During 2013, LDS members will be studying the latest manual published by their church, Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Lorenzo Snow. 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: Lorenzo Snow, 2011
“The nature of those demands upon us [is] such that no person can comply with them, unless by assistance from the Almighty. … He has promised this aid.”
Combined with the chapter’s title, this introductory quote sets the tone for this chapter. It admits that nobody, on their own, can fulfill the full “demands” of God. So how can a person keep the commandments? Through divine aid. It is through this divine aid that keeping the commandments is possible.
From the Life of Lorenzo Snow
President Lorenzo Snow was a worker, following his own often-repeated counsel: “We have to exert ourselves. … Remaining idle without putting ourselves into action is of no use.” But he acknowledged that in his desire to build up the kingdom of God, his own exertions would never be enough without the grace of God—or “supernatural aid,” as he often called it. Therefore, while he encouraged Church members to work hard in “the development of [righteous] principles,” in the same breath he declared that “we, as Latter-day Saints, should understand and bear in mind that salvation comes through the grace of God.” He testified that God will add His strength to our efforts: “Where the Lord plants us, there we are to stand; when he requires us to exert ourselves for the support of these holy principles, that we are to do; that is all we need to trouble ourselves about; the rest our Heavenly Father will take care of.”
I want the Evangelical Christian reader to study Snow’s words very carefully. Notice what he says: “We, as Latter-day Saints, should understand and bear in mind that salvation comes through the grace of God.” While it might sound biblical, the set-up is bound to be very confusing for those who don’t understand the nuances of the terminology. How does this grace take effect? According to Snow, by adding “strength to our efforts.” In other words, it means that while a person must exert effort, “grace” means that God is able to give the extra oomph required by a sinful person through what he calls “supernatural aid.” This is what allows a person to attain exaltation.
For those who do not understand the nuances of LDS language, perhaps some definitions are in order. There are two types of salvation in Mormonism: individual salvation, also known as exaltation or eternal life; and general salvation, or salvation by grace. (See here. ) According to Stephen L. Richards, a member of the First Presidency:
“They [Mormon missionaries] made clear distinction between general salvation or resurrection from the grave and individual salvation or exaltation earned by a man through his compliance with the laws of God. They taught that there are preferential places in heaven as there are on earth and that the highest place or Celestial Kingdom could be attained only by those who faithfully subscribe to and keep all the laws and ordinances of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and thereby entitle themselves to come into the presence of our God and Jesus Christ, His Son” (Stephen L Richards, Conference Reports, April 1941, pp. 102-103. Brackets mine).
Salvation by grace and the benefits of the Atonement should almost be considered a “noble birthright” (words used by Julie B. Beck in her general conference talk, “You Have a Noble Birthright,” Ensign, May 2006) since this privilege is bestowed upon all people who wisely chose Christ in the first estate, or premortality. Because humans received physical bodies when they were born onto this world, everyone deserves the right to enter one of the three levels of heaven. And according to Snow in chapter 14, this grace apparently provides the Latter-day Saint with the ability to somehow keep the commandments.
I want the reader to understand: according to Mormonism, grace by itself is not sufficient. As twelfth President Spencer Kimball explained, “One of the most fallacious doctrines originated by Satan and propounded by man is that man is saved alone by the grace of God; that belief in Jesus Christ alone is all that is needed for salvation” (The Miracle of Forgiveness, p. 206. See also The Book of Mormon Student Manual Religion 121 and 122, 1989, p. 36).
According to President Snow, grace is just the tool that helps the hard-working Mormon attain exaltation by keeping the commandments. When Snow talks about working hard “in the development of [righteous] principles,” he is talking about exaltation, not general salvation. If “God will add His strength to our efforts” so that faithful Latter-day Saints will be able to accomplish the many works required to attain the Celestial Kingdom, then certainly no Mormon has a valid excuse for failing to do what God has required!
Kimball taught that just being “good” is not good enough, as keeping the additional rules of the Mormon Church are also necessary:
“We have discussed elsewhere that other class of people who are basically unrepentant because they are not ‘doing the commandments.’ They are Church members who are steeped in lethargy. They neither drink nor commit the sexual sins. They do not gamble nor rob nor kill. They are good citizens and splendid neighbors, but spiritually speaking they seem to be in a long, deep sleep. They are doing nothing seriously wrong except in their failures to do the right things to earn their exaltation” (The Miracle of Forgiveness, pp. 211-212).
