All Things Witness

Thoughts on the mission and power of Jesus Christ

Of Forest Walks and the Doctrine of Christ

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The physical, emotional and spiritual copyI was asked to give a talk (sermon) in my local church today, and I’ve copied the text below.  Some of the themes could be further developed, and I probably will do in future posts.  I begin with a parable that in some ways reminds me of the famous lines from Alice in Wonderland:

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.
“I don’t much care where–” said Alice.
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.

 

Only in this case, it really does matter which way we go….

 

 

A young man awoke one day, finding himself in the middle of a forest. He had no recollection of how he had arrived in the forest, or where he had come from. Neither could he remember his name.

After walking for a few minutes he came to a path through the forest. Not knowing which direction he should travel, he decided simply to turn west on the path. As he walked alone, he tried to remember anything about his past. Nothing came to him, but after several hours of musing and eating of the fruits and berries that dotted the shrubs and trees of his surroundings, he thought of the name “Smalltown”. He didn’t know whether this was a real place or whether he had invented it with his imagination, but after a couple more hours of pondering, he decided it must be real, and that Smalltown must be his place of origin.

As he continued his unknown journey, he turned to his name. Several possible names came to his mind, but unable to decide whether any belonged to him, he finally simply decided to pick a name that he liked, and settled on Richard.

The next day he began once again his walk, and shortly came across a young woman, who joined his path at an intersection. He encouraged her to join him as he travelled west, and she willingly did so. When it became apparent that she also could not remember anything of her past, Richard said, “Oh, you must also be from Smalltown.” Surprised, but pleased that someone seemed to know something of her past, the woman replied, “Really?”. “Oh yes” said Richard, “I believe that many of us from Smalltown have been placed in the forest. If we head west others will join us and we will, in time, arrive home.” Noting the woman’s eager acceptance of his words, he quickly added, “And I think your name is Deborah.” – using the first woman’s name that came to him. Not knowing any better, Deborah accepted Richard’s words, and they happily journeyed together.

Over the next few days, several others joined Richard and Deborah, and to all they proudly stated that they were all from Smalltown and that they were travelling home, and Richard gave them whatever name popped into his head at the time. When occasionally one would join their party believing they were from somewhere other than Smalltown, the growing group – all now convinced that they were indeed from Smalltown – would quickly correct them.

After a few weeks of travelling like this, they came to an older man who stood as if waiting for them. As they approached, the older man asked them their story, and when they related of their journey – their origins from Smalltown, and each their names – the older man shook his head sadly and said, “It is as we thought. You have forgotten. No, you are not from Smalltown, but from a grand castle and palace, children of the King, and he desires your swift return to him. Let me tell you why you are in the forest, and then please follow me and I will lead you back to your father. It is easy to become lost in the forest, and so the path has been very carefully prepared to ensure your safe return.” To the leader of the group he added, “And your name is not Richard, but Christopher. I know you.”

But Richard, and the crowd, laughed at the older man – for they knew their names now, and that they were all from Smalltown, and were also certain that their journey would return them there, and so they continued on with their previous journey heading west, leaving the older man behind.

Other messengers appeared at times across the path, all relaying the same message: their father – the king – desired their return to his castle and palace. But each time the crowd’s self-confidence in their journey grew – their mocking of the messengers intensified.

And the sad ending to the story is that the crowd never came to understand that the messengers spoke the truth; and so they never returned to the loving embrace of their father, or to the comfort and joy of palace life. For their ignorance of their ignorance, and their confidence in invented and false notions kept them from what might have been.

And they also never arrived in Smalltown….

 

 

In reflecting on this short story, there are a few lessons that are worth briefly discussing.

 

  1. The path that would lead them home had been carefully prepared, and only by staying on it could the people avoid becoming lost.
  1. In the story, the people’s father – the king – had sent messengers to lead the people to the path and home.
  1. Without a true understanding by the people in the story of who they were, they were susceptible to being deceived.

 

I will briefly discuss each of these in turn.

 

 

  1. The path that would lead them home had been carefully prepared, and only by staying on it could the people avoid becoming lost.

 

Our Heavenly Father has not placed us on earth haphazardly, but rather has a plan for us that allows us to return to live with Him.

That plan is perfect in its design, and has some very specific steps that we must take. These steps include:

 

  • Exercising Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ
  • Repenting of our sins, made possible because of the Atonement of Jesus Christ
  • Being baptised by immersion for the remission of sins, in symbolism, amongst other things, of the crowning act of Christ’s Atonement – his resurrection
  • Receiving the laying on of hands for the Gift of the Holy Ghost, who will bear record of Heavenly Father and of His Son, Jesus Christ
  • Pressing forward through the remainder of our lives, feasting upon the words of Christ – often called enduring to the end

 

These principles, all focussed on Christ and His atoning sacrifice, are repeated throughout the scriptures, Nephi stating, “…this is the doctrine of Christ, and there will be no more doctrine given until after he shall manifest himself unto you in the flesh.” (2 Nephi 32:6).

