Thoughts on Lesson Twenty-Four

Byron R. Merrill, Heavens Are Open: The 1992 Sperry Symposium on the Doctrine and Covenants and Church History - June 13, 2005

Through living prophets, the Lord has revealed sufficient knowledge that would protect us from being deceived, and revealed warning and counsel about avoiding deception.

Leaun G. Otten
Brigham Young University

Satan's motives are to deceive and destroy. He has been actively engaged in this endeavor since the Garden of Eden. The Savior's word provides detection and deliverance from the evil one for the Lord's children. Through living prophets, the Lord has revealed sufficient knowledge that would protect us from being deceived, and revealed warning and counsel about avoiding deception is recorded in the Doctrine and Covenants.

Living Prophets

Modern prophets have warned and counseled us about avoiding deception. President Harold B. Lee counseled the Latter-day Saints to be aware of being deceived not only by some not of the faith but also by some within the kingdom:

"We pray for our Saints everywhere, pray that they will hold steadfast. But, some of the greatest of our enemies are those within our own ranks. It was the lament of the Master, as he witnessed one of those chosen men, who under inspiration he chose as one of the Twelve, betray him with a kiss and for a few paltry pieces of silver turn him over to his enemies. Judas then stood by and, realizing the enormity of what he had done, took the only escape out to sacrifice himself. And Jesus could only explain that of the Twelve, meaning Judas, he had a devil."

Then President Lee quoted from Doctrine and Covenants 71:9-11, in which the Lord informs us that no weapon formed against his church will prosper and that our responsibility is to keep his commandments. Commenting on that instruction from the Lord, President Lee said: "What he is trying to have us understand is that he will take care of our enemies if we continue to keep the commandments. So, you Saints of the Most High God, when these things come, and they will come, this has been prophesied—you just say,

"'No weapon formed against the work of the Lord will ever prosper, but all glory and majesty of this work that the Lord gave will long be remembered after those who have tried to befoul the name of the Church and those of its leaders will be forgotten, and their works will follow after them.'

"We feel sorry for them when we see these things happen."

Some time after the Saints arrived in the Great Basin, President Heber C. Kimball foresaw the very conditions we find ourselves in now. Although his words were directed to the Saints in the valleys of these mountains, they are applicable to all those who believe in Jesus Christ. President Kimball said: "We think we are secure here in the chambers of the everlasting hills, where we can close these few doors of the canyons against . . . the wicked and the vile, . . . but I want to say to you, my brethren, the time is coming when we will be mixed up in these now peaceful valleys to that extent that it will be difficult to tell the face of a Saint from the face of an enemy to the people of God."

Another warning from President Harold B. Lee: "We may well expect to find our Judases among those professing membership in the Church, but, unfortunately for them, they are laboring under some kind of evil influences or have devious motives."

President Spencer W. Kimball's counsel to us has broadened our understanding of the many avenues used by the evil one to deceive us. One quotation from President Kimball illustrates the scope of Lucifer's efforts:

"Voices again! Rasping voices proclaiming 'doctrines of devils,' saying there is no sin; there is no devil; there is no God. Saying that we will 'eat, drink, and be merry' like the antediluvians who never believed that the flood would really come.

"Many voices of seducing spirits advocate carnal pleasures and unrestrained physical satisfactions. Our world is now much the same as it was in the days of the Nephite prophet who said: ' . . . if it were not for the prayers of the righteous . . . ye would even now be visited with utter destruction. . . .' (Al. 10:22.) Of course, there are many many upright and faithful who live all the commandments and whose lives and prayers keep the world from destruction. . . .

"Many voices, loud and harsh, come from among educators, business and professional men, sociologists, psychologists, authors, movie actors, legislators, judges, and others, even some of the clergy, who, because they have learned a little about something, seem to think they know all about everything.

"This egotism and pride is prompted by the cunning father of lies. Hear the voice of a Nephite prophet describing their acceptance of the 'cunning plan of the evil one':

"' . . . to be learned is good if they hearken unto the counsels of God.' (2 Ne. 9:29.)

"' . . . When they are learned they think they are wise . . . supposing they know of themselves, wherefore their wisdom is foolishness. . . . And they shall perish.' (2 Ne. 9:28.)"