President Snow’s sister Eliza observed that he lived true to this teaching. She described him as a man who had “unshaken confidence in [God’s] assisting power and grace.” She said that he “knew in whom he trusted” and therefore was able to endure “every hardship, every opposition” and “overcome every obstacle.”
How many Latter-day Saints reading this chapter, faithful as they might try to be, continually struggle with sin, even though they desire to do the right thing? Church members are compared with the good brother, Lorenzo Snow, who “lived true to this teaching.” The message seems to be that if President Snow could live this life, why can’t you? This self-righteous mentality continues with the general conference teachings of the General Authorities who make it appear that they have succeeded in enduring “every hardship, every opposition” and ovrcoming “every obstacle.” (If my analysis is wrong, then when is the last time a general authority confessed his shortcoming, as Paul did in Romans 7:14-25?) This mentality of superiority has to depress those Latter-day Saints who recognize their inability to do enough to fulfill the requirements given them by their leaders. To me, this is “in your face.”
Lorenzo Snow showed his confidence in God’s assisting power when he journeyed to serve a mission in England in 1840. On the 42-day voyage across the Atlantic Ocean, he and his fellow travelers suffered through three large storms. He later reported that these were “terrible storms—storms which those accustomed to the ocean pronounced very dangerous.” He noticed a difference between his response to the storms and the response of some of the other travelers: “In a number of instances, to say the least of it, the scene was fearfully terrific. I did not feel surprised that men, women and children who had not learned to trust in God, wrung their hands in an agony of fear, and wept. My trust was in Him who created the seas and defined their bounds. I was on His errand—I knew that I was sent on this mission by the authority He recognizes, and, although the elements raged and the ship swayed and trembled amid the heaving billows, He was at the helm, and my life was safe in His keeping.”
Many years later, when Lorenzo Snow became President of the Church, he again found comfort in his knowledge that the Lord was at the helm. In a meeting held on September 13, 1898, the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles unanimously expressed their commitment to sustain him as President of the Church. A record of the meeting states that he then stood and said that “there was no use in his making excuses as to inability etc., to assume the vast responsibilities involved in the position. … He felt that it was for him to do the very best he could and depend upon the Lord.”
When Snow was on a ship under duress, I wonder, was there really no fear on his part? I find this hard to believe. After all, everyone has been on a jet that suddenly hit some air turbulence. I fully trust God, but when this happens during a flight, my heart starts to pump a little faster and I might even have some fear. (Heights are not my favorite anyway!) I admit, I’m only human. Here we have Superman Snow, a man who has apparently overcome all obstacles and arrived as the epitome of a Christian. While this portion in the manual’s chapter might have been meant to be helpful, I believe it could have the opposite effect. “What’s wrong with me?” must be a question many Latter-day Saints ask when forced to compare themselves to someone as righteous as Lorenzo Snow and the other LDS leaders who want to give the appearance that they have somehow arrived.
Teachings of Lorenzo Snow
With God’s help, we can do anything required of us.
I wish to speak in a manner that will be for our edification and mutual improvement in those things that pertain to our salvation. For this purpose I desire the faith and prayers of all those who believe in looking to the Lord for instruction and intelligence.
We should realize the relationship that we sustain to the Lord our God, and the peculiar position we occupy. To properly discharge the obligations devolving upon us, we require supernatural aid. …
… Jesus told [a] young man who came to him and wished to know what he should do to inherit eternal life, to “keep the commandments.” The young man replied that he had kept these commandments referred to from his youth upward. The Savior, looking upon him, saw there was still something lacking. The young man had kept the moral law, the law given to Moses, and for this Jesus loved him, but saw that there was one thing lacking. He was a rich man, and held influence in the world in consequence of his superior wealth. Jesus knew that before he could elevate him, or any other man, to the celestial world, it was necessary that he should be submissive in all things, and view obedience to the celestial law of the utmost importance. Jesus knew what was required of every man to gain a celestial crown—that nothing should be held dearer than obedience to the requirements of heaven. The Savior saw in this young man a cleaving to something that was not in accordance with the law of the celestial kingdom. He saw, peradventure, a disposition in him to adhere in his feelings to that which was injurious to him, and would render a compliance to all the demands of the gospel disagreeable or impossible, therefore he told him that he should go and sell all that he had “and give to the poor, and follow him.”
