Teachings of Presidents of the Church: George Albert Smith, Chapter 10

During 2012, LDS members will be studying the latest manual published by their church, Teachings of Presidents of the Church: George Albert Smith. 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.


Chapter 10: The Scriptures, the Most Valuable Library in the World

The truths contained in the scriptures are far more valuable than the philosophies of men.

The Bible, Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price, do not contain the wisdom of men alone, but of God. While they do not find their way into the homes of many people, they contain the word of the Lord. What mattereth it, though we understand Homer and Shakespeare and Milton, and I might enumerate all the great writers of the world; if we have failed to read the scriptures we have missed the better part of this world’s literature.

One of the key words a Christian must understand in order to better understand Latter-day Saint theology is “scripture.” Typically, a Christian understands this to mean the Bible, which is truly the Word of God. However, in Mormonism, there are four scriptures, or “Standard Works”: The Bible (King James Version is the official version), the Book of Mormon (considered “Another Testament of Jesus Christ”), the Doctrine and Covenants (teachings mainly from Joseph Smith, who claimed revelation from God Himself), and the Pearl of Great Price (containing such works as Joseph Smith’s testimony as well as the books of Moses and Abraham).

The problem is that the latter three “scriptures” typically supersede any otherwise-clear teaching from the Bible. When a person considers these as words commissioned by God, they are prone to accept those teachings whenever they contradict the Bible. By assuming these are scripture and are to be believed, George Albert Smith has set up an unfair playing field. It would be better if he took some time to explain why the Bible is not a “sufficient guide” so we can understand why we need these other books.

My brethren and sisters, all the truth that is … necessary for our salvation, is contained within the lids of the books that I have already enumerated. We may not possess a library of two or three thousand volumes, but we may possess at small cost a priceless library that has cost the best blood that has ever been in this world.

It is unclear what is meant by “the best blood” in this context. Perhaps he means the blood of the apostles, who (except for one) died martyrs’ deaths for their beliefs. (See this.) Perhaps he is referring to such martyrs as William Tyndale and John Wycliffe, men who were killed for translating the Bible into English. (See this.) Honestly, I am sure he probably is referring mostly to Joseph Smith, Jr., a man whom Mormonism touts as a “lamb led to the slaughter” who brought forth the other scriptures. If so, I would disagree. For more information, see this. 

I am not concerned whether or not you have the books of the great libraries of the world in your home, provided you do have these books. Think of the millions of volumes that there are in [the] Congressional Library at Washington, in the British Library, and in the libraries of other countries, millions of volumes—and yet all that God has revealed and published to the children of men that is necessary to prepare them for a place in the celestial kingdom is contained within the covers of these sacred books. How many of us know what they contain? I frequently go into homes where I see all the latest magazines. I find the books that are advertised as best sellers on the bookshelves. If you were to throw them all away and retain only these sacred scriptures, you wouldn’t lose what the Lord has caused to be written and made available for us all to enjoy. So, brethren and sisters, among our other blessings let us not forget that the Lord has made it possible for us to have, enjoy, and understand the scriptures and to have his word that has been given down through the ages for the salvation of his children.

Once more, his imperative depends on the assumption that there are four scriptural books, not one. Even to call “heaven” the celestial kingdom, a place where Mormons believes humans can possibly attain godhood if they keep celestial law, is something only taught in the unique LDS scriptures.

As I read the scriptures, … I marvel at the goodness of the Lord to bless those who accept his teachings, for we find more comfort in these sacred records than in all the philosophies of the ages, as given to us by the wisdom of men.

I would agree that God has given goodness to His people by providing His record, as found in the Bible, which is the true Holy Scripture. But I disagree that the LDS scriptures provide any such comfort. Consider the issue of attaining salvation:

  • Whereas the Bible says that Christians will struggle with sin and sometimes not do the right thing, the Book of Mormon says “that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them” (1 Nephi 3:7)
  • Whereas the Bible teaches that salvation comes by grace through faith and not of our own works (Eph. 2:8-10), the Book of Mormon says it is “by grace that we are saved, after all we can do” (2 Nephi 25:23), meaning our own effort is required in order to received justification from  sins
  • Whereas the Bible teaches that God forgives sin and removes it “as far as the east is from the west,” the Book of Mormon says that “ye cannot be saved in your sins” (Alma 11:37), with Doctrine and Covenants adding that God “cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance” D&C 1:31) and unless a person keeps “my commandments continually,” he or she cannot come into God’s presence (D&C 25:15)
  • Whereas the Bible teaches that it’s “not by works of righteousness, which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us” (Titus 3:5), the Book of Mormon says a person must “deny (himself) of all ungodliness” before “his grace is sufficient for you” (Moroni 10:32)
  • While the Bible says that Christians will struggle with sin and sometimes even fall (see Romans 7:13-25), Doctrine and Covenants says that a person who has truly repented not only has confessed his or her sins but also has forsaken them.

