Background for the Lectures on Faith
What are the Lectures on Faith?
They were originally seven theological lessons written by Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon and given to those who attended the School of the Prophets in Kirtland, Ohio.
They were included in the original 1835 Doctrine and Covenants.
They were the “doctrine” part of that volume and were included first; the revelations were the “covenants” part of the book.
They were extensively edited by and vouched for by Joseph Smith, prior to their publication (January 1835, see History of the Church 2:180 and the Joseph Smith Papers).
They were voted on and sustained as scripture by the Church; voting on the book proceeded by quorums and groups with the leader of each group bearing witness of the truth of the volume; everyone voted who was present, including men, women, and children.
They were (and still are) scripture.
Why should we study them?
Their objective is to explain what is required for any person to be able to exercise saving faith, without which we cannot be saved.
They were written and edited by Joseph Smith, who followed their teachings himself and demonstrated saving faith by rending the veil and being sealed up to eternal life by God.
They were accepted by the Church as scripture and were never removed from the scriptures during the lifetime of Joseph Smith, who championed them; they were part of the D&C for 86 years – long after the death of Joseph Smith.
According to the preface to the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants (of which the LoF were the first section): “We deem it to be unnecessary to entertain you with a lengthy preface to the following volume, but merely to say that it contains, in short, the leading items of the religion which we have professed to believe. The first part of the book will be found to contain a series of lectures, as delivered before a theological class in this place. And in consequence of their embracing the important doctrines of salvation, we have arranged them into the following work. We do not present this little volume with any other expectation than that. We are to be called to answer to every principle advanced.” (Joseph Smith from the Preface to the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants; Joseph Smith Papers, Vol 2, p 311) – emphasis mine.
Even modern Church leaders bore testimony to the LoF: “In my judgement, it is the most comprehensive, intelligent, inspired utterance that now exists in the English language that exists in one place defining, interpreting, expounding, announcing, and testifying of what kind of being God is. It was written by the power of the Holy Ghost, by the spirit of inspiration. It is, in effect, eternal scripture. It is true.” (Bruce McConkie, “Where is the Lord God of Joseph Smith?”, BYU Devotional, January 1972).
If the Lectures on Faith were scripture, why were they removed from the LDS canon in 1921?
The LoF were dropped from the scriptures in 1921 without a Church vote, by a committee comprised of LDS Apostles George Richards, Anthony Ivins, Melvin J Ballard, James E. Talmage, John A. Widstoe, and Joseph Fielding Smith.
These men claimed that the LoF were never sustained as scripture by the Church but were only theological lessons or lectures (see Introductory explanation in the 1921 edition of the D&C); however, the Joseph Smith papers, which details the voting on the 1835 D&C shows this is not true; so either these men were ignorant or lying but regardless, they were not inspired.
It is interesting that the decanonization was never brought to a vote of the members or officers of the Church, like it’s canonization was.
Why is it an issue that the Lectures on Faith were removed from scripture?
The likelihood that they would be read and followed decreased dramatically after they were removed from the D&C; in fact, by 1966, Joseph Fielding Smith (one of the Committee members) lamented: “I supposed that the rising generation knows little about the Lectures…in my own judgment these Lectures are of great value and should be studied. I consider them to be of extreme value in the study of the gospel of Jesus Christ (see General Conference Report 1966, p 194); if that was the case in 1966, it is surely much more the case in the 21st Century.
The Lectures lay out what any rational being MUST know to be able to exercise faith unto salvation (see LoF 3:2-5); without this knowledge, we CANNOT be saved because we cannot know God (which is eternal life). The fact that Joseph Smith went to the trouble to canonize these words as scripture shows how valuable they are in laying out critical doctrine we must know and practice to be saved.
In effect, removing the Lectures was a choice to willingly decrease the saving light and knowledge available to the Church (see Alma 12:10-11) by the leaders of the Church.
As the six men on the committee who removed the Lectures were all LDS Apostles, the deeper issue is why they felt that the Lectures were either not helpful (but if this was their logic, why not also remove the Song of Solomon from the Old Testament?) or were doctrinally incorrect? The answer is that by the 1920s, the doctrine taught by the Church leaders had changed significantly enough from the doctrine taught in the LoF by Joseph Smith that it had become a problem – the scriptures contradicted the currently accepted doctrine of the Church, so something had to give.
