Chapter 23: Individual Responsibility
Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Fielding Smith, (2013), 286–96
During 2014, LDS members will be studying the latest manual published by their church, Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Fielding 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.
“We expect our members everywhere to learn correct principles and to govern themselves.”
From the Life of Joseph Fielding Smith
Brother D. Arthur Haycock was walking toward the Church Administration Building one day when he saw that President Joseph Fielding Smith was unlocking the side door. Needing to enter the building, where he worked as the secretary to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Brother Haycock “hurried up the stairs, two or three at a time, to get his foot in the door before it closed. He barely made it. As he got inside the building he hurried again to catch up with President Smith to walk to the elevator with him. He commented to him, ‘I hope I can be that lucky to squeeze into heaven through the door you open.’” At first President Smith did not reply, and Brother Haycock worried that in his attempt to be humorous, he had said something wrong. But “as they reached the elevator President Smith said, with a twinkle in his eye, ‘Now, brother, don’t ever count on that!’”
Through sermons and actions, President Smith repeatedly taught the principle he shared with Brother Haycock: He emphasized that although Latter-day Saints should diligently help others receive the blessings of the gospel, salvation is an individual responsibility. He also encouraged the Saints to be self-reliant and to work industriously in temporal pursuits. “That is what life is all about,” he said, “to develop our potential, and especially to gain self-mastery.”
The story epitomizes the difference between Mormonism and Christianity regarding the view of salvation. As Smith said, “salvation is an individual responsibility.” We’ll talk more about this later in this review.
Teachings of Joseph Fielding Smith
The Lord expects us to be industrious in seeking temporal and spiritual blessings.
The Lord said to [Adam]: “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread” [Genesis 3:19; see also Moses 4:25], and all down through the ages the Lord has called upon his people to be diligent, to serve him in faithfulness, to work. …
In the early days of the Church in these valleys [in Utah], great stress was placed upon industry by President Brigham Young and the other brethren, and it was necessary because our forefathers came here with nothing. They had to work. They had to be industrious. It was essential that they produce the things they needed, and therefore counsel to that extent and in that direction was given to them constantly that they should be industrious. They were taught not to be proud in their hearts. They came out here where they could worship the Lord their God and keep his commandments. They were told to be humble as well as to be diligent. … Oh, I wish we could remember that. I am sorry that we have forgotten. …
… The Lord said, “Thou shalt not be idle for he that is idle shall not eat the bread, nor wear the garments of the laborer.” [D&C 42:42.] That is good sound sense, isn’t it? Why should a man in idleness partake of the industry of the industrious—provided that this man who is idle, is in a physical condition that he can work? I am not at all in sympathy with any kind of movement that tends to destroy manhood by encouraging men to be idle, and I don’t care what age that is. It doesn’t matter how old he gets, if a man is physically strong and is able to perform services, he should take care of himself; that the Lord expects him to do.
The Lord said in another revelation:
“And again, verily I say unto you, that every man who is obliged to provide for his own family, let him provide, and he shall in nowise lose his crown; and let him labor in the Church. Let every man be diligent in all things. And the idler shall not have place in the Church, except he repent and mend his ways.” [D&C 75:28–29.]
So that is the counsel the Lord has given the Church today. And this is not merely to be applied to plowing fields, or to reaping and harvesting and engaging in industry, but it means likewise that a man should be industrious in spiritual things as well as in the temporalities by which he makes his living.
We are here for a great purpose. That purpose is not to live 100 years, or less, and plant our fields, reap our crops, gather fruit, live in houses, and surround ourselves with the necessities of mortal life. That is not the purpose of life. These things are necessary to our existence here, and that is the reason why we should be industrious. But how many men spend their time thinking that all there is in life is to accumulate the things of this world, to live in comfort, and surround themselves with all the luxuries, and privileges, and pleasures it is possible for mortal life to bestow, and never give a thought to anything beyond?
Why, all these things are but temporary blessings. We eat to live. We clothe ourselves to keep warm and covered. We have houses to live in for our comfort and convenience, but we ought to look upon all these blessings as temporary blessings needful while we journey through this life. And that is all the good they are to us. We cannot take any of them with us when we depart. Gold, silver and precious stones, which are called wealth, are of no use to man only as they enable him to take care of himself and to meet his necessities here.