This commandment made the young man feel sad and sorrowful. He looked upon riches as the great object in life, as bringing him the influence of the world, and all things that were desirable; as procuring him the blessings and enjoyments of life, and as the means of lifting him to high positions in society. He could not conceive the idea of a person’s securing the blessings, enjoyments and privileges of life, and such things as his nature craved, independent of his wealth. But the gospel was of a nature that provided for everything that was necessary to fulfil the wants and requirements of man and to make him happy. Riches were not so calculated; and the Lord desired him to give up these ideas, and to dislodge them from his mind and feelings, so he might secure him as his servant in all things. He desired this man to be wholly devoted to his service, and to go into his work with full purpose of heart, and follow the dictates of the Holy Spirit, and prepare himself for celestial glory. But this young man was not willing; it was too great a sacrifice. And the Savior said upon this occasion, “How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of heaven. It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.”
The disciples “were astonished out of measure” at this, “saying among themselves, who then can be saved?” They thought that no man could possess riches and be saved in the kingdom of God. This was the idea they received from the remarks of the Savior. But Jesus answered, “With men it is impossible, but not with God: for with God all things are possible.” [See Matthew 19:16–26; see also the Joseph Smith Translation in Matthew 19:26, footnote a, and Mark 10:27, footnote a.]
President Snow misses the point made by Jesus; instead of practicing exegesis (interpreting the intended meaning of the passage), Snow utilizes eisegesis (reading one’s own meaning into a passage). What was Jesus’s point with the rich young ruler? It had to be that a person cannot have a true relationship with God until he or she makes a genuine commitment to Christ. This has nothing to do with works, since grace is a gift (Eph. 2:8-10). In this story, Jesus explained how the man’s desire to have a complete reformation needed to take precedence over anything else that might be valued by the rich young ruler. This could not happen as long as he continued to hold onto his idols (i.e. riches). In the last quoted paragraph, Snow even alluded to the error of thinking that Jesus meant a person could not become a Christian unless he or she sold everything and became poor. While he gets this right, he has taken the passage to somehow mean this:
“Jesus knew that before he could elevate him, or any other man, to the celestial world, it was necessary that he should be submissive in all things, and view obedience to the celestial law of the utmost importance. Jesus knew what was required of every man to gain a celestial crown—that nothing should be held dearer than obedience to the requirements of heaven.”
Once a person becomes a true believer, resting completely on the laurels of Jesus’s work on the cross, it is understood that the rules and regulations are not what God requires. Consider, in part, what Galatians chapter three is all about:
‘You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. 2 I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard? 3 Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh.
10 For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse, as it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.” 11 Clearly no one who relies on the law is justified before God, because “the righteous will live by faith.” 12 The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, it says, “The person who does these things will live by them.”
21 Is the law, therefore, opposed to the promises of God? Absolutely not! For if a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law.22 But Scripture has locked up everything under the control of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe.
23 Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed. 24 So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. 25 Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.
26 So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.
It is vital to see that it is through faith, not successful completion of good works or anything related to the law, that allows a person to have a relationship with God. For Snow, grace is nothing more than the tool that allows a person to keep the commandments, something that is certainly anathema in Paul’s mind.
God has promised to help us in our personal efforts to live the gospel.
In and of ourselves we cannot possibly comply with all the commandments that God has given unto us. Jesus himself could not without divine aid from His Father accomplish His work. He said on one occasion, “I can of mine own self do nothing, as I hear I judge and my judgment is just because I seek not my own will but the will of the Father who sent me.” [John 5:30.] And we, if it was necessary for Him, our Lord, to have divine assistance, will find it all the more important to receive His assistance. And in every circumstance and condition surrounding the Latter-day Saints, while in the performance of their duties, they are entitled to supernatural aid from the Holy Spirit, to help in the various conditions surrounding them, and in the duties that they are required to perform.
Here President Snow says it is impossible to follow D&C 25:15 (“Keep the commandments continually”) without the help of God. Those Latter-day Saints who realize that they are not keeping all of God’s commandments must not be utilizing the “supernatural aid from the Holy Spirit” that will help a person attain “the duties that (you) are required to perform.” If it’s possible to keep the commandments but a person isn’t doing what he/she is supposed to do, the onus falls on the shoulders of each individual Mormon.