Lecture 5 was their big doctrinal problem; either Joseph Smith had an incorrect idea of God’s character, perfections and attributes and consequently COULD NOT HAVE FAITH or the six Apostles who disagreed with Joseph Smith in 1921 did not, indeed could not, have faith – because they disagree on the definition of the nature of God, which you must have correct of you cannot exercise faith in Him. The interesting thing to investigate is which of these men actually saw God and was sealed up to eternal life? The answer is clear that Joseph Smith did. But the silence with regards to all of the others’ testimonies of the living Christ is not surprising now, as it is clear that these Apostles lacked the faith to rend the veil and know the Lord; however, they did a huge amount of damage to everyone one of us who came after them by removing the true doctrine found in the LoF, which Joseph Smith learned through his experiences in God’s presence.
What saving truths do the Lectures on Faith teach?
What is faith (Lecture 1).
The object on which faith rests – the character and attributes of God (Lectures 2-5).
The effects or results that flow from faith (Lectures 6-7).
What is required to gain the faith necessary for salvation (Lecture 6).
What we must be like to be saved and what we must do/be to become like that (Lecture 7).
Faith: The Principle of Action
READ LoF 1:1
What other title could these lectures have been given besides the “Lectures on Faith”?
“Lectures on the Doctrine of Christ”.
While faith is critical, it is not the entirety of the Doctrine of Christ.
Understanding the Doctrine of Christ, such that we can successfully follow it and walk back into Christ’s (and later God’s) presence in the flesh – which is the Fullness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ – is why we are here on earth; there is nothing more important that this.
These lectures cover much more than just faith in Christ.
What is the difference between revealed religion and any other kind of religion?
God reveals Himself or He remains forever unknown to mankind because His ways and thoughts are so much higher than ours (see Isaiah 55:8-9).
Only revealed religion (implied is that it is revealed from God Himself and His angels who are on His errand) can save you.
All other religion is speculation based upon research and analysis from scholars, or the pride and priestcraft of men, or the cultural constructs of a given society, or superstitions and myth; because while other belief systems may be based on true, revealed religion, if anything has been changed over time, it has lost its efficacy to reconnect you with God.
Why is faith the first principle in revealed religion?
Without faith, you will not act.
Without faith in Christ, you will not repent and sacrifice what is required to come unto Him.
If you do not come unto Him, you cannot be saved.
If you are not saved, you will not please God (see Hebrews 11:6), as it is His work and glory to bring to pass your immortality and eternal life, and you will be damned or stopped in your progression to be saved and become like God.
Why do we need to have the Doctrine of Christ unfolded to our understanding – isn’t it enough to love God and try to be a good person?
Loving God is the first and great commandment (see Matthew 22:36-38), so yes, it’s absolutely vital to salvation.
And if you love God, you will keep His commandments (to the best of your knowledge); and not just “try” to keep them… (see John 14:15); so again, this is critical.
But the problem is that if you don’t really know God, how can you really love Him? You are loving an idea that you created, or you are loving the good things He’s done for you, or at best, you are loving a few of the attributes you know of, from the limited and distant experiences you’ve had with God, and you’re filling in the rest of His character with your own suppositions of what He might be like.
Unless you know the truth, you cannot exercise sufficient faith to rend the veil and know God yourself.
And because God is so much more than we can comprehend without Him/Them revealing Themselves to us, the probability of our guessing correctly is statistically zero.
READ LoF 1:2-5
Why does Joseph lay out the subject of faith in this order?
It is a logical argument: what, why, and how can you tell.
First, he must define the subject – what is faith – because there is seemingly some confusion regarding it.
Second, now that he has defined faith, he must show all of the elements upon which it rests and why they engender faith in those who know them.
Third, as faith is personal and experiential, he must clearly point out how you can tell if you’re “doing it right”; how can you tell that you truly have faith unto salvation.
READ LoF 1:6
What is Lecture One about?
The primacy of faith as an operative principle of power that exists with God, and with all of us.
READ LoF 1:7-11
What is faith?
It is the driving cause or principle of action in all intelligent beings.
It necessarily revolves around things that we cannot see – either because they have not happened yet (in our linear timeline world) or because our senses (or scientific tools) cannot discern them.
What does “principle of action” mean?
Something from which action is derived.
Principles of action determine everything we do in life; if we do not have “faith” that a given activity will give us the outcome we are seeking for or expecting, we will be less likely to do it – if we have no faith that it will produce that result at all, we will not do it.
