Sunday, February 10, 2013

The Land And The Posterity Of The Abrahamic Covenant

The following is a presentation of the Abrahamic Covenant that I gave at Women's Conference in 2003.

SESSION TITLE: Those Who Are Heirs to the Covenant
PRESENTER: Robert J. Norman
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.

In the Name of Jesus Christ Amen.

[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)

Sunday, February 3, 2013

God Created Man In Harmony With Man's Eternal Nature

Not long ago I had a friend email me with a question that was presented to him by a friend.  This friend was confused with man's eternal nature as taught by the Prophet Joseph Smith in the King Follett Discourse.  He wondered how God could create us if we were eternal beings.

Here is the answer I gave:

It is important to understand the doctrine of the eternal nature of man and some of the processes through which he has passed.

First:  Man is intelligence which cannot be created or made (D&C 93:29).  Intelligence is the material from which spirits are made.  This is the eternal aspect of man.  There are divergent views on intelligence in the Church as to whether an intelligence is an entity with self awareness or a mass of material without entity or self awareness.  The Church has taken no official position on either of these two concepts.  You can see this referenced in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism below under the title of “Intelligence.”

Second: from intelligence man progressed to become spirit children of God, this is the phase of their creation in the image and likeness of God and where He becomes their father and creator.

Third: intelligences/spirits were placed into the physical bodies of man in which the body and spirit together are called by God the “soul” of man (D&C 88:15). 

