Sunday, May 2, 2010

The Strait and Narrow

As Jesus Christ concluded what came to be known as the Sermon on the Mount, He uttered a profound and often overlooked truth. Speaking of the way to eternal life, Jesus said:
Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat:

Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it. Matthew 7:13-14
What is so profound is the word "strait." Think about how often you use this word. Initially you may think that it is pretty common, but I would guess that you are thinking of one of its homophones, "straight." It sounds the same, but the meaning is significant.
Adjective Strait-
1. Narrow
2. Affording little space; confined in area
3. Strict, as in requirements or principles

Adjective Straight-
1. Without a bend, angle, or curve; not curved; direct
2. Honest, honorable, or upright, as conduct, dealings, methods, or persons
3. Continuous or unbroken
(These are just a few of the definitions of "Straight" among several)
It is no accident that Jesus used the word "strait." The gate and path that lead to eternal life are not straight or direct, but they are narrow and strict in requirement.

Another way to understand this is to think of a ship and its navigation. Frequently a ship needs to go between two pieces of land in order to arrive into a larger, more navigable body of water or to arrive in port and avoid coral or other bodies of water that may not be deep enough to accommodate the vessel. In order to accomplish the task, a vessel would need to navigate through a strait such as the one pictured below.

Strait of Gibraltar

This is a picture of the Strait of Gibraltar. On the left is Spain and on the right is Morocco. The narrow separation of water between the two land masses is the only natural passage between the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea. As you can see, the passage can hardly be called direct or straight, but it is by comparison very narrow.

So it is with the gospel of Jesus Christ. If the gospel required humans to be perfect then only one man would ever have received eternal life, Jesus Christ himself. So we can dispell that the way to eternal life is straight. However it is clear from the scriptures that there will be other people who will receive eternal life, including the prophets, yet many more who will think that they are on the path to eternal life and think that they know Jesus but will ultimately find out that they were led astray. For those who do not attain eternal life it can be said that they either never entered by the strait gate or stayed on the narrow path. Note this scripture from the book of Luke.
Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able.

When once the master of the house is risen up, and hath shut to the door, and ye begin to stand without, and to knock at the door, saying, Lord, Lord, open unto us; and he shall answer and say unto you, I know you not whence ye are:

Then shall ye begin to say, We have eaten and drunk in thy presence, and thou hast taught in our streets.

But he shall say, I tell you, I know you not whence ye are; depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity.

There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when ye shall see Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets, in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrust out.

And they shall come from the east, and from the west, and from the north, and from the south, and shall sit down in the kingdom of God. Luke 13:24-29
If we trust in Jesus and really believe Him, then there must be a strait and narrow gate and way that leads to eternal life. As the previous scripture clearly shows that there will be more than One who shall inherit eternal life, we must also understand that we do not have to be perfect to receive this great blessing, but we certainly must abide according to what Jesus Christ outlines for us.
So what has He outlined for us? What is the gate and what is the way? In a merciful revelation to an ancient prophet named Nephi, we find the answers to these questions. The answers that have been lost for centuries and are still unknown to the majority of the world.
Wherefore, do the things which I have told you I have seen that your Lord and your Redeemer should do; for, for this cause have they been shown unto me, that ye might know the gate by which ye should enter. For the gate by which ye should enter is repentance and baptism by water; and then cometh a remission of your sins by fire and by the Holy Ghost.

And then are ye in this strait and narrow path which leads to eternal life; yea, ye have entered in by the gate; ye have done according to the commandments of the Father and the Son; and ye have received the Holy Ghost, which witnesses of the Father and the Son, unto the fulfilling of the promise which he hath made, that if ye entered in by the way ye should receive.

And now, my beloved brethren, after ye have gotten into this strait and narrow path, I would ask if all is done? Behold, I say unto you, Nay; for ye have not come thus far save it were by the word of Christ with unshaken faith in him, relying wholly upon the merits of him who is mighty to save.

Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life.

