The First Principles and Ordinances of the Gospel (David O. McKay Lesson 21)

WE believe that the first principles and ordinances of the Gospel are: (1) Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; (2) Repentance; (3) Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; (4) Laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost. (Articles of Faith, 4).

Faith Not Mere Belief

Faith in God is the first, the fundamental, the basal principle of the Gospel; as, indeed, faith, in the more general usage of the term, is the impelling cause to activity even in ordinary affairs. Faith and belief are not infrequently confused, and the words are too commonly regarded as synonymous. An approach to identity of meaning appears in early English, in consequence of which fact belief is sometimes given the more definite signification of faith in our versions of the Holy Scriptures. Belief may be nothing more than a mental assent to any proposition, principle, or alleged fact; whereas faith implies such confidence and conviction as shall inspire to action. Belief is by comparison passive, a mere agreement or tacit acceptance only; faith is active and positive, and is accompanied by works. Faith is vivified, vitalized, living belief.

Even the devils believe that Jesus is the Christ, and so fully that they tremble at the prospect of the fate foreshadowed by that belief (see James 2:19). Their belief may amount even to certain knowledge, but they remain devils nevertheless. Consider the man possessed by a demon in the country of the Gadarenes. When he beheld Jesus afar off he ran to the Master, and worshiped Him, while the evil spirit by whom the man was controlled acknowledged the Lord, calling Him "Jesus, thou Son of the Most High God." (Mark 5; for analogous instances see Mark 1:23-27, and 3:8-11).

Strikingly similar in form, yet vitally different in spirit and effect, is this testimony of the demons as compared with Peter's confession of his Lord. To the Savior's question "Whom say ye that I am?" Peter replied in practically the same words voiced by the unclean spirits: "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God." (Matt. 16:15, 16).

Peter's faith had already been tested, and had demonstrated its vital power. Through faith the Apostle had forsaken much that had been dear, and had followed his Lord in persecution and suffering. His knowledge of God as the Eternal Father and of Jesus Christ as the Redeemer may have been no greater than that of the demons; but while to them that knowledge was an added cause of condemnation, to him it was the power of righteous service and of eventual salvation.

In a theological sense faith includes a moving, vital, inspiring confidence in God, and the acceptance of His will as our law and of His words as our guide in life. Faith in God is a principle of power, for by its exercise spiritual forces are made operative. By this power phenomena that appear to be supernatural, such as we call miracles, are wrought. Even the Lord Jesus was influenced and in a measure controlled by the lack of faith or the possession thereof by those who sought blessings at His hands. We are told that at a certain time and place Jesus "could there do no mighty work" because of the people's unbelief, which was so dense that He marveled at it. (Mark 6:5, 6). Repeatedly did the Lord rebuke and admonish with such reproofs as "O ye of little faith," "Where is your faith?" and "How is it that ye have no faith?" In glorious contrast rang out His words of benediction to those whose faith had made it possible for Him to heal and to save: "Thy faith hath made thee whole" and "According to your faith be it unto you."

Read the record of the youthful demoniac whose agonized father brought his son to the Master, pleading pitiably "If thou canst do any thing, have compassion on us and help us." To this qualified intercession Jesus replied "If thou canst believe" and added "All things are possible to him that believeth." (Read Mark 9:14-29). The faith requisite to the healing was not that of the Healer alone, but primarily faith on the part of the suppliant.

If through faith Divine interposition may be secured to the accomplishment of what we call material or physical miracles, and of this the Scriptures contain copious testimony (read Hebrews, chap. 11), is it consistent to doubt that faith is the appointed agency for invoking and securing spiritual blessings, even to the attainment of salvation in the eternal worlds?

As shown in earlier articles, redemption from the power of death is assured to all through the victory achieved by Jesus Christ; but salvation is an individual gift, provided for all who shall establish claim thereto through obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel. Faith in God the Eternal Father, and in His Son Jesus Christ as the Redeemer and Savior of the race, and in the Holy Ghost, is essential to the securing of individual salvation. Paul forcefully declares "But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him." (Heb. 11:6).

The Scriptures abound in assurances of salvation to those who exercise faith in God. The Savior's teachings are conclusive:

"He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned." (Mark 16:16).

And again:

"He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him." (John 3:36).

