Thoughts on Lesson Seven

ARTICLE 4--We believe that the first principles and ordinances of the Gospel are: first, Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; second, Repentance; third, Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; fourth, Laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.

FAITH

Nature of Faith--The predominating sense in which the term faith is used throughout the scriptures is that of full confidence and trust in the being, purposes, and words of God. Such trust, if implicit, will remove all doubt concerning things accomplished or promised of God, even though such things be not apparent to or explicable by the ordinary senses of mortality; hence arises the definition of faith given by Paul: "Now faith is the substance [i.e., confidence, or assurance] of things hoped for, the evidence [i.e., the demonstration or proof] of things not seen." It is plain that such a feeling of trust may exist in different persons in varying degrees; indeed, faith may manifest itself from the incipient state which is little more than feeble belief, scarcely free from hesitation and fear, to the strength of abiding confidence that sets doubt and sophistry at defiance.

Belief, Faith, and Knowledge--The terms faith and belief are sometimes regarded as synonyms; nevertheless each of them has a specific meaning in our language, although in earlier usage there was little distinction between them, and therefore the words are used interchangeably in many scriptural passages. Belief, in one of its accepted senses, may consist in a merely intellectual assent, while faith implies such confidence and conviction as will impel to action. Dictionary authority justifies us in drawing a distinction between the two, according to present usage in English; and this authority defines belief as a mental assent to the truth or actuality of anything, excluding, however, the moral element of responsibility through such assent, which responsibility is included by faith. Belief is in a sense passive, an agreement or acceptance only; faith is active and positive, embracing such reliance and confidence as will lead to works. Faith in Christ comprises belief in Him, combined with trust in Him. One cannot have faith without belief; yet he may believe and still lack faith. Faith is vivified, vitalized, living belief.

Certainly there is great difference in degree, even if no essential distinction in kind be admitted between the two. As shall be presently demonstrated, faith in the Godhead is requisite to salvation; it is indeed a saving power, leading its possessor in the paths of godliness, whereas mere belief in the existence and attributes of Deity is no such power.

The mere possession of knowledge gives no assurance of benefit therefrom. It is said that during an epidemic of cholera in a great city, a scientific man proved to his own satisfaction, by chemical and microscopic tests, that the water supply was infected, and that through it contagion was being spread. He proclaimed the fact throughout the city, and warned all against the use of unboiled water. Many of the people, although incapable of comprehending his methods of investigation, far less of repeating such for themselves, had faith in his warning words, followed his instructions, and escaped the death to which their careless and unbelieving fellows succumbed. Their faith was a saving one. To the man himself, the truth by which so many lives had been spared was a matter of knowledge. He had actually perceived, under the microscope, proof of the existence of death-dealing germs in the water; he had demonstrated their virulence; he knew of what he spoke. Nevertheless, in a moment of forgetfulness he drank of the unsterilized water, and soon thereafter died, a victim to the plague. His knowledge did not save him, convincing though it was; yet others, whose reliance was only that of confidence or faith in the truth that he declared, escaped the threatening destruction. He had knowledge; but, was he wise? Knowledge is to wisdom what belief is to faith, one an abstract principle, the other a living application. Not possession merely, but the proper use of knowledge constitutes wisdom.

Faith a Principle of Power--In its broad sense, faith--the assurance of things for which we hope, and the evidence of things not discernible through our senses--is the motive principle that impels men to resolve and to act. Without its exercise, we would make no exertion the results of which are future; without faith that he may gather in the autumn, man would not plant in the spring; neither would he essay to build, did he not have confidence that he would finish the structure and enjoy its use; had the student no faith in the possibility of successfully following his studies he would not enter upon his courses. Faith thus becomes to us the foundation of hope, from which spring our aspirations, ambitions, and confidences for the future. Remove man's faith in the possibility of any desired success, and you rob him of the incentive to strive. He would not stretch forth his hand to seize did he not believe in the possibility of securing that for which he reaches. This principle becomes therefore the impelling force by which men struggle for excellence, ofttimes enduring vicissitudes and suffering that they may achieve their purposes. Faith is the secret of ambition, the soul of heroism, the motive power of effort. The exercise of faith is pleasing unto God, and thereby His interposition may be secured.

A Condition of Effective Faith--A condition essential to the exercise of a living, growing, sustaining faith in Deity is the consciousness on man's part that he is at least endeavoring to live in accordance with the laws of God as he has learned them. A knowledge that he is wilfully and wantonly sinning against the truth will deprive him of sincerity in prayer and faith and estrange him from his Father. He must feel that the trend of his life's course is acceptable, that with due allowance for mortal weakness and human frailty he is in some measure approved of the Lord. . .