And now, behold, my beloved brethren, this is the way; and there is none other way nor name given under heaven whereby man can be saved in the kingdom of God. And now, behold, this is the doctrine of Christ, and the only and true doctrine of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, which is one God, without end. Amen. 2 Nephi 31:17-21
In these few verses we learn that in order to receive eternal life Jesus Christ has instructed us, as He was commanded by Heavenly Father, that we must have faith in Jesus Christ, repent of our sins, be baptized by water, receive of the Holy Ghost and then follow the Savior the rest of our lives. This is the strait and narrow path that leads to eternal life and it is a path that we have the privilege to travel during this mortal life.

It is not surprising that in this dispensation God revealed these same requirements to Joseph Smith. Instead of calling it the "strait gate" and the "narrow path", Joseph referred to it as the first principles and ordinances of the gospel.
We believe that the first principles and ordinances of the Gospel are: first, Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; second, Repentance; third, Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; fourth, Laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost. Articles of Faith 1:4
I echo the words of the prophet Jacob. Said he:
O then, my beloved brethren, repent ye, and enter in at the strait gate, and continue in the way which is narrow, until ye shall obtain eternal life.

O be wise; what can I say more? Jacob 6:11-12

Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Rest of the Scriptures

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints calls as scripture four books of sacred writings: The Holy Bible, The Book of Mormon, The Doctrine & Covenants, and The Pearl of Great Price. These four books are referred to as the Church's Canon. Canon is a word of Greek origin, originally meaning "a rod for testing straightness," now used to denote the authoritative collection of the sacred books used by the true believers in Christ. In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the canonical books are called standard works. LDS Bible Dictionary: Canon

Equally important to understand is that the words expressed by modern-day elders, and in particular prophets and apostles, either verbally or written while under the influence of the Holy Ghost are also scripture. This point was made clear in the following revelation given to Joseph Smith in November of 1831 at the request of four elders of the church, Orson Hyde, Luke S. Johnson, Lyman E. Johnson, and William E. McLellin, to know the Lord's will concerning them.
My servant, Orson Hyde, was called by his ordination to proclaim the everlasting gospel, by the Spirit of the living God, from people to people, and from land to land, in the congregations of the wicked, in their synagogues, reasoning with and expounding all scriptures unto them.

And, behold, and lo, this is an ensample unto all those who were ordained unto this priesthood, whose mission is appointed unto them to go forth—

And this is the ensample unto them, that they shall speak as they are moved upon by the Holy Ghost.

And whatsoever they shall speak when moved upon by the Holy Ghost shall be scripture, shall be the will of the Lord, shall be the mind of the Lord, shall be the word of the Lord, shall be the voice of the Lord, and the power of God unto salvation. Doctrine & Covenants 68:1-4
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also known as the LDS Church, has other useful study aids such as the Bible Dictionary and the Topical Guide; however these are not recognized as scripture.

Up to this point, I have purposely limited my use of the scriptures and drawn mainly examples and teachings from the Bible. My reason for doing this was to at least try and find some common ground with those who may not be Christian but do know of the Bible's existence and perhaps some of its teachings. Additionally, I have done this to lay common ground with those who may read this who already believe in Jesus Christ and are constantly seeking to follow Him. I have attempted to the best of my ability to explain the basic doctrines that I believe are essential to understand if one is to begin to truly come unto Christ and follow Him.

The Bible is what most of the world knows, so I thought it best to start there. However, as I hope you will come to realize through future posts, the true gospel of Jesus Christ could not be expressed and explained accurately without the rest of the scriptures. Therefore, it is my intent that from this point forward I will use all of the scriptures that I have described above, from the standard works to the words of modern-day prophets and apostles. My prayer is that we may all come to understand the scriptures and, as a consequence, the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Origin of the Book of Mormon and the Bible

In my posting "The First Vision" I described the initial revelation that was given to the young boy Joseph Smith Jr. It is a remarkable story; some may say an unbelievable story. Because it does seem like something that just doesn't happen in modern times, I can understand the inclination to discount the experience and all that Joseph Smith did after that experience as farce. But before you do discount the story, the man, and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints he went on to establish, I invite you to examine the greatest evidence that Joseph Smith was divinely chosen to be a prophet, the Book of Mormon.

Before I explain more concerning the origin of the Book of Mormon, I feel it is proper to address, in part, the origin of the Holy Bible. I feel this is important because the Bible is widely accepted as true, however I don't believe I would be exaggerating when I say that the majority of those that do accept it as true have ever questioned why they think it is true. They have likely accepted it as truth without much consideration regarding where the book came from and how it came into being. I believe that touching on the origin of the Bible will help give a proper context when considering the origin of the Book of Mormon.

