues?

How many of us could withstand the emotional conflict that might come when parents differ in their religious persuasions? How many of us, at fourteen or fifty, would search within our souls and search within holy writ to find answers to what the Apostle Paul called “the deep things of God”? (1 Cor. 2:10.)

You can be fourteen, fifty, or ninety, yet it is still possible at any age to accept a false gospel by not looking very hard at the evidence. If what someone claims is the “deep things of God” doesn’t correspond to the special revelation as provided in the Bible, then the revelation that has been received—no matter how good it feels—should be rejected immediately and no looking back.

How remarkable … that this lad would turn profoundly to the scriptures and then to private prayer, perhaps the two greatest sources of spiritual insight and spiritual impression that are available universally to mankind. Certainly he was torn by differing opinions, but he was determined to do the right thing and determined to find the right way. He believed, as you and I must believe, that he could be taught and blessed from on high, as he was.

This is the romantic version. The reality is that Smith rejected the basic teachings of truth as found in the very pages of the Bible that he rejected. I refer you to an article describing reasons why Christians don’t accept Joseph Smith as a prophet of God: 10 reasons why Joseph Smith should not be considered a true prophet of God

But, we may say, Joseph Smith was a very special spirit, and his was a special case. What about the rest of us who may now be older—at least older than fourteen—and have not been destined to open a dispensation of the gospel? We also must make decisions and sort out confusion and cut through a war of words in a whole host of subjects that affect our lives. The world is full of such difficult decisions, and sometimes as we face them, we may feel our age or our infirmities.

Sometimes we may feel that our spiritual edge has grown dull. On some very trying days, we may even feel that God has forgotten us, has left us alone in our confusion and concern. But that feeling is no more justified for the older ones among us than it is for the younger and less experienced. God knows and loves us all. We are, every one of us, his daughters and his sons, and whatever life’s lessons may have brought us, the promise is still true: “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.” (James 1:5.)

Here is another reference to James 1:5, a verse that says nothing close to what Smith claimed it meant. This prooftext should not be considered very convincing to someone who is more interested with the truth than sticking with emotions.

Prayer is one way to receive spiritual knowledge and guidance.

The learning and wisdom of the earth and all that is temporal comes to us through our physical senses in earthly, temporal ways. We touch, we see, we hear and taste and smell and learn. However, spiritual knowledge, as Paul has said, comes to us in a spiritual way from its spiritual source. Paul continues:

“But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” (1 Cor. 2:14.)

We have found, and know, that the only way to gain spiritual knowledge is to approach our Father in Heaven through the Holy Spirit in the name of Jesus Christ. When we do this, and if we are spiritually prepared, we see things our eyes have not previously seen, and we hear things we may not have previously heard—“the things which God hath prepared,” using Paul’s words. (1 Cor. 2:9.) These things we receive through the Spirit.

These verses quoted in 1 Corinthians 2 have been completely jerked out of their context and made to say something that Paul never intended. Let’s take a look at 1 Cor. 2:6-16 in context:

Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But, as it is written,

“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,
nor the heart of man imagined,
what God has prepared for those who love him”—

10 these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. 11 For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. 13 And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.

14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. 15 The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. 16 “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.

Notice that the word in this passage is “wisdom” and not “knowledge.” Just as we pointed out with James 1:5, there is a huge difference between these two terms. Mormonism says you should pray about the Book of Mormon to know if it is true. James and Paul say that it is important to seek wisdom, which is how we go about to determine if something is true. God does reveal truth through the Spirit, as Paul talks about in 1 Corinthians 2. But it’s not our emotions or good feelings that are the determining factors! Consider what Luke wrote in Acts 28:

23 When they had appointed a day for him, they came to him at his lodging in greater numbers. From morning till evening he expounded to them, testifying to the kingdom of God and trying to convince them about Jesus both from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets. 24 And some were convinced by what he said, but others disbelieved. 25 And disagreeing among themselves, they departed after Paul had made one statement: “The Holy Spirit was right in saying to your fathers through Isaiah the prophet:

26 “‘Go to this people, and say,
“You will indeed hear but never understand,
and you will indeed see but never perceive.”
27 For this people’s heart has grown dull,
and with their ears they can barely hear,
and their eyes they have closed;
lest they should see with their eyes
and hear with their ears
and understand with their heart
and turn, and I would heal them.’

Whether it was the deity of Christ (Col. 1:15-17; 2:9; Phil. 2:5-11) or the importance of the historical resurrection (1 Cor. 15:1-5), Paul always made an emphasis of the evidence. While praying about the Book of Mormon (and ultimately Mormonism) may sound very spiritual to many Mormons, we need to make this point very clear: Paul never instructed people to say a prayer as the primary test to determine truth. When it comes to the Bible, Mormonism’s “test” based on James 1:5 and Moroni 10:4 does not stand. Prayer is important, but if praying for something (“Is the Book of Mormon true?”) is not supported by the evidence, why would a wise person accept this as a reasonable way to determine truth?

We believe, and testify to the world, that communication with our Father in Heaven and direction from the Lord are available today. We testify that God speaks to man as he did in the days of the Savior and in Old Testament times.

Based on the Bible and the lack of evidence of the First Vision, the Book of Mormon, and the doctrines taught in Mormonism, I testify to you that God did not reveal Himself to the LDS founder. If I am right, Smith and the religion of Mormonism ought to be rejected.

