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 Lorenzo Snow
If we have established a proper character, we can confidently invite God to search our hearts.
I am under the strongest impression, that the most valuable consideration, and that which will be of the most service when we return to the spirit world, will be that of having established a proper and well defined character as faithful and consistent Latter-day Saints in this state of probation.
In cases where a stranger applies for employment, or an office of trust, it is often required that he produce papers attesting his worthiness, from reliable parties, letters of recommendation and of introduction which are exceedingly useful in their way, assisting in obtaining favors and privileges which otherwise would be difficult to secure. It is, however, comparatively easy to obtain a written character, as it is termed, a character that one can put in his pocket; and, indeed, according to my observation it is not infrequently the case that people are the bearers of written characters which their real and true character fails to attest.
Upon reading these first few paragraphs, I am reminded of the parable told by Jesus in Luke 18:
9 To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ 13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ 14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
It is important to understand I am not somehow suggesting that unholy living is to be strived for or that licentiousness is a virtue rather than a vice. As Romans 12:1-4 says,
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
And many other scriptures could be quoted to show how important it is not to conform to the world’s sinful pattern. Returning to Luke 18, consider the first part once more: “To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down at everyone else.” In a way, could this not be talking about President Snow himself along with the other LDS leaders who get up to pontificate at General Conferences twice a year? I cannot remember a time when a leader took the pulpit and explained how he was struggling with sin. Rather, the impression given is that these men-leaders have everything together in their lives. They admonish the people to get with the program and never seem to explain their foibles, human failures, or just plain struggles. How refreshing it would be for one of these leaders to get up and explain that he too is human and hasn’t figured out perfection in this lifetime. All of us struggle, don’t we?
Jesus contrasts the attitude of the Pharisee and the tax collector. Having it all together (at least in his mind), the Pharisee gave a pompous prayer, saying, “I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.” (Hmm, I’m sure that nobody is thinking about fasting once a month and giving the money to the poor or any requirement for tithing, could they?) When Snow mentioned a written character reference, I am thinking about the temple recommend that a Mormon must have to qualify for temple attendance. By qualifying and then receiving this recommend, a Mormon is left with the impression that he is righteous. After all, to receive the temple “blessings,” a person must be a tithe payer. The applicant must be successful in answering the other questions in the interview, such as acknowledging that he abstains from hot drinks, wears special undergarments, etc. The person who fails to keep these commandments cannot go into the temple, which is a requirement for eternal life, also known as celestial glory or exaltation. Meanwhile, the tax collector’s base prayer is nothing more than asking for forgiveness and the recognition that he was a sinner. At face value, this man’s way of addressing God seems child’s play and even foolish.
But who does Jesus commend? Not the man who thought he had it altogether. Rather, Jesus tells this story to help us understand that it’s the person who recognizes he doesn’t have it altogether who (in Jesus’s words, remember) “went home justified before God.” This is not the message preached in church manuals or at conferences. Instead, it’s always “do good and keep doing better.”
There are those among us who are recognized as members of this Church who take a vast amount of pains to be favorably known by those around them, but whose real character, or the inwardness so to speak, of such people, is veiled or disguised. … Now this prayer that I [refer] to—“Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts; and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” [Psalm 139:23–24]—is very significant; it was a prayer that David in the principal course of his life could conscientiously and with a degree of confidence offer up to the Lord. But there were times when he would feel the faltering and quivering sensation of weakness in offering up a prayer of this kind.
And what Snow says here is the point I want to make. Sin isn’t just outward. It’s what’s in the heart. Listen to what Jesus says in Matthew 5:
21 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. . . . 27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
However, a person who gets a temple recommend for being “worthy” is given a ticket to think that he or she is somehow “good” enough to get the privileges God has in store. What a wrong impression to give someone! The attitude of a Pharisee is encouraged in this process rather than being reprimanded.
