Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Abrahamic Covenant

 Below is a talk that I gave at BYU Women's Converence (April 2003)

Here is a link to the talk if you want the video or audio MP3 click here.

SESSION TITLE: Those Who Are Heirs to the Covenant
PRESENTER: Robert J. Norman (April 2003)

I. Covenants are revealed by God to man in order to exalt man and to bless man with the glory of God. These covenants have been given various names throughout history.
From the Abrahamic covenant to the temple endowment the Lord has instituted covenants for the benefit of His Children. Making, understanding, and keeping these covenants "endows" us with power from on high and sanctifies our souls.

The most exemplary of all covenants is the Abrahamic covenant. Speaking of covenants the Encyclopedia of Mormonism says,

The divine archetypal covenant, of which Abraham's covenant is an example, is the everlasting covenant of the gospel of Jesus Christ. By accepting the gospel, humankind can be redeemed from the doom of death and the blight of sin to enjoy eternal life with God.

Abraham's mission was not new; it was like the mission of Adam, Enoch, and Noah. The same divine power-or priesthood-that gave them authority to promulgate the covenant of divine redemption for God's children in their time was renewed with Abraham and his seed; it was explicitly to be perpetuated by him and his literal and spiritual heirs for all time (Gen. 12:1-3; Abr. 1:18-19; 2:6, 9-11).[i]

In short, the Abrahamic covenant contains all the elements needed for the exaltation of God’s faithful children.

Two major objectives the Lord is seeking to accomplish by giving promises to his children and by having them enter into the Abrahamic covenant are, (1) to establish the earth as a Celestial Kingdom and (2) to cause His children to emulate Himself so that they may enjoy His glory and inherit what He has. In order for man to become like his God he must become sanctified from all sin. Therefore, sanctification from sin must be part of the design of the promises and covenants which God makes with His children.

II. The Abrahamic Covenant incorporates these two objectives.
At first glance the wording of the Abrahamic covenant seems to have nothing to do with turning the earth into a Celestial Glory nor making man like his maker. The two principal promises of the Abrahamic covenant are as follows:

A. The Lord promises Abraham a land of inheritance for ever (Gen. 12:7; 13:15)

B. God also promises Abraham and Sarah posterity as numerous as the dust of the earth

(Gen. 13:16) From (Abraham 2:11) we learn that the priesthood is part of the
promise of this seed.

It isn’t until we get to latter day revelation that we find out the true meaning of these two promises of the Abrahamic covenant.

III. The land as an everlasting inheritance
From latter day revelation we find that the promise of a land of inheritance forever was an inference that the earth was to become the eternal inheritance of the righteous as the Celestial Kingdom. Shortly after the organization of the Church the Lord made the promise to give a promised land forever to the Prophet Joseph Smith and the latter-day saints.

Doctrine and Covenants 38:18-21 reads as follows:

18 And I hold forth and deign to give unto you greater riches, even a land of promise, a land flowing with milk and honey, upon which there shall be no curse when the Lord cometh;
19 And I will give it unto you for the land of your inheritance, if you seek it with all your hearts.
20 And this shall be my covenant with you, ye shall have it for the land of your inheritance, and for the inheritance of your children forever, while the earth shall stand, and ye shall possess it again in eternity, no more to pass away.
21 But, verily I say unto you that in time ye shall have no king nor ruler, for I will be your king and watch over you.

This promise contains two elements: (1) This promise land functions as a mortal inheritance for the heirs of the covenant while the earth stands in a mortal probationary state. (2) Then, they again posses the promised land again in eternity, no more to pass away. Thus, the earth has become their land of inheritance forever over which the Lord himself personally reigns as their king.

Therefore, the land of promise was to extend beyond this mortal existence into the world to come and will be the eternal inheritance of the saints. Again, the Lord explains this promise that the earth is to become the Celestial Kingdom in Doctrine and Covenants 88:17-20:

17 And the redemption of the soul is through him that quickeneth all things, in whose bosom it is decreed that the poor and the meek of the earth shall inherit it.
[I will read the antecedent for “it” - “the earth” in the next three verses]
18 Therefore, it (the earth) must needs be sanctified from all unrighteousness, that it (the earth) may be prepared for the celestial glory;
19 For after it (the earth) hath filled the measure of its (the earth’s) creation, it (the earth) shall be crowned with glory, even with the presence of God the Father;
20 That bodies who are of the celestial kingdom may possess it (the earth) forever and ever; for, for this intent was it (the earth) made and created, and for this intent are they sanctified.

Thus we can see that this part of the covenant reveals the doctrine that earth will be sanctified and will become the eternal inheritance of the heirs according to the covenant.

