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Review of Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Gordon B. Hinckley, Chapter 3: Cultivating an Attitude of Happiness and a Spirit of Optimism

During 2017, LDS members will be studying the latest manual published by their church, Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Gordon B. Hinckley. We will evaluate this book regularly, chapter by chapter, by showing interesting quotes and providing an Evangelical Christian take on this manual. The quotes from Hinckley are in bold, with my comments following. If you would like to see the church manual online, go here. Latter-day Saints study this material on the second and third Sundays of each month (thus, chapters 1-2 are January, chapter 3-4 are February, etc.)

Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Gordon B. Hinckley, 2016

Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley

Even when many people are negative and pessimistic, we can cultivate a spirit of happiness and optimism.

There is a terrible ailment of pessimism in the land. It’s almost endemic. We’re constantly fed a steady and sour diet of character assassination, faultfinding, evil speaking of one another. …

I come … with a plea that we stop seeking out the storms and enjoy more fully the sunlight. I’m suggesting that we accentuate the positive. I’m asking that we look a little deeper for the good, that we still our voices of insult and sarcasm, that we more generously compliment virtue and effort.

I agree that many people in the world today are pessimistic, whether it comes to their jobs, their families, or their country. In fact, in the 2016 presidential election, I must say that I have never seen a more popular time for “a steady and sour diet of character assassination, faultfinding, evil speaking of one another” than ever before.

With that said, I also believe that many people are too thin-skinned when it comes to criticism. Whether that has to do with their football team, their job performance, or even their faith, people can become easily offended when their positions or views are criticized. One of the things that some Mormons like to criticize us at MRM is blaming our ministry for making personal attacks against Mormons.  We are even called “anti-Mormons” as a pejorative. This is not so. Ideas are open to scrutiny, and I believe that it is possible to do this without attacking the person individually. Mormons may disagree with our disagreement, but if we are raising valid issues, I would think that the honest Latter-day Saint should want to consider what was said and then, using evidence, show how what was said is wrong. I believe that this can be done without “insult or sarcasm” and not attacking any individual. We at MRM love the Mormon—otherwise, we would be the most despicable people doing what we do because we hate Latter-day Saints!

Check out this article: Is Mormonism Research Ministry “anti-Mormon”? as well as EN ESPANOL

I am not asking that all criticism be silent. Growth comes with correction. Strength comes with repentance. Wise is the man or woman who, committing mistakes pointed out by others, changes his or her course. I am not suggesting that our conversation be all honey. Clever expression that is sincere and honest is a skill to be sought and cultivated. What I am suggesting and asking is that we turn from the negativism that so permeates our society and look for the remarkable good in the land and times in which we live, that we speak of one another’s virtues more than we speak of one another’s faults, that optimism replace pessimism. Let our faith replace our fears.

Notice that Hinckley does say that he is not asking for “all criticism (to) be silent.” I agree. There is a balance, of course. It is possible to have more productive conversations with Latter-day Saints when they are treated with respect and the Christian works hard to cultivate the relationship. Some well-meaning Christians come across as pit bulls who appear angry and uncivilized. The Bible says we are to “speak the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15). Using good tactics is crucial to success in this endeavor.

When I think of the wonders that have come to pass in my lifetime—more than during all the rest of human history together—I stand in reverence and gratitude. I think of the automobile and the airplane, of computers, fax machines, e-mail, and the Internet. It is all so miraculous and wonderful. I think of the giant steps made in medicine and sanitation. … And with all of this there has been the restoration of the pure gospel of Jesus Christ. You and I are a part of the miracle and wonder of this great cause and kingdom that is sweeping over the earth blessing the lives of people wherever it reaches. How profoundly thankful I feel.