The Doctrine and Covenants

I would now like to turn to the Lord's book we call the Doctrine and Covenants. In his goodness to us, the Lord has counseled, instructed, given directions, and revealed commandments to protect us from deception. Because it is impossible to discuss here all that the Lord has revealed on this subject, I will discuss only eight specific areas of counsel.

Recognizing the Lord's Authorized Mouthpiece

If it is not the major source, certainly "false revelation" coming from those not authorized by Jesus Christ would rank high on Lucifer's list of methods of deception. So there would be no misunderstanding about who is the authorized source of revelation coming from the Lord, the Savior defined the relationship that exists between himself and his prophet. Speaking to Joseph Smith, the Lord said: "Thou shalt be called a seer, a translator, a prophet, an apostle of Jesus Christ, an elder of the church through the will of God the Father, and the grace of your Lord Jesus Christ" (D&C 21:1).

Joseph Smith's appointment and calling was not of men nor of any organization of men. It was of Jesus Christ. This concept is reinforced in the same verse when the Savior declared that Joseph's calling was the will of the Father as well as of the Son. Further, the Lord directed that the prophet's calling should be recorded in the history of the Church. Therefore, every member of the church, from that day forward, should be aware of the relationship existing between the prophet and the Savior. No one should misunderstand the sacred responsibility of the prophet, for the Lord declared: "His word [the prophet's] ye shall receive as if from my own mouth" (D&C 21:5).

The Lord has made it equally clear that a relationship exists between the members of the Lord's church and the Lord's prophet: "Wherefore, meaning the church, thou shalt give heed unto all his words and commandments which he shall give unto you as he receiveth them, walking in all holiness before me; for his word ye shall receive as if from mine own mouth, in all patience and faith" (D&C 21:4-5).

When the Lord said "all his word," we are left to conclude there are no exceptions.

Blessings are promised to faithful members who heed the Lord's counsel:

1. The gates of hell shall not prevail against them,
2. The Lord God will disperse the powers of darkness from before them,
3. The Lord God will cause the heavens to shake for their good and his name's glory,
4. The Lord God will give a special witness to them that the prophet's words are given to him by Jesus Christ (see D&C 21:6, 9).

If we will follow this divine counsel, we will not be deceived about the source of revelation.

Five months after the Church was organized, Lucifer sought to deceive some Church members by giving a so-called revelation through one of the members, Hiram Page. Again the Savior reviewed the order of his Church pertaining to revelation for the Church:

"Behold, I say unto thee, Oliver, that it shall be given unto thee that thou shalt be heard by the church in all things whatsoever thou shalt teach them by the Comforter, concerning the revelations and commandments which I have given.

"But, behold, verily, verily, I say unto thee, no one shall be appointed to receive commandments and revelations in this church excepting my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., for he receiveth them even as Moses. . . .

"And if thou art led at any time by the Comforter to speak or teach, or at all times by the way of commandment unto the church, thou mayest do it.

"But thou shalt not write by way of commandment, but by wisdom;

"And thou shalt not command him who is at thy head, and at the head of the church. . . .

"And, again, thou shalt take thy brother, Hiram Page, between him and thee alone, and tell him that those things which he hath written from that stone are not of me and that Satan deceiveth him. . . .

"For all things must be done in order and by common consent in the church, by the prayer of faith" (D&C 28:1-2, 4-6, 11, 13).

Five months after Doctrine and Covenants 28 was received, a female member of the Church by the name of Hubble claimed to have received revelation for the Church. The Lord again reiterated the basic principle upon which revelation is conveyed from the Divine and gave two more principles to protect us from deception by revealing "the law of revelation to his church" and by identifying the "special gate" through which the Lord's mouthpiece must come:

"For behold, verily, verily, I say unto you, that ye have received a commandment for a law unto my church [D&C 42], through him whom I have appointed unto you to receive commandments and revelations from my hand.

"And this ye shall know assuredly—that there is none other appointed unto you to receive commandments and revelations until he be taken, if he abide in me.

"But verily, verily, I say unto you, that none else shall be appointed unto this gift except it be through him; for if it be taken from him he shall not have power except to appoint another in his stead.

"And this shall be a law unto you, that ye receive not the teachings of any that shall come before you as revelations or commandments;

"And this I give unto you that you may not be deceived, that you may know they are not of me.

