Bret Corbridge pointed out a beautiful fact, namely that Christ is the Master of the Storm. Whatever storm arises in our lives, and whatever might inspire our agonized cry, "Lord, save us, else we perish," the winds and boisterous seas in our own lives remain subject to Him. And in accordance with His promise to "make weak things become strong" unto His faithful and humble servants, H
When people read difficult passages of scripture, and especially when they read pointed commentaries that reveal just how plainly the scriptures condemn them personally, they develop a certain uneasiness in the pit of the stomach. It doesn’t feel good to have someone suggest you might be wrong, especially when the thing you might be wrong about is a closely-held and long cherished notion. It’s easy to misinterpret that as the Holy Spirit telling you it’s something you should avoid. But to do so misunderstands the Holy Spirit and its function.
“The First Comforter or Holy Ghost has none other effect than pure intelligence,” Joseph Smith teaches us. Nothing there about good feelings, and in fact, we shouldn’t be surprised, because the scriptures also teach us the job of the Holy Ghost is to testify of truth, and if we happen to be wicked, truth might not be friendly: “wherefore, the guilty taketh the truth to be hard, for it cutteth them to the very center.”
But we can get even better examples. We’ll start with Joseph Smith. Remember how he went out to pray, and the first thing he felt was “some power which entirely overcame me, and had such an astonishing influence over me as to bind my tongue so that I could not speak. Thick darkness gathered around me, and it seemed to me for a time as if I were doomed to sudden destruction.” Had Joseph leapt to the conclusion that this first feeling came from the Holy Ghost, and was intended to tell him to back off, we might live in a different world today.
One other example comes from Christ himself, and I need to say that the Lord pointed me at this particular example while I was pondering this topic. This is the story of the young man who had an evil spirit of a variety that “cometh forth by nothing, but by prayer and fasting,” and we’ll start in Mark chapter 9.
14 And when he came to his disciples, he saw a great multitude about them, and the scribes questioning with them.
So the scribes and multitude are having a discussion, and I imagine it was a bit intense. I can’t prove that, of course, but there must have been some reason the multitude were so excited to see Christ when he walked up:
15 And straightway all the people, when they beheld him, were greatly amazed, and running to him saluted him.
Christ wanted to know why there was all the hubbub. Note that he addresses his question to the scribes, but one of the multitude answers.
16 And he asked the scribes, What question ye with them?
17 And one of the multitude answered and said, Master, I have brought unto thee my son, which hath a dumb spirit;
18 And wheresoever he taketh him, he teareth him: and he foameth, and gnasheth with his teeth, and pineth away: and I spake to thy disciples that they should cast him out; and they could not.
Incidentally, how good are we, in our day, at identifying evil spirits in people? I have to say that right now, at least, I don’t know what to make of this particular verse.
19 He answereth him, and saith, O faithless generation, how long shall I be with you? how long shall I suffer you? bring him unto me.
But here’s my point. Notice what happens to the boy when Christ approaches.
20 And they brought him unto him: and when he saw him, straightway the spirit tare him; and he fell on the ground, and wallowed foaming.
Did you notice what happened? This boy was brought to Christ, the light and life of the word, and the first feeling he felt was … the evil spirit tearing him, and throwing him in the dirt. And I ask, therefore, should the son use this first impression as his opinion of the Savior? Let’s keep reading.
21 And he asked his father, How long is it ago since this came unto him? And he said, Of a child.
22 And ofttimes it hath cast him into the fire, and into the waters, to destroy him: but if thou canst do any thing, have compassion on us, and help us.
23 Jesus said unto him, If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth.
24 And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.
25 When Jesus saw that the people came running together, he rebuked the foul spirit, saying unto him, Thou dumb and deaf spirit, I charge thee, come out of him, and enter no more into him.
26 And the spirit cried, and rent him sore, and came out of him: and he was as one dead; insomuch that many said, He is dead.
Here we go again. Christ casts out the “foul spirit”, and the first thing it does is “[rend] him sore.” How’s that for a reliable first impression?
27 But Jesus took him by the hand, and lifted him up; and he arose.
Only now does the boy have experience enough to judge whether this man that has come to him is good for him or not. I submit we ought to allow ourselves time to be sure we understand the Holy Ghost correctly.
Matthew 11 tells us that John the Baptist, while in prison, sent two of his followers to ask Christ, “Art thou he of whom it is written in the prophets that he should come, or do we look for another?” Christ’s response is interesting. He didn’t say, “Yep, that’s me!” Instead, He delivered a list of things He’d done, and allowed John to judge for himself. Matt 114-6, JST: “Jesus answered and said unto them, Go and tell John again of those things which ye do hear and see; How that the blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, and the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached unto them. And blessed is John, and whosoever shall not be offended in me.”