I too am very grateful for technology, as our lives have been greatly improved with wonderful inventions. I am old enough to remember the typewriter (using it through college) and pay phones. I remember watching Back to the Future and thinking how crazy those inventions featured in the movie might be. Now I look around and am amazed at what can be accomplished, including the ministry that I am involved with. For instance:

  • I can write a book on a computer that allows me to move paragraphs around and check my spelling. I was a journalist when I met my first computer in 1983. How different writing became overnight for me!
  • I can research any topic and even ask my phone to do the research for me. I can see what others are saying and can collect information so much easier than even a decade ago.
  • I can write articles, post them to our website, and within minutes have people comment about what they thought about my points.
  • I can observe the reaction of the Mormon Church when information is exposed. What I mean by this is that there is no way the church would have ever written the Gospel Topics Essays had the information putting the LDS Church in a bad light was not released.

Indeed, “how profoundly thankful I feel” because technology has improved our lives.

We live in the fulness of times. Mark that phrase. Mark the word fulness. It denotes all of [the] good that has been gathered together [from] the past and restored to earth in this final dispensation.

Hinckley is certainly referring to the “restored church” (i.e. Mormon Church) and the ability to have a leader (prophet) and others guide the LDS people in these days. While Mormonism certainly has a following—especially in the Western United States—I don’t believe that this religious movement should be considered the “fulness of times.” Like bad code in a computer program, so too has Mormonism corrupted biblical Christianity and diverted millions of people from the truth.

The gospel of Jesus Christ gives us a reason for gladness.

The Lord said: “Wherefore, lift up thy heart and rejoice, and cleave unto the covenants which thou hast made” [D&C 25:13]. I believe he is saying to each of us, be happy. The gospel is a thing of joy. It provides us with a reason for gladness.

The problem is that those who “cleave unto” covenants are putting their trust in the wrong thing. Covenants are nothing more than promises made by a person who can, in no way, fulfill them. Tenth President Joseph Fielding Smith said,

I wish we could get the members of the Church to understand more clearly the covenants they make when they partake of the sacrament at our sacrament meetings (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Fielding Smith, 2013, p. 100).

Thirteenth President Ezra Taft Benson said it was only be keeping these covenants could a person “merit” God’s mercy. Consider:

We go to our chapels each week to worship the Lord and renew our covenants by partaking of the sacrament. We thereby promise to take His name upon us, to always remember Him, and keep all His commandments. Our agreement to keep all the commandments is our covenant with God. Only as we do this may we deserve His blessings and merit His mercy (The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, p. 442).

A church manual reports,

A covenant is a sacred agreement between God and a person or group of people. God sets specific conditions, and He promises to bless us as we obey those conditions. When we choose not to keep covenants, we cannot receive the blessings, and in some instances we suffer a penalty as a consequence of our disobedience (True to the Faith: A Gospel Reference, 2004, p. 44).

And another manual states that keeping, not just acknowledging, all covenants that are made is the only way to “live in the presence of our Heavenly Father”:

Receiving ordinances and keeping covenants are essential to Heavenly Father’s plan. The scriptures often refer to His people as a “covenant people.” The Lord’s blessings exceed our mortal expectations. To live in the presence of our Heavenly Father, we must receive all of the necessary ordinances and keep all of the required covenants (The Gospel and the Productive Life Student Manual Religion 150, 2004, p. 98).

The Latter-day Saint always knows what is supposed to be done: keep the covenants (commandments). How many of them? All of them. How often? All of the time. So my question is, “How are you doing at that?” Cleaving unto covenants is damnable because all Latter-day Saints—both young and old—know they’re not doing everything they’re supposed to do. A better plan would be to trust in Jesus and Jesus alone, for it is by “faith alone” that can save a person, not the keeping of commandments.

For more on this issue, see:

Never forget who you are. … You are in very deed a child of God. … He is your Eternal Father. He loves you. … He wants His sons and daughters to be happy. Sin never was happiness. Transgression never was happiness. Disobedience never was happiness. The way of happiness is found in the plan of our Father in Heaven and in obedience to the commandments of His Beloved Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Notice how Hinckley insists that “happiness” can be found by keeping the commandments. But again, how is it possible for a person to have peace when he or she knows that all of the commandments are not being kept all of the time? It’s like beating one’s head on a wall. It didn’t feel good the first time, but because of previous conditioning, the same thing is done over and over again.

Regardless of your way of doing things in the past, I offer you a challenge … to square your lives with the teachings of the gospel, to look upon this Church with love and respect and appreciation as the mother of your faith, to live your lives as an example of what the gospel of Jesus Christ will do in bringing happiness to an individual.