The Lord … expects us to have knowledge of temporal things so we can care for ourselves temporally; so we can be of service to our fellowmen; and so we can take the gospel message to his other children throughout the world.
“The Lord … expects us to have knowledge of temporal things.”
The object of our being here is to do the will of the Father as it is done in heaven, to work righteousness in the earth, to subdue wickedness and put it under our feet, to conquer sin and the adversary of our souls, to rise above the imperfections and weaknesses of poor fallen humanity, by the inspiration of the Lord and his power made manifest, and thus become the saints and servants of the Lord in the earth.
We are ultimately accountable to the Lord for our observance of duty.
We are dealing with our faith and conscience; you are dealing not with me, not with the Presidency of the Church, but with the Lord. I am not dealing with men respecting my tithing—my dealings are with the Lord; that is, with reference to my own conduct in the Church and with reference to my observance of the other laws and rules of the Church. If I fail to observe the laws of the Church, I am responsible to the Lord and will have to answer to him, by and by, for my neglect of duty, and I may have to answer to the Church for my fellowship. If I do my duty, according to my understanding of the requirements that the Lord has made of me, then I ought to have a conscience void of offense. I ought to have satisfaction in my soul that I have simply done my duty as I understand it, and I will accept the consequences. With me, it is a matter between me and the Lord; so it is with every one of us.
This “do my duty” slogan has been quoted quite often by many Latter-day Saints, as they believe they “are responsible to the Lord” to observe the laws of the Mormon Church. If they don’t, they will suffer consequences, including the possible loss of not going to the celestial kingdom. Let’s take a closer look at this important topic.
Doctrine and Covenants 25:15 says, “Keep my commandments continually, and a crown of righteousness thou shalt receive. And except thou do this, where I am you cannot come.” As Henry B. Eyring, a member of the First Presidency, put it,
“To receive the gift of living with Him forever in families in the celestial kingdom, we must be able to live the laws of that kingdom (see D&C 88:22). He has given us commandments in this life to help us develop that capacity.”(Ensign (June 2011): 4.)
Over and over again, Mormon Church leaders have stated that, by itself, God’s grace—though vital for the “atonement”—cannot fully “save” people from their sins. An unattributed article in the Ensign magazine stated,
“What do Latter-day Saints believe about grace? We believe that God’s grace is what ultimately saves us; yet it does not save us without our doing all that we can to live God’s commandments and follow Jesus Christ’s teachings. We do not believe salvation comes by simply confessing belief in Christ as our Savior. Faith, works, ordinances, and grace are all necessary.”(Ensign (March 2013): 21)
To make my point, consider these quotes from the church presidents themselves about the importance of obedience required to attain celestial glory:
• Wilford Woodrud: “If a man does right, is valiant in the testimony of Jesus Christ, obeys the gospel, and keeps his covenants, when he passes to the other side of the veil he has an entrance into the presence of God and the Lamb; having kept celestial law he enters into celestial glory, he is preserved by that law, and he participates in that glory through the endless ages of eternity. It pays any man under heaven to obey and be faithful to the law of God the few days he spends in the flesh.”(Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Wilford Woodruff, 212)
• Joseph F. Smith: “Every blessing, privilege, glory, or exaltation is obtained only through obedience to the law upon which the same is promised. If we will abide the law, we shall receive the reward; but we can receive it on no other ground.”(Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph F. Smith, 153)
• Heber J. Grant: “If you want to know how to be saved, I can tell you; it is by keeping the commandments of God. No power on earth, no power beneath the earth, will ever prevent you or me or any Latter-day Saint from being saved, except ourselves. We are the architects of our own lives, not only of the lives here, but the lives to come in the eternity. We ourselves are able to perform every duty and obligation that God has required of men. No commandment was ever given to us but that God has given us the power to keep that commandment. If we fail, we, and we alone, are responsible for the failure, because God endows His servants, from the President of the Church down to the humblest member, with all the ability, all the knowledge, all the power that is necessary, faithfully, diligently, and properly to discharge every duty and every obligation that rests upon them, and we, and we alone, will have to answer if we fail in this regard.”(Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Heber J. Grant, 38)