So here’s a question: are we supposed to know Christ is the savior because He, or someone else, said so, or are we instead supposed to judge Him by His works? I say, the latter. Moreover, this principle also applies when evaluating a prophet: “And, again, beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing; but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits; for do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?” (Matt 7:24-25). We shall not know them by their own declaration, nor by the assurances of their proteges and boot-lickers. We shall not know them by the self-assured repetitions of fallible friends and associates. God Himself my well refuse to give us a simple “Yes” or “No”, because He has already told us how to judge. We must take responsibility for our own conclusions.
Joseph Smith’s Bible translation (JST) adds several verses to Matthew 7. Following Nephi’s instruction to “liken the scriptures” unto us can prove helpful in reviewing those verses. Because of the LDS church’s uncertain feelings toward the full JST, it’s not obvious to LDS readers how the added content fits together. The Latter-day Saint edition of the scriptures leaves out many of the JST’s modifications to the King James original, and those it keeps it cuts into pieces and in large part crams into an appendix. Those interested can see these verses in their full context in many places; here I’ll refer to RestoredGospel.com.
With that said, here’s the bit I’m interested in for now:
7:9 Go ye into the world, saying unto all, Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come nigh unto you.
7:10 And the mysteries of the kingdom ye shall keep within yourselves; for it is not meet to give that which is holy unto the dogs; neither cast ye your pearls unto swine, lest they trample them under their feet.
7:11 For the world cannot receive that which ye yourselves, are not able to bear; wherefore ye shall not give your pearls unto them, lest they turn again and rend you.
7:12 Say unto them, Ask of God; ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.
7:13 For every one that asketh, receiveth; and he that seeketh, findeth; and unto him that knocketh, it shall be opened.
7:14 And then said his disciples unto him, they will say unto us, We ourselves are righteous, and need not that any man should teach us. God, we know, heard Moses and some of the prophets; but us he will not hear.
7:15 And they will say, We have the law for our salvation, and that is sufficient for us.
7:16 Then Jesus answered, and said unto his disciples, thus shall ye say unto them,
7:17 What man among you, having a son, and he shall be standing out, and shall say, Father, open thy house that I may come in and sup with thee, will not say, Come in, my son; for mine is thine, and thine is mine?
7:18 Or what man is there among you, who, if his son ask bread, will give him a stone?
7:19 Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent?
7:20 If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father who is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?
We learn from verse 1 that Christ is talking to his “disciples,” and since we have no record of Him granting special permission, authority, or power to any disciples previous to this, at least so far as I can think of right now, it may be safe to understand “disciples” to mean everyone interested in following Him. In any case, Christ first tells these disciples to tell the world to repent. But they’re not supposed to preach any other doctrines; just repentance. Specifically, the “mysteries of the kingdom ye shall keep within yourselves,” because “it is not meet to give that which is holy unto the dogs” or to “cast ye your pearls unto swine.” Or in other words, as verse 11 says, the world isn’t ready to receive the mysteries.
Let’s stop here for a moment. Christ just told us that those who aren’t ready to receive the “mysteries of the kingdom” are like dogs and swine. Superficially, it seems He used those animals as a convenient analogue, because it’s in those animals’ nature to “turn again and rend” people, or to “trample [things] under their feet.” But being called “swine” or “dogs” is clearly unfavorable, and Christ clearly meant to include that connotation. After all, He could have instead compared the unprepared to, say, fluffy bunnies who will sniff reflexively at a mystery and then hop obliviously away. But no, those who aren’t ready to receive the mysteries of the kingdom are, really, like dogs and swine, with all the unpleasant connotation those terms include. The unprepared don’t simply hop away from one who would teach them further light; instead they attack the would-be teacher, rending and trampling him.
Fortunately the unprepared state of these dogs and swine is not necessarily permanent; after all, we can safely assume the disciples have grown into their current level of preparedness — they didn’t start out where they are now — and have done so through the very process they are now commanded to teach others to begin, namely repentance. Or rather, repentance along with the next bit in the reading. After telling His disciples to “keep [the mysteries] within yourselves”, Christ commands them to teach the world to “Ask of God; ask, and it shall be given you,” etc. So instead of teaching the world the mysteries of the kingdom, the disciples are to teach the world how to find out mysteries for themselves, by asking, seeking, and knocking. And if they — or we — won’t ask, we can keep on being dogs and swine.
But the disciples are concerned, because they foresee the world responding to them in three different ways. In verses 14 and 15, we see these reluctant hearers arguing that:
So in the spirit of “liken[ing] all scriptures unto us, that [they] may be for our profit and learning,” what’s our approach to learning the “mysteries of the kingdom”? Joseph Smith made clear that without knowledge we simply cannot be saved. Three examples, from “Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith”:
Have we fallen into the same trap the disciples predicted for their worldly hearers? When someone tries to teach real gospel to us, do we contend that we’re righteous, and don’t need their help to learn? Do we discount our position sufficiently to conclude that though God would listen to Moses, He won’t listen to us? Are we satisfied with the law we’ve got? Clearly that smug satisfaction displeased the Lord, because those subject to it got the same instruction as everyone else: Ask God. If we don’t, we get what Joseph Smith said we’d get: “As far as we degenerate from God, we descend to the devil and lose knowledge, and without knowledge we cannot be saved.”