IV.  Posterity as numerous as the dust of the earth
The second promise, the promise of posterity as numerous as the dust of the earth, at first glance does not appear to be a promise to make man like his God with Godlike power. Again, latter day revelation explains the mystery behind this very import part of the Abrahamic covenant. Doctrine and Covenants 132:29-31 explains:

29 Abraham received all things, whatsoever he received, by revelation and commandment, by my word, saith the Lord, and hath entered into his exaltation and sitteth upon his throne.
30 Abraham received promises concerning his seed, and of the fruit of his loins‑‑from whose loins ye are, namely, my servant Joseph‑‑which were to continue so long as they were in the world; and as touching Abraham and his seed, out of the world they should continue; both in the world and out of the world should they continue as innumerable as the stars; or, if ye were to count the sand upon the seashore ye could not number them.
31 This promise is yours also, because ye are of Abraham, and the promise was made unto Abraham; and by this law is the continuation of the works of my Father, wherein he glorifieth himself.

First and most important, the Lord explains that the Abrahamic covenant exalted Abraham and he now sits enthroned in glory. This part of the covenant gives Abraham and Sarah power to give life throughout the eternities and is indeed the power that makes man like his God. As here explained, it is the power by which our own God is glorified. The God of life shares his power and glory with his faithful children who make and keep their covenants. No wonder Satan attacks parenthood, demeans procreation and motherhood, for it is the very power which most makes us like our God. What a wonderful privilege it is for us to go to the temple to help those who have passed on receive these powerful covenants of godliness. Satan is the avowed enemy of this whole process, as it builds the kingdom of his arch-rival, Jesus Christ.

These promises and covenants are governed and administered by the priesthood of God. He has allowed us to participate in the power of the priesthood for the purposes of our receiving an eternal inheritance and glorification. As our Lord has explained to us in Doctrine and Covenants 84:19-22:

19 And this greater priesthood administereth the gospel and holdeth the key of the mysteries of the kingdom, even the key of the knowledge of God.
20 Therefore, in the ordinances thereof, the power of godliness is manifest.
21 And without the ordinances thereof, and the authority of the priesthood, the power of godliness is not manifest unto men in the flesh;
22 For without this no man can see the face of God, even the Father, and live.

The Lord makes it clear that the power of godliness is manifested in the ordinances of the priesthood. Later in this same revelation He says, “. . . wo unto all those who come not unto this priesthood . . .” (D&C 84:42). Therefore, the Lord has made his sons and daughters equal in receiving the ordinances of the priesthood by having both receive them from someone else that has the power to perform these ordinances. Even though a man holds the priesthood, he is not allowed to perform any ordinances or blessing upon himself. All receive the blessings of the priesthood and the power of godliness equally, by obtaining them from a worthy priesthood holder.

V. The sanctification of man
In order for us to enjoy the blessings that come from the covenants we make with God, we must, like the earth, be sanctified from all unrighteousness. From Alma 40:26 we learn that no unclean thing can inherit the Kingdom of God. Therefore we must be sanctified and be made pure before we can be exalted.

From the scriptures we learn that sanctification is a process that takes the gift of Christ’s atonement and our own efforts. From Moses 6:60 we learn that it is by the blood of Christ that we are sanctified. The Savior’s gift to us in leading to our sanctification is the shedding of His own blood and paying the price for our sins. We are also told in Doctrine and Covenants 43:16 to, “Sanctify yourselves and ye shall be endowed with power . . .” Our role is to sanctify ourselves so that the atonement may make us clean. What must we do to sanctify ourselves? One of the first commandments that the Lord gave to Adam for his sanctification was the law of sacrifice. Let us read the instructions for this law as given by an angel to Adam:

(Moses 5:6-8.)
6 And after many days an angel of the Lord appeared unto Adam, saying: Why dost thou offer sacrifices unto the Lord? And Adam said unto him: I know not, save the Lord commanded me.
7 And then the angel spake, saying: This thing is a similitude of the sacrifice of the Only Begotten of the Father, which is full of grace and truth.
8 Wherefore, thou shalt do all that thou doest in the name of the Son, and thou shalt repent and call upon God in the name of the Son forevermore.

Here we see that Adam is asked to give up his will to do all things in the name of his savior, Jesus Christ. As just explained, this will also require continued repentance and prayer. This law established, for us, the name of Christ as the only name whereby we may be saved. All day, every day, we are to be evaluating our deeds to see if they are acceptable to our God as if done by His son, Jesus Christ. Using Christ as the model for our lives, we begin to conform to His spiritual image, thus becoming sanctified and purified from all sin. The Apostle Paul understood this principle when counseling servants in the Roman Empire. His counsel to them was as follows:

(Colossians 3:22-24.)
22 Servants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh; not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; (an idiom meaning, “not just while they are watching you”) but in singleness of heart, fearing God:
23 And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men;
24 Knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ.

Paul clearly teaches these servants to live their life as if they are serving Christ and not their masters. For doing this, they will receive a reward of inheritance in God’s Kingdom, because they served Christ as if he were their master. Here we can see the sanctifying power of this law, because we are doing all that we do as if we are the Savior to please Him and to glorify His name. Therefore, there is no task complex or menial that cannot be accepted for reward in the God’s Kingdom. Everything from serving in the community or the Relief Society to the changing of diapers, or vacuuming the carpet, can be accepted by God as an offering in righteousness. Through this law we come to understand the full meaning of Omni 1:26, which commands:

. . . I would that ye should come unto Christ, who is the Holy One of Israel, and partake of his salvation, and the power of his redemption. Yea, come unto him, and offer your whole souls as an offering unto him, and continue in fasting and praying, and endure to the end; and as the Lord liveth ye will be saved.