• George Albert Smith: “Being a member of the Church and holding the Priesthood will not get us anywhere unless we are worthy. The Lord has said that every blessing that we desire is predicated upon obedience to His commandments. We may deceive our neighbors, and we may deceive ourselves with the idea that we are going through all right, but unless we keep the commandments of our Heavenly Father, unless we bear worthily this holy Priesthood that is so precious, we will not find our place in the celestial kingdom.”(Teachings of Presidents of the Church: George Albert Smith, 53)
• Harold B. Lee: “The greatest message that one in this position could give to the membership of the Church is to keep the commandments of God, for therein lies the safety of the Church and the safety of the individual. Keep the commandments. There could be nothing that I could say that would be a more powerful or important message today.”(Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Harold B. Lee, 35)
• Spencer W. Kimball: “The Savior came ‘to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man’ (Moses 1:39). His birth, death, and resurrection brought about the first. But we must join our efforts with his to bring about the second, to attain eternal life.”(Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Spencer W. Kimball, 29)
• Thomas S. Monson: “Don’t put your eternal life at risk. Keep the commandments of God.” (Ensign (May 2010): 66)
Teach of faith to keep all the commandments of God, knowing that they are given to bless His children and bring them joy. Warn them that they will encounter people who pick which commandments they will keep and ignore others that they choose to break. I call this the cafeteria approach to obedience. This practice of picking and choosing will not work. It will lead to misery. To prepare to meet God, one keeps all of His commandments. It takes faith to obey them, and keeping His commandments will strengthen that faith. (Ensign (May 2011): 34)
Bemoaning the fact that many Latter-day Saints don’t follow through on the promises they make every week, Joseph Fielding Smith said the following on page 100 of this same manual,
“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.”
As Apostle Robert D. Hales explained,
“Each week as we participate in the ordinance of the sacrament, we renew the promise of the Savior’s birth in our own lives. We take His name upon us, and we renew our covenant of obedience and our promise that we will always remember Him.”( Ensign (December 2013): 19.)
In a talk titled “Obedience to Law is Liberty” at the April 2013 general conference, Apostle L. Tom Perry stated,
“We must not pick and choose which commandments we think are important to keep but acknowledge all of God’s commandments.” (Ensign (May 2013): 88.)
Apostle Dallin H. Oaks stated in that same general conference,
“From modern revelation, unique to the restored gospel, we know that the commandment to seek perfection is part of God the Father’s plan for the salvation of His children.”(Ibid., 98)
Seventy Bruce C. Hafen taught,
“If we must give all that we have, then our giving only almost everything is not enough. If we almost keep the commandments, we almost receive the blessings.” (Ensign (May 2004): 98)
Certainly official church manuals are in alignment with this attitude:
• “Latter-day Saints are Abraham’s seed of the latter days. Their exaltation or eternal life depends on their obedience to the covenants they have made and kept with God.” (Old Testament Student Manual: Genesis–2 Samuel, 62)
• “The Atonement of Jesus Christ assures each of us that we will be resurrected and live forever. But if we are to live forever with our families in Heavenly Father’s presence, we must do all that the Savior commands us to do. This includes being baptized and confirmed and receiving the ordinances of the temple.”(Gospel Principles, 233)
• “Full obedience brings the complete power of the gospel into your life, including increased strength to overcome your weaknesses. This obedience includes actions you might not initially consider part of repentance, such as attending meetings, paying tithing, giving service, and forgiving others. The Lord promised, ‘He that repents and does the commandments of the Lord shall be forgiven’ (D&C 1:32).”(True to the Faith, 135)
• “The Lord keeps His promises: ‘I, the Lord, am bound when ye do what I say; but when ye do not what I say, ye have no promise’ (D&C 82:10). We must do our part to qualify for the blessings (see D&C 130:20–22). We should also remember that God determines the then part according to His wisdom and not according to our expectations.” (Building an Eternal Marriage Teacher Manual: Religion 235, v)
• “Have class members find and read Moroni 10:32. [It reads: “Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ; and if by the grace of God ye are perfect in Christ, ye can in no wise deny the power of God.”] According to this verse, what must we do to ‘come unto Christ, and be perfected in him?’ (‘Deny [ourselves] of all ungodliness, and love God with all [our] might, mind and strength.’) Explain that ‘deny yourselves of all ungodliness’ means ‘give up your sins.’ We must strive to give up our sins and demonstrate that we love God with all our might, mind, and strength. If we do this throughout our lives, then Jesus Christ, through his Atonement, will help us become perfect.” (Preparing for Exaltation Teacher’s Manual, 123; brackets added.