Faith Essential to Salvation--Inasmuch as salvation is attainable only through the mediation and atonement of Christ, and since this is made applicable to individual sin in the measure of obedience to the laws of righteousness, faith in Jesus Christ is indispensable to salvation. But no one can effectively believe in Jesus Christ and at the same time doubt the existence of either the Father or the Holy Ghost; therefore faith in the entire Godhead is essential to salvation. A natural result of implicit faith in the Godhead will be a growing confidence in the scriptures as containing the word of God, and in the words and works of His authorized servants who speak as His living oracles.

Faith a Gift of God--Though within the reach of all who diligently strive to gain it, faith is nevertheless a divine gift. As is fitting for so priceless a pearl, it is given to those only who show by their sincerity that they are worthy of it, and who give promise of abiding by its dictates. Although faith is called the first principle of the Gospel of Christ, though it be in fact the foundation of religious life, yet even faith is preceded by sincerity of disposition and humility of soul, whereby the word of God may make an impression upon the heart. No compulsion is used in bringing men to a knowledge of God; yet, as fast as we open our hearts to the influences of righteousness, the faith that leads to life eternal will be given us of our Father.

REPENTANCE

Nature of Repentance--The term repentance is used in the scriptures with several different meanings, but, as representing the duty required of all who would obtain forgiveness for transgression it indicates a godly sorrow for sin, producing a reformation of life, and embodies (1) a conviction of guilt; (2) a desire to be relieved from the hurtful effects of sin; and (3) an earnest determination to forsake sin and to accomplish good. Repentance is a result of contrition of soul, which springs from a deep sense of humility, and this in turn is dependent upon the exercise of an abiding faith in God. Repentance therefore properly ranks as the second principle of the Gospel, closely associated with and immediately following faith. As soon as one has come to recognize the existence and authority of God, he feels a respect for divine laws, and a conviction of his own unworthiness. His wish to please the Father, whom he has so long ignored, will impel him to forsake sin; and this impulse will acquire added strength from the sinner's natural and commendable desire to make reparation, if possible, and so avert the dire results of his own waywardness. With the zeal inspired by fresh conviction, he will crave an opportunity of showing by good works the sincerity of his newly developed faith; and he will regard the remission of his sins as the most desirable of blessings. Then he will learn that this gift of mercy is granted on certain specific conditions. The first step toward the blessed state of forgiveness consists in the sinner confessing his sins; the second, in his forgiving others who have sinned against him; and the third in his showing his acceptance of Christ's atoning sacrifice by complying with the divine requirements.

The name of Jesus Christ is the only name under heaven whereby men may be saved; and we are taught to offer our petitions to the Father in the name of the Son. Adam received this instruction from the mouth of an angel, and the Savior personally instructed the Nephites to the same effect. But no person can truthfully profess faith in Christ and refuse to obey His commandments; therefore obedience is essential to remission of sin; and the truly repentant sinner will eagerly seek to learn what is required of him.

Repentance Essential to Salvation--This evidence of sincerity, this beginning of a better life, is required of every candidate for salvation. In the obtaining of divine mercy, repentance is as indispensable as faith; it must be as extensive as sin. Where can we find a sinless mortal? The burden of inspired teachers in every age has been the call to repentance. To this effect was heard the voice of John crying in the wilderness, "Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand."

Repentance a Gift from God--Repentance is a means of pardon and is therefore one of God's great gifts to man. It is not to be had for the careless asking; it may not be found upon the highway; nevertheless it is given with boundless liberality unto those who have brought forth works that warrant its bestowal. That is to say, all who prepare themselves for repentance will be led by the humbling and softening influence of the Holy Spirit to the actual possession of this great gift.

The gift of repentance is extended to men as they humble themselves before the Lord; it is the testimony of the Spirit in their hearts. If they hearken not unto the monitor it will leave them, for the Spirit of God strives not ever with man. Repentance becomes more difficult as sin is more wilful; it is by humility and contrition of the heart that sinners may increase their faith in God, and so obtain from Him the gift of repentance. As the time of repentance is procrastinated, the ability to repent grows weaker; neglect of opportunity in holy things develops inability.

Repentance Here and Hereafter--No soul is justified in postponing his efforts to repent because of [the] assurance of longsuffering and mercy. We know not fully on what terms repentance will be obtainable in the hereafter; but to suppose that the soul who has wilfully rejected the opportunity of repentance in this life will find it easy to repent there is contrary to reason. To procrastinate the day of repentance is to deliberately place ourselves in the power of the adversary.

