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The Restoration of Major Doctrines through Joseph Smith: The Godhead,
Mankind, Creation, priesthood, the word of God and the temple
 
Although the Prophet Joseph Smith’s mortal ministry was relatively brief—little more than fifteen years—his accomplishments and influence are eternal. Not only did he restore both the gospel and the church of Jesus Christ, as directed by the Lord, he also introduced, through the revelations he received and through his teachings, most of the major doctrines, practices, and ordinances that characterize The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Few things are more crucial to the “restitution of all things” (Acts 3:21) than the doctrines Joseph Smith taught. He spoke definitively and clearly on each of them, though his knowledge grew progressively. At times it came in leaps and bounds, as when he and Sidney Rigdon saw the Lord and the degrees of glory (see D&C 76); at other times, it came “line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little” (2 Ne. 28:30). 1

Sometimes the doctrines came quietly to him; other times they were riveted to his mind through galvanizing tribulations and remarkable manifestations. Sometimes they came in a logical sequence, expanding his knowledge from year to year; other times they came in seemingly disjointed segments. Generally, they came in response to questions Joseph Smith and his companions asked. No matter how the inspiration came, it is a marvelous work and a wonder how coherently all the pieces fit together.

The doctrines Joseph Smith taught do several things. They clarify scripture; they restore knowledge that had been revealed ages ago but had become lost or corrupted; they provide new knowledge; and they organize his many insights into a broad vision of eternity.

Many of the Prophet’s teachings amazed and surprised others, revealing things that they had never before supposed. Brigham Young, for example, noted how his ideas were transformed by the knowledge Joseph Smith received and recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 76:

“You can understand, from the few remarks I make with regard to the Gospel, that many things which were revealed through Joseph came in contact with our own prejudices: We did not know how to understand them. I refer to myself for an instance. … My traditions were such, that when the Vision came first to me, it was directly contrary and opposed to my former education.” 2

The effects of time and familiarity lead us to forget how “directly contrary and opposed to” prevailing notions some of the revelations were. Joseph Smith, however, perceived their profound import. He said, “I calculate to be one of the instruments of setting up the kingdom of Daniel by the word of the Lord, and I intend to lay a foundation that will revolutionize the whole world.” 3 (See Dan. 2:44-45.)

A sampling of six of Joseph’s teachings will illustrate these points. This article will discuss the first three—the nature of God and the Godhead, man’s nature and his premortal existence, and the Creation. A follow-up article will discuss the next three—the priesthood of God, scripture, and temples and their ordinances. The doctrines in each of these important areas will be briefly summarized, and the development of these doctrines in the life and words of Joseph Smith will be explained and compared with the ideas and attitudes of his day. In some cases, the insights Joseph received were highly original for his time; in other cases, he reshaped or validated common ideas. In instances in which we know something about these teachings in previous dispensations, we find significant similarities. It is evident that the Prophet’s life was spent in learning more about these doctrines. They did not issue fully explained on the day of the First Vision—or on any other single occasion.

The Personal Nature of God and the Godhead
Though most people who believe the Bible accept the idea of a Godhead composed of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, Joseph Smith revealed an understanding of the Godhead that differed from the views found in the creeds of his day. The main Christian sects of the nineteenth century taught of “one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity, neither confounding the persons: nor dividing the Substance” and of “one only living and true God, … a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions, immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible.” 4 Although other churches and individuals held that the Father and the Son are separate entities, 5 Joseph Smith uniquely taught that the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are three distinct personages, with the Father and the Son having bodies of “flesh and bones as tangible as man’s,” and with the Holy Ghost being a “personage of Spirit.” (D&C 130:22.) 6

God the Father. The truths about God that Joseph Smith restored are of paramount importance. In 1844, he taught that “it is the first principle of the Gospel to know for a certainty the Character of God, and to know that we may converse with him as one man converses with another.” 7 Ten years earlier, the Lectures on Faith, which Joseph Smith directed and approved, taught that to acquire faith unto salvation one needs a correct idea of God’s character, perfections, and attributes, and that one needs to know that the course of life one is pursuing is according to God’s will. 8 He also added, “If men do not comprehend the character of God, they do not comprehend themselves.” 9

The Prophet explained that “God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens”; that “he was once a man like us; yea, that God himself, the Father of us all, dwelt on an earth, the same as Jesus Christ himself did”; and that he “worked out his kingdom with fear and trembling.” 10 Through the Prophet, we learn that we “are begotten sons and daughters unto God” and that Christ is the Firstborn. (D&C 76:24; see D&C 93:21-22; Heb. 12:7-9.) As God’s children, we may become gods ourselves through Christ’s atonement and the plan of salvation, being joint heirs of Christ of “all that [the] Father hath.” (D&C 84:38; see also Rom. 8:17; D&C 76:58-60; D&C 132:19-21.) Along with these concepts is the concept of divine parents, including an exalted Mother who stands beside God the Father. 11

The LDS doctrine of Heavenly Father has led one recent commentator to write, “The Mormons espouse a radical, anthropomorphic conception of God that sets them far apart from other religions.” 12 That concept includes the truth that man and woman are created in the image of God. (See Moses 6:9; Gen. 1:27.) These truths draw all men and women into a relationship with God built upon familial love, trust, feelings of self-worth, hope, and humility, all in proper balance.

Jesus Christ. Joseph Smith learned early of the distinctness of Jesus Christ and God the Father. In the Sacred Grove, fourteen-year-old Joseph saw “two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above [him] in the air.” He learned of their relationship when one of the personages declared, “This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!” (JS—H 1:17; italics in original.) He saw that the Father and the Son were two separate beings. He experienced the fact that a man could actually converse with Jesus Christ “as one man converses with another.” We do not know all that he learned during that marvelous vision; he later testified, “Many other things did he say unto me, which I cannot write at this time.” (JS—H 1:20.)

From his many translations 13 and revelations from God, the Prophet received much more information about the Savior. While the Bible is full of information about Christ, the knowledge revealed to Joseph Smith affirms, clarifies, and offers even more. The following teachings of the Prophet describe the Lord in the context of history and the plan of salvation.

Premortal existence. Jesus was in the beginning with the Father and was the Father’s firstborn spirit child. (See D&C 93:21; John 17:1, 4-5; Col. 1:15-16.) He volunteered and was chosen, sustained, and foreordained in the premortal existence to be the Savior of the world. (See Ether 3:14; Moses 4:1-4; Abr. 3:22-28; 1 Pet. 1:20.) He created the earth and is thus called the “very Eternal Father of heaven and of earth.” (Mosiah 15:4; see also Mosiah 3:8; Hel. 14:12; John 1:1-3.) He was Jehovah—the God of the Old Testament, the Holy One of Israel. As Jehovah, he “gave the law” of Moses and “covenanted with [his] people Israel.” (3 Ne. 15:5; see also 2 Ne. 25:29; D&C 110:1-4; 1 Cor. 10:1-4.)

Mortal existence. He was the Son of God, the “Only Begotten of the Father” in the flesh. (D&C 76:20-23.) He fulfilled all righteousness by demonstrating his obedience to his Father and by setting an example for the rest of mankind. (See 2 Ne. 31:5-9; Heb. 5:8-9.) In working out the Atonement, Christ took upon himself the sins of all mankind, suffering “more than man can suffer, except it be unto death” (Mosiah 3:7), trembling because of pain and bleeding at every pore (see D&C 19:18; Luke 22:44), so that “he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities” (Alma 7:12; Heb. 4:8-9). He laid down his life and took it up again. These things he did that we “might not suffer if [we] would repent” (D&C 19:16), and that he might “bring to pass the resurrection of the dead” (2 Ne. 2:8). Because of these things, he is our advocate, pleading our cause before the Father. (See D&C 38:3-5; 1 Jn. 2:1.)

Postmortal existence. Between his death and resurrection, the Savior visited the world of departed spirits. There he taught the righteous and authorized faithful spirits to preach the gospel to all the dead, including the wicked, so that everyone would have the opportunity to accept the full gospel of salvation. 14 He is now exalted and perfected like his Father. (See 3 Ne. 12:48; Acts 7:55.) Ultimately, he will take the role of the Father as the Father will “take a higher exaltation,” and God will be “thus glorified and exalted in the salvation and exaltation of all his children.” 15

The Holy Ghost. The Bible gives little detail about the personage of the Holy Ghost. The Prophet, however, gave us a number of insights about that spirit being and his office. On several occasions, especially in Nauvoo in 1842-43, the Prophet spoke of the Holy Ghost as a being “in the form of a personage,” 16 as a “spirit without tabernacle,” separate and distinct from the personages of the Father and the Son. 17 According to the George Laub journal, on another occasion Joseph taught that “the Holy Ghost is yet a spiritual body and waiting to take to himself a body.” 18

Joseph Smith also explained the difference between a testimony from the Holy Ghost and the gift or right to the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost. 19 In translating the Book of Mormon, he unfolded the meaning of the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost. (See 2 Ne. 31:13-14; Mosiah 27:24-26; Matt. 3:11.) Speaking to the Saints, Joseph distinguished between the roles of the First Comforter—the Holy Ghost—and the Second Comforter—the Savior himself. 20 (See John 14:15-21.)

In the beginning, Adam, Seth, and other ancient patriarchs knew these truths about the Godhead because the gospel was declared to them “by holy angels sent forth from the presence of God, and by his own voice, and by the gift of the Holy Ghost.” (Moses 5:58.) Joseph Smith testified that prophets such as Isaiah, Ezekiel, John, and Paul were among those taught “face to face,” who had the heavens opened to them, had “the personage of Jesus Christ to attend [them] … from time to time,” and even had the Father manifest himself unto them. 21

Not only Paul, but also the early Christians understood the true nature of God. 22 For example, they were often charged with abandoning monotheism and worshiping two Gods. They did not deny this. “We reasonably worship Jesus,” wrote Justin Martyr in the second century A.D., “having learned that He is the Son of the true God Himself, and holding Him in second place, and the prophetic spirit in the third.” 23

With the apostasy and the loss of many plain and precious truths that were once part of the gospel (see 1 Ne. 13:26), the true knowledge of God was lost. The surviving fragments of truth were subsequently interpreted into mystery, and those who continued to believe in the basic truths about God were denounced as heretics. By the fourth century A.D., little remained of mankind’s original understanding of God. 24

It is not surprising that the true knowledge of God would be one of Satan’s prime targets and one of the first fundamental doctrines to be lost. With the loss of the priesthood held by the original Apostles, the “key of the knowledge of God” (D&C 84:19), or “the fulness of the scriptures” (JST, Luke 11:53), was gone. That key was restored through Joseph Smith.

Man’s Eternal Nature and Premortal Existence
Another major doctrine that Joseph Smith restored tells us about our eternal roots. All people are different from one another, with varying talents, interests, and inclinations. Why do such differences exist? Can they be adequately explained in terms of biological and environmental factors? The doctrine of man’s premortal existence answers these questions.

From 1829 through 1844, the Prophet learned much about the pre-earth life. As early as 1830, while working on the inspired translation of the Bible, it was revealed to him that “all the children of men” were created “spiritually, before they were naturally upon the face of the earth.” (Moses 3:5.) Some years later, while translating the Book of Abraham, he learned that Abraham saw in vision “the intelligences that were organized before the world was”—the spirits who stood in God’s presence in that pre-earth existence. Abraham saw that there “were many of the noble and great ones” among those spirits. (Abr. 3:22-23.)

Speaking of these things, Joseph Smith said, “At the first organization in heaven, we were all present and saw the Savior chosen and appointed and the plan of salvation made, and we sanctioned it.” 25

There were others, however, who were less noble. Many of the spirits, exercising their agency, chose to follow Lucifer in rebellion against God. (See D&C 29:36; Jude 1:6.) Lucifer, as the Lord revealed to Joseph Smith, was once “an angel of God who was in authority in the presence of God, who rebelled against the Only Begotten Son” and “sought to take the kingdom of our God and his Christ.” (D&C 76:25, 28; see Isa. 14:12-15.) Lucifer’s proposals that “one soul shall not be lost” (tempting as it sounds, it would nevertheless suspend our agency to choose) and that he be given God’s place and glory were rejected. (See Moses 4:1-3.) War followed, and because of his rebellion, Lucifer “was thrust down from the presence of God and the Son, and was called Perdition.” (D&C 76:25-26; see Rev. 12:7-9.)

Some spirits who sanctioned our Heavenly Father’s plan were foreordained to special callings on earth. Such spirits come to earth not predetermined but predisposed to recognize and obey the voice of truth. Not only were Abraham and Jeremiah called in this way (see Abr. 3:23; Jer. 1:5), but also, as Joseph Smith taught, “every man who has a calling to minister to the inhabitants of the world was ordained to that very purpose in the grand Council of Heaven before this world was—I suppose that I was ordained to this very office in that grand council.” 26

Joseph Smith taught that “all the spirits that God ever sent into this world are susceptible of enlargement.” 27 In the Doctrine and Covenants, he said that the Spirit gives light to everyone who is born and that it enlightens everyone who hearkens to its voice. (See D&C 84:46; John 1:9.) Those who continue in obedience to God receive more light, and that light can grow “brighter and brighter until the perfect day.” (D&C 50:24; see also Alma 12:9-11; John 8:12.) With such assistance, men and women are able to rise above the negative aspects of their earthly training and environment. Thus, it is possible for everyone to receive the blessings of heaven.

Eternal life is also possible, in part, because an element of every human being is divine and eternal. Joseph Smith used several different terms to refer to that eternal essence—spirit, soul, mind, and intelligence. He received the knowledge that “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.) He taught that “the mind of man is as immortal as God himself” 28 and that “the Spirit of Man [meaning intelligence] is not a created being.” 29

He did not define, however, this element’s form and substance, nor did he identify its attributes, other than its eternal nature. This eternal element of intelligence or light of truth is something other than the spirit bodies God created later; these later entities were “the intelligences that were organized” and were the spirits that Abraham saw.

From revelations given to Joseph Smith (see D&C 131-32) and from his own comments about them, plus subsequent statements from later prophets, 30 we know that spirit bodies are procreated by resurrected, exalted couples who have “a fulness and a continuation of the seeds forever and ever.” (D&C 132:19.) Spirits are “begotten and born of heavenly parents, and reared to maturity in the eternal mansions of the Father.” 31 In our own primeval births, the eternal intelligence part of us was “organized” and provided opportunity to become part of God’s plan of salvation—with the potential to become like him. This doctrine is ennobling and intriguing—a subject that we hope will be among the many great and important things about which God will yet reveal more. (See A of F 1:9.)

That the ancient prophets knew of the doctrine of man’s premortal existence is clear. (See Abr. 3; Moses 3-4; Gen. 2:4-5; Jer. 1:5.) The doctrine also circulated among early Christians but was declared anathema in the fifth century A.D. 32 An early Christian poem known as “The Pearl,” for example, begins: “In my first primeval childhood … I was nurtured in the royal house of my Father. … Then my parents sent me forth from our home in the East (the source of light), supplied with all necessities. … They removed from me the garment of light … and they made a Covenant with me, and wrote in my heart, lest I go astray.” 33

Nevertheless, at the time of Joseph Smith, little trace of the doctrine had survived. No part of man was thought to have existed eternally, for God was said to have created all things out of nothing. Most Christian churches today do not teach that mortals existed as spirits prior to their mortal births. They generally acknowledge that Christ existed before his birth and that God created other beings who exist in the universe but who do not become mortal. The most common view is that God creates a person’s spirit at the time of his or her mortal birth. This view interprets biblical passages that suggest premortal existence as referring to Christ or saying that all things existed only in the mind and plans of God before their actual creation. 34

Joseph Smith, however, restored the doctrine of man’s premortal existence. The doctrine can be both comforting and unsettling—comforting in that it tells us we are literally of the family of God with unlimited potential; unsettling because it tells us that we are responsible for what we are now and for what we will become.

Embracing Materiality: The Creation
Hand in hand with the doctrine that man is eternal came Joseph Smith’s teachings about the creation of the world. While others taught that God created the world ex nihilo (out of nothing), he taught that God formed the earth from material that already existed. In defining creation as “organization,” the Prophet made a distinct contribution to our understanding of the nature of physical matter and bodies, the attributes of God, and the purposes of this mortal existence. Understanding the creation helps us to see that God is a God of order and of laws who is not capricious. The universe truly has system and order.

An examination of Joseph Smith’s teachings about the Creation shows that he gradually learned a great deal between 1820 and 1844. In 1820, in the Sacred Grove, he received a new understanding of the fact that “God created man in his own image.” (Gen. 1:27; see JS—H 1:16-17.) Man literally was created in the image of God. In 1830, the infinite number of God’s creations became apparent as the Lord told Joseph, “Worlds without number have I created.” (Moses 1:33.) That year, in another revelation, Joseph was also informed that all things were created twice by the Lord: the first time spiritually, the second time physically. (See D&C 29:31-32; Moses 3:5.)

In 1830, Joseph Smith had learned clearly that God the Father created “this heaven, and this earth” through his Only Begotten Son, Jesus Christ. (See Moses 2:1; John 1:10-14.) But in 1835, the Prophet translated a record that revealed more concerning who created the earth and how it was done. He learned from the book of Abraham that Jesus Christ acted in concert with other Gods to create our world: “Then the Lord said: Let us go down. And they went down at the beginning, and they, that is the Gods, organized and formed the heavens and the earth.” (Abr. 4:1.)

Unfortunately, Christian literature through the third century A.D. does not refer much to the Creation. The tradition of divine beings participating in the work of creation, however, was well established among the gnostic Christians. 35 Whether this was an extrapolation or a perversion of the more orthodox Christian belief concerning the Creation is impossible to discern. Clearly, though, Joseph Smith was conveying something known to Abraham but lost since then.

Joseph Smith also discovered that the Creation was the result of organization. During the Nauvoo period, he continued to speak about the Creation in terms of organization. William Clayton, the Prophet’s private secretary, reported Joseph Smith as saying in 1841, “This earth was organized or formed out of other planets which were broke up and remodeled and made into the one on which we live.” 36 In the famed King Follett discourse, delivered at general conference in April 1844, Joseph Smith presented an extensive treatise on creation as organization. He told the Saints that the word create comes from the Hebrew word baurau [bara], which means to organize, and that “God had materials to organize the world out of chaos … [which] may be organized and reorganized but not destroyed.” 37

Although these teachings were new for his time, Joseph Smith’s ideas received little attention from his non-LDS contemporaries. Members of other sects in the nineteenth century accepted the idea of ex nihilo creation without reservation. Consequently, Christians dismissed any alternative as irrelevant. Most accepted the Westminster Confession of Faith, which stated that God made the world “of nothing.” 38 To the people of his day, steeped in such traditions, Joseph Smith’s ideas on creation must have seemed implausible.

In contrast to nineteenth-century Christians, the early Christians believed in a concept of creation through organization similar to that Joseph Smith taught. The Christians in the first two centuries after Christ indeed believed that God created the earth by organizing it from material that had existed eternally. Justin Martyr, for example, wrote about A.D. 165 that “[God] in the beginning did create all things out of unformed matter.” 39

Two currents of thought may be largely responsible for the change in traditional Christian doctrine: gnostic ideas and Greek philosophy. Both gnostics and Greek philosophers taught that only the spirit is pure, and that body and matter are corrupt. It was therefore inconceivable for them to believe that material things could proceed from spiritual things. Because of such ideas, ex nihilo creation became a pillar of faith in traditional Christianity. 40 This commonly accepted view of creation was what Joseph Smith challenged as he initiated a return to the view of earlier Christians.

Since the time of Peter, the Saints have looked forward to “the times of restitution of all things.” (Acts 3:21.) For centuries, mankind was tossed to and fro among the multitude of differing doctrines on the nature and being of God and man. We owe an enormous debt of gratitude to the Lord Jesus Christ and his latter-day prophet, Joseph Smith, for revealing to us in the present-day world the true nature of God, man, and the Creation, that we may know who and what we worship and what our relationship to God is.

Early Sources Containing the Doctrinal Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith

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1. Recorded in 1831, 1835, 1839, 1840, 1843, 1844. It has been published in many places and at many times. For a summary see Milton V. Backman, Jr., Joseph Smith’s First Vision (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1980).

2. An early Church minute book containing the proceedings of many Church meetings and councils. Donald Q. Cannon and Lyndon W. Cook, eds., The Far West Record (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1983).

3. A Church newspaper published in Ohio, similar to the Deseret News. It was later published under a slightly different title and in a larger size in Missouri (see note 6).

4. A collection of diaries, letters, and other written documents from Joseph Smith. Dean C. Jessee, ed., The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1984).

5. This newspaper was a sequel to the earlier newspaper in Ohio. It was published in 1969 (Basel, Switzerland: Eugene Wagner, 1969) but is now out of print.

6. This paper was published in Ohio and contained mostly doctrinal matters. It was similar to today’s Church News.

7. These lectures were given by Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon in Kirtland, Ohio. They were published in the Doctrine and Covenants in each edition until 1921. More recently they have been published separately. N. B. Lundwall, Comp., Lectures on Faith (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, n.d.).

8. An LDS publication at Kirtland, Ohio. It was a priesthood publication. Indexes to the journal are available at the Harold B. Lee Library, BYU, but the journal has not been published.

9. An LDS newspaper devoted to Church matters, similar to the Church News, published in Nauvoo. Times and Seasons (Independence, Missouri, 1986).

10. A collection of available reports of Joseph Smith’s Nauvoo sermons. Andrew F. Ehat and Lyndon W. Cook, eds., The Words of Joseph Smith (Provo, Utah: BYU Religious Studies Center, 1980).

11. This periodical was published in England and eventually became the longest-running Church periodical. It had a largely doctrinal content.


Priesthood, the Word of God, and the Temple

Modern-day prophets have testified that Peter’s words have been fulfilled in our age, “the dispensation of the fulness of times.” (D&C 128:18.) The Restoration is among the most important tasks God has ever entrusted to a man—without it, “the whole earth would be utterly wasted at his coming.” (D&C 2:3.)

The world’s debt to Joseph Smith is great. As prophet, seer, and revelator, he is central in this dispensation. Last month, we examined his impact on our understanding of God, man, and the Creation. This month, we consider three more crucial topics about which he taught much: priesthood, scripture, and the temple.

Power and Authority: The Priesthood of God
Joseph Smith’s teachings concerning priesthood constitute a distinctive part of Latter-day Saint religion. The term priesthood, as used by Latter-day Saints, has at least two specific meanings. Priesthood is both authority from God to act in his name and actual power to accomplish God’s purposes. Joseph Smith proclaimed that he received such authority and power directly from heavenly messengers and that religious ordinances performed without divine authority have no binding effect outside this life. Baptism, for example, is valid only when someone possessing divine authority performs it.

Joseph Smith taught that priesthood authority and power had to be restored to the earth because it had been lost through apostasy. 2 Historical evidences of this apostasy include denials of spiritual gifts, uncertainty about doctrines and the roles of Church officers, changes in covenants and ordinances, and overindulgence in pomp and splendor. These external manifestations reflected the internal loss of divine authority.

As early as 1823, Moroni promised Joseph Smith that the priesthood would be revealed to him by the hand of Elijah. (See D&C 2:1.) Priesthood restoration began on 15 May 1829 when John the Baptist—by then a resurrected being of glory—appeared to the young prophet and Oliver Cowdery to confer the Aaronic Priesthood upon them. (See D&C 13; JS—H 1:68-72.) Shortly thereafter, the Apostles Peter, James, and John came and conferred upon them the Melchizedek Priesthood. 3 (See D&C 27:12-13.)

In 1836 Joseph Smith received, in the Kirtland Temple, additional fundamental priesthood keys. These priesthood powers included the keys of the gathering of Israel, the keys of the gospel of Abraham, and the keys of the sealing power, each set of powers restored personally by Moses, Elias, and Elijah. (See D&C 110.) At other times, additional keys and powers of the priesthood were also restored. (See D&C 128:21.) These included the keys of the kingdom pertaining to the dispensation of the fulness of times, keys that have subsequently passed to Joseph Smith’s successors, including President Ezra Taft Benson today. (See D&C 90:1-5.)

As this process of priesthood restoration unfolded, Joseph Smith’s understanding of the nature of priesthood power and authority increased. Sometime in April or May 1829, he translated the passage in Alma 13 about the high priesthood after the holy order of the Son of God. He also learned that the priesthood is eternal, a concept that he more fully expressed in 1839 when he said, “The Priesthood is an everlasting principle & Existed with God from Eternity.” 4 Soon afterward, he received the lesser priesthood, the priesthood of Aaron. (See D&C 13; D&C 84:25-27.) By this, he learned that two types of priesthood exist and that they would be operative in this dispensation. In May 1829, he also learned that priesthood power is necessary in order to baptize, to confer the gift of the Holy Ghost, and to administer the sacrament of the Lord’s supper. (See 3 Ne. 11:22; 3 Ne. 18:37; Moro. 2-6.)

In April 1830, Joseph organized The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, based upon a foundation of Apostles, prophets, elders, priests, teachers, and deacons; and in June 1830, he witnessed “glorious manifestations of the powers of the Priesthood.” 5

In March 1835, he gained further insight into the distinctions between the Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthoods: “The Melchizedek Priesthood holds the right of presidency, and has power and authority over all offices in the church” (D&C 107:8), while the Aaronic Priesthood “is called the lesser priesthood … because it is an appendage to the greater, or the Melchizedek Priesthood” (D&C 107:14). Two years later, the Prophet recorded, “The higher the authority, the greater the difficulty of the station.” 6

Joseph Smith also learned that temples had to be constructed to “enable all the functions of the Priesthood to be duly exercised.” 7 Near the end of his life, he reemphasized to the Saints that although ministers of other faiths did not have divine authority, he did. 8

The teachings of Joseph Smith concerning the nature of authority and the need for a restoration differ markedly from other nineteenth-century creeds. Most Protestants believed that the written words of the Bible constituted the only authority necessary and saw the congregation of believers as a “royal priesthood” in Christ. Catholics asserted priesthood authority in the traditions of the church and through the popes, who they claimed received authority from Peter. 9

Neither Protestants nor Catholics generally recognized the need for a restoration of priesthood authority or for an organization of priesthood offices and functions similar to what existed in the early church. Early Christians, however, had priesthood offices and authority quite similar to those established by Joseph Smith.

The New Testament contains evidence of that view. Differences between the Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthoods, for example, are outlined in Hebrews 7. [Heb. 7] The concept “that a man must be called of God, by prophecy, and by the laying on of hands by those who are in authority” (A of F 1: 5) is expressed in Hebrews 5:4, which says, “No man taketh this honour unto himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron.” [Heb. 5:4] (See 1 Tim. 4:14.)

Ephesians 2:19-20 and 4:11-14 affirm that Apostles and prophets form the essential foundation of the Church, and the New Testament contains references to bishops, seventies, elders, priests, deacons, and other offices. [Eph. 2:19-20, Eph. 4:11-14] (See Luke 10:1; Acts 14:23; 1 Tim. 3:1, 8; Rev. 20:6.) Traces of this organization survived in the first few centuries after Christ. Clement and Ignatius, for example, mention bishops, elders, and deacons in the local structure of church authority. 10 With the death of the Apostles, however, priesthood keys no longer existed in the church, and apostate ideas soon replaced these earlier teachings. Through the Prophet Joseph Smith, correct concepts and divine authority were restored.

What Constitutes Scripture?
Unlike traditional Christianity, which remains a religion of the book (the Bible), the restored gospel from its beginning has been a religion of books. Joseph Smith’s contribution to the concept of scripture is important and unique.

The translation of the Book of Mormon assured from the birth of the Church an openness to scriptural texts outside the Bible. Its appearance established that God still speaks through prophets and that the Bible is not an exhaustive collection of scripture. The Book of Mormon expressly cautions readers: “Because that ye have a Bible ye need not suppose that it contains all my words; neither need ye suppose that I have not caused more to be written.” (2 Ne. 29:10.)

It goes even further, pronouncing a woe upon those who say, “We need no more of the word of God, for we have enough.” (2 Ne. 28:29.)

From the writings of Nephi, Joseph Smith learned that the Book of Mormon would be only one of many books to come forth in the last days. (See 1 Ne. 13:39; 2 Ne. 27:11.) The pages of the Book of Mormon also contain interpretations, additions, and corrections to chapters from Isaiah, as well as quotations from heretofore unknown prophets of ancient Israel (Zenos and Zenock, for example), together with a precious account of the resurrected Savior’s personal ministry among inhabitants of ancient America.

From the Book of Mormon, Joseph had his concept of scripture greatly expanded. The translation of the Nephite scripture gave concrete evidence that the Lord had spoken to “all men, both in the east and in the west, and in the north, and in the south,” and that they had written God’s words by which he “will judge the world.” (2 Ne. 29:11.) New scripture promotes faith in other sacred texts. Mormon 7:9 adds that the Nephite records were “written for the intent that ye may believe [the Bible].” [Morm. 7:9]

Between the time the Book of Mormon was published and the Kirtland Temple was dedicated, Joseph Smith learned that God had given power and knowledge to man in a series of dispensations. (See D&C 27:12-13; D&C 110:12, 16.) Beginning with Adam, each dispensation had been given holy scripture “according to their language, unto their understanding.” (2 Ne. 31:3.) Restoring lost knowledge from those earlier dispensations was a part of the restoration of all things, as the receipt of the Book of Moses in 1830 richly illustrated. 11

In none of these things, however, did Joseph Smith think any less of the Bible as far as it was translated correctly. (See A of F 1:8.) Indeed, as early as 1830, Joseph devoted great energy to improving our understanding of the King James Bible. He considered this work a “branch of [his] calling,” 12 and he spent many hours studying and restoring proper meaning to many passages. In all, Joseph Smith altered about 3,400 verses in the Bible—about 10 percent of the total. Because this task was not completed—and for other reasons—we use the King James Version. 13

In addition to restoring ancient principles, Joseph Smith added new revelations to the body of scripture: the volume of sacred writ was not to be closed. Many of these revelations were communicated during regular conferences, then printed in official reports. Significantly, these revelations stand as scripture itself: “What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken, … my word shall not pass away, but shall all be fulfilled, whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same.” (D&C 1:38.)

Thus, by experience and revelation, Joseph learned and taught (1) that scripture is nothing more or less than the word of the Lord, (2) that the book of God’s word is not closed, (3) that God speaks to all dispensations, (4) that scripture must be correctly understood through the spirit of truth, and (5) that the words of the Lord’s servants when moved upon by the Holy Ghost are scripture, too. (See 2 Pet. 1:20-21; D&C 68:4.)

These doctrines came into Joseph Smith’s world as radical ideas. Joseph’s Christian contemporaries accepted as scripture only the books of the Bible. They considered that volume to be a single, complete, and absolute source to be understood quite literally. Thus, the laws of the Massachusetts Bay Colony described the Old and New Testaments as “containing in them the infallible and whole Will of God, which he purposed to make known to Mankinde,” the denial of which was punishable by fines, whippings, banishment, or death. 14

To people of such persuasion, the ideas of continuous revelation, additional scripture, dispensations, inspired versions, and gifts of prophecy evoked sharp reactions. For example, two months after the publication of the Book of Mormon, the Palmyra Reflector warned Oliver Cowdery that he might be sent as a convict to the Simsbury Mines if he dared to proclaim its message in “the principal cities of the Union.” 15

The rejection of new revelation in the 1830s was similar to the rejection of new revelation by the Jews at the time of Christ. Many Jews whom Jesus encountered insisted that the receipt of new scripture was impossible, that the law was complete (as they interpreted Lev. 27:34 to say), and that prophecy had ceased after the second century B.C. 16

For the early Christians, however, the floodgates of revelation had just opened again. The Epistle to the Hebrews begins with a bold declaration of new revelation: “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in times past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son.” (Heb. 1:1-2.)

John declares likewise: “The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to shew unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass.” (Rev. 1:1.)

To these early followers of Jesus, the scriptures were not a closed set of writings. To the Apostle Paul, for example, all writings 17 inspired by God were good for doctrine and the promotion of righteousness. (See 2 Tim. 3:16.)

In Paul’s day, there was no fixed collection of books, even among the Jews, that exclusively counted as scripture. Thus, Jude 1:14-15 quotes without reservation the nonbiblical book of Enoch as scripture. Indeed, not until the fourth century did the New Testament canon become fixed, and not until the Reformation in the sixteenth century did the church regard the Old Testament as Jerome did—that is, as the Hebrew canon. 18

Matthew, Paul, and Jesus himself led the way in showing, as Joseph Smith did, the need for expounding, searching, and interpreting the scriptures in light of current conditions and true perceptions (see Matt. 22:23-33; Matt. 24:27; John 5:39), and in issuing new commandments (see John 13:34; 1 Cor. 6:7-8). They recognized the impossibility of restricting their spiritual knowledge to a finite number of pages. 19 (See John 21:25.) Thus we see an open and complex idea of scripture in the early Christian movement that is comparable to the expanding view of scripture understood by Joseph Smith. 20

Temples and Eternal Marriage
Also unique among the teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith in his day were those regarding temple covenants, baptism for the dead, and the eternal sealing of families. No other religion offered people then, nor do any offer today, the opportunity to receive these rich and wonderful blessings. Joseph Smith taught that while resurrection from death is a gift of God to all mankind through the death and resurrection of Christ (see 1 Cor. 15:21-22), exaltation through the power of the priesthood comes only to those who are sanctified through the Spirit and who keep sacred covenants (see D&C 84:19-24, 33-41.) The most important of these covenants are made in holy temples.

Early in his ministry, Joseph Smith learned the importance of temples in the Lord’s plan of salvation. Before his martyrdom, the Saints had built temples at Kirtland and Nauvoo and dedicated sites in Independence, Adam-ondi-Ahman, and Far West.

In this dispensation, the pattern of temple building was first revealed through the Book of Mormon. This ancient record indicates that in the lands of Nephi, Zarahemla, and Bountiful, the righteous Nephites constructed temples to perform their ordinances. (See 2 Ne. 5:16; Mosiah 2:1; 3 Ne. 11:1.) With the coming of Christ, the Nephite temple remained significant, as Jesus appeared and taught there, instructing his people to keep certain commandments (see 3 Ne. 12:20-13:24) and entering into a covenant with them (see 3 Ne. 18:6-10).

In January 1831, the Lord commanded Joseph Smith to go to Kirtland, where he would be “endowed with power from on high.” (D&C 38:32.) Shortly thereafter, a temple site was selected there. In July and August 1831, the word of the Lord instructed the Saints that another temple site should be dedicated in Independence, Missouri. (See D&C 57:3; D&C 58:57.) In the ordinances of these sacred houses, the Lord said, the “power of godliness” and “the mysteries of the kingdom” (D&C 84:19-21) would be made manifest. There the Saints could worship, give thanks, receive counsel, and be endowed with power. (See D&C 95:7-17.)

Joseph’s understanding of specific temple ordinances grew from these concepts in 1831 to a crescendo in 1844. In 1834, the need for a restoration of all the ordinances of the gospel was revealed: “We all admit that the Gospel has ordinances, and if so, had it not always ordinances, and were not its ordinances always the same?” 21

The Lord promised that ordinances would be performed in the temple, where “a great endowment and blessing [will] be poured out.” (D&C 105:12; see also D&C 105:18, 33.) In 1835, the Saints learned that they needed an endowment to “be prepared and able to overcome all things.” 22 After the completion of the Kirtland Temple in 1836, washing, anointing, and sealing the anointing were performed there. 23

During the Nauvoo period, Joseph Smith taught more about the keys of the kingdom necessary to be born again, to be sealed unto eternal life by the holy spirit of promise, and to recognize Satan. He also revealed that the early Apostles Peter and Paul knew these things. 24 He explained that Adam “was the first to hold the spiritual blessings” and knew “the plan of ordinances for the Salvation of his posterity unto the end.” 25 Through the priesthood in the temple, the Prophet explained, eternally vital matters are to be revealed from heaven.

On 15 August 1840, at the funeral sermon for Seymour Brunson, Joseph Smith gave the first discourse on baptism for the dead. 26 This ordinance was being performed in the font at the Nauvoo Temple by November 21 of the next year. 27

Also, toward the end of 1840, the Lord promised that certain keys and names by which one may ask and receive would be taught. (See D&C 124:95, 97.) 28

In 1842, the women of the Relief Society learned of the vital role they would play in the kingdom. 29 Joseph Smith further taught that there existed “certain signs and words by which false spirits and personages may be detected from true, which cannot be revealed to the Elders till the Temple is completed.” 30

By 1843, the temple’s full import and design seem to have crystallized in the Prophet’s teachings. The doctrines of sealing and of becoming kings and queens, priests and priestesses were often discussed. Joseph Smith taught that “except a man and his wife enter into an everlasting covenant and be married for eternity, while in this probation, by the power and authority of the Holy Priesthood, they will cease to increase when they die; that is, they will not have any children after the resurrection,” 31 nor can they obtain the highest degree of the celestial glory. (See D&C 131:1-4.)

Accordingly, Joseph and Emma Smith were sealed for time and eternity on 28 May 1843. 32 Sometime between 29 August 1842 and 16 July 1843, Joseph Smith discussed the full concept of temple ordinances with Hyrum Smith, Brigham Young, Willard Richards, and others of the Twelve. 33 He explained how Abraham’s endowment was the patriarchal order of marriage for time and eternity. 34 The members of the Quorum of the Twelve then received both the Aaronic and Melchizedek portions of the endowment, and within a year they and their wives had been sealed for eternity.

Finally, in his last year, Joseph completed his doctrinal instruction about the temple. He taught that Jesus received the fulness of the priesthood on the Mount of Transfiguration. 35 He said that knowledge of “our condition and true relation to God … can only be obtained by experience through the ordinances of God set forth for that purpose.” 36

He also explained the power of Elijah in connection with the sealing of parents to children. 37 He stated that ordinances are to be performed for the living and for the dead, in “a place where all nations shall come up from time to time to receive their endowments.” 38

In Joseph’s own day, these ideas met with resistance and disdain. 39 Nevertheless, the idea of sacred temple worship was indigenous to early Christianity. The early Saints in Jerusalem did not repudiate the temple but worshipped there daily. (See Acts 2:46.) Paul brought alms to the Jews—such offerings were traditionally offered in the temple. (See Acts 24:17-18.) In John’s vision of Jesus Christ, the temple was featured prominently. (See Rev. 3:12, Rev. 7:15, Rev. 11:1.) In early Christianity, a considerable “envy of the temple” lingered long after the loss of the temple. 40

Since we know almost nothing for certain about Christ’s confidential teachings to his Apostles, it is impossible to know, except through revelation, the esoteric doctrines he taught anciently. We are also not sure what “the mysteries of the kingdom” were that Jesus and the Apostles occasionally referred to. Most traces of this aspect of early Christianity were systematically eradicated in the third and fourth centuries. 41

Increasingly, however, scholars are accepting the idea that early Christians knew sacred teachings and observed sacred rites necessary for the perfecting of the Saints. 42 What those teachings and rites might have been anciently can be partially pieced together from disparate fragments and scattered clues that, against the odds, have survived: We know, for example, that the early Saints performed baptisms for the dead. 43 (See 1 Cor. 15:29.) Some writings mention a secret and sacred ordinance of the “mirrored bridal chamber” associated with “the Holy of the Holies.” 44 A few texts speak of the Apostles and their wives forming a circle so that Jesus could teach them “the ordinances of the treasury of light, they being conducted by him through all the ordinances and thereby learning to progress in the hereafter.” 45

Thus, a body of Christian texts attests that secret teachings and sacred rites had formerly existed but had been lost to the main church early in its history. 46 While conventional scholarship is unable to reconstruct with any confidence the nature of early Christian liturgy and ordinance work, we can see enough in the dim records of the past to appreciate that Joseph Smith indeed restored eternal truths regarding temples and ordinances.

As these doctrines and the others we have discussed show, the Prophet Joseph Smith’s greatest contributions to the welfare of mankind came in the divine truths and power he restored. These truths were not given him all at once, however; his knowledge grew line upon line, precept upon precept, and he shared his new understandings with the Saints as they were prepared to receive them. In many respects, these teachings were different from the teachings of his day. Even so, some of these most distinctive doctrines of the church he organized are demonstrably similar to specific teachings of early Christianity.

The world owes a great debt to Joseph Smith—a debt not yet completely understood. Our present studies point toward horizons that extend far beyond what we have glimpsed here. Through Joseph Smith indeed has come “the times of restitution of all things” and “the times of refreshing … from the presence of the Lord.” (Acts 3:19-21.)




The Restored Doctrine of the Atonement

The truths of the Atonement remain hidden from a society that has been cleverly persuaded that the Church knows least—when in fact it knows most—about Jesus Christ’s role as our Savior. The adversary has ben engaged in one of history’s greatest cover-ups.

Some of these puzzling attitudes are caused by widespread and completely erroneous perceptions about Latter-day Saint doctrines concerning the atonement and grace of Jesus Christ. As Newsweek magazine incorrectly put it a few years ago, “Unlike orthodox Christians, Mormons believe that men … earn their way to godhood by the proper exercise of free will, rather than through the grace of Jesus Christ. Thus, Jesus’ suffering and death in the Mormon view were brotherly acts of compassion, but they do not atone for the sins of others.” (1 Sept. 1980, p. 68.)

There is massive irony in these mistaken impressions, because the doctrines of the Restoration actually make the Savior’s grace and atonement meaningful and accessible to people in a way that traditional Protestant and Catholic doctrines have simply been unable to do. And this has occurred at a time when society is literally starving with spiritual hunger.

For example, Yale University Press recently published a book called Heaven: A History, in which two historians, Colleen McDannell and Bernhard Lang, describe both popular and religious beliefs about the concept of heaven in Western history. The authors studied this subject because “it reflects a deep and profound longing in Christianity … to experience more fully the divine.” Indeed, they think their subject is “a key to [understanding] Western culture.” (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1988, p. xiii.)

Their study concludes with an assessment of the concept of heaven in twentieth-century Christianity. They note two major findings. First, 71 percent of modern Americans believe “there is a heaven where people who have led good lives are eternally rewarded.” (Ibid., p. 307.) In attitudes reflected in cultural symbols ranging from cemeteries to love songs, people from all Christian denominations still express their instinctive belief in “the eternal nature of love and the hope for heavenly reunion,” especially with their family members. (Ibid., p. 312.)

This yearning for eternal belonging also reflects attitudes toward God. A 1983 survey in a prominent Catholic publication revealed that many American Catholics “want to ‘hug God’ when they arrive in heaven.” To these writers, this response echoes “the hopes of earlier generations: God will be a personal character willing to be hugged, individuals will retain their personalities, [and] families will reunite.” (Ibid., p. 309.)

Reading of this hunger to “hug God” in the light of gospel teachings on that sacred subject makes me want to let all these hopeful people know the glad tidings of the Restoration: In the Lord’s words to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery, “Be faithful and diligent in keeping the commandments of God, and I will encircle thee in the arms of my love.” (D&C 6:20.)

A Longing for Everlasting Ties

Let us consider now the second and more sobering finding about the idea of heaven in modern America. McDannell and Lang observe that despite the surprising strength of today’s personal beliefs in a real heaven, the mainline Christian churches offer little serious theological response to the natural intuition of their members. Rather, today’s “ideas about what happens after death are only popular sentiments and are not integrated into Protestant and Catholic theological systems.” (Heaven: A History, p. 308.) These systems seem to assume that ideas about immortality are no longer socially relevant and that they are too speculative to be acceptable to modern scholarship.

But then these historians note one “major exception” to their generalization regarding today’s theological vacuum about heaven—namely, “the theology of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” They summarize a range of LDS teachings, from eternal marriage to genealogy and ordinances for the dead, then conclude that “the understanding of life after death in the LDS Church is the clearest [known] example of the continuation of the modern heaven into the twentieth century.” (Ibid., p. 320.)

How poignant that so many people today yearn for everlasting ties to God and to each other, yet how sad and ironic that other Christian denominations’ theology offers no developed reply to these deeply felt needs. The Restoration offers these people not only the hope of an embrace with the Lord but also a full understanding of what that embrace can mean. For being “clasped in the arms of Jesus” (Morm. 5:11) symbolizes the fulfillment of his atonement in our lives—becoming literally “at one” with him, belonging to him, in mortality as well as in heaven.

Just as the restored Church offers the most complete available theology about heaven, the Restoration also fills a similar—and more substantial—theological void about the Atonement. Moreover, the Restoration teaches of Christ’s mission in a way that lets his life and his death speak to our most profound human needs in everyday life, just as an understanding of heaven fulfills our hopes for life after death.

This bold assertion of the Restoration’s revolutionary implications for Christianity’s most central doctrine finds strong support in the work of a noted scholar on the Protestant Reformation, John Dillenberger. In a 1978 essay comparing Martin Luther with Joseph Smith on the question of grace and works, Dillenberger wrote: “Mormonism brought understanding to what had become an untenable problem within evangelicalism: how to reconcile the new power of humanity with the negative inherited views of humanity, without abandoning the necessity of grace.” (“Grace and Works in Martin Luther and Joseph Smith,” in Reflections on Mormonism: Judeo-Christian Parallels, ed. Truman G. Madsen, Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 1978, p. 179.)

Doctrines of Grace: A Brief History

To explore Dillenberger’s provocative insight, we must take a brief journey through history that will show how the great apostasy changed the underlying premises of the Atonement and mission of Christ. Since the fourth century A.D., the teachings of traditional Christianity regarding man’s nature and the need for Christ’s grace began with the assumption that each person has an inherently evil nature. According to Catholic teachings, this effect of original sin can be overcome only by the grace of Christ as dispensed through the official sacraments (ordinances) of the Church. Protestant theology is even more pessimistic about humankind’s fallen nature, and it departs from Catholic doctrine by teaching that grace comes not from Church sacraments but only from the unearned gift that God may bestow directly upon an elect few.

Significantly, the idea of man’s fallen and evil nature originated not in the teachings of Christ, but in St. Augustine’s personal struggles with sexual sin in the fourth century A.D. As Princeton religion scholar Elaine Pagels has recently written, Augustine’s highly original teaching on “original sin” reordered the very foundations of Christianity, even though his ideas essentially abandoned the moral freedom taught by the Old Testament and the doctrine of free will and personal responsibility that had prevailed among Christians since the time of Christ. In exploring why Augustine’s unorthodox views were so widely accepted, Pagels notes the great intellectual power of his writing. But she also finds a broader explanation in historical and political reality.

The Roman emperor Constantine had declared Christianity the official religion of the vast Roman empire not long before Augustine’s time. Augustine’s views provided a believable justification for the emperor’s assertion of governmental and religious power over an unruly population: because people by their fallen nature could not govern themselves, they required a powerful state and a forceful church structure. This political imperative moved Augustine’s ideas into the center of Western history, surpassing the influence of any other church father.

In the centuries that followed, the church of the Middle Ages erected an elaborate structure of doctrine and practice on the foundation of Augustine’s assumptions about man’s evil nature. In about 1500 A.D., Martin Luther’s experience reinforced these assumptions as the linchpin of Christian theology. Luther struggled with his personal weaknesses in an ordeal similar to Augustine’s, trying in vain to satisfy his desperate need for grace through the church’s sacraments. He agreed with Augustine that his problem lay in his unavoidably depraved nature, but in a massive theological “Protest”—the basis for the Protestant break with Catholicism—Luther concluded that God bestows undeserved grace not through the sacraments of the Catholic church but directly on chosen individuals. This idea removes any need for the church as an intermediary.

By breaking the Catholic church’s control over grace, Luther permanently undermined the church’s social and political authority. Indeed, just as Augustine’s views were used earlier to justify authoritarian regimes, Luther provided a rationale for the claims of new individualistic political forces that sought to overthrow centralized authoritarian structures. Luther was courageous and articulate, but as had happened with Augustine, historic need gave wings to his thought that its religious merit alone might not have warranted.

Depravity’s End

This sketch illustrates Professor Dillenberger’s comments about the “negative inherited views” and “the misery of humanity” in Christian history. (Ibid., p. 179.) By 1820, these ideas had created an impossible theological problem, because neither the intellectual developments of recent centuries nor popular common sense took seriously the notion of man’s uncontrollably evil nature. For example, a leading authority on Puritanism writes that within a century after the Puritans (who traced their theological lineage to Luther through John Calvin) came to America in 1620, “the theory of the utter dependence of man on … God ceased to have any relevance to the facts of the Puritan experience. [Still,] the preachers continued to preach it and the laymen continued to hear it; not because either of them believed it, but because they cherished it.” (Herbert W. Schneider, The Puritan Mind, Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 1958, pp. 34-35.)

One reason people stopped believing in man’s natural depravity was that European and American history between Luther’s time and Joseph Smith’s time amassed irresistible evidence of the wonder of human abilities. Drawing on classical Greek optimism about man’s powers, the Renaissance and the Enlightenment fueled true revolutions in the sciences, in the arts, in the commercial/industrial world, and in the political sphere—as witnessed by the French and American revolutions. The independent and robust America of the early nineteenth century was fairly bursting with confidence in the ability of men and women to subdue the earth and take charge of their lives.

These widely recognized powers contradicted traditional beliefs in humankind’s evil nature to the point that many people not only saw little practical need for God’s grace, they adopted the humanistic assumption that humans are good by nature. Given the centuries-old belief that we need grace primarily to overcome our evil nature, the assumption that man is naturally good eliminated, in the minds of many, the need for Christ’s grace. Individuals still violated divine laws, but this new line of thinking concluded that poverty and other collective urban failures were more persuasive explanations for these failings than was any idea of inborn depravity.

The abstractions of Christian theology seemed increasingly out of touch with daily experience in the twentieth century—to such an extent that in 1965, Protestant theologian Harvey Cox pronounced traditional Christianity totally irrelevant to modern society. His book was called The Secular City. (New York: The MacMillan Co.) This title deliberately and symbolically rejected the preoccupation with the evil of this world and the goodness of God’s world evident in Augustine’s famous book from the fourth century, The City of God. Cox urged the Christian churches to give up dreaming of heavenly cities and focus instead on the social problems of earthly cities; until they did so, he said, Christianity would play no meaningful role in American life. Despite the continuing belief in Augustine’s assumptions among a few theologically conservative Protestant groups today, experience demonstrates that most churches and theologians have taken Cox’s advice. That is one reason why there is such a vacuum of religious teaching about heaven in today’s world.

The Restoration of Grace

As we survey the modern wreckage of a once-elaborate Christian theological structure, Dillenberger’s observation about Mormon doctrine seems even more compelling. “In stressing human possibilities,” he wrote, “Mormonism brought things into line, not by abandoning the centrality of grace but by insisting that the powers of humanity were [also] real and that they reflected the actual state of humanity as such.” (“Grace and Works,” p. 179; emphasis added.)

With the error and the impracticality of Augustinian teaching now clearly unmasked, consider briefly the Restoration’s distinctive teachings on the relationship among human nature, the Atonement, and the way in which belonging to Christ can sustain us in times of personal need. I am drawn toward this personal dimension because I am saddened by seeing so many decent people outside (and inside) the Church who have no theological support for embracing and belonging to the authentic, personal Christ—not only on heaven but on earth. The Restoration, like the Atonement, offers not only an abstract historical message but an intensely personal one.

According to Christ’s original doctrine as restored through Joseph Smith, the Fall made both possible and necessary the Savior’s atoning for our sins. Human nature is neither inherently evil nor inherently good. We become evil or good based on interaction between the Lord’s influence and the choices we make—choices unavailable in the garden before Adam and Eve fell and only made possible because of the Savior’s atonement.

In fulfillment of his intended purpose, God expelled Adam and Eve from Eden into a world that was subject to the forces of life and death, good and evil. Yet He soon taught them that “the Son of God hath atoned for original guilt”; therefore, Adam’s children were neither evil nor good but were “whole from the foundation of the world.” (Moses 6:54; emphasis added.) Thus, “every spirit of man was innocent in the beginning; and God having redeemed man from the fall, men became again, in their infant state, innocent before God.” (D&C 93:38; emphasis added.)

As Adam’s and Eve’s descendants become accountable for their own sins at age eight, they all taste sin to one degree or another because of their experiences in a free environment. Those who come to love “Satan more than God” (Moses 5:28) will to that degree become “carnal, sensual, and devilish” (Moses 5:13; Moses 6:49) by nature—“natural men.” On the other hand, those who accept Christ’s grace by their faith, repentance, baptism, and continued striving will ultimately put off “the natural man” and become “a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord.” (Mosiah 3:19.) They will then be good by nature.

In LDS theology, then, grace is the absolutely indispensable source of three categories of blessings. First are the unconditional blessings—gifts requiring no individual action on our part. God’s grace in this sense includes the very Creation, as well as making the plan of salvation known to us. It also includes resurrection for all from physical death and forgiveness for Adam and Eve’s original transgression.

Second, the Savior has atoned for our personal sins on the condition of our repentance. Personal repentance is a necessary condition of salvation but is not by itself sufficient to assure salvation. Without the Atonement, our repentance will not save us. One must also accept the ordinances of baptism and receive the Holy Ghost, by which one is born again as a spiritual child of Christ.

Third comes the bestowal of grace after baptism along the path toward a Christlike nature. Once we have repented and are baptized unto forgiveness of sin, we have only “entered in by the gate” to the “strait and narrow path which leads to eternal life.” (2 Ne. 31:17-20.) This postbaptism stage of spiritual development does not require perfection in mortality, but it does require our good-faith effort to “endure to the end” (2 Ne. 31:20) and to become perfect, “even as [our] Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Matt. 5:48). This effort includes the ordinances of the temple and an ongoing repentance process as needed to retain a remission of our sins from day to day. (See Mosiah 4:12, 26.)

Developing the Attributes of Christ

In the teachings of Augustine and Luther, man’s fallen nature made self-generated righteous acts impossible. In LDS doctrine, by contrast, “men should … do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness;

“For the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves.” (D&C 58:27-28.)

Yet we clearly lack the capacity to develop a Christlike nature by our own effort alone. Thus, the perfecting attributes, which include hope, charity, and finally the divine nature that is inherently part of eternal life, are ultimately “bestowed upon all who are true followers of … Jesus Christ” (Moro. 7:48; emphasis added) by the grace that was made possible by the Savior’s atonement. In LDS theology, this interactive relationship between human will and divine powers derives from the significance the gospel attaches to free will and from optimism about the “fruit of the Spirit” (Gal. 5:22) among “those who love me and keep all my commandments, and him that seeketh so to do” (D&C 46:9; emphasis added).

God bestows these additional, perfecting expressions of grace conditionally, as he does the grace that allows forgiveness of sin. They are given “after all we can do” (2 Ne. 25:23)—that is, they are given as an essential supplement to our best efforts. We prove worthy and capable of receiving these gifts not only by obeying particular commandments but also by demonstrating certain personal attitudes and attributes, such as “meekness and lowliness of heart” (Moro. 8:26) and “a broken heart and a contrite spirit” (3 Ne. 9:20).

In addition, those who enter into the covenants of the gospel of Jesus Christ may also be spiritually sustained by him. This is the relationship we celebrate and renew each time we partake of the sacrament. Through it, the Savior grants not only a continuing remission of our sins, but he will also help compensate for our inadequacies, heal the bruises caused by our unintentional errors, and strengthen us far beyond our natural capacity in times of acute need.

Both we and our friends outside the Lord’s church need this Atonement-based relationship more than we need any other form of therapy or support: “O Israel, Fear not: for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name; thou art mine.

“When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee.

“For I am the Lord thy God, the Holy One of Israel, thy Saviour.” (Isa. 43:1-3; emphasis added.)

Encircled in the Arms of His Love

Sometimes we do not fully recognize the strength of the Church’s position on the most crucial doctrines of Christianity. This remarkable strength derives not just from family values and healthy living, as important as those are. It derives from the pure theology of the restored gospel—which is the last, best, and only hope of Christianity and of all humankind. The Restoration not only resolves post-Augustinian Christianity’s central doctrinal dilemmas, it also offers the most complete solution to our greatest problems, social or personal.

Yet the gospel’s insights remain relatively hidden from a society that has been consciously and cleverly persuaded by the evil one that the church of the Restoration knows least—when in fact it knows most—about Jesus Christ’s role as our personal Savior. The adversary has known exactly what he is doing. He has been engaged in one of history’s greatest cover-ups.

But now, not only the restored church’s lifestyle but the more fundamental contribution of the restored church’s doctrine is beginning to come forth from obscurity. The widespread circulation in major libraries of the new Encyclopedia of Mormonism is a wonderful step in that direction. Also significant, a random survey in the United States of five thousand readers by the Book of the Month Club recently asked people what was the most influential book in their lives. They reported that the Bible still ranks first, and the Book of Mormon now ranks eighth. (The Daily Universe, 22 Nov. 1991, p. 1.) As the Book of Mormon’s influence spreads, so will the good news that access to the living grace of the living God has been restored in fulness.

Today, many people feel a longing for heaven, where, they want to believe, they will be welcomed not only into the arms of their families but into the arms of God. The Restoration offers a complete fulfillment of that longing, not just as some momentary emotion but as the fully developed doctrine of the gospel of Jesus Christ. We hear him saying to all those within and outside the Church who hunger and thirst to find him in times of personal famine: “Behold, ye are little children and ye cannot bear all things now; ye must grow in grace and in the knowledge of the truth.

“Fear not, little children, for you are mine, and I have overcome the world, and you are of them that my Father hath given me;

“And none of them that my Father hath given me shall be lost; …

“And inasmuch as ye have received me, ye are in me and I in you.” (D&C 50:40-43.)

“Be faithful and diligent in keeping the commandments of God, and I will encircle thee in the arms of my love.” (D&C 6:20.)