Again, we are reminded by the Lord in Doctrine and Covenants 132:9, “Will I accept of an offering, saith the Lord, that is not made in my name?” Through this law our whole lives can be acceptable to our God when done with the right spirit and attitude and in the name of Christ.

The Lord instructed the ancient Israelites that gathered latter day Israel would be sanctified through their temple worship. He explained that in their temple worship they would be accepted by Him and that their offerings would sanctify his name before the heathens:

(Ezekiel 20:40-41.)
40 For in mine holy mountain (metaphor for the temple), in the mountain of the height of Israel, saith the Lord GOD, there shall all the house of Israel, all of them in the land, serve me: there will I accept them, and there will I require your offerings, and the firstfruits of your oblations, with all your holy things.
41 I will accept you with your sweet savour, when I bring you out from the people, and gather you out of the countries wherein ye have been scattered; and I will be sanctified in you before the heathen.

The Lord suggests that by Israel living up to their temple covenants they will represent him in purity before the heathen and be sanctified before them. Similarly, he instructed the Nephites in the sermon He gave them at the temple, “(3 Nephi 12:16.) Therefore let your light so shine before this people, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”

By living the law of sacrifice the way that it was intended, each day can be meaningful, fulfilling and satisfying. We become sanctified by the blood of Christ and by our offering up our wills to do God’s will in the name of His Son. By so doing we earn the reward of eternal inheritance and joy in the Celestial Kingdom. The Prophet Joseph Smith taught: “Happiness is the object and design of our existence; and will be the end thereof, if we pursue the path that leads to it; and this path is virtue, uprightness, faithfulness, holiness, and keeping all the commandments of God.”[ii]

VI. Power comes from keeping covenants

We have already been made aware in this presentation that the power of Godliness is revealed in the ordinances of the priesthood even the key of the knowledge of God. The Lord teaches us that as we continue in the keeping of covenants in obedience to His laws we will grow in grace and in the knowledge of truth (D&C 50:40).

President Thomas Monson taught, “The expression ‘Knowledge is power’ is attributed to Francis Bacon, but it had its origin long before his time, in the saying of Solomon that ‘a wise man is strong; yea, a man of knowledge increaseth strength.’ (Proverbs 24:5.)[iii]

The Prophet Joseph Smith also taught, “. . . that knowledge is power; and the man who has the most knowledge has the greatest power.”[iv]

In another talk the Prophet taught this about knowledge:

We consider that God has created man with a mind capable of instruction, and a faculty which may be enlarged in proportion to the heed and diligence given to the light communicated from heaven to the intellect; and that the nearer man approaches perfection, the clearer are his views, and the greater his enjoyments, till he has overcome the evils of his life and lost every desire for sin; and like the ancients, arrives at that point of faith where he is wrapped in the power and glory of his Maker and is caught up to dwell with Him. But we consider that this is a station to which no man ever arrived in a moment: he must have been instructed in the government and laws of that kingdom by proper degrees, until his mind is capable in some measure of comprehending the propriety, justice, equality, and consistency of the same.[v]

Also, the prophet explained the blessings of this endowment of knowledge and power:

. . . He (God) will endow you with power, wisdom, might and intelligence, and every qualification necessary; while your minds will expand wider and wider, until you can circumscribe the earth and the heavens, reach forth into eternity, and contemplate the mighty acts of Jehovah in all their variety and glory.[vi]

VII. Conclusion

Understanding the deep meaning behind the Abrahamic Covenant unlocks the purposes of the endowment with which we have been blessed. We come to know the processes by which we are sanctified and made pure. The knowledge that comes with understanding the blessings of the endowment and the covenants associated with it, expands our minds and has power to move us in the direction of exaltation. This understanding gives us the perspective of our eternal potential and the powers that we can enjoy here in mortality and in the world to come. To those who are heirs according to the covenant and have been endowed the power of godliness has been manifest.

[i].(Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 1-4 vols., edited by Daniel H. Ludlow (New York: Macmillan, 1992), Vol. 1, p9.)

[ii].(Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, Section Five 1842–43, p.255)

[iii].(Thomas S. Monson, Be Your Best Self [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1979], 195.)

[iv].(Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 vols., introduction and notes by B. H. Roberts [Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1932-1951], 5: 392.)

[v].(Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, Section Two 1834–37, p.51)

[vi].(Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, Section Four 1839–42, p.163)

1 comment:

Paul Winward said...

I just finished reading your remarks. Thank you for posting the address. Your teachings have forever changed the way I view and teach the scriptures. I have had many opportunities to teach the gospel since returning home from the NH Manchester Mission. Each and every time I teach - whether it be in Sunday School, Elders Quorum, Seminary, or Institute - I share a portion of what you taught me. Just as Mark Twain never saw the river the same again after his experience as a river boat captain, I will never see the scriptures again after listening and learning from you.

Thank you.