BAPTISM

Nature of Baptism--In the theology of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, water baptism ranks as the third principle and the first essential ordinance of the Gospel. Baptism is the gateway leading into the fold of Christ, the portal to the Church, the established rite of naturalization in the kingdom of God. The candidate for admission into the Church, having obtained and professed faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and having sincerely repented of his sins, is properly required to give evidence of this spiritual sanctification by some outward ordinance, prescribed by authority as the sign or symbol of his new profession. The initiatory ordinance is baptism by water, to be followed by the higher baptism of the Holy Spirit; and, as a result of this act of obedience, remission of sins is granted.

Simple indeed are the means thus ordained for admission into the fold; they are within the reach of the poorest and weakest, as also of the rich and powerful. What symbol more expressive of a cleansing from sin could be given than that of baptism in water? Baptism is made a sign of the covenant entered into between the repentant sinner and his God, that thereafter he will seek to observe the divine commands. Concerning this fact, Alma the prophet thus admonished and instructed the people of Gideon: "Yea, I say unto you, come and fear not, and lay aside every sin, which easily doth beset you, which doth bind you down to destruction, yea, come and go forth, and show unto your God that ye are willing to repent of your sins and enter into a covenant with him to keep his commandments, and witness it unto him this day by going into the waters of baptism." (Alma 7:15)

The humbled sinner, convicted of his transgression through faith and repentance, will hail most joyfully any means of cleansing himself from pollution, now so repulsive in his eyes. All such will cry out as did the stricken multitude at Pentecost, "What shall we do?" Unto such comes the answering voice of the Spirit, through the medium of scripture or by the mouths of the Lord's appointed servants: "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins." (Acts 2:37, 38.) Springing forth as a result of contrition of soul, baptism has been very appropriately called the first fruits of repentance. (Moroni 8:25)

The Special Purpose of Baptism is to afford admission to the Church of Christ with remission of sins. What need of more words to prove the worth of this divinely appointed ordinance? What gift could be offered the human race greater than a sure means of obtaining forgiveness for transgression? Justice forbids the granting of universal and unconditional pardon for sins committed except through obedience to ordained law; but means simple and effective are provided whereby the penitent sinner may enter into a covenant with God, sealing that covenant with the sign that commands recognition in heaven, that he will submit himself to the laws of God; thus he places himself within the reach of Mercy, under whose protecting influence he may win eternal life.

Baptism Essential to Salvation--Demonstrations concerning the object of baptism apply with equal force to the proposition that baptism is necessary for salvation; for, inasmuch as remission of sins constitutes a special purpose of baptism, and as no soul can be saved in the kingdom of God with unforgiven sins, it is plain that baptism is essential to salvation. Salvation is promised to man on condition of his obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel... Baptism, being commanded of God, must be essential to the purpose for which it is instituted, for God deals not with unnecessary forms.

Christ's humble compliance with the will of His Father, by submitting to baptism even though He stood sinless, declares to the world in language more forceful than words that none are exempt from this requirement, and that baptism indeed is a requisite for salvation. So, no evidence of divine favor, no bestowal of heavenly gifts, excuses man from obedience to this and other laws and ordinances of the Gospel.

HOLY GHOST

Personality and Powers of the Holy Ghost--The Holy Ghost is associated with the Father and the Son in the Godhead. In the light of revelation, we are instructed as to the distinct personality of the Holy Ghost. He is a being endowed with the attributes and powers of Deity, and not a mere force, or essence. The term Holy Ghost and its common synonyms, Spirit of God, Spirit of the Lord, or simply, Spirit, Comforter, and Spirit of Truth, occur in the scriptures with plainly different meanings...the context of such passages show which of these significations applies.

The Holy Ghost undoubtedly possesses personal powers and affections; these attributes exist in Him in perfection. Thus, He teaches and guides (see John 14:26, 16:13), testifies of the Father and the Son (John 15:26), reproves for sin (John 16:8), speaks, commands, and commissions (Acts 10:19, 13:2, Rev. 2:7, 1 Ne. 4:6, 11:2-12), makes intercession for sinners (Romans 8:26), is grieved (Eph.4:30), searches and investigates (1 Cor.2:4-10), entices (Mos.3:19), and knows all things(Alma 7:13). These are not figurative expressions, but plain statements of the attributes and characteristics of the Holy Ghost. That the Spirit of the Lord is capable of manifesting Himself in the form and figure of man, is indicated by the wonderful interview between the Spirit and Nephi, in which He revealed Himself to the prophet, questioned him concerning his desires and belief, instructed him in the things of God, speaking face to face with the man. "I spake unto him," says Nephi, "as a man speaketh; for I beheld that he was in the form of a man; yet nevertheless, I knew that it was the Spirit of the Lord; and he spake unto me as a man speaketh with another." (1 Ne. 11:11) However, the Holy Ghost does not possess a body of flesh and bones, as do both the Father and the Son, but is a personage of spirit.