"For verily I say unto you, that he that is ordained of me [that is, to be the Lord's mouthpiece] shall come in at the gate and be ordained as I have told you before, to teach those revelations which you have received and shall receive through him who I have appointed" (D&C 43:2-7).

To protect us from deception by way of false revelation, the Savior has given a law to all members of the Church to accept only authorized revelation from one man on this earth—that is, his mouthpiece, the prophet. To afford us further protection, the Savior has revealed that his authorized mouthpiece must come through a special gate, which is becoming president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. For a more clear understanding of this concept, I quote President Joseph Fielding Smith:

"Some Latter-day Saints, because of their lack of knowledge, have been deceived into following false teachers and 'prophets' because they have never learned the simple truth which the Lord makes so plain in this revelation:

"'For verily I say unto you, that he that is ordained of me shall come in at the gate and be ordained as I have told you before, to teach those revelations which you have received and shall receive through him whom I have appointed' [D&C 43:7]. This commandment is the key by which the members of the Church are to be governed and protected from all those who profess to be appointed and empowered to guide the Church. . . .

"We frequently hear discussions in our classes and between brethren to the effect that any man could be called, if the authorities should choose him, to preside over the Church and that it is not the fixed order to take the senior apostle to preside, and any member of that quorum could be appointed. The fact is that the senior apostle automatically becomes the presiding officer of the Church on the death of the President. If some other man were to be chosen, then the senior would have to receive the revelation setting himself aside. President John Taylor has made this very plain. (See 'Succession In the Priesthood,' chapter 17, 'The Gospel Kingdom.') Says President Taylor, speaking of the time following President Young's death: 'I occupied the senior position in the quorum, and occupying that position which was thoroughly understood by the quorum of the twelve, on the death of President Young, as the twelve assumed the presidency, and I was their president, it placed me in a position of president of the Church, or, as expressed in our conference meeting: "As president of the quorum of the twelve apostles, as one of the twelve apostles, and of the presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints." In this manner, also, was President Brigham Young sustained, at the general conference held in Nauvoo, in October following the martyrdom of the Prophet Joseph Smith.' ('Gospel Kingdom,' p. 192.) The counselors in the presidency cease to be counselors when the President dies and take their regular place among their brethren."

Through the giving of this law, the Lord has established a means of protection for the Saints that they might never be deceived (see D&C 43:6). Any revelation that comes from the Lord to his church will always come through the one man who has come through the gate and is the senior apostle of Jesus Christ. He will be the one who presides over the Lord's kingdom. That is the law of revelation to the Lord's church.

Understanding the Proper Relationship between the Living Word and the Written Word

The Prophet Joseph Smith taught: "That which is wrong under one circumstance, may be, and often is, right under another." The living word thus takes precedence over the written word. Many of our Father's children have been deceived by accepting dead prophets' words and failing to accept the living word. That is particularly true when "that which is wrong under one circumstance, may be, and often is, right under another." Speaking of dead prophets and the keys they held, Elder Boyd K. Packer told of an experience he had with President Kimball:

"In 1976 an area general conference was held in Copenhagen, Denmark. Following the closing session, President Kimball expressed a desire to visit the Vor Frue Church, where the Thorvaldsen statues of the Christus and of the Twelve Apostles stand. . . .

" . . . I stood with President Kimball, Elder Rex Pinegar, and President Bentine, the stake president, before the statue of Peter. In his hand, depicted in marble, is a set of heavy keys. President Kimball pointed to them and explained what they symbolized. Then, in an act I shall never forget, he turned to President Bentine and with unaccustomed sternness pointed his finger at him and said with firm, impressive words, 'I want you to tell every Lutheran in Denmark that they do not hold the keys! I hold the keys! We hold the real keys and we use them every day.' . . .

"We walked to the other end of the chapel where the rest of the group were standing. Pointing to the statues, President Kimball said to the kind custodian who was showing us the building, 'These are the dead Apostles. Here we have the living Apostles.' Pointing to me he said, 'Elder Packer is an Apostle.' He designated the others and said, 'Elder Monson and Elder Perry are Apostles, and I am an Apostle. We are the living Apostles. You read about seventies in the New Testament, and here are the living seventies, Brother Pinegar and Brother Hales.'