… I cannot imagine anything that is so vastly important as to work for and obtain one’s own individual exaltation and glory. That undoubtedly is one great purpose for which we came into the world. … No man or woman should be discouraged when they feel that they cannot complete what they would like to perform, but we all should do what we can toward carrying out the grand work for which we are here.
As Snow alludes to here, Mormonism teaches that a person can have assurance of salvation only when he or she accomplishes the necessary works. Spencer Kimball agreed completely. At the beginning of chapter 12 (titled “The Abandonment of Sin”) in his book The Miracle of Forgiveness, Kimball quoted D&C 58:43 (“By this ye may know if a man repenteth of his sins—behold, he will confess them and forsake them”). Based on this verse, he taught, “There is one crucial test of repentance. This is abandonment of the sin” (The Miracle of Forgiveness, p. 163. See also Doctrines of the Gospel Student Manual: Religion 231 and 232, p. 40. See also Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Spencer W. Kimball, p. 39).
According to Kimball, “Trying Is Not Sufficient. Nor is repentance complete when one merely tries to abandon sin” (The Miracle of Forgiveness, p. 164). He then told a story of an army officer and a soldier; the solider said he would try to fulfill the orders of his commanding officer. The officer replied, “I don’t want you to try, I want you to deliver the message.” Embarrassed, the soldier said, “I’ll do the best I can, sir.” The officer became disgusted and, with some vigor, said, “I don’t want you to try and I don’t want you to ‘do the best you can.’ I want you to deliver the message.” Standing up straight, the soldier said, “I’ll do it or die, sir.” The irate officer responded, “I don’t want you to die, and I don’t want you merely to do the best you can, and I don’t want you to try. Now, the request is a reasonable one; the message is important; the distance is not far; you are able-bodied; you can do what I have ordered. Now get out of here and accomplish your mission.”
Listen to Kimball’s explanation on pages 164-5:
“It is normal for children to try. They fall and get up numerous times before they can be certain of their footing. But adults, who have gone through learning periods, must determine what they will do, then proceed to do it. To ‘try’ is weak. To ‘do the best I can’ is not strong. We must always do better than we can. This is true in every walk of life.”
Perhaps some Mormons feel that forgiveness is available for the asking. After all, 1 John 5:13 explains that a person can be assured of eternal life. Not so, according to President Kimball. He wrote,
“Your Heavenly Father has promised forgiveness upon total repentance and meeting all the requirements, but that forgiveness is not granted merely for the asking. There must be works—many works—and an all-out, total surrender, with a great humility and ‘a broken heart and a contrite spirit.’ It depends upon you whether or not you are forgiven, and when. It could be weeks, it could be years, it could be centuries before that happy day when you have the positive assurance that the Lord has forgiven you. That depends on your humility your sincerity, your works, your attitudes” (The Miracle of Forgiveness, pp. 324-325).
According to the 1961 Uniform System for Teaching Investigators, “8. He removes our sins if we keep his commandments.” And, “10. We repent by no longer sinning” (p. 55). The 2002 manual Gospel Fundamentals states, “Our Father in heaven does not sin, and He does not allow people who sin to live with Him. To live with Him, we must repent of our sins. To repent means to feel sorry for our sins and stop doing them” (Gospel Fundamentals, 2002, p. 67). Another manual, Preparing for Exaltation, states, “What do we have to do to show we have truly repented? (Confess our sins and forsake them).” (p. 68)
Even if you think you somehow have obtained forgiveness, you can never know if those sins won’t possibly come popping back at a weak moment. Kimball writes on pages 169 and 170: “Old sins return, says the Lord in his modern revelations. Many people either do not know this or they conveniently forget it. ‘Go your ways and sin no more,’ the Lord warned. And again, ‘Unto that soul who sinneth shall the former sins return, saith the Lord your God’ (D&C 82:7)” He added, “. . . there must be no turning back. Any reversal, even in a small degree, is greatly to his detriment. . . When one quits, he must quit.”
To the Latter-day Saint reader, I must ask, just how are you doing at this?