The problem with the Mormon gospel is that it’s an impossible command/goal, and there is little comfort in the words of its unique scriptures. This is so unlike the easy yoke and light burden talked about by Jesus throughout the Bible (e.g., Matthew 11:30). Indeed, Mormonism demands perfection. Because of this, the Latter-day Saint is never able to claim, beyond a shadow of a doubt, what 1 John 5:13 has promised.

We talk about the philosophies of men and hold them up sometimes as a pretty picture, but when they conflict with the teachings of our Heavenly Father as contained in Holy Writ, they are valueless. They will never lead anybody into eternal happiness, nor help him to find a place in the kingdom of our Heavenly Father.

When it comes to justification before an all-holy God, Mormonism, like every other world religion, asks: “What must I do for God?” Yet striving for God is like trying to swim to Hawaii; it sounds like a good idea until you step into the water and try to do the impossible. Meanwhile, humanistic philosophy is trying to reach “God” by humanitarian efforts, creating the ideal living situation, campaigning against hunger and deforestation, and attempting to establish heaven on earth (forgetting that everyone dies).  In the end, such a pursuit leads to frustration. Christianity is in conflict with both philosophies. It asks a question mocked by both Mormon and secularist: “What an amazing God, look what He did for me by giving me eternal life.” The Christian asks “What did God do for me?” Good works are considered a result of the internal change that has already taken place. There is, the Bible says, a peace that passes all understanding (Phil. 4:7). This is the gateway to true eternal happiness.

I sometimes feel that we do not appreciate the Holy Bible, and what it contains, and these other scriptures, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price that have been referred to … as letters from our Heavenly Father. They may be so received, at least they are his advice and his counsel to all the children of men given to them that they may know how to take advantage of their opportunities, that their lives may not be spent in vain.

It is true that the Bible is a love letter from God. Once more, the quotes generated by the LDS curriculum committee gives no reason for us to accept these other books as “scripture.”

Our Heavenly Father, through His faithful representatives, has told us of the important things that should occur and we can read about them in His holy scriptures. If we really desire to be saved and exalted in His celestial kingdom He has told us how to proceed. [The scriptures are] the greatest library to be found in all the world. What does it contain? It contains what your Father and mine has thought of enough importance to preserve and give to the children of men and make accessible in many languages of the World. These scriptures are all important and should be understood by the Latter-day Saints. I am not going to ask you to hold up your hands to ascertain how many here assembled have ever read these books, but I desire to call your attention to the fact that these are precious truths, and they contain the revealed word of the Lord printed and published to the world for the purpose of preparing his children for a place in the celestial kingdom. That is why I say they are so valuable. … How thankful we ought to be that we live in a day and age when we can read his advice and counsel and have things explained that otherwise might be obscure and uncertain to us.

As mentioned earlier, Mormonism has certainly told its people how to proceed in the never-ending goal to attain the “celestial kingdom.” Mormon authors have tried hard to calm the fears of members who are overwhelmed by such a prospect. One example is a book written for Mormon youth by LDS apologist Anthony Sweat titled I’m Not Perfect. Can I Still Go to Heaven? Citing a 2009 survey that polled 701 Mormon teens ranging from 14-18 years of age, the study showed how 53 percent did think that they would go to the celestial kingdom if they died right then. But an astounding 40 percent thought they would end in the terrestrial kingdom, with the other 7 percent saying they were headed for the telestial kingdom or outer darkness. (I’m Not Perfect. Can I Still Go to Heaven? Finding Hope for the Celestial Kingdom through the Atonement of Christ, viii. The poll asked, “If you died and were judged today, what eternal kingdom do you think you would go to?” Two percent answered “outer darkness” or “sons of perdition” even though this was not a choice in the multiple choice question).