"The Custodian, who to that time had shown no particular emotion, suddenly was in tears.

"As we left the little chapel where those impressive sculptures stand, I felt I had taken part in an experience of a lifetime."

The relationship of the living word to the written word was revealed by the Lord in Doctrine and Covenants 46. The historical setting for this revelation is as follows:

"With reference to the matters mentioned in verses 1-7 in this revelation, John Whitmer writes: 'In the beginning of the Church, while yet in her infancy, the disciples used to exclude unbelievers, which caused some to marvel and converse of this matter because of the things written in the Book of Mormon [3 Nephi 18:22-34]. Therefore the Lord deigned to speak on this subject, that His people might come to understanding, and said that He had always given to His Elders to conduct all meetings as they were led by the Spirit.'"

Now listen to the Lord's answer,

"Hearken, O ye people of my church; for verily I say unto you that these things were spoken unto you for your profit and learning.

"But notwithstanding those things which are written, it always has been given to the elders of my church from the beginning, and ever shall be, to conduct all meetings as they are directed and guided by the Holy Spirit. . . .

"But ye are commanded in all things to ask of God, who giveth liberally; and that which the Spirit testifies unto you even so I would that ye should do in all holiness of heart walking uprightly before me, considering the end of your salvation, doing all things with prayer and thanksgiving, that ye may not be seduced by evil spirits, or doctrines of devils, or the commandments of men; for some are of men, and others of devils.

"Wherefore, beware lest ye are deceived; and that ye may not be deceived seek ye earnestly the best gifts, always remembering for what they are given" (D&C 46:1-2, 7-8).

The Lord here reminds us of the importance of modern-day revelation. Though instruction had been given and recorded in an ancient scriptural text (the Book of Mormon), the way it was to be applied in a modern setting was not clear. The Lord instructed the brethren that the guidance of the Spirit was the way by which the program of his Church should be conducted and problems should be solved. In other words, handbooks of instruction, important though they may be, will never contain all the answers to all the problems. We must always rely upon spiritual guidance, coupled with that which has been previously given, to do that which is right in the sight of the Lord.

Detecting Hypocrisy within the Church

Hypocrisy within the Savior's church has been exploited by Lucifer to deceive many. The Savior has therefore given us counsel and revelation that afford us protection. The Prophet Joseph Smith taught about Doctrine and Covenants 50: "Soon after the Gospel was established in Kirtland, and during the absence of the authorities of the Church, many false spirits were introduced, many strange visions were seen, and wild, enthusiastic notions were entertained; men ran out of doors under the influence of this spirit, and some of them got upon the stumps of trees and shouted, and all kinds of extravagances were entered into by them; one man pursued a ball that he said he saw flying in the air, until he came to a precipice, when he jumped into the top of a tree, which saved his life; and many ridiculous things were entered into, calculated to bring disgrace upon the Church of God, to cause the Spirit of God to be withdrawn, and to uproot and destroy those glorious principles which had been developed for the salvation of the human family."

Joseph Fielding Smith made the following observations about Section 50:

"If the members of the Church will carefully consider the word of the Lord and follow the precepts here given they will not be deceived by the evil spirits of man or devils. The promise is made in a positive manner that all 'who buildeth upon this rock shall never fall.' Yes, sad to say, there are members of the Church who are ready to follow any theory, philosophy, or strange doctrine especially if with it there is something mysterious.

"Even in that day there were hypocrites and deceivers drawn into the Church and with them they brought their abominations which had to be speedily eliminated by the Lord making known their evil practices."

The Lord's counsel to us as recorded in Section 50 affords us great protection from hypocrisy:

"Hearken, O ye elders of my church, and give ear to the voice of the living God; and attend to the words of wisdom which shall be given unto you, according as ye have asked and agreed as touching the church, and the spirits which have gone abroad in the earth.

"Behold, verily I say unto you, that there are many spirits which are false spirits, which have gone forth in the earth, deceiving the world.

"And also Satan hath sought to deceive you, that he might overthrow you.

"Behold, I, the Lord, have looked upon you, and have seen abominations in the church that profess my name.

"But blessed are they who are faithful and endure, whether in life or in death, for they shall inherit eternal life.