Yet there are many former Latter-day Saints who do not “look upon this Church with love and respect and appreciation” because the leadership misguided the flock in so many ways. People become angry when they realize they were fooled. Many end up becoming bitter and lose their faith in God and Jesus. This challenge is weak. A better challenge would be to insist that the followers consider truth and go in whichever direction it leads. If Mormonism is the way, then by all means this religion should be followed. But if it takes people in the wrong direction, it should be abandoned. Go where the evidence leads.

Repentance is one of the first principles of the gospel. Forgiveness is a mark of divinity. There is hope for you. Your lives are ahead, and they can be filled with happiness, even though the past may have been marred by sin. This is a work of saving and assisting people with their problems. This is the purpose of the gospel.

According to D&C 58:42-43,

 Behold, he who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I, the Lord, remember them no more.  By this ye may know if a man repenteth of his sins—behold, he will confess them and forsake them.

Explaining what this verse means, a church manual states:

Abandonment of Sin. Although confession is an essential element of repentance, it is not enough. The Lord has said, ‘By this ye may know if a man repenteth of his sins—behold, he will confess them and forsake them’ (D&C 58:43). Maintain an unyielding, permanent resolve that you will never repeat the transgression. When you keep this commitment, you will never experience the pain of that sin again” (True to the Faith: A Gospel Reference, 2004, pp. 134-135).

Another manual states, “What do we have to do to show we have truly repented? (Confess our sins and forsake them)” (Preparing for Exaltation, p. 68). This idea is explained in Gospel Principles: “To make our repentance complete we must keep the commandments of the Lord (see D&C 1:32)” (p. 111).

The Mormon typically understands what is at stake. How can there be happiness when understanding the requirement for attaining forgiveness of sins?

I meet so many people who constantly complain about the burden of their responsibilities. Of course the pressures are great. There is much, too much, to do. There are financial burdens to add to all of these pressures, and with all of this we are prone to complain, frequently at home, often in public. Turn your thinking around. The gospel is good news. Man is that he might have joy [see 2 Nephi 2:25]. Be happy! Let that happiness shine through your faces and speak through your testimonies. You can expect problems. There may be occasional tragedies.

Hinckley obviously did not get it. Attempting to attain happiness while fully grasping the idea that the gospel you are following is doing nothing less than pointing a crooked finger at you and screaming, “Unworthy,” is impossible.  I have met so many burdened Latter-day Saints who desperately crave good news. It’s ever fleeting and can never be captured be keeping commandments because keeping enough commandments to become holy in God’s sight is not attainable.

But shining through all of this is the plea of the Lord:

“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

“Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart; and ye shall find rest unto your souls.

“For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28–30.)

Notice how it is Jesus’s yoke that is easy and  how it is His burden that is light. The only way to receive this comfort and peace is to lay everything at His doorstep. It requires abandoning all hope that an individual can do what his or her church and unique scriptures says must be done. Only then can the sinner be rescued from the sins that drag him or her down.

The gospel is a message of triumph to be embraced with enthusiasm, affection, and optimism.

I stand here today as an optimist concerning the work of the Lord. I cannot believe that God has established his work in the earth to have it fail. I cannot believe that it is getting weaker. I know that it is getting stronger. … I have a simple and solemn faith that right will triumph and that truth will prevail.

I agree that, ultimately, truth will prevail. And error (such as Mormonism) will be shown for what it is, a deception from the truth.

With knowledge that we are all children of God, we can stand a little taller, rise a little higher, and be a little better.

While Mormonism teaches that all humans are “children of God” who were created in what is called the “preexistence,” the Bible does not agree. Only those who accept Jesus into their lives can be given such a title. Galatians 3:26 says it is “in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.” Notice how this is not a birthright of any type. First John 3:1 separates the children of God from those of the world when it says, “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him.” And John 1:12-13 explains, “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” And let me say that, without forgiveness of sins, we should not “stand a little taller” and rise a little higher” since, left to ourselves, we fall short of God’s glory (Rom. 3:23; 6:23). While Mormonism exalts man, the Bible explains how man is doomed unless a transformation takes place.