Much of the confusion existing in human conceptions concerning the nature of the Holy Ghost arises from the common failure to segregate His person and powers. Plainly, such expressions as being filled with the Holy Ghost, and His falling upon persons, having reference to the powers and influences that emanate from God, and which are characteristic of Him; for the Holy Ghost may in this way operate simultaneously upon many persons even though they be widely separated, whereas the actual person of the Holy Ghost cannot be in more than one place at a time. Yet we read that through the power of the Spirit, the Father and the Son operate in their creative acts and in their general dealings with the human family. The Holy Ghost may be regarded as the minister of the Godhead, carrying into effect the decision of the Supreme Council.

In the execution of these great purposes, the Holy Ghost directs and controls the varied forces of nature, of which indeed a few, and these perhaps of minor order wonderful as even the least of them appears to man, have thus far been investigated by mortals. Gravitation, sound, heat, light, and the still more mysterious and seemingly supernatural power of electricity, are but the common servants of the Holy Ghost in His operations. No earnest thinker, no sincere investigator supposes that he has yet learned of all the forces existing in and operating upon matter; indeed, the observed phenomena of nature, yet wholly inexplicable to him, far outnumber those for which he has devised even a partial explanation. There are powers and forces at the command of God, compared with which electricity is as the pack-horse to the locomotive, the foot messenger to the telegraph, the raft of logs to the ocean steamer. With all his scientific knowledge man knows but little respecting the enginery of creation; and yet the few forces known to him have brought about miracles and wonders, which but for their actual realization would be beyond belief. These mighty agencies, and the mightier ones still to man unknown, and many, perhaps, to the present condition of the human mind unknowable, do not constitute the Holy Ghost, but are the agencies ordained to serve His purposes.

Subtler, mightier, and more mysterious than any or all of the physical forces of nature are the powers that operate upon conscious organisms, the means by which the mind, the heart, the soul of man may be energized by spiritual forces. In our ignorance of the true nature of electricity we may speak of it as a fluid; and so by analogy the forces through which the mind is governed have been called spiritual fluids. The true nature of these manifestations of energy is unknown to us, for the elements of comparison and analogy, so necessary to our human reasoning, are wanting; nevertheless the effects are experienced by all. As the conducting medium in an electric circuit is capable of conveying but a limited current, the maximum capacity depending upon the resistance offered by the conductor, and, as separate circuits of different degrees of conductivity may carry currents of widely varying intensity, so human souls are of varied capacity with respect to the higher powers. But as the medium is purified, as obstructions are removed, so resistance to the energy decreases, and the forces manifest themselves with greater intensity. By analogous processes of purification our spirits may be made more susceptible to the forces of life, which are emanations from the Holy Spirit. Therefore are we taught to pray by word and action for a constantly increasing portion of the Spirit, that is, the power of the Spirit, which is a measure of this gift of God unto us.

The Office of the Holy Ghost in His ministrations among men is described in scripture. He is a teacher sent from the Father; (John 14:26) and unto those who are entitled to His tuition He will reveal all things necessary for the soul's advancement. Through the influences of the Holy Spirit the powers of the human mind may be quickened and increased, so that things past may be brought to remembrance. He will serve as a guide in things divine unto all who will obey Him, enlightening every man, in the measure of his humility and obedience; unfolding the mysteries of God, as the knowledge thus revealed may effect greater spiritual growth; conveying knowledge from God to man; sanctifying those who have been cleansed through obedience to the requirements of the Gospel; manifesting all things; and bearing witness unto men concerning the existence and infallibility of the Father and the Son.

Not alone does the Holy Ghost bring to mind the past and explain the things of the present, but His power is manifested in prophecy concerning the future. "He will shew you things to come," declared the Savior to the apostles in promising the advent of the Comforter. Adam, the first prophet of earth, under the influence of the Holy Ghost "predicted whatsoever should befall his posterity unto the latest generation." The power of the Holy Ghost then, is the spirit of prophecy and revelation; His office is that of enlightenment of the mind, quickening of the intellect, and sanctification of the soul.

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