Sweat writes that these students were the cream of the crop. “These numbers are disheartening to me because the youth who took these surveys appear to be actively engaged in the gospel: regularly attending church and Mutual, serving in Church callings, and enrolling in programs such as seminary and Especially for Youth. These teenagers are the kind of kids who consistently read their scriptures, pray, and try their best to keep the commandments and do what is right. Yet half don’t think they are celestial material.” Sweat said that the most common answer he received from those thinking they wouldn’t reach the celestial kingdom is that “I have sins and I’m not perfect.” His book was written in an attempt to give the youth an assurance that there is “the hope we can all have for the celestial kingdom because of the Atonement of Jesus Christ.” (Ibid., viii-ix)

This attitude is prevalent among Mormon college students as well. In a campus devotional, BYU President Cecil O. Samuelson told the student body how striving for perfectionism was “corrosive and destructive, and is the antithesis of the healthy quest for eventual perfection that the savior prescribes.” In his talk, the Salt Lake Tribune journalist reported, “Samuelson said a person can be deemed morally worthy while being imperfect.” Samuelson addressed Jesus’ words recorded in Matthew 5:48, which says in part “Be ye therefore perfect.” He correctly noted how the Koine Greek for the word “perfection” means “whole” or “complete,” not “flawless.” BYU president warns about perils of perfectionism,” Salt Lake Tribune, September 7, 2011)

If that is the way this passage has always been interpreted within LDS circles, one only wonders why this topic needed to be addressed in the first place. The fact is, many Mormon leaders have used Jesus’ words in Matthew 5 to impress upon members the need to overcome sin in order to earn their exaltation. No wonder the high school students felt unworthy for the celestial kingdom and the BYU students were struggling with perfectionism.

President Spencer W. Kimball (1895-1985) told the story of a man who wanted to make sure he had made final preparations before undergoing “radical surgery.” Kimball wrote, “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.’” (Kimball, The Miracle of Forgiveness, 286).

Speaking in general conference, President Thomas S. Monson referenced Matthew 5:48 and stated, “God our Father, and Jesus Christ, our Lord, have marked the way to perfection. They beckon us to follow eternal verities and to become perfect, as they are perfect (see Matthew 5:48; 3 Nephi 12:48).” (“An Invitation to Exaltation,” Ensign, May 1988, 54.) Latter-day Saints have been given conflicting counsel as to when they are supposed to reach this goal. President Heber J. Grant (1856-1945) gave the impression that this perfection could finally be reached sometime in the future eternities. Referring to the LDS doctrine of eternal progression, he encouraged members to build “upon the achievements of our first spirit-life, our first estate, and of our mortal life, or second estate, progressing through the endless eternities that follow, until we reach the goal the Lord set: ‘Be ye perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.’ [Matthew 5:48.].”(Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Heber J. Grant, 49). The manual is from 2002. Another church manual states, “Remind class members that while perfection cannot be entirely achieved in this life, we can make great progress toward it. The Lord expects us to do all we can toward giving up our sins and becoming perfect, and he has given us the gospel to help us do this.” (Preparing for Exaltation Teacher’s Manual, 1998, 123-124)

Some, like Kimball, have insisted that the “second estate,” or this mortality, is the time to accomplish this perfection. “This life is the time,” Kimball titled chapter one in The Miracle of Forgiveness. In a section titled “Dangers of Delay,” he warned church members: “Because men are prone to postpone action and ignore directions, the Lord has repeatedly given strict injunctions and issued solemn warnings. . . . And the burden of the prophetic warning has been that the time to act is now, in this mortal life. One cannot with impunity delay his compliance with God’s commandments.” (Kimball, The Miracle of Forgiveness, 9-10).

Kimball explained, “This earth life is the time to repent. We cannot afford to take any chances of dying an enemy to God.” (Ibid., 15). He criticized his people for their procrastination: “There are . . . many members of the Church who are lax and careless and who continually procrastinate. They live the gospel casually but not devoutly. They have complied with some requirements but are not valiant. They do no major crime but merely fail to do the things required—things like paying tithing, living the World of Wisdom, having family prayers, fasting, attending meetings, service. . . . The Lord will not translate one’s good hopes and desires and intentions into works. Each of us must do that for himself. . . .” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Spencer W. Kimball, 8)

First Nephi 3:7 affirms that God gives no commandments to the “children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them.” If this is true, then we must assume that those Mormons who failed to repent of all of their sins were guilty of squandering their mortal opportunity and have indeed procrastinated their repentance. This is a perilous situation since, as Kimball stated, “incomplete repentance never brought complete forgiveness.” (Kimball, The Miracle of Forgiveness, 212).