I have reason to believe that many of the Latter-day Saints, during a great portion of their lives, could approach the Lord in all confidence and make this same prayer—“Search me, O God, and know my heart, and see if there be any wicked way in me;” but if we, as a people, could live so as to be able at all times to bow before the Lord and offer up a prayer like this, what a delightful thing it would be, what an attainment we should have acquired in righteousness and good works! … I would recommend that [every person] adopt this prayer of David, and see how near he can live according to the light that he has, so as to make it in all sincerity part of his devotions to God. Many fail in coming up to this standard of excellence because they do things in secret where mortal eye cannot penetrate, that have a direct tendency to alienate them from the Almighty and to grieve away the Spirit of God. Such persons cannot in their private closet use this prayer; they could not unless they had repented of their sins and repaired the wrong they may have committed, and determined to do better in the future than they had done in the past, and to establish a character before God that could be relied upon in the hour of trial, and that would fit them to associate with holy beings and with the Father himself when they shall have passed into the spirit world.
Consider Snow’s solution for those “alienated from the Almighty:” 1) repent of sins; 2) repair the wrong; 3) determine to do better in the future; 4) get a better character. There is nowhere here that mentions anything about forgiveness. This is because forgiveness is not readily available for Latter-day Saints, unless they somehow have gotten over the need to repent. It’s the same tired sequence that creates a personal Groundhog Day for the Latter-day Saint. You know, the 1993 movie starring Bill Murray who, as a TV weatherman, finds himself in a loop that plays the same day over and over again (“I got you Babe” is the wake-up call). His goal is to find a way to make everything right and have a perfect day so he can wake up to the next day.
Think about it. Which Latter-day Saint hasn’t repented of sins? Indeed, every Mormon has done that, over and over again. She may have also repaired the wrong and even determined to do better in the future. Doctrine and Covenants 58:42-43 offers the classic bait and switch tactic. Verse 42 states, “Behold, he who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I, the Lord, remember them no more.” Ahh, sounds good, the Latter-day Saint may think. Yet that pesky verse 43 is a killer: “By this ye may know if a man repenteth of his sins—behold, he will confess them and forsake them.” For a Mormon, “knowing” that a person has eternal life is an impossible hope or goal, even though assurance of salvation is described as a done deal in 1 John 5:13. The Groundhog Day for the Mormon people is finding themselves in situations where they sin once more, meaning they need to start all over again and wake up to a bad Sonny and Cher song. The impossible loop is the litmus test for a person to know that the character they have cannot “be replied upon in the hour of trial.”
… We must be true men and true women; we must have faith largely developed, and we must be worthy of the companionship of the Holy Ghost to aid us in the work of righteousness all the day long, to enable us to sacrifice our own will to the will of the Father, to battle against our fallen nature, and to do right for the love of doing right, keeping our eye single to the honor and glory of God. To do this there must be an inward feeling of the mind that is conscious of the responsibility that we are under, that recognizes the fact that the eye of God is upon us and that our every act and the motives that prompt it must be accounted for; and we must be constantly en rapport [in harmony] with the Spirit of the Lord.
It sickens me to have this Mormon leader say that a person must be “worthy of the companionship of the Holy Ghost…” Yes, we are accountable for our actions, and certainly God is omniscient and knows when we don’t obey. But He is not sitting up in the heavenlies as a cosmic lawyer who wants to find fault with His children. Unlike what Mormonism teaches, forgiveness is there for the asking, provided freely through faith. As Paul says in Ephesians 2:8-9, we are saved by grace through faith, not by works. Otherwise, we could boast in knowledge how we somehow earned salvation.