• “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, 98)
So why did I spend so much time quoting these leaders and manuals? Merely to show that Mormonism is all about “individual effort” when it comes to justification of sins. It sounds positive, doesn’t it? It’s sort of like the American way. What can be so wrong with John Wayne, Apple Pie, and even Chevrolet? The answer is, everything when it comes to the topic of salvation. I certainly don’t want to minimize the importance of individual effort in doing our best to follow God’s commandments, but it’s not what we can do that earns us god’s favor. Spiritually, there is nothing anyone can do that hasn’t already been accomplished by one Man through what we call the atonement.
The atonement is the act of bringing people together with God by means of a sacrifice. Since all men and women are inherently sinful by nature as well as action, Philippians 2:7 reports that Christ made Himself of no reputation by taking “the form of a servant.” He was made in human likeness and humbled Himself, becoming “obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (v. 8). Hebrews 2:17 says this was done in order that He might make “reconciliation for the sins of the people.” Matthew 1:21 says that Jesus would come to “save his people from their sins.” No other conclusion can be made except that only God’s personal intervention would be able to overcome humanity’s sinful condition. If our personal merit could satisfy the penalty of sin, then no atonement would have even been necessary. Galatians 2:21 says, “I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.”
In Old Testament times, redemption was demonstrated through the ceremonial sacrifice. God made it clear that forgiveness would be provided only through the death of an innocent substitute that represented the payment for the penalty of sin. Sacrifices were made in the Jerusalem temple on a regular basis for the sins of individuals; however, the people of Israel celebrated the Day of Atonement, or Yom Kippur, once a year. On this sacred day, the Jewish high priest would offer sacrifice for Israel as a nation, which sought reconciliation with the God whom they had offended. Still, the mere act itself of killing an animal for one’s sins did not appease God. Through many examples, the Bible states that redemption was based on an individual’s faith in what the sacrifice represented. This faith would lead to the obvious act of repentance, thereby making the sacrifice satisfactory. God had no pleasure in sacrifice without these two important elements.
He who sent his Only Begotten Son into the world, to accomplish the mission that he did, also sent every soul within the sound of my voice, and indeed every man and woman in the world, to accomplish a mission, and that mission cannot be accomplished by neglect, nor by indifference, nor can it be accomplished by ignorance.
One of the toughest concepts for anyone, especially Mormons, to understand is that faith, not works, justifies a person before God. A good example of justification by faith is the story of the Philippian jailer in Acts 16. Paul and Silas were incarcerated in Philippi when a miraculous earthquake opened their jail cell door. When the jailer saw that all of the prison cells were open as well, he prepared to commit suicide only to be stopped by Paul, who told him not to fear because no one had escaped. Seeing this to be true, the frightened jailer asked Paul, “What must I do to be saved?” (v. 30). If Paul had been a good Mormon living in modern times and had listened to the words of Joseph Fielding Smith that keeping church laws were most important, his response might have been, “Believe that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God and that the Book of Mormon is the Word of God. Join the true church, don’t drink coffee or tea, pay a full tithe, receive the Melchizedek priesthood, be baptized for your dead relatives, perform your endowments, and make sure you are married for time and eternity. Do these, along with following the whole law, and thou shalt be saved.”
Instead, Paul and Silas merely answered, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house” (v. 31). It is important to note that Paul made no reference to following any set of rules or rigid standards. Rather, his message was simply, “Believe . . . and thou shalt be saved.”
God has given us agency and expects us to do all we can for ourselves.
Agency [is] the great gift the Lord has bestowed upon every soul to act for himself, to make his own choice, to be an agent with a power to believe and accept the truth and receive eternal life or to reject the truth and receive remorse of conscience. This is one of the greatest gifts of God. What would we be without it, if we were compelled as some people would like to have their fellows compelled to do their will? There could be no salvation; there could be no rewards of righteousness; no one could be punished for unfaithfulness because men would not be accountable before their Maker.
Joseph Smith was asked how he governed so great and diverse a people as the Latter-day Saints. He replied: “I teach them correct principles and they govern themselves.”
This is the principle upon which we operate in the Church. We expect our members everywhere to learn correct principles and to govern themselves.
“No person, by any decree of the Father, has ever been compelled to do good. … Each may act for himself.”
Quoting from the Old Testament, Romans 3:10 says, “None is righteous, no, not one.” We are all sinners (Romans 3:23). There is nothing anyone can bring to the table. God demands perfection, which is something humans lack. Mormonism insists that, if we just try hard enough and somehow “endure to the end,” it can be made up for in the end. This is wishful thinking and certainly not corresponding to the Bible.
This great gift of agency, that is the privilege given to man to make his own choice, has never been revoked, and it never will be. It is an eternal principle giving freedom of thought and action to every soul. No person, by any decree of the Father, has ever been compelled to do good; no person has ever been forced to do evil. Each may act for himself. It was Satan’s plan to destroy this agency and force men to do his will. There could be no satisfactory existence without this great gift. Men must have the privilege to choose even to the extent that they may rebel against the divine decrees. Of course salvation and exaltation must come through the free will without coercion and by individual merit in order that righteous rewards may be given and proper punishment be meted out to the transgressor.
“Righteous rewards”? “Proper punishment”? What is just is eternal “death” (Rom. 6:23). Fortunately for the believer, God is all about mercy and therefore withhold punishment that justice demands, even forgiving the believer. To me, what’s proper is that everyone deserves death and not that anyone could be forgiven and therefore receive eternal life. Mormons who believe they can become “exalted” (attaining godhood) can not do everything listed earlier in this review that Mormonism says is necessary for earning God’s favor.
We believe it is by grace that we are saved after all that we can do, and that building upon the foundation of the atonement of Christ, all men must work out their salvation with fear and trembling before the Lord [see 2 Nephi 25:23; Mormon 9:27].
Mormon 9:27 plagiarizes the KJV of Philippians 2:12. Notice, though, that the verse talks about working “out” and not “for” salvation. The Bible is clear that justification comes only by grace through faith (Eph. 2:8-9). Good works come as a result of true faith (Eph. 2:10, James 2:20, 26). Second Nephi 25:23 is not a help either because how much could a person possibly do?
It is an important fact, shown by direct acts and by implication in all the scriptures, that God has done for men all that men cannot do for themselves to secure salvation, but he expects men to do all for themselves that is in their power.
According to Mormonism, Jesus did not pay the whole price for anyone’s sins. This view suggest that, somehow,He’ll meet us halfway, maybe even 9/10th of the way. Something has to be paid by the individual. Biblically, this is a corrupt doctrine.
By this principle it is contrary to the order of heaven instituted before the foundation of the earth, for holy messengers who have passed through the resurrection, or messengers who belong to the heavenly sphere, to come to earth and perform work for men which they can do for themselves. …
It is a most serious error to believe that Jesus did everything for men if they would but confess him with their lips, and there is nothing else for them to do.
This is an obvious poke at Romans 10:9-10. Unfortunately, Mormonism’s leaders have a presupposition that Christians don’t believe grace and works can fit together. Consider how one church manual focusing on the “life and teaching of Jesus & His Apostles” destroys the context of two verses written by the apostle Paul and creates a classical example of the straw man fallacy:
(41–3) Romans 10:9, 10. Can One Achieve Salvation Simply by Confessing with the Mouth? These two verses of scripture have been quoted very often by those who believe that salvation comes by grace alone and is not dependent in any way upon man’s good works. Some groups even go so far as to say that if a man should confess Jesus before he is killed in an accident he will be saved in the kingdom of God, even if he had lived a wicked life prior to that time. Not only does this idea go contrary to the vast weight of Paul’s own teachings (some within the Roman epistle itself—for example, 2:5–13; 6:13, 16; all of chapters 12–14), but it is also a gross misinterpretation of what Paul is really saying. (Life and Teachings of Jesus & His Apostles, 333)
Many Mormons are quick to point to James 2:14–26 in an attempt to show how faith is not enough to justify the believer. If it’s just faith that’s needed for “salvation,” the argument goes, then it would seem reasonable that Christians could do whatever they wished (i.e., murder, commit adultery, steal) and still call themselves Christians. Referring to how he, as a missionary, had conversations with Bible-believing Christians, E. Richard Packham wrote an article in a church magazine titled “My Maturing Views of Grace” using a somewhat sarcastic tone:
One verse they commonly used was the Apostle Paul’s statement, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast” (Eph. 2:8–9). They reasoned with me that grace is a gift of God that freely comes when we accept Christ. For the first time in my life, I realized how easily we can become confused about any doctrine if we focus on a single verse and don’t take into account the whole of gospel teachings. I also formed the opinion that people gravitated to the doctrine of unconditional grace because it was so easy to accept. After all, life can appear a whole lot simpler when all one has to do for salvation is “accept Christ.”(Ensign (August 2005): 22)
Never has the Christian church taught that the believer has the license to break God’s commands. Paul instructed in Romans 6:15, “What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid.” As far as James 2:14–26 is concerned, it is important to understand the context of this passage. Written by the half-brother of Jesus to explain how good works are important, James never taught that Christians receive salvation through their works. Rather, his point was to show how good works should accompany a valid profession of faith. Like a butterfly that has shed its chrysalis, so, too, do believers begin to be “transformed by the renewing of (their) mind” and display good fruit because of the dramatic life change (Rom. 12:2; 2 Cor. 5:17).