When He visited the Nephites, after describing these same principles, Christ further stated, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, that this is my doctrine, and whoso buildeth upon this buildeth upon my rock, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against them. And whoso shall declare more or less than this, and establish it for my doctrine, the same cometh of evil, and is not built upon my rock; but he buildeth upon a sandy foundation, and the gates of hell stand open to receive such when the floods come and the winds beat upon them. Therefore, go forth unto this people, and declare the words which I have spoken….” (3 Nephi 11:39-41)

The doctrine of Christ is founded upon His atoning sacrifice. As the prophet Joseph Smith said, “The fundamental principles of our religion are the testimony of the Apostles and Prophets, concerning Jesus Christ, that He died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven; and all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith)

We sometimes sing the following words during our Sacrament meeting, words which take us through each of elements of the Doctrine of Christ:

 

Father in Heav’n, we do believe
The promise thou hast made;


Thy word with meekness we receive,
Just as thy Saints have said.

 

We now repent of all our sin
And come with broken heart,


And to thy covenant enter in
And choose the better part.

 

O Lord, accept us while we pray,
And all our sins forgive;


New life impart to us this day,
And bid the sinners live.

 

We will be buried in the stream
In Jesus’ blessed name,


And rise, while light shall on us beam
The Spirit’s heav’nly flame

 

Baptize us with the Holy Ghost
And seal us as thine own,


That we may join the ransomed host
And with the Saints be one.

 

Humbly we take the sacrament
In Jesus’ blessed name;


Let us receive thru covenant
The Spirit’s heav’nly flame.

(Hymn 180, Father in Heav’n We Do Believe)

 

As taught in Lehi’s dream, if we continue on this path we will eventually arrive at the tree of life.

 

 

  1. In the story, the people’s father – the king – had sent messengers to lead the people to the path and home.

 

Since the days of Adam, God has called prophets to receive His word, to teach it, and to record it for future generations. Although there have been times and places through the earth’s history when the gospel has not been available in its fullness, we know through modern revelation that all will have an opportunity to hear and accept the doctrine of Christ from authorised messengers, whether in this life or in the spirit world.

In our day, we have not just a living prophet who is President of the Lord’s Church, but his counsellors, and the Quorum of 12 Apostles, are all called as, “Special witnesses of the name of Christ”. (D&C 107:23)

Karl G Maeser was a German convert to the Church, who emigrated to Utah and eventually founded Brigham Young University. The story is told of him once while crossing the Alps with a group of missionaries, “…As they slowly ascended the steep slope, he looked back and saw a row of sticks thrust into the glacial snow to mark the one safe path across the otherwise treacherous mountains.

Something about those sticks impressed him, and halting the company of missionaries he gestured toward them and said, “Brethren, there stands the priesthood. They are just common sticks like the rest of us—some of them may even seem to be a little crooked, but the position they hold makes them what they are. If we step aside from the path they mark, we are lost.” (Boyd K Packer, Follow the Brethren, BYU, 23 March 1965)

As we each seek to take upon ourselves His name through firstly baptism and then other sacred ordinances, we should ponder the significance of the title of these special messengers – special witnesses of His name. We will more successfully navigate our journey to take upon us His name, as we follow His witnesses.

 

 

  1. Without a true understanding by the people in the story of who they were, they were susceptible to being deceived.

 

In the story, the man who called himself Richard – deceiving even himself – initially rationalised a story of his past because he had no other explanation. But as he taught his invented story to others, the new tradition became fact, blinding all those following him to the truth once it appeared.

For a wise purpose our Heavenly Father has placed a veil over our minds during our mortal lives so that we might learn to live by faith, such that we do not remember our premortal lives with Him. He has not left us in darkness, but there are many alternative stories to our mortal existence that are told – often as fact, or at the very least ridiculing truth. The cultural norms, pressures and values of our society today seem designed to blind people from the truth.

Speaking to our day, and seeing the dangers we would face, the prophet Moroni recorded words teaching us to, “…take heed…that ye do not judge that which is evil to be of God, or that which is good and of God to be of the devil.” (Moroni 7:14)

We see in the scriptures examples of good people who were blinded to the truth themselves by their own cultural teachings. In the Book of Mormon we see the example of the Lamanite King Lamoni’s father, who would eventually lead arguably the most valiant group of people in that book of scripture. This same man, but prior to his conversion, when confronted with his son’s testimony, could feel only centuries of prejudice leading him to, “…[draw] his sword that he might smite him to the earth.” (Alma 20:16). Only a miracle, along with a significant demonstration of love from Ammon, enabled the scales of unbelief to fall.