First, the word "bible." The word "bible" is of Greek origin, being derived from ta biblia (the books). In course of time "biblia," a neuter plural, was regarded as a feminine singular and in that way "the books" came to be spoken of as "the book." We must therefore understand that that the Bible is not a single book but rather a divine library of books. Source

The Holy Bible today comes in many different versions: The King James Version, The Revised Standard Version, and The New International Version to name just a few. It is wonderful that this book of scriptures is so widely available today, but it was not always so. The Bible had to be compiled from various records. The Bible as we have it today is the product of thousands of well-intentioned people, and some not-so-well-intentioned people, trying to preserve ancient records. What may even surprise some people is that the world does not have any original writings from any of the biblical authors. Not Moses, not Isaiah, not Matthew, not Peter, not even Jesus Christ. So from where did the Bible come?

The short answer is that the writings were copied from manuscripts which were copies of manuscripts which were copies of translated manuscripts which were translated. I'm oversimplifying, but this is the idea. We do not have Moses' original writings. Someone copied down his writings who copied his writings and then translated it into another language. That new language was then copied down and recopied and so on. There are many ancient manuscripts that still exist, but none are originals. Some people may have heard of the Dead Sea Scrolls, but even these are simply copies of an original manuscript, or more correctly copies of copies of copies. One need only spend about 15 minutes researching the Septuagint, Masoretic, and Vulgate manuscripts and it should become quite clear that the Holy Bible as you read it today has gone through hundreds if not thousands of translations, omissions, and revisions.

Bible scholars spend their lives researching the origins of the Bible. My purpose is not to attempt to reproduce or add on to their work, but to illustrate the point that the Bible came into being through the works of many hundreds if not thousands of scribes, translators, and leaders. I would direct you to these links for a more thorough explanation of the Bible's origin: LDS Bible Dictionary:Bible; LDS Bible Dictionary:Bible, English.

The confusion of the origin of the Bible aside, I know it to contain the truth. I was once asked "How do you know that the Bible is true?" I'll give you my response toward the end of this post. But the question is valid for everyone, how do YOU know that the Bible is true? Or if you don't know if the Bible is true, how can you know for yourself if it is true? The answers to these questions are found in the Book of Mormon.

The origin of the Book of Mormon is pretty easy to understand when compared with the Bible. In fact it is so easy to understand that its explanation is found in just a few paragraphs inside of every Book of Mormon. Quoting from the Introduction to the Book of Mormon:
The Book of Mormon is a volume of holy scripture comparable to the Bible. It is a record of God’s dealings with the ancient inhabitants of the Americas and contains, as does the Bible, the fulness of the everlasting gospel.

The book was written by many ancient prophets by the spirit of prophecy and revelation. Their words, written on gold plates, were quoted and abridged by a prophet-historian named Mormon. The record gives an account of two great civilizations. One came from Jerusalem in 600 B.C., and afterward separated into two nations, known as the Nephites and the Lamanites. The other came much earlier when the Lord confounded the tongues at the Tower of Babel. This group is known as the Jaredites. After thousands of years, all were destroyed except the Lamanites, and they are among the ancestors of the American Indians.

The crowning event recorded in the Book of Mormon is the personal ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ among the Nephites soon after his resurrection. It puts forth the doctrines of the gospel, outlines the plan of salvation, and tells men what they must do to gain peace in this life and eternal salvation in the life to come.

After Mormon completed his writings, he delivered the account to his son Moroni, who added a few words of his own and hid up the plates in the hill Cumorah. On September 21, 1823, the same Moroni, then a glorified, resurrected being, appeared to the Prophet Joseph Smith and instructed him relative to the ancient record and its destined translation into the English language.

