By Eric Johnson
Since 1998, the Mormon Church has produced a series of manuals called Teachings of Presidents of the Church, which have featured the compiled orations and writings of various LDS presidents. These gospel doctrine manuals are covered in adult LDS Sunday School classes.
The first manual produced in 1998 was dedicated to the teachings of Brigham Young; the only presidents whose teachings have not been turned into manuals so far for this series are current President Thomas S. Monson as well as Ezra Taft Benson and Howard W. Hunter.
During the past two years, MRM has published a chapter-by-chapter analysis of the George Albert Smith and Lorenzo Snow manuals. (Go to the section titled “Reviews” to see these listed here.) Last year, an LDS teacher wrote us an email to ask if we could be sure to get our reviews up earlier because she liked to read the reviews in preparation for her Sunday lesson. Apparently she wanted more time to study what “the other side” had to say!
This summer the LDS Church released its newest manual, which focuses on the teachings of tenth president Joseph Fielding Smith.
Smith was known for being a knowledgeable theologian, penning the massive three-volume set Doctrines of Salvation as well as the five volumes comprising Answers to Gospel Questions. A direct descendant of Joseph Smith’s brother Hyrum, Smith is the son of sixth president Joseph F. Smith. He is known for stating things as they were. He didn’t mince words, an attribute that I believe his son-in-law Bruce R. McConkie later picked up.
While the manual is much tamer and more “politically correct” than Smith’s complete writings, there are a number of valuable quotes that can be culled from this new volume.
For example, he explains why the Garden of Gethsemane is the place where Christ suffered the “extreme penalty” to pay for mankind’s sins. He wrote:
“I wish we could impress this fact upon the minds of every member of this Church: His great suffering occurred before he ever went to the cross. It was in the Garden of Gethsemane, so the scriptures tell us, that blood oozed from every pore of his body; and in the extreme agony of his soul, he cried to his Father. It was not the nails driven into his hands and feet. Now do not ask me how that was done because I do not know. Nobody knows. All we know is that in some way he took upon himself that extreme penalty. He took upon him our transgressions, and paid a price, a price of torment” (p. 63).
Contrary to Smith’s analysis, the Bible clearly states how the cross, not the garden, ought to be emphasized, because atonement needed more than blood to be efficacious. Instead, death was required.
Smith was a huge advocate in accepting the authority of the LDS leadership. He explained,
“The Latter-day Saints should put their trust in their leaders, and follow the teachings of the authorities of the Church, for they speak unto them with the voice of prophecy and inspiration. The Lord has declared in the very first section in the Doctrine and Covenants, that whether he speaks by his own voice or through the voice of his servants, it is the same [see D&C 1:38]. Therefore, we are under just as great responsibility and obligation to hearken unto the voice of the one who stands at the head to teach the people, or to listen unto the voice of the elders of Israel, as they carry among the people the message of truth, as we are [if] the Lord should send from his presence an angel or should come himself to declare these things unto us” (p. 145).
He also explained,
“The President of the Church holds the keys over all the Church. . . . In him is concentrated the power of the Priesthood. He holds all the keys of every nature, pertaining to the dispensation of the Fulness of Times. All the keys of former dispensations which have been revealed, are vested in him” (p. 157. Ellipsis in original).
When it comes to how a person attains the very best Mormonism has to offer (eternal life, or exaltation), Smith wrote,
“Through obedience to those commandments which are set forth in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and by continuance therein, we shall receive immortality, glory, eternal life, and dwell in the presence of God the Father and his Son Jesus Christ, where we shall truly know them” (p. 237).
One thing that hasn’t changed from previous manuals is the “teaching help” sections that include LDS leader quotes at the end of each chapter. In fact, the suggestions are exactly the same as they were in the two previous manuals.