Similarly in the New Testament, Saul, who would later become Paul, a mighty and courageous Apostle, while Stephen stood and testified of his heavenly vision, simply stood by content to see the man stoned for his testimony. Only a miracle on the road to Damascus allowed his prejudices to be removed.

From this we learn firstly that we cannot judge those who do not accept our testimonies of Christ and the restored gospel. We simply cannot know whether an individual is rejecting Christ’s message because they are hard of heart, or whether it is because they are, “…blinded by the subtle craftiness of men…” (D&C 123:12).

But we also learn that the Lord can and will work miracles through those who live His gospel, testify of Him and teach His doctrine.  Do you and I live in a way that such miracles can occur through us?

This is exemplified by the story of Anna Buttimore, whose story in part is as follows:

 

“When my best friend joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints I was upset and angry. I thought she had been brainwashed into a cult and I became obsessed with hatred for the church.

“I read every anti-Mormon book I could find and became involved with an anti-cult group, eventually becoming its Area Director for the North Wales area. As well as my research I gave lectures to church groups, leafleted homes warning householders not to speak to missionaries, and wrote a booklet about “Mormonism”.

“Five years after I started my campaign I received a Solicitor’s [lawyer’s] letter on behalf of the LDS Church asking that I cease my activities (some of which had been dishonest)….

“For some time I had known that many of my arguments didn’t stand up and that many of the anti-Mormon books were very inaccurate.

“I was also beginning to admire the way every Mormon I had met was polite and loving and reasonable even when I was yelling at them. So I decided to comply and resolved to have nothing more to do with the church.

“After some time I began to feel sorry for what I had done in the past, so I met with the missionaries and asked them to convey my apologies to the local ward. They discovered that I had never actually read the Book of Mormon and they challenged me to do so….

“When the missionaries taught me it was as though I was hearing the gospel for the first time. It was extremely difficult to say “I was wrong” and go to church that first time, but not one person reproached me and everyone made me feel welcome.

“I felt really loved and was finally able to feel the spirit and know for certain that my Heavenly Father loved me and heard my prayers.”

Anna concludes, “I cannot begin to describe the joy which fills me each day as I pray with my family, or spend time in my calling with the Young Women who really inspire me, or just walk through the halls of the church meetinghouse knowing that this is where I belong and that this is right and good.

“I do know that this is Jesus Christ’s church, and I truly rejoice that I have the privilege of being a member of it. I love my Savior and am so grateful for all that He has done for me. And especially for his atonement which means that we can be forgiven, no matter what we have done wrong in the past.”

(http://www.mormonconverts.com/anglican/scales-fell.htm)

 

It was firstly the love of members, and then the teaching of Christ’s true doctrine, that allowed the miracle to occur in Anna’s life.

Knowing that society today will oppose the true doctrine of Christ also reinforces the need for us to testify to each other; to teach each other of His doctrine, “…[meeting] together oft…to speak one with another concerning the welfare of [our] souls.” (Moroni 6:5)

Above all, it reminds us of the importance to teach these things to our children, so that they need not become so blinded. To Adam, the Lord said, “If thou wilt turn unto me, and hearken unto my voice, and believe, and repent of all thy transgressions, and be baptized, even in water, in the name of mine Only Begotten Son, who is full of grace and truth, which is Jesus Christ, the only name which shall be given under heaven, whereby salvation shall come unto the children of men, ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, asking all things in his name, and whatsoever ye shall ask, it shall be given you…. Therefore I give unto you a commandment, to teach these things freely unto your children…” (Moses 6:52, 58)

Together with Nephi, “…we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins…. [that they] may look forward unto that life which is in Christ.” (2 Nephi 25:26-27)

 

You and I are children of a Heavenly King. We have been sent to this earth for a purpose. We are blessed to live in a day when the Lord’s messengers speak frequently and clearly to us, and when all necessary principles and ordinances of the gospel, encompassing the doctrine of Christ, have been restored.

May we live according to these principles and ordinances, and may we share this message with others so that they too may know of the path that will return them to an eternal palace, joy and glory.

Christ lives. His doctrine is true, and is the only doctrine that will lead us to ultimate happiness.

Author: JeffC

I'm a 40-something bloke who lives in the northern hills of England. I write fiction (mostly fantasy), blog about religion and work in healthcare.

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