But who will venture to affirm that passive belief as distinguished from active faith is here implied? Can a man be said to believe in Jesus Christ in any effective and genuine sense unless that man shall strive to do the things that Christ commands? To any such inconsistent assumption, the Apostle John replies:

"And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in him." (1 John 2:3-5).

In a revelation through Joseph Smith in 1829 the Lord Jesus Christ gave this instruction and blessed promise:

"Ask the Father in my name, in faith believing that you shall receive, and you shall have the Holy Ghost, which manifesteth all things which are expedient unto the children of men." (D&C 18:18).

The Only Way

"Men and brethren, what shall we do?" Such was the eager, anguished, almost despairing cry of the humbled multitude who, at the first Pentecost following the crucifixion of Christ, were brought to a realization of their awful guilt through the inspired utterances of Peter, the presiding Apostle.

What shall we do? What can we do? Is hope yet open to us? This is the wail of contritely penitent souls, everywhere, always. When convicted of sin at the bar of his own conscience through genuine repentance, when at last able to see himself in all the repulsive pollution of his transgression, the self-accusing sinner yearns with fervid purpose to make all possible reparation and is zealous to learn and obey the conditions of forgiveness, if such there be.

To every soul thus brought into the depths through the benign though afflicting influences of repentance, to all who thus appeal for mercy and rescue, the answer is direct and prompt:

"Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost." (See Acts 2:37-39).

The promise of remission is as wide as the domain of sin; for, excepting those (and be it said to our comfort that they are few) who sink so far into the quagmire of iniquity as to be numbered among the "sons of perdition," to whom effective repentance is impossible, all may be saved by compliance with the requirements set forth by the Author of the plan of salvation. The need of forgiveness is likewise universal; "for there is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not" (Eccles. 7:20).

Is it not reasonable, and wholly in keeping with the ordinary ways of men in their mutual dealings, that some substantial evidence shall be demanded to attest the genuineness of the repentance we voice in words? Is it enough that the debtor shall merely acknowledge his obligation and express regret that he has not heretofore been able to meet it? He must do something more, or he remains forever in debt. The seal by which repentance is validated is Baptism in water for the remission of sins; for by this is the blood of Jesus Christ made effective to cleanse from sin. (See 1 John 1:7).

The voice in the wilderness heralding the advent of the Lord, the proclamation that aroused Jerusalem and reverberated throughout Judea and Galilee, was "the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins." (Mark 1:4; Luke 3:3). The cleansing ordinance was not to be administered indiscriminately, however; it was reserved for those who had brought forth "fruits meet for repentance," those whose profession of penitence was a true index to their contrite state.

Saul of Tarsus when rebuked for his ill-directed zeal in persecuting the Lord's own, exclaimed in agony: "What shall I do, Lord?" By the mouth of devout Ananias came the answer: "Arise, and be baptized and wash away thy sins." (See Acts 22). And Saul, thereafter known as Paul, a preacher of righteousness and an Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ, taught the saving doctrine that by baptism in water comes regeneration from sin.

Pastors and prophets who ministered to the ancient fold of Christ on the American continent led the people in the same path, that of repentance and baptism by water, the only way by which remission of sins could then or can ever be secured. Read for yourselves in the Book of Mormon, which is verily the Scripture of the Western Continent:

"For the gate by which ye should enter, is repentance, and baptism by water; and then cometh a remission of your sins by fire, and by the Holy Ghost." (2 Nephi 31:17).

"Shew 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).

Hear the words of the Lord Jesus Christ through the prophet Mormon:

"Turn, all ye Gentiles from your wicked ways, and repent of your evil doings, of your lyings and deceivings, and of your whoredoms, and of your secret abominations, and your idolatries, and of your murders, and your priestcrafts, and your envyings, and your strifes, and from all your wickedness and abominations, and come unto me, and be baptized in my name, that ye may receive a remission of your sins, and be filled with the Holy Ghost, that ye may be numbered with my people, who are of the house of Israel." (3 Nephi 30:2).

And further:

"The first fruits of repentance is baptism; and baptism cometh by faith, unto the fulfilling the commandments; and the fulfilling the commandments bringeth remission of sins." (Moroni 8:25).

To His commissioned servants in the current age, the bearers of the Holy Priesthood again restored to earth, the Lord has given commandment that they proclaim anew to the world the same unchangeable truth, that only through baptism is remission of sins promised. Thus we read:

"But thou shalt declare repentance and faith on the Savior and remission of sins by baptism and by fire, yea, even the Holy Ghost." (D&C 19:31).