In due course the plates were delivered to Joseph Smith, who translated them by the gift and power of God. The record is now published in many languages as a new and additional witness that Jesus Christ is the Son of the living God and that all who will come unto him and obey the laws and ordinances of his gospel may be saved. Introduction
I don't think that there is anything I can add that can simplify the explanation of the origin of the Book of Mormon. The Book of Mormon either came into being exactly as described above, or it came into being some other way. If the Book of Mormon was written anciently by prophets of God in their native language on gold plates and then preserved by the power of God and subsequently given to Joseph Smith by an angel and then translated by Joseph Smith by the gift and power of God then can there be any conclusion other than Joseph Smith was indeed a prophet? I am open to listening to any other explanation, but my conviction is that Joseph Smith was a prophet and I know it by the Holy Ghost.
The Book of Mormon's final writer, Moroni, extended an invitation and promise to everyone who reads the Book of Mormon. The invitation is to ask God in the name of Jesus Christ if the book is true. The promise is that God will reveal that it is true to you by the Holy Ghost, or the feelings of joy, happiness, peace, hope, and faith that will be put in your heart. That is how the Holy Ghost speaks to us, in our hearts (Galatians 5:22-23). I know the promise is true. I have felt the Holy Ghost confirm in my heart that the Book of Mormon is true. I know that you too can know for yourself, but you must be willing to read the book, or at the very least part of the book, and exercise faith in Christ when you ask Heavenly Father if the book is true. Here is Moroni's invitation and promise:
Behold, I would exhort you that when ye shall read these things, if it be wisdom in God that ye should read them, that ye would remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down until the time that ye shall receive these things, and ponder it in your hearts.

And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.

And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things. Moroni 10:3-5
Let's say that you want to pursue this invitation and promise. What would it mean if you received an answer to your personal prayers that the Book of Mormon is true? The answer is explained in the introduction to the book.
We invite all men everywhere to read the Book of Mormon, to ponder in their hearts the message it contains, and then to ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ if the book is true. Those who pursue this course and ask in faith will gain a testimony of its truth and divinity by the power of the Holy Ghost. (See Moroni 10: 3-5.)

Those who gain this divine witness from the Holy Spirit will also come to know by the same power that Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world, that Joseph Smith is his revelator and prophet in these last days, and that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the Lord’s kingdom once again established on the earth, preparatory to the second coming of the Messiah. Introduction
The Book of Mormon was compiled by the ancient prophet Mormon. It consists of sacred books written by ancient prophets who lived in the Americas during the same time as the people described in the Bible. It was written on gold plates in the language of reformed Egyptian (Mormon 9:32). Centuries after the plates were written Joseph Smith received the plates by the hand of the Angel Moroni and translated them into English (Testimony of The Prophet Joseph Smith). This is a miraculous origin, but nonetheless true!

Going back to the question I was once asked, "How do you know that the Bible is true?" At the time, I was a bit stumped. I knew that it was true by the Holy Ghost, but still what was the impetus that led to the Holy Ghost testifying to me the Bible was true? After thinking about if for a while, the answer came into my mind and heart..."I know the Bible is true because I know that the Book of Mormon is true!"

It wasn't until later that I understood just how profound that realization was. I discovered that one of the purposes of the Book of Mormon is to prove to the world that the Bible is true. This may seem silly. You may think, "Well of course the Bible is true, it's The Holy Bible!" Considering all of the translating, omissions, and errors that went into compiling the Bible doesn't it seem natural that God would prepare another set of scriptures that would corroborate the claims made in the Bible? The Book of Mormon does just that.

In the Book of Mormon, a prophet named Nephi, who lived around 600 B.C., saw in a vision the coming forth of the Bible and the Book of Mormon. The Bible is described as a book coming forth from the Jews and that through time the book (Bible) had many plain and precious truths taken away from it. Nephi saw that the book (Bible) went among the Gentiles (all who were not Jews, including but not limited to the Romans who adopted Christianity) but many would come under Satan's power (Apostasy) because of the plain truths that had been removed from the book (Bible). But Nephi saw that the Lord would be merciful unto the Gentiles and unto Nephi's posterity and minister unto Nephi's posterity insomuch that they would write down their dealings with God (Book of Mormon) and it would come forth along with other records (Doctrine & Covenants, and The Pearl of Great Price) to establish the truth of the first record (Bible). I have condensed the scripture a bit below, but I would invite you to read the entire chapter if possible.
And it came to pass that I, Nephi, beheld that they did prosper in the land; and I beheld a book, and it was carried forth among them.

And the angel said unto me: Knowest thou the meaning of the book?