Concerning this good fruit, F. F. Bruce wrote,
“As an apple-tree does not produce apples by Act of Parliament, but because it is its nature so to do, so the character of Christ cannot be produced in his people by rules and regulations; it must be the fruit of his Spirit within them.”(Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free, 461)
Although it is true that a doctrine can be misapplied, it is a dreadful mistake to suppose that it is false merely because it can be abused. Should good works be minimized merely because groups like the Pharisees took them to a legalistic extreme? Obviously not! Jesus reserved His harshest words for those who felt their good works made them righteous in God’s sight, calling the legalistic Pharisees vipers, whitewashed tombs, and hypocrites (Matt. 23:27, 33). These rebukes, however, were not meant to take away the importance of righteous actions. When we accept the love of God as offered through belief in His Son, our response is to obey our Creator and Sustainer. The more we learn about God’s love for us, the more we want to reciprocate by demonstrating our love for Him through service. Christian preacher Vance Havner summarized the role works play in the believer’s life when he said,
“We hear these days about ‘cheap grace.’ It doesn’t mean much to be a Christian. But salvation is the costliest item on earth. It cost our Lord everything to provide it and it costs us everything to possess it.”(The Vance Havner Quote Book, 105.)
Men have work to do if they would obtain salvation. It was in harmony with this eternal law that the angel directed Cornelius to Peter [see Acts 10], and that Ananias was sent to Paul [see Acts 9:1–22]. It was likewise in obedience to this law that Moroni, who understood the writings upon the Nephite plates, did not do the translating, but under the direction of the Lord, gave to Joseph Smith the Urim and Thummim by which he was able to accomplish that important work by the gift and power of God. Our two great responsibilities are to seek our own salvation and to work diligently for the salvation of others.
We have these two great responsibilities. … First, to seek our own salvation; and, second, our duty to our fellow men. Now I take it that my first duty is, so far as I am individually concerned, to seek my own salvation. That is your individual duty first, and so with every member of this Church.
Our first concern should be our own salvation. We should seek every gospel blessing for ourselves. We should be baptized and enter into the order of celestial marriage so that we can become inheritors in the fulness of our Father’s kingdom. Then we should be concerned about our families, our children, and our ancestors.
It is … our duty to save the world, the dead as well as the living. We are saving the living who will repent by preaching the gospel among the nations and gathering out the children of Israel, the honest in heart. We are saving the dead by going into the house of the Lord and performing these ceremonies—baptism, the laying on of hands, confirmation, and such other things as the Lord requires at our hands—in their behalf.
It is my duty, as it is your duty, my brethren and my sisters likewise—for responsibility is placed also upon you—to do the very best that is within our power, and not to shirk, but endeavor with all our soul to magnify the callings the Lord has given us, to labor diligently for the salvation of our own house, each one of us, and for the salvation of our neighbors, the salvation of those who are abroad.
Ask your Mormon friends if they “know” they have eternal life. Translated into Mormonese, what you are asking is, “Am I keeping all of the commandments?” The answer will then be “no” every time. But Christianity is not based on what individuals do. Rather, it’s what God has done on their behalf. With that understood, the Christian believer can, in contrast, say that it is possible to “know that [we] have eternal life” (1 John 5:13). What a glorious promise! What a glorious hope!