"But wo unto them that are deceivers and hypocrites, for, thus saith the Lord, I will bring them to judgment.

"Behold, verily I say unto you, there are hypocrites among you, who have deceived some, which has given the adversary power; but behold such shall be reclaimed;

"But the hypocrites shall be detected and shall be cut off, either in life or in death, even as I will; and wo unto them who are cut off from my church, for the same are overcome of the world.

"Wherefore, let every man beware lest he do that which is not in truth and righteousness before me" (D&C 50:1-9). Sometimes a member of the Church has difficulty staying active and faithful in the Church. Such difficulty sometimes arises from acts of hypocrisy and the resulting negative influence seen in the lives of some members of the Church. When such an individual allows hypocrisy in the lives of others to justify his own failure to perform according to his covenants, he is doing so because he has not come to an understanding of the Lord's counsel. He has been deceived. As early as 1831, the Lord revealed that there were deceivers and hypocrites in the Church and warned of the possible destructive influences such people might have in the lives of the members (see D&C 50:4-7).

As members of the Church, we ought to be wise enough to understand the problem and heed the counsel of the Lord. There are hypocrites in the Church, and the Lord said so. The Lord also said that when such conditions exist, he will deal with the hypocrite in this life or in the next. Church action may need to be taken in mortality, or the hypocrite may find himself shut out of the Lord's presence in eternity. Either way, it is the Lord's prerogative to take action. Furthermore, Church members are counseled to do what is right before the Lord and to refrain from justifying their own inappropriate action because of the unrighteousness of others (see D&C 50:8-9). No one needs to be deceived by the hypocritical actions of some who have membership in the Church but whose motives are not pure when they fail to live by the standards of the Church.

Receiving Edification through the Spirit

The gospel was restored to people who received it from authorized servants of the Lord. When the gospel message was presented to them, it was by the power and influence of the Spirit of the Lord. They were acquainted with the correct method of teaching. To emphasize this correct method, the Lord asked the following question:

"Wherefore, I the Lord ask you this question—unto what were ye ordained?

"To preach my gospel by the Spirit, even the Comforter which was sent forth to teach the truth" (D&C 50:13-14).

Then another question follows—knowing the approved method of teaching, why are you confused and why are you unable to detect false actions and behavior?

"And then received ye spirits which ye could not understand, and received them to be of God; and in this are ye justified?" (D&C 50:15).

Repeating this principle several times, the Lord summarized his counsel to Church members as follows: "And that which doth not edify is not of God, and is darkness" (D&C 50:23).

Edification uplifts both spiritually and morally. That which doth not edify is not of God and is darkness. In all facets of life, we can be afforded protection from deception by simply asking, "Is this uplifting me spiritually and morally? Is this edifying me?" If so, it is of God. If not, it is darkness. That is true of movies, teachers, books, television programs, doctrine, theories, and so on. All of us are afforded protection against deception if we will heed this counsel of the Master.

Gaining Adequate Knowledge and Understanding

We have been taught that there is a right and a wrong to every question. But our knowledge and understanding are not always sufficient to accurately identify truth from error. In Doctrine and Covenants 50, the Lord described our inadequacies when he said: "But no man is possessor of all things except he be purified and cleansed from all sin" (v. 28). There are many situations when our knowledge, intellect, and experience are insufficient to make wise and proper decisions. When such situations arise, divine help is available. The Lord said:

"And if ye are purified and cleansed from all sin, ye shall ask whatsoever you will in the name of Jesus and it shall be done. . . .

"Wherefore, it shall come to pass, that if you behold a spirit manifested that you cannot understand, and you receive not that spirit, ye shall ask of the Father in the name of Jesus; and if he give not unto you that spirit, then you may know that it is not of God.

"And it shall be given unto you, power over that spirit; and you shall proclaim against that spirit with a loud voice that it is not of God" (D&C 50:29, 31-32).

The prerequisite for obtaining divine guidance is cleanliness of soul, obtained by repentance and obedience to the commandments of the Lord. When a person is free from sin, he is invited to ask for information that will enable him to separate truth from error. The Lord promised to provide such insights from on high. No one needs to be deceived on account of lack of knowledge and understanding. Keeping oneself clean before the Lord opens the windows of heaven, which are revelation. By gaining divine knowledge, one walks in the Spirit of truth.