And I said unto him: I know not.

And he said: Behold it proceedeth out of the mouth of a Jew. And I, Nephi, beheld it; and he said unto me: The book that thou beholdest is a record of the Jews, which contains the covenants of the Lord, which he hath made unto the house of Israel; and it also containeth many of the prophecies of the holy prophets; and it is a record like unto the engravings which are upon the plates of brass, save there are not so many; nevertheless, they contain the covenants of the Lord, which he hath made unto the house of Israel; wherefore, they are of great worth unto the Gentiles.

And the angel of the Lord said unto me: Thou hast beheld that the book proceeded forth from the mouth of a Jew; and when it proceeded forth from the mouth of a Jew it contained the fulness of the gospel of the Lord, of whom the twelve apostles bear record; and they bear record according to the truth which is in the Lamb of God.

Wherefore, these things go forth from the Jews in purity unto the Gentiles, according to the truth which is in God.

And after these plain and precious things were taken away it goeth forth unto all the nations of the Gentiles; and after it goeth forth unto all the nations of the Gentiles, yea, even across the many waters which thou hast seen with the Gentiles which have gone forth out of captivity, thou seest—because of the many plain and precious things which have been taken out of the book, which were plain unto the understanding of the children of men, according to the plainness which is in the Lamb of God—because of these things which are taken away out of the gospel of the Lamb, an exceedingly great many do stumble, yea, insomuch that Satan hath great power over them.

Wherefore saith the Lamb of God: I will be merciful unto the Gentiles, unto the visiting of the remnant of the house of Israel in great judgment.

And it came to pass that the angel of the Lord spake unto me, saying: Behold, saith the Lamb of God, after I have visited the remnant of the house of Israel—and this remnant of whom I speak is the seed of thy father—wherefore, after I have visited them in judgment, and smitten them by the hand of the Gentiles, and after the Gentiles do stumble exceedingly, because of the most plain and precious parts of the gospel of the Lamb which have been kept back by that abominable church, which is the mother of harlots, saith the Lamb—I will be merciful unto the Gentiles in that day, insomuch that I will bring forth unto them, in mine own power, much of my gospel, which shall be plain and precious, saith the Lamb.

For, behold, saith the Lamb: I will manifest myself unto thy seed, that they shall write many things which I shall minister unto them, which shall be plain and precious; and after thy seed shall be destroyed, and dwindle in unbelief, and also the seed of thy brethren, behold, these things shall be hid up, to come forth unto the Gentiles, by the gift and power of the Lamb.

And in them shall be written my gospel, saith the Lamb, and my rock and my salvation.

And it came to pass that I beheld the remnant of the seed of my brethren, and also the book of the Lamb of God, which had proceeded forth from the mouth of the Jew, that it came forth from the Gentiles unto the remnant of the seed of my brethren.

And after it had come forth unto them I beheld other books, which came forth by the power of the Lamb, from the Gentiles unto them, unto the convincing of the Gentiles and the remnant of the seed of my brethren, and also the Jews who were scattered upon all the face of the earth, that the records of the prophets and of the twelve apostles of the Lamb are true.

And the angel spake unto me, saying: These last records, which thou hast seen among the Gentiles, shall establish the truth of the first, which are of the twelve apostles of the Lamb, and shall make known the plain and precious things which have been taken away from them; and shall make known to all kindreds, tongues, and people, that the Lamb of God is the Son of the Eternal Father, and the Savior of the world; and that all men must come unto him, or they cannot be saved.

And they must come according to the words which shall be established by the mouth of the Lamb; and the words of the Lamb shall be made known in the records of thy seed, as well as in the records of the twelve apostles of the Lamb; wherefore they both shall be established in one; for there is one God and one Shepherd over all the earth. 1 Nephi 13:20-25, 29, 33-36, 38-41
How can you know if the Bible is true? The Book of Mormon was given to mankind to convince us all that Jesus is the Christ. When you discover by the Holy Ghost that the Book of Mormon is true, you will also know that the Bible is true. I know that both the Bible and the Book of Mormon contain the truth and the word of God. They are both of divine origin. Both contain the true gospel of Jesus Christ, and of the two, the Book of Mormon contains the clearest explanation of what the gospel of Jesus Christ is.