God admires the men and women today who pursue a course of rectitude and who, notwithstanding the powers of Satan that are arrayed against them, can say, Get thee behind me Satan [see Luke 4:8], and who live a righteous, a Godly life, and such people have influence with God and their prayers avail much [see James 5:16]. Moses, for instance, had such power with the Almighty as to change His [God’s] purpose on a certain occasion. It will be remembered that the Lord became angry with the Israelites and declared to Moses that He would destroy them, and He would take Moses and make of him a great people, and would bestow upon him and his posterity what He had promised to Israel. But this great leader and lawgiver, faithful to his trust, stood in the gap and there pled with the Lord on behalf of his people; by the power that he could exercise and did exercise, he was the means of saving the people from threatened destruction. [See Exodus 32:9–11; Joseph Smith Translation, Exodus 32:12.] How noble and glorious Moses must have appeared in the eyes of the Lord, and what a source of satisfaction it must have been to Him to know that His chosen people, in their obstinate and ignorant condition, had such a man at their head.
Hebrews 11 is known as the Hall of Faith, of which Moses is a member. Consider this passage:
24 By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. 25 He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. 26 He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward. 27 By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the king’s anger; he persevered because he saw him who is invisible. 28 By faith he kept the Passover and the application of blood, so that the destroyer of the firstborn would not touch the firstborn of Israel. 29 By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as on dry land; but when the Egyptians tried to do so, they were drowned.
It is “by faith” that Moses pleased God. His actions, or good works, were a result of this faith. The writer of Hebrews ends the chapter this way:
39 These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, 40 since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.
We are made perfect together through our faith in God and not by our works. Mormonism gets this concept backwards, with many Mormons thinking that their works make them presentable in the eyes of the Lord. Down deep, they must realize that they can never be good enough to attain the impossible goal of celestial glory, so they keep trying harder and hoping they wake up the next morning with no Sonny and Cher harmony.
In Jonah again we find an interesting trait of character. When upon the raging water, and fears were expressed by the sailors as to their ability to save the ship, Jonah feeling conscience stricken at the course he had taken in not proceeding to Nineveh as commanded of the Lord, came forward and confessed himself as being the cause of the disaster that was about to befall them, and was willing to be sacrificed in the interest of those on board. [See Jonah 1:4–12.] Also in other prophets and men of God, although they may have on certain occasions, like Jonah, exhibited weaknesses, there is something really grand and admirable shown in their character.
While Jonah is not mentioned by the writer of Hebrews, many other patriarchs and prophets were. Yes, their character was noble, but it was their faith that justified them before the holy God, not their good works. The writer of Hebrews makes this abundantly clear!
Righteous character traits develop within us gradually as we exercise faith and repent of our wrongdoings.
Such traits of character as we find evinced in the ancient worthies are not the products of accident or chance, neither are they acquired in a day, a week, a month, or a year, but are gradual developments, the results of continued faithfulness to God and to truth, independent of either the plaudits or criticisms of men.
… It is important that we, as Latter-day Saints, should understand and bear in mind that salvation comes through the grace of God and through the development in us of those principles that governed those righteous people before mentioned. The idea is not to do good because of the praise of men; but to do good because in doing good we develop godliness within us, and this being the case we shall become allied to godliness, which will in time become part and portion of our being. …
Right after Snow says that “salvation comes through the grace of God,” he uses the word “and.” This means that salvation is not by the grace of God alone, a contradiction of Ephesians 2:8-9. Mormonism does not hold that exaltation, or a reward of the celestial glory, is available to humans through grace alone. Just like every other religion striving for God through good efforts, it’s always “grace plus works.”
As we preserve our righteous character, we draw nearer to the Lord.
We have received a Gospel that is marvelous in its operations: through obedience to its requirements we may receive the choicest blessings that have ever been promised to or bestowed upon mankind in any age of the world. But, like the child with the toy or the plaything, we too often satisfy ourselves with the perishable things of time, forgetting the opportunities we have of developing within us the great, the eternal principles of life and truth. The Lord wishes to establish a closer and more intimate relationship between Himself and us; He wishes to elevate us in the scale of being and intelligence, and this can only be done through the medium of the everlasting Gospel which is specially prepared for this purpose. Says the Apostle John: “Every man that has this hope in him purifieth himself, even as He (Christ) is pure.” [1 John 3:3.] Are the Latter-day Saints applying the principles of the Gospel to their lives, and thus accomplishing the design of God?