Observing the Lord's Pattern in All Things

At a gathering of missionaries who had been called to a special meeting in Kirtland, Ohio, on 7 June 1831, the Lord revealed through the Prophet Joseph Smith the following: "And again, I will give unto you a pattern in all things, that ye may not be deceived; for Satan is abroad in the land, and he goeth forth deceiving the nations" (D&C 52:14).

The Lord provided a description of a person whose actions and attributes are acceptable to him. This pattern is as follows (see D&C 52:15-21):

1. One who prays,
2. One whose spirit is contrite and humble,
3. One who receives the Lord's ordinances and keeps the covenants,
4. One whose language is meek and uplifting,
5. One who receives and recognizes the Lord's power, and
6. One whose works and teachings reflect the truths given by revelation of the Lord through his authorized mouthpiece.

Why should we be deceived by anyone within or without the Church? Applying the Lord's pattern will protect us from the teachings of all men and women who are not acceptable before the Lord. If those teachings are not acceptable to him, then certainly they should not be acceptable to us.

Keeping with the Majority of the Saints

In a sermon delivered in the Salt Lake Tabernacle on 5 May 1870, Elder Orson Hyde of the Council of the Twelve Apostles said: "Joseph the Prophet . . . said, 'Brethren, remember that the majority of this people will never go astray; and as long as you keep with the majority you are sure to enter the celestial kingdom.'"

On another occasion, the Prophet Joseph Smith declared: "Factions and parties will arise out of this Church, and apostates will lead away many. But in the midst of all this, keep with the majority, for the true leaders of God's people will always be able to have a majority, and the records of the Church will be with them."

Elder Andrew Jenson, for many years assistant historian of the Church, wrote in a pamphlet called The Infancy of the Church:

"At the time of the martyrdom of the Prophet Joseph, the Saints were gathered and were building a Temple, baptizing for the dead, etc., which work unceasingly has been kept up by those who under the leadership of the Twelve came to the Rocky Mountains notwithstanding the various factions which have separated themselves from the true Gospel tree. The writer [Elder Stevenson] heard the Prophet say on a stand at the east end of Nauvoo Temple, that the time was coming when there would be many dissensions from the Church. 'But,' said he, 'I now see the time which I have long desired to see. Let me go where I may, the Gospel tree is planted never more to be rooted up, for there are those present who are prepared to carry on the Gospel, whatever may become of me.' He also said: 'I WILL GIVE YOU A KEY BY WHICH YOU MAY NEVER BE DECEIVED, IF YOU WILL OBSERVE THESE FACTS: WHERE THE TRUE CHURCH IS, THERE WILL ALWAYS BE A MAJORITY OF THE SAINTS, AND THE RECORDS AND HISTORY OF THE CHURCH ALSO.'"

Determining True Authority

Knowing that authority is needed from God for acts of men pertaining to their salvation to be valid in the sight of God, Lucifer has deceived many by suggesting to them several avenues by which they may claim authority from God. One method he exploits is the visitation of angels. To counterfeit the Lord's method, Lucifer has inspired some to claim they have been ordained by angels.

The Prophet Joseph Smith himself bore testimony that such could not be. He said angels would restore the priesthood only once. They restored the priesthood to him, and anyone who claims that an angel has come and given the priesthood subsequent to the time that Joseph Smith received his priesthood is "a liar":

"No true angel from God will ever come to ordain any man, because they have once been sent to establish the priesthood by ordaining me thereunto; and the priesthood being once established on earth, with power to ordain others, no heavenly messenger will ever come to interfere with that power by ordaining any more. . . .

"If any man comes to you professing to be ordained by an angel, he is either a liar or has been imposed upon in consequence of transgression by an angel of the devil, for this priesthood shall never be taken away from this church."

Summary

As we walk by faith through mortality, a kind Father has extended his love to us by revealing vital safeguards to protect us from deception:

  1. Recognizing the Lord's authorized mouthpiece.
  2. Understanding the proper relationship between the living word and the written word.
  3. Detecting hypocrisy within the Church.
  4. Receiving edification through the Spirit.
  5. Gaining adequate knowledge and understanding.
  6. Observing the Lord's pattern in all things.
  7. Keeping with the majority of the Saints.
  8. Determining true authority.


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