Sometimes the way we use vocabulary in reference to these concepts confuses the way we view our nature.   Sometimes intelligence is referred to as spirit.  Organized intelligences are referred to as spirits such as in Abraham 3:22.  Sometimes soul is used to refer to a spirit and other times it is used to refer to spirit and body together.  Therefore, the context of the term and how it is used becomes more important than the term itself.   You will see some of this in the quotes below. 
Here are two entries in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism - one on "Intelligence" and the other on "Intelligences."
Intelligence, however defined, is not created or made (D&C 93:29); it is coeternal with God (TPJS, pp. 353-54). Some LDS leaders have interpreted this to mean that intelligent beings-called intelligences-existed before and after they were given spirit bodies in the premortal existence. Others have interpreted it to mean that intelligent beings were organized as spirits out of eternal intelligent matter, that they did not exist as individuals before they were organized as spirit beings in the premortal existence (Abr. 3:22; JD 7:57; 2:124). The Church has taken no official position on this issue.
Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 1-4 vols., edited by Daniel H. Ludlow (New York: Macmillan, 1992), p.692
The word "intelligences" (plural) occurs frequently in LDS literature, having reference to the period of the premortal existence of mankind. The term has received two interpretations by writers within the Church: as the literal spirit children of Heavenly Parents and as individual entities existing prior to their spirit birth. Because latter-day revelation has not clarified the meaning of the term, a more precise interpretation is not possible at present.   
The scriptural source for the word "intelligences" is the book of Abraham 3:21-22. The Lord instructed the patriarch Abraham regarding the premortal experiences of all who have been or ever will be upon the earth. Among those events was the Council in Heaven, at which the Father's Plan of Salvation for his children was discussed. Abraham wrote of this, "Now the Lord had shown unto me, Abraham, the intelligences that were organized before the world was; for he stood among those that were spirits, and he saw that they were good; and he said unto me: Abraham, thou art one of them" (Abr. 3:22-23). The Prophet Joseph Smith spoke of intelligences as follows: "God himself, finding he was in the midst of spirits and glory, because he was more intelligent, saw proper to institute laws whereby the rest could have a privilege to advance like himself. The relationship we have with God places us in a situation to advance in knowledge. He has power to institute laws to instruct the weaker intelligences, that they may be exalted with himself, so that they might have one glory upon another, and all that knowledge, power, glory, and intelligence, which is requisite in order to save them" (TPJS, p. 354).   
Concerning man's premortal existence, the Lord revealed to Joseph Smith, "Man was also in the beginning with God. Intelligence, or the light of truth, was not created or made, neither indeed can be" (D&C 93:29). "Intelligence," as used here, is singular, and it is not clear from this passage if it refers to individual, conscious identity. As noted, Abraham referred to the spirit offspring of God as organized intelligences, apparently using the word "intelligences" to mean "spirits." Church authorities have indicated that spirit birth was not the beginning. Spencer W. Kimball, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, wrote, "Our spirit matter was eternal and co-existent with God, but it was organized into spirit bodies by our Heavenly Father" (The Miracle of Forgiveness, p. 5, Salt Lake City, 1969). Marion G. Romney, of the First Presidency, speaking of people's divine origin as children of God, stated, "Through that birth process, self-existing intelligence was organized into individual spirit beings" (Ensign 8 [Nov. 1978]:14). Bruce R. McConkie, an apostle, wrote:
Abraham used the name intelligences to apply to the spirit children of the Eternal Father. The intelligence or spirit element became intelligences after the spirits were born as individual entities (Abr. 3:22-24). Use of this name designates both the primal element from which the spirit offspring were created and also their inherited capacity to grow in grace, knowledge, power, and intelligence itself, until such intelligences, gaining the fulness of all things, become like their Father, the Supreme Intelligence [MD, p. 387].   
While the revelations leave no doubt as to the existence of intelligent matter prior to its being organized as spirits, speculation sometimes arises regarding the nature of premortal existence and whether there was individual identity and consciousness prior to birth as a spirit. Some hold that the terms "intelligence" and "intelligences" have reference to a form of prespirit conscious self-existence, which included individual identity, variety, and agency (so reasoned B. H. Roberts, pp. 401-423). Others maintain that while these characteristics, attributes, and conditions are eternal, they essentially came together for each individual at the spirit birth. The question of whether prespirit intelligence had individual identity and consciousness remains unanswered. Elder Joseph Fielding Smith gave this caution in 1936:
Some of our writers have endeavored to explain what an intelligence is, but to do so is futile, for we have never been given any insight into this matter beyond what the Lord has fragmentarily revealed. We know, however, that there is something called intelligence which always existed. It is the real eternal part of man, which was not created or made. This intelligence combined with the spirit constitutes a spiritual identity or individual [p. 10].   
No formal pronouncements have been made by the leading councils of the Church to clarify what additional meanings and attributes may be assigned to the word "intelligences," beyond that which identifies intelligences as spirit children of God.
[See also First Estate; Intelligence; Premortal Life; Spirit Body.]   
Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 1-4 vols., edited by Daniel H. Ludlow (New York: Macmillan, 1992),, p.693
McConkie, Bruce R. Mormon Doctrine, pp. 386-87. Salt Lake City, 1966.
Roberts, B. H. "Immortality of Man." IE 10 (Apr. 1907):401-423.
Smith, Joseph Fielding. Progress of Man. Salt Lake City, 1936.
Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 1-4 vols., edited by Daniel H. Ludlow (New York: Macmillan, 1992), pp.692-693
Question: "If God is all powerful, why is he not able to create intelligence? In the Doctrine and Covenants, Section 93, verse 29, we read that 'intelligence or the light of truth was not created nor indeed can be.' If he is all powerful, why does he permit evil to rule in the world?"  
Answer: Perhaps the time will not come while mortality endures that questions of this kind will not be propounded. The first thought that comes is that such questions should be ignored, but as they recur from time to time perhaps it is wisdom to answer them. Moreover, we might present other questions that belong in the same category. Did the Lord create time or space? How foolish such a question appears. The Lord has endowed men with some degree of intelligence or spirit of reason which he expects them to use.  
The Lord revealed to the Prophet Joseph Smith this great truth: That matter is co-eternal with God and always existed. It would have been more reasonable to have presented this question, since many in the Christian world are imbued with the idea that God created matter out of nothing.  
Joseph Fielding Smith, Answers to Gospel Questions, 5 vols., 3:, p.124-125
Intelligence Co-Eternal With God  
If the Lord declares that intelligence, something which we do not fully understand, was co-eternal with him and always existed, there is no argument that we can or should present to contradict it. Why he cannot create intelligence is simply because intelligence, like time and space, always existed, and therefore did not have to be created. However, intelligences spoken of in the Book of Abraham were created, for these are spirit children of God, begotten sons.  
Now the Lord had shown unto me, Abraham, the intelligences that were organized before the world was; and among all these there were many of the noble and great ones;  (Abraham 3:22.)   
From among these the Father chose his rulers.  
How foolish it is to declare that God, our Eternal Father, is not all-powerful because there are some things that were not created, but which always existed. The fact is that he has put all such things to use. He has organized, arranged, and controls and works in harmony with all things which eternally existed.  
President Harold B. Lee, Conference Report, October 1970, General Priesthood Meeting, p.115-
 The participants in the formulation of this plan in the premortal world were all the spirit children of our Heavenly Father. Our oldest scriptures, from the writings of the ancient prophets Abraham and Jeremiah, affirm also that God, or Eloheim, was there; his Firstborn Son, Jehovah, Abraham, Jeremiah, and many others of great stature were there.
 All the organized intelligences before the earth was formed, who had become spirits, were there, including many great and noble ones whose performance and conduct in that premortal sphere qualified them to become rulers and leaders in carrying out this eternal plan.
Joseph Fielding Smith, Answers to Gospel Questions, 5 vols., 3:, p.125-125