The Prophet Joseph Smith … has given us perhaps the clearest statement of all on the need to become spiritual as well as the time and patience which we must recognize are part of the process. [He] said: “We consider that God has created man with a mind capable of instruction, and a faculty which may be enlarged in proportion to the heed and diligence given to the light communicated from heaven to the intellect; and that the nearer man approaches perfection, the clearer are his views, and the greater his enjoyments, till he has overcome the evils of his life and lost every desire for sin; and like the ancients, arrives at that point of faith where he is wrapped in the power and glory of his Maker, and is caught up to dwell with Him. But we consider that this is a station to which no man ever arrived in a moment” [Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith (2007), 210–11].

I encourage you to read this paragraph again. Notice what Smith says:

  • “God has created man with a mind that can be instructed”—If God has provided “man with a mind that can be instructed,” then He has also created man with a mind that can do investigation. If this is the case, then why shouldn’t an individual do some work to determine the truth rather than focus so much attention on praying for a truthfulness of a book (especially when the evidence doesn’t point in that direction)?
  • “The nearer man approached perfection”—Where in the Bible does it talk about perfection being a gradual process? In essence, the Christian who has been forgiven is already perfect in that his or her sins are completely cleansed. Jesus said that “it is finished.”
  • “Lost every desire for sin”—Have you reached this state? I haven’t. I don’t think anyone can. Even the apostle Paul struggled with sin. Consider Romans 7:13-25 to see his admission.

Honestly, Smith’s (and Mormonism’s) requirements are impossible. The Mormon gospel cannot be attained.

We must take time to prepare our minds for spiritual things. The development of spiritual capacity does not come with the conferral of authority. There must be desire, effort, and personal preparation. This requires, of course, … fasting, prayer, searching the scriptures, experience, meditation, and a hungering and thirsting after the righteous life.

You can do all these things and yet not accomplish what the previous paragraph said. While the things Hunter mentions (desire, effort, fasting, prayer, etc.) are positive, as hard as I try, I will never run the mile in 3 minutes no matter how I prepare. It’s impossible.

God will help us progress spiritually one step at a time.

Part of our difficulty as we strive to acquire spirituality is the feeling that there is much to do and that we are falling far short. Perfection is something yet ahead for every one of us; but we can capitalize on our strengths, begin where we are, and seek after the happiness that can be found in pursuing the things of God. The place to begin is here. The time to start is now. The length of our stride needs be but one step at a time. God, who has “designed our happiness,” will lead us along even as little children, and we will by that process approach perfection.

Twelfth President Spencer W. Kimball spoke much on the topic of perfection in his classic book The Miracle of Forgiveness:

This progress toward eternal life is a matter of achieving perfection. Living all the commandments guarantees total forgiveness of sins and assures one of exaltation through that perfection which comes by complying with the formula the Lord gave us. In his Sermon on the Mount he made the command to all men: “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” (Matt. 5:48.) Being perfect means to triumph over sin. This is a mandate from the Lord. He is just and wise and kind. He would never require anything from his children which was not for their benefit and which was not attainable. Perfection therefore is an achievable goal (pp. 208-209).

In the context of the spirit of forgiveness, one good brother asked me, “Yes, that is what ought to be done, but how do you do it? Doesn’t that take a superman?” “Yes,” I said, “but we are commanded to be supermen. Said the Lord, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” (Matt. 5:48.) We are gods in embryo, and the Lord demands perfection of us’” (p. 286).

I would emphasize that the teachings of Christ that we should be­come perfect were not mere rhetoric. He meant literally that it is the right of mankind to become like the Father and like the Son, having overcome human weaknesses and developed attributes of divinity (p. 26).

According to Kimball, approaching perfection wasn’t enough. Attaining it was.

None of us has attained perfection or the zenith of spiritual growth that is possible in mortality. Every person can and must make spiritual progress. The gospel of Jesus Christ is the divine plan for that spiritual growth eternally. It is more than a code of ethics. It is more than an ideal social order. It is more than positive thinking about self-improvement and determination. The gospel is the saving power of the Lord Jesus Christ with his priesthood and sustenance and with the Holy Spirit. With faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and obedience to his gospel, a step at a time improving as we go, pleading for strength, improving our attitudes and our ambitions, we will find ourselves successfully in the fold of the Good Shepherd. That will require discipline and training and exertion and strength. But as the Apostle Paul said, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” (Philip. 4:13.)

Hunter sounds like he disagrees with the idea that “perfection is an achievable goal,” as Kimball put it. If Hunter is correct, then why even try? I can have all the “discipline and training and exertion and strength” I want, but if the goal isn’t possible, the whole scenario is futile. If nobody has attained this perfected state, then why did Jesus tell people to be (present tense) perfect (as interpreted by Mormon leaders)? In addition, Hunter wrests Philippians 4:13 out its context. If it is possible that I “can do all things through Christ,” then why shouldn’t I be able to keep all the commandments as I’ve been instructed? Phil. 4:13 isn’t talking about doing all things that are impossible, but only doing those things that are possible. If Hunter doesn’t think that attaining perfection can be done, then why even bring up this verse?

Honestly, this is a very confusing doctrine. And this is a very confusing chapter.

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