Obey and receive is Mormonism’s mantra. Receive and obey is what the Bible offers. Yes, it is a big difference. According to the Bible, we receive the gift given by God, and our response is to want to “choose the right.” We don’t “choose the right first” and then receive the gift, for then it would no longer be a gift but a wage. It’s been quoted in other reviews that I’ve written on Snow’s book (especially chapters 4 through 7), but listen to what Romans 4 has to say about this issue:
What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, discovered in this matter? 2 If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about—but not before God. 3 What does Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” 4 Now to the one who works, wages are not credited as a gift but as an obligation. 5 However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness. 6 David says the same thing when he speaks of the blessedness of the one to whom God credits righteousness apart from works:
7 “Blessed are those whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered.
8 Blessed is the one whose sin the Lord will never count against them.”
I encourage you to look up the rest of the chapter. If you gave me a choice between the version found in the Bible and the version described by Snow, I choose the Bible’s version each and every time!
… What can we do under the circumstances to elevate ourselves still higher in the righteousness of our God? What advantages, blessings and privileges does this system of salvation, which we have obeyed, afford, and what means shall be employed to realize them? If there should be a sacrifice demanded it will be very opportune for all those who wish to make their religion a study, and who are endeavoring to conform to its requirements, by living it in their everyday life, to show their willingness to bow to the will of Jehovah, acknowledging his hand in adversity as in prosperity.
Try as you might, Latter-day Saint, you will continue in your Groundhog Day lifestyle. It’s obvious. Repent, do your best, and do it again. Repent, do your best, and do it again. And the beat goes on. When will you stop trying to attain God’s mercy and allow Him to give you everything, and more? If this is something you desire, please write us ([email protected]).
… It would be well to examine ourselves, hold communion with ourselves in the secret closet, to ascertain how we stand … before the Lord, so that if need be we may renew our diligence and faithfulness, and increase our good works.
Snow uses the words “increase our good works”! How can our good works be increased when we keep failing at this impossible gospel requirement.
There is no doubt, speaking of the people as a whole, that we are greatly improving in the sight of God.
Can a person really “improve in the sight of God”? If I sin just a little less than yesterday and even less than the day before, is this really progress on my journey to celestial glory? For those of us who are honest, we may actually sin less than we did in the days of our youth, but I’m not sure this is cause for celebration. And trying to cleanse yourself of personal sins is like trying to eliminate poison ivy by scraping skin with a sharp stone. The poison will spread and you will bleed to death unless the Physician can give you what you need, medicine that will cure. For those who are thinking, “Hey, I’m better than I was yesterday, and I’m better than my neighbor,” wasn’t this the mentality of the Pharisee in the parable told at the beginning of this article? We must be careful to think we are getting better and somehow attaining righteousness, which Mormonism teaches is necessary for godhood.
But although this is undoubtedly the case, I am convinced there are persons among us endowed with spiritual gifts and susceptible of cultivation, that could be exercised, if they chose, to a far greater extent than they are, and who could move much faster in the ways of holiness and get much nearer to the Lord. But the spirit which attends the things of this world is operating upon them to that extent that they do not increase those spiritual powers and blessings; they do not place themselves in that close relationship to the Lord that it is their privilege.
Our character, as Latter-day Saints, should be preserved inviolate, at whatever cost or sacrifice. Character, approved of God is worth securing, even at the expense of a life-time of constant self-denial.
While thus living we may look forward … , with full assurance that … we shall be crowned with the sons and daughters of God, and possess the wealth and glory of a Celestial kingdom.
And here the carrot is fully placed in front of the cart when it says “possess the wealth and glory of a Celestial kingdom.” As I have stressed in past reviews, this just can’t be done. In effect, Mormonism’s gospel is truly impossible. Until a person eliminates the Pharisaical attitude to becoming “gooder” in his or her actions, a person will never understand just what it means to be in relationship with God and have his/her sins cleanses “as far as the east is from the west.”
Check out more Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Lorenzo Snow articles.