The character of the religion that we have espoused demands a certain course of conduct that no other religion that we know of requires of its adherents; and the nature of those demands upon us [is] such that no person can comply with them, unless by assistance from the Almighty. It is necessary that we comprehend, at least in part, the great and important blessings that we are to derive, eventually, by complying with the requirements of the religion or gospel that we have received. The sacrifices that are required of us are of that nature that no man or woman could make them, unless aided by a supernatural power; and the Lord, in proposing these conditions, never intended that his people should ever be required to comply with them unless by supernatural aid, and of that kind that is not professed by any other class of religious people. He has promised this aid. …
These demands … were required in every age and period when God called a people to serve him, and to receive his laws. They were required in the days of Israel, in the beginning of that people. They were required of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. They were required of Moses, and of the people that he led from Egyptian bondage. They were required by all the prophets that existed from the days of Adam to the present period of time. They were required by the apostles that received their commission by the laying on of hands of Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God, and by the adherents of the religion that the apostles proclaimed and taught to the people, in their day and no man or set of men or class of people from the day of Adam to the present time, could comply with these requirements, except the people of God, as they were endowed with power from on high, which could proceed only from the Lord our God.
When we participate in God’s work, we need God’s help.
Whatever you may undertake for the furtherance of the interests of Zion, you must depend upon the Lord for its success.
A man’s mind should be single to the glory of God in everything that he starts to accomplish. We should consider that of ourselves we can do nothing. We are the children of God. We are in darkness, [unless] God enlightens our understanding. We are powerless, [unless] God helps us. The work that we have to do here is of that nature that we cannot do it unless we have the assistance of the Almighty. … Here is the great trouble with men of the world, and too much so with the Elders of Israel; we forget that we are working for God; we forget that we are here in order to carry out certain purposes that we have promised the Lord that we would carry out. It is a glorious work that we are engaged in. It is the work of the Almighty; and He has selected the men and the women whom He knows from past experience will carry out His purposes.
This work in which you and I are engaged can only prosper and be forwarded through the blessings of God upon our faithful and honest exertions and our determination to accomplish the labors for which we have come into this existence. When we look back upon the experiences through which we have passed, we easily understand that our prosperity has been dependent upon our honest endeavors to accomplish the work of God, to labor in the interest of the people, and to rid ourselves as far as possible of selfishness. This having been so in the past, we can well believe that our future progress will depend upon our determination to do the will of God under all circumstances and the aid which He shall give to us.
Consider the rules that Spencer Kimball said are necessary in order to “accomplish the work of God”—be sure to read this list slowly:
“Murder, adultery, theft, cursing, unholiness in masters, disobedience in servants, unfaithfulness, improvidence, hatred of God, disobedience to husbands, lack of natural affection, high-mindedness, flattery, lustfulness, infidelity, indiscretion, backbiting, whispering, lack of truth, striking, brawling, quarrelsomeness, unthankfulness, inhospitality, deceitfulness, irreverence, boasting, arrogance, pride, double-tongued talk, profanity, slander, corruptness, thievery, embezzlement, despoiling, covenantbreaking, incontinence, filthiness, ignobleness, filthy communications, impurity, foolishness, slothfulness, impatience, lack of understanding, unmercifulness, idolatry, blasphemy, denial of the Holy Ghost, Sabbath breaking, envy, jealousy, malice, maligning, vengefulness, implacability, bitterness, clamor, spit, defiling, reviling, evil speaking, provoking, greediness for filthy lucre, disobedience to parents, anger, hate, covetousness, bearing false witness, inventing evil things, fleshliness, heresy, presumptuousness, self-will, speaking evil of dignitaries, becoming a stumbling block; and in our modern language, masturbation, petting, fornication, adultery, homosexuality, and every sex perversion, every hidden and secret sin and all unholy and impure practices. (The Miracle of Forgiveness, p. 25).
Then, in case he might have missed naming a particular sin and having a Mormon erroneously feel that such a loophole excuses the action, Kimball wrote, “These are transgressions the Lord has condemned through his servants. Let no one rationalize his sins on the excuse that a particular sin of his is not mentioned nor forbidden in scripture.”
I don’t think President Snow’s mandate can be considered “good news” for the Latter-day Saint. Remember why the LDS leaders put chapter 14 into the Snow manual. It is because they believe keeping all of God’s commandments is possible with supernatural aid. Abandoning sin is a necessary and do-able requirement, according to both Snow and Kimball. For the Mormon who is not keeping the commandments “continually,” there is a problem with the individual Mormon, not with God or the church. Therefore, no Mormon can possess a valid excuse!
To the contrary, the Bible offers a much better plan of salvation that offers hope, not despair.
Check out more Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Lorenzo Snow articles.