In an article written to Mormon youth, Jay E. Jensen, a member of the Presidency of the Seventy, said, “Another prerequisite or condition to repentance is to know that no unclean thing can dwell with God (see 1 Ne. 10:21; 1 Ne. 15:34; Alma 7:21; Alma 40:26; and Hel. 8:25). You can hide sins from your bishop, you can hide them from your parents and friends, but if you continue and die with unresolved sins, you are unclean and no unclean thing can dwell with God. There are no exceptions.” (“The Message: Do You Know How to Repent?” New Era, November 1999, 7)

Once again, when it comes to comfort, Mormonism is akin to sleeping on a soggy piece of cardboard on a chilly and snowy evening as compared to the offer of Christianity, which is the offer of sleeping on a feather bed in front of a fire place. There is just no comparison.

We inspire faith in our families by reading the scriptures with them.

I would like you to ask yourselves, how many of you have read anything to your families out of these books from time to time, called them together to teach them the things that they ought to know. I am afraid many of us would have to say we have been too busy.

If you’re a Latter-day Saint, you are probably going to be shocked at what I say next. That’s OK, I’ve said nice things about Mormons many times before (e.g., http://www.mrm.org/10-things)  In Mormonism, the members are encouraged to carve time out of each week (called “Family Home Evening”) to spend time together, reading lessons and having fun as a family. I think it’s a great idea and is something more Christians ought to do. Of course, I disagree that the “scriptures” they read are truly from the mind of God, but a tip of the hat for those who practice what they preach. Christian, let this be a reminder that we need to be in God’s Word for ourselves, and that we must do as the Bible commands, training our children up in righteousness. This way, when they graduate and leave our homes, there is a much better chance that they will not veer off course. (See Proverbs 22:6.)

We have already heard of many of the blessings that the Lord has given to us in the sacred records that have been kept until our day, and that contain the advice and counsel of an all-wise Father. It seems strange that so many of our people, with the opportunities offered, lack familiarity with the contents of these sacred records. Will our Father hold us guiltless when we go home, if we have failed to teach our children the importance of these sacred records? I think not. … Do you suppose that after the Lord has … placed within our reach the excellent teachings contained in these holy records, that he will consider us appreciative if we fail to teach them to our families, and to impress them upon those with whom we come in contact?

It has been asked, “Are you willing to do for the truth what those in other religions are willing to do for a lie?” Christian, if you are not into God’s Word and applying it to your own personal life, you are missing out on God’s blessing. God’s Word is powerful, sharper than a double-edged sword, and we must use this power regularly in our own lives. (See 2 Timothy 3:16.)

Brethren and sisters, I desire to emphasize again the teaching of the Master: “search the scriptures;” read them prayerfully and faithfully, teach them in your homes; call your families around you and inspire in them a faith in the living God, by reading those things that have been revealed. They are the most precious of all the libraries in all the world.

The Bible is indeed the most precious of all libraries. But again, by Smith’s acceptance of non-canonical books as scripture and believing those words over the Bible, it is akin to putting arsenic into your favorite beverage. It might still smell and even taste like (Coke, coffee, lemonade, or tea), but in the end, it will lead to destruction.

Now, I want to say, my brothers and sisters, that the advice of Jesus Christ, is still in force with us wherein he said, “Search the scriptures, for in them ye think ye have eternal life, and they are they which testify of me.” [John 5:39.] Do not neglect the old family Bible; do not put it away upon the shelf and forget it. Find out, if you do not already know, what it says, and if you have read it before, read it again often to your children and to your children’s children.

Can I shout, “AMEN”?  But wait, I’m sure he’s not quite done…

Read them not only the Bible, but other books of scripture that the Lord has given us for our exaltation, for our comfort and for our blessing.

Ah, I knew it! If you’d like to do more research on these “other books of scripture,” consider looking at the following MRM sites: