Sunday, May 31, 2009

Satan's Power and Influence

While serving a mission in Ecuador, I encountered a handful of experiences that confirmed to me the reality and power of Satan. At least one experience is so sacred (or frightening?) that I have yet to recount the event in its fullest, even to those closest to me. I find that when I dwell on those experiences, I can literally feel the Spirit drain out of me. Therefore, I try to avoid relating those experiences, especially to the youth who curiously seem to be interested in such stories.

However, there are a few recorded experiences not of mine that I typically will share with those of a curious disposition. One experience is documented in the Life of Heber C. Kimball, while Orson Hyde, Heber, and five other missionaries were in England proselytizing. One of the missionaries, Joseph Fielding, had a brother, Reverend James Fielding, who allowed them to preach in his church. However, after several individuals believed the missionaries’ testimonies and asked to be baptized, Reverend Fielding no longer allowed them to preach in his chapel.

Nevertheless, the missionaries decided to hold a baptismal service in a nearby river on July 30, 1837. Heber C. Kimball described that “by this time the adversary of souls began to rage, and he felt determined to destroy us before we had fully established the kingdom of God in that land, and the next morning I witnessed a scene of satanic power and influence which I shall never forget” (Orson F. Whitney, Life of Heber C. Kimball (Salt Lake City: Kimball Family, 1888), p.129)(emphasis added).

The night before the service, the missionaries were attacked by a host of evil spirits. Elder Kimball recounts the experience as follows:

“‘Sunday, July 30th (1837), about daybreak, Elder Isaac Russell (who had been appointed to preach on the obelisk in Preston Square, that day), who slept with Elder Richards in Wilfred Street, came up to the third story, where Elder Hyde and myself were sleeping, and called out, ‘Brother Kimball, I want you should get up and pray for me that I may be delivered from the evil spirits that are tormenting me to such a degree that I feel I cannot live long, unless I obtain relief.’

“‘I had been sleeping on the back of the bed. I immediately arose, slipped off the foot of the bed, and passed around to where he was. Elder Hyde threw his feet out, and sat up in the bed, and we laid hands on him, I being mouth, and prayed that the Lord would have mercy on him, and rebuked the devil.’

‘While thus engaged, I was struck with great force by some invisible power, and fell senseless on the floor. The first thing I recollect was being supported by Elders Hyde and Richards, who were praying for me. . . . Elder Hyde and Richards then assisted me to get on the bed, but my agony was so great I could not endure it, and I arose, bowed my knees and prayed. I then arose and sat up on the bed, when a vision was opened to our minds, and we could distinctly see the evil spirits, who foamed and gnashed their teeth at us. We gazed upon them about an hour and a half (by Willard’s watch). We were not looking towards the window, but towards the wall. Space appeared before us, and we saw the devils coming in legions with their leaders, who came within a few feet of us. They came towards us like armies rushing to a battle. They appeared to be men of full stature, possessing every form and feature of men in the flesh, who were angry and desperate; and I shall never forget the vindictive malignity depicted on their countenances as they looked me in the eye; and any attempt to paint the scene which then presented itself, or portray their malice and enmity, would be vain. . . . I cannot even look back on the scene without feelings of horror; yet by it I learned the power of the adversary, his enmity against the servants of God, and got some understanding of the invisible world. We distinctly heard those spirits talk and express their wrath and hellish designs against us” (Id. at 130-131)(emphasis added).

Orson Hyde subsequently described the events of that day in a letter to Heber C. Kimball:

‘Every circumstance that occurred at that scene of devils is just as fresh in my recollection at this moment as it was at the moment of its occurrence, and will ever remain so. After you were overcome by them and had fallen, their awful rush upon me with knives, threats, imprecations and hellish grins, amply convinced me that they were no friends of mine. While you were apparently senseless and lifeless on the floor and upon the bed (after we had laid you there) I stood between you and the devils and fought them and contended with them face to face, until they began to diminish in number and to retreat from the room. The last imp that left turned around and apologized to me as he was going out and said, as if to apologize, and appease my determined opposition to them, “I never said anything against you!” I replied to him thus: “It matter not to me whether you have or not; you are a liar from the beginning! In the name of Jesus Christ, depart!” He immediately left, and the room was clear. That closed the scene of devils for that time’” (Id.)(emphasis added).

After returning from his mission, Heber C. Kimball inquired of the Prophet Joseph Smith as to the reason for the manifestation and, particularly, if there was anything wrong with him. The Prophet replied that “No, Brother Heber, at that time you were nigh unto the Lord; there was only a veil between you and Him, but you could not see Him. When I heard of it, it gave me great joy, for I then knew that the work of God had taken root in that land. It was this that caused the devil to make a struggle to kill you. The nearer a person approaches the Lord, a greater power will be manifested by the adversary to prevent the accomplishment of His purposes” (Id. at 131-132)(emphasis added).

One Elder I personally knew during my mission was once “possessed” by an evil spirit that was ultimately cast out by our mission President. At the inquisitive age of 20, I wondered how a seemingly righteous missionary could be susceptible to such a satanic manifestation. Indeed, I had encountered others similarly situated while tracting, but these individuals were typically living a lifestyle that would invite such an influence. The question I then asked was how Satan is able to possess the bodies of the righteous?

Elder Bruce R. McConkie wrote briefly on this issue:

We cannot tell and do not know how it is that evil spirits – few or many – gain entrance into the bodies of mortal men. We do know that all things are governed by law, and that Satan is precluded from taking possession of [and destroying] the bodies of the prophets and other righteous people. Were it not so, the work of God would be thwarted – always and in all instances – for Lucifer leads the armies of hell against all men, and more especially against those who are instrumental in furthering the Lord’s work.

There must be circumstances of depression and sin and physical weakness that, within the restrictions of divine control, permit evil spirits to enter human bodies” (McConkie, Mortal Messiah, 2:282)(emphasis added).

I cannot be certain that the Elder I knew was personally righteous, but it has always perplexed me as to how this Elder found himself in that situation. That being said, am I also susceptible to such forces? Are we all possessed by Satan’s power to some extent until we become whole in the Savior? If this is the case, then, isn’t most of the world in that state? What are a few of the things that bring one under Satan’s power? And how does the priesthood of God fit into all this?

Sunday, May 17, 2009

“For they that come shall burn them….”

On the night of September 21, 1823, the angel Moroni visited Joseph Smith in response to a prayer seeking “forgiveness of . . . sins and follies” (JSH 1:29). The Prophet was shockingly honest in admitting that it was fear of condemnation that brought him to his knees that night. Although letters published in the Messenger and Advocate by Oliver Cowdery reveal that an overall thirty texts from both the Old and New Testaments were part of Moroni’s instructions to the Prophet that night (Messenger and Advocate, 1:79-80), the Joseph Smith History recites just five of them.

One of the passages recited is Malachi 4:1 which reads in the King James Version (KJV): “For, behold, the day cometh, that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble: and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the Lord of hosts.” There is an interesting discrepancy between the KJV and the version Moroni quoted that night: “For behold, the day cometh that shall burn as an oven, and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly shall burn as stubble; for they that come shall burn them, saith the Lord of Hosts” (JSH 1:37).

The KJV harmonizes with 3 Nephi 25:1 and also in the James Mulholland manuscript, the earliest source for Joseph’s work. Mulholland was the prophet’s scribe during the period when he dictated this portion of his history. The manuscript was later revised, some of it after the Prophet’s death, and became the source for the History of the Church and the material now found in the Pearl of Great Price. This “revised” material includes the phrase “they that come shall burn them.” As far as I know, we are not sure if Joseph Smith or a later editor made this change.

However, the change seems to fit quite nicely into other revelations dealing with the destruction of the wicked in the last days. In Revelation 7:1, John sees “four destroying angels holding power over the four corners of the earth” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p.321), who are “sent forth from God, to whom is given power over the four parts of the earth, to save life and to destroy; these are they who have the everlasting gospel to commit to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people; having power to shut up the heavens, to seal up unto life, or to cast down to the regions of darkness” (D&C 77:8).

In other words, these are the angels of heaven who Christ taught were to come in the authority of the Lord to separate the wheat from the tares and then burn the latter (Matt 13:39-41). These “angels are waiting the great command to reap down the earth, to gather the tares that they may be burned” (D&C 38:12). Indeed, “at that hour cometh an entire separation of the righteous and the wicked; and in that day will I send mine angels to pluck out the wicked and cast them into unquenchable fire” (D&C 63:54). “Behold, verily I say unto you, the angels are crying unto the Lord day and night, who are ready and waiting to be sent forth to reap down the fields” (D&C 86:5).

In 1879, Wilford Woodruff spoke concerning these angels:

Wickedness and abominations of every kind have increased a hundredfold within the last few years, until the whole earth is filled with murders, whoredoms, blasphemies and every crime in the Black Catalogue that was manifest in the antediluvian world or Sodom and Gomorrah . . . the heavens weep and all eternity is pained and the angels are waiting the great command to go forth and reap down the earth. This testimony I bare to all nations under heaven and I know it is true by the inspirations of the Almighty God.” (Epistle of Wilford Woodruff, Millennial Star, April 21, 1879) (emphasis added).

Fifteen years later, after referring to D&C 86:5, he spoke these somber words:

God has held the angels of destruction for many years, lest they should reap down the wheat with the tares. But I want to tell you now that those angels have left the portals of heaven and they stand over this people and this nation now . . . . And from this very day shall they be poured out.” (President Wilford Woodfruff, Temple Workers Excursion Salt Lake City Tabernacle Sunday, June 24 1894).