Don’t waste your time feeling sorry for yourself. Don’t belittle yourself. Never forget that you are a child of God. You have a divine birthright. Something of the very nature of God is within you.

Where in the Bible does it teach that everyone has a “divine birthright”? This is a lie from Satan himself (Gen. 3:5). The only hope a person has is obtaining forgiveness from sins. Then and only then can the promise of 1 John 5:13 be honored:

I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life.

To suggest that “something of the very nature of God is within you” is, quite honestly, blasphemous. Only God holds the “very nature” of deity; although there will be future glorification and the opportunity to live forever with God, it is much different from saying that God’s nature is within us.

We sing, “I am a child of God” (Hymns, no. 301). That isn’t just a figment, a poetic figment—that is the living truth. There is something of divinity within each of us that needs cultivation, that needs to come to the surface, that needs to find expression. You fathers and mothers, teach your children that they are, in a very literal way, sons and daughters of God. There is no greater truth in all the world than that—to think that we have something of divinity in us.

Latter-day Saints should realize how blasphemous these words are to biblical Christians. In one sense, Mormons lift up man. For instance, here are some quotes to support this notion:

The gospel of Jesus Christ teaches that man is an eternal being, made in the image and likeness of God. …These truths are generally well understood by Latter-day Saints. Less well understood, however, is the fact that God is an exalted man who once lived on an earth and underwent experiences of mortality. The great prophet Joseph Smith refers to this as “the great secret” (Achieving a Celestial Marriage, 1976, p. 129. Ellipsis mine).

God is advanced in the sense that He is before us: “God and man are of the same race, differing only in their degrees of advancement” (John A. Widtsoe, Rational Theology, 1915, p. 61).

Man has descended from God; in fact, he is the same race as the Gods. His descent has not been from a lower form of life, but from the Highest Form of Life; in other words, man is, in the most literal sense, a Child of God. This is not only true of the spirit of man, but of his body also (B.H. Roberts, as cited in Achieving a Celestial Marriage, p. 4).

So many other quotes could be offered. Then, besides lifting man up into a realm he doesn’t belong, Mormonism denigrates God by placing Him lower than His rightful place. Consider these citations:

He was not always God: “Our Father Advanced and Progressed Until He Became God” (Search These Commandments, 1984, p. 152).

He was a man: “Our God is also our Father, our Father in heaven. He is a man, a glorified, resurrected man, a Man of Holiness (see Moses 6:57). The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that God was once a mortal, that he dwelt on an earth, worked out his salvation, and inherited the fulness of light and knowledge and power” (BYU Professor Emeritus Robert L. Millet, Selected Writings of Robert L. Millet: Gospel Scholars Series, p. 277)

He became God only through obedience to commandments:  “How did the Eternal Father become God? …He became God by absolute obedience to all the eternal laws of the Gospel – by conforming His actions to all truth, and thereby became the author of eternal truth. Therefore, the road that the Eternal father followed to Godhood was one of living at all times a dynamic, industrious, and completely righteous life. There is no other way to exaltation” (Milton R. Hunter, The Gospel Through the Ages, pp. 114,115. Ellipsis mine).

This is not the God Christians worship. He is before all things, above all things, and beyond all things. He has always been God (Ps. 90:2) and there is none before or after Him (Is. 43:10; 44:6,8).

Believe in yourself. Believe in your capacity to do great and good things. Believe that no mountain is so high that you cannot climb it. Believe that no storm is so great that you cannot weather it. … You are a child of God, of infinite capacity. Stand a little taller, rise a little higher, be a little better. Make the extra effort. You will be happier. You will know a new satisfaction, a new gladness in your heart.

Hinckley sounds like a cheerleader here. And to say that man is not just a child of God but of “infinite capacity”…well, again, how does the person achieve this state? That’s right, through obedience to the commandments. How many Latter-day Saints are doing everything they’re supposed to do? That’s correct, none of them. If that is the case, what hope is there?