Such is the immutable law of God throughout the ages. There is no other way provided on earth or in heaven by which the merits of the Atonement of Jesus Christ may bring salvation to mankind.

Baptism by Fire and the Power of the Spirit

John the Baptist proclaimed the necessity of repentance and of baptism by water, which later he administered to all who came in contrition seeking admission to the kingdom of God. With equal fervency, this voice crying in the wilderness foretold a second or higher baptism, which, however, John was not authorized to give. This he characterized as the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost, ordained to follow his administration, and to be given by that Mightier One, whose preeminence John delighted to proclaim. This was the Baptist's testimony:

"I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire." (Matt. 3:11).

That the Mightier One referred to was none other than Jesus the Christ is thus set forth in the words of John: "Behold the Lamb of God. . . . This is he of whom I said, After me cometh a man which is preferred before me: for he was before me. . . . And I knew him not: but he that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me, Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining on him, the same is he which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost." (John 1:29-33).

In His incisive instructions to Nicodemus respecting the works essential to salvation, the Savior did not stop with the specification of the watery birth. Baptism by immersion in water, though administered by one invested with the power of the Holy Priesthood, is incomplete without the quickening effect of the Spirit. "Born of water and of the Spirit" is the indispensable status of every man who shall gain admission to the kingdom of God.

While yet in the flesh our Lord specifically and repeatedly assured the Apostles that after His departure the Comforter or the Spirit of Truth would be sent unto them; and the scriptural context plainly shows that these expressive appellations have reference solely to the Holy Ghost. Amidst the solemnities of His ascension, the Lord reiterated these assurances of a spiritual baptism, saying: "For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence." (Acts 1:5).

A rich fulfilment was realized at the succeeding Pentecost, when the assembled Apostles were endowed with unprecedented power from heaven, being filled with the influence of the Holy Ghost so that they spake in tongues other than their own as the Spirit gave them utterance. An outward manifestation of this Divine investiture was seen in the tongues of flame which rested upon them severally. The Lord's promise, so miraculously fulfilled upon themselves, was repeated by the Apostles to those who sought their instruction. Conditioned upon their repentance and baptism in water, Peter assured the penitent Jews that they should "receive the gift of the Holy Ghost." (Acts 2:38).

That the bestowal of the Holy Ghost is an ordinance requiring higher authority than that by which water baptism may be performed is evidenced by Scripture. Philip—not the Apostle Philip, but presumably one of the seven men who had been set apart for a lesser ministry (Acts 6:3-6)—preached to the Samaritans and baptized many. Plainly Philip was empowered to administer water baptism; and it is equally clear that an authority greater than his was requisite for the higher baptism of the Spirit or the conferring of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands. To this the Scriptures testify:

"Now when the apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John: Who, when they were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost: (For as yet he was fallen upon none of them: only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.) Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost." (Acts 8:14-17).

Very illuminating is the instance of Paul's ministry unto certain devout Ephesians (Acts 19:1-7) who professed to have been baptized "unto John's baptism," but who were plainly uninstructed as to the necessity of the baptism of the Spirit. It is probable that these men had submitted to immersion by unauthorized hands; and therefore Paul caused that they be baptized "in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them; and they spake with tongues, and prophesied."

To the Twelve Disciples who were ordained by the resurrected Lord among the Nephites on the American continent, Christ gave special power, so that all baptized believers upon whom they would lay their hands should receive the Holy Ghost; and thus is the assurance recorded:

"Yea, blessed are they who shall believe in your words, and come down into the depths of humility and be baptized, for they shall be visited with fire and with the Holy Ghost, and shall receive a remission of their sins." (Book of Mormon, 3 Nephi 12:2; see also Moroni chap. 2.)

And in this modern day, the authority of both the Lesser or Aaronic Priesthood, which is requisite to water baptism, and of the Higher or Melchizedek Priesthood, without which the gift of the Holy Ghost cannot be authoritatively bestowed, has been restored to earth, through the Prophet Joseph Smith. The Elders of the Church today are commanded to preach the Gospel, to baptize the penitent, "And to confirm those who are baptized into the church, by the laying on of hands for the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost, according to the Scriptures." (D&C 20:41).

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