While we cannot be sure if the slight alteration to the text of Malachi 4:1 was intentional or not, it clearly agrees with ancient and modern revelation. All the same, whether it is the day that comes or the four destroying angels that come, the wicked will nonetheless eventually be burned.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Must the Gospel be Preached in ALL the World Before the 2nd Coming?

And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come” (Matt. 24:14)

A few weeks ago, President Obama eased a half-century American policy toward the communist nation of Cuba. Briefly, restrictions were lifted on Cuban-Americans who want to travel and send money to their island homeland. The broader U.S. trade embargo, however, remained unaffected.

Politics aside, this decision got me wondering about potential expansion of LDS missionary efforts into the Cuban island. Could this move by the Obama administration be a precursor to the Gospel being preached “in all the world”? On the other hand, in light of today’s expansive technological resources, is it even necessary to have a missionary force present in similarly situated countries? I see no reason why we couldn’t teach the missionary discussions via webcam since we have already set precedent by dedicating temples and other holy edifices via satellite.

Paul once stated that, since Christ’s death, the Gospel had been preached “in all the world,” when missionaries certainly had not reached all the known regions of the Earth, let alone the unknown inhabitants of the Americas. (See Col. 1:5-6) So, was Paul there referring to physical nations or that the Gospel had simply been extended to the two types of people representative of the world – i.e., Jews and Gentiles? Does a similar line of reason follow for the prophecies of the last days?

The question then becomes, does scripture or modern revelation support a vast missionary effort where our missionaries physically trod the soil of the various nations of all the Earth?

It is true that every person must have the opportunity to hear the gospel, either here or hereafter. In fact, eventually “the truth of God will go forth boldly, nobly, and independent, till it has penetrated every continent, visited every clime, swept every country, and sounded in every ear, till the purposes of God shall be accomplished, and the Great Jehovah shall say the work is done” (Joseph Smith, History of the Church, 4:540).

Elder Bruce R. McConkie explained that before the Lord Jesus can return in glory, two things must take place:

The first . . . is that the restored gospel is to be preached in every nation and among every people and to those speaking every tongue. Now there is one immediate reaction to this: Can’t we go on the radio and preach the gospel to . . . the nations of the earth? We certainly can, but that would have very little bearing on the real meaning of the revelation that says we must preach it to every nation, kindred, and people. The reason is the second thing that must occur before the Second Coming: The revelations expressly, specifically, and pointedly say that when the Lord comes the second time to usher in the millennial era, he is going to find, in every nation, kindred, and tongue, and among every people, those who are kings and queens, who will live and reign a thousand years on earth (Revelation 5:9-10).

That is a significant statement that puts in perspective the preaching of the gospel to the world. Yes, we can go on the radio; we can proclaim the gospel to all nations by television or other modern invention. And to the extent that we can do it, so be it, it’s all to the good. But that’s not what is involved. What is involved is that the elders of Israel, holding the priesthood, in person have to trod the soil, eat in the homes of the people, figuratively put their arms around the honest in heart, feed them the gospel, and baptize them and confer the Holy Ghost upon them. Then these people have to progress and advance, and grow in the things of the Spirit, until they can go to the house of the Lord, until they can enter a temple of God and receive the blessings of the priesthood, out of which come the rewards of being kings and priests.

The way we become kings and priests is through the ordinances of the house of the Lord. It is through celestial marriage; it is through the guarantees of eternal life and eternal increase that are reserved for the Saints in the temples. The promise is that when the Lord comes he is going to find in every nation and kindred, among every people speaking every tongue, those who will, at that hour of his coming, have already become kings and priests. . . . All this is to precede the Second Coming of the Son of Man” (quoted in Spencer J. Palmer, The Expanding Church [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co. (1978), 141-142).

Although some readers of this blog make it general practice to second guess controversial doctrinal topics explained by Elder McConkie (I admit I fall victim to this tendency also), he seems quite clear here. When Christ returns, He will return to a world where ALL nations include at least a handful of peopple who have obtained the promised blessings of the temple. Thus, opening up Cuba’s borders, according to McConkie’s reasoning and explanation, may in fact be a foreshadowing of the time when the Church opens the Havana, Cuba mission.

However, it does not follow that every person or even the majority of people must hear the gospel before the Second Coming. In fact, the great day of gathering – the day when millions upon millions will come into the fold of God – is millennial. According to Doctrine and Covenants 45: 50-54, the heathen nations will not be redeemed until the millennial era. Therefore, whether you lean toward the McConkie interpretation, or follow a more realist approach, the REAL great missionary effort will eventually take place during the Millennium under the direction of Christ Himself.

I would like to hear reader’s thoughts on McConkie’s statements above.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

A Prophetic Voice During the Apostasy

"The end of the law is not to abolish or restrain, but to preserve and enlarge freedom. For in all states of created beings capable of law, when there is no law, there is no freedom."

John Locke

"And if ye shall say there is no law, ye shall also say there is no sin."

2nd Nephi 2:13