Of course there will be some problems along the way. There will be difficulties to overcome. But they will not last forever. [God] will not forsake you. …

A hint of truth comes…according to Mormonism, the problem is not keeping God’s commandments. God will not be able to fix disobedience. In another place, Hinckley said,

The happiness of the Latter-day Saints, the peace of the Latter-day Saints, the progress of the Latter-day Saints, the prosperity of the Latter-day Saints, and the eternal salvation and exaltation of this people lie in walking in obedience to the counsels of … God” (“If Ye Be Willing and Obedient,” Ensign, December 1971, p. 125. See also Thomas S. Monson, “Obedience Brings Blessings,” Ensign (Conference Edition), May 2013, p. 90. Ellipsis in original).

Sixteenth President Thomas S. Monson said, “Don’t put your eternal life at risk. Keep the commandments of God” (“Preparation Brings Blessings,” Ensign (Conference Edition), May 2010, p. 66). He also said that peace could be attained only by keeping God’s commandments:

We remember the words of the familiar hymn: “Keep the commandments! In this there is safety; in this there is peace.” Our Heavenly Father loves us enough to say: Thou shalt not lie; thou shalt not steal; thou shalt not commit adultery; thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself; and so on. We know the commandments. He understands that when we keep the commandments, our lives will be happier, more fulfilling, and less complicated. Our challenges and problems will be easier to bear, and we will receive His promised blessings. But while He gives us laws and commandments, He also allows us to choose whether to accept them or to reject them. Our decisions in this regard will determine our destiny (“Keep the Commandments,” Ensign (Conference Edition), November 2015, p. 83. Italics in original).

What is described by Monson is the Mormon gospel at its very heart. As this “prophet, seer, and revelator” says, what a person does “determines our destiny.” Again, Latter-day Saint, how are you doing at this?

Look to the positive. Know that He is watching over you, that He hears your prayers and will answer them, that He loves you and will make that love manifest.

Yet if you don’t reach the celestial kingdom, Heavenly Father wants nothing to do with you. Regarding the terrestrial kingdom, D&C 76:76-77 explains how “these are they who receive of his glory, but not of his fulness. These are they who receive of the presence of the Son, but not of the fulness of the Father.” The same is true for those destined for the telestial kingdom. According to tenth president Joseph Fielding Smith, the majority of Latter-day Saints will not reach the celestial glory.

NOT HALF THE LATTER-DAY SAINTS TO BE SAVED. Those who receive the fulness will be privileged to view the face of our Father. There will not be such an overwhelming number of the Latter-day Saints who will get there. President Francis M. Lyman many times has declared, and he had reason to declare, I believe, that if we save one-half of the Latter-day Saints, that is, with an exaltation in the celestial kingdom of God, we will be doing well. Not that the Lord is partial, not that he will draw the line as some will say, to keep people out. He would have every one of us go in if we would; but there are laws and ordinances that we must keep; if we do not observe the law we cannot enter (Doctrines of Salvation 2:15).

I wonder if Latter-day Saints who lived when Smith wrote this more than half a century ago were better or worse than Latter-day Saints today? I would think many think people were better than than they are today. If this is the case and we supposed that Smith were to return, could he possibly rewrite this to say “NOT A QUARTER OF THE LATTER-DAY SAINTS TO BE SAVED”? If you are a Latter-day Saint, are you one of the ones who will make it in the end? Or are you part of the majority who fall short? If you think you wouldn’t fall short, why do you think so?

There is so much of the sweet and the decent and the beautiful to build upon. We are partakers of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The gospel means “good news!” The message of the Lord is one of hope and salvation! The voice of the Lord is a voice of glad tidings! The work of the Lord is a work of glorious accomplishment!

The biblical gospel indeed does mean “good news.” The Mormon gospel does not contain good news. The Bible says that the Christian is saved by grace through faith, and this is not of themselves but rather the gift of God, not by works so that no one can boast (Eph. 2:8-9). Yet the Standard Works teach,

Keep my commandments continually, and a crown of righteousness thou shalt receive. And except thou do this, where I am you cannot come.

Which gospel offers good news? Which gospel offers hope? Certainly not the LDS version.

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