READ: A quick summary of C.S. Lewis’ story of the Narnian dwarves from his book, The Last Battle (see Chapter 13: How the Dwarfs Refused to be Taken In): the atheist Calormene/Narnia Alliance has taken over a stable that they pretend is the Shrine of the Calormene God, Tash - which none of them actually believe in. In reality, they have placed a soldier inside the stable to kill whoever enters or is thrown into the building and then say that Tash did it. But inside the stable, the real Tash shows up, as does Aslan’s messengers (Aslan is Christ). The Stable door is a portal into the spiritual realm from the physical world, but the soldiers don’t know it. Anyway, a dozen dwarfs are thrown in to the stable but they are not claimed by Tash or Aslan. Everyone else that is thrown through the door sees the heavenly (or hellish) world beyond, but the dwarfs “refuse to be taken in.” To them, they are all still tied up in a dark stable in the physical world. Aslan’s people try to talk to them; the dwarfs can hear them but can’t see them. The people (true messengers or angels) can’t believe that the dwarfs can’t see them. But the dwarfs can’t believe that they are not in a dark stable. They say, “How can you go on talking all that rot? Your wonderful Lion (Aslan) didn’t come and help you, did he? Thought not. And now, even now, when you’ve been beaten and shoved into this black hole, just the same as the rest of us, you’re still at your old game. Starting a new lie! Trying to make us believe we’re none of us shut up, and it ain’t dark, and heaven knows what.” Then Aslan himself comes through the portal to them - and his people ask Him to do something for the poor dwarfs. He says, “Dearest, I will show you both what I can, and what I cannot do.” He talks to the dwarfs but all they hear is thunderous noise. He gives them a feast and all they taste is garbage. They will not be taken in. Aslan says, “You see, they will not let us help them. They have chosen cunning instead of belief. Their prison is only in their own minds, yet they are in that prison; and so afraid of being taken in that they cannot be taken out. But come, children, I have other work to do.”
What does this story illustrate how our faith dictates what we see of the real world?
Since the “real world” consists of a mortal, physical world that fallen mankind can see because their bodies are made of the same grade of material AND a spiritual, physical (albeit more refined) world that one’s spirit can see but mortal eyes cannot unless transfigured, when we only believe what our mortal senses can tell us, we are not seeing all of reality.
And not seeing all of reality, since the two worlds are actually connected and what happens in the spiritual affects what is happening in the mortal, means that we can both miss great blessings and cause, or fail to stop, great harm.
Angels, devils, and Christ Himself are not just seeking to interact with us but are actually doing so, but our (we are the dwarfs) lack of faith blinds us to what is really going on; in an ironic turn, our refusal to be “taken in” means that we are seeing a mirage or falsehood of our own making.
What insights does this story reveal regarding how God is constrained in working with us, if we lack faith?
He can’t work with us beyond the extend of our beliefs; at least not until the final judgement.
We are constraining Him and He won’t violate our agency.
It is interesting that the dwarfs are having a very real spiritual experience but do not know it because they will not believe it; but their lack of belief doesn’t actually affect the experience, only what they perceive of that experience.
Faith: The Principle of Power
READ LoF 1:13-16
What does it mean that faith is a principle of power for God (and not just for mankind)?
Faith is the expressing or manifestation of a deeply held expectation or desire or intention via a word or thought. Implied is that one’s imagination (or “eye of faith”) is being used to visualize this word or thought.
Faith is demonstrated in God’s commandment to the basic elements (really the subatomic energy waves) to organize themselves according to His will or desire; He watched until He was obeyed – He is the grand Observer required in the theory of Quantum Physics.
Action happens because the cosmic element or energy (or intelligence) obeys the command of God; it is faith on God’s part because they haven’t obeyed Him in that request at the time He makes it; He exercises faith in His ability to command the elements and that they will comply with His will.
What is implied by the fact that one of God’s primary attributes is faith and that He used faith to frame the worlds?
If He used faith, it means that while time doesn’t exist for God the way it does for us and while all things in this universe are before His face, that there is still some element of time or linear events or in some sense things are “future” to Him such that He has to exercise faith when He speaks the word and commands the elements to obey Him; perhaps He sees only what was, is and will happen in this eternity (and past eternities) but not future eternities; or perhaps “time” as we understand it now is not at all how it is manifested in the heavens, such that this statement can be true.
READ LoF 1:17-21
How is faith a principle of power for mankind, too?
Man can affect the physical realm to the degree s/he has it within their sphere of influence to control.
Man ONLY has power to affect the spiritual realm to the degree that they understand and see the cause and effect relationship between the two, or have received God’s will and attempt to accomplish it (see Helaman 10:4-7), or if they are able to influence the Councils of Heaven, which requires them being invited to said councils or having an advocate represent them.
Those who have been given the sealing power must also abide by the will of the Lord – the Lord will not honor them if they are freelancing, as they will lose their power or incur some judgement or curse if they do choose to freelance.
READ LoF 1:22-24
What does it mean that “chaos heard”?
Chaos is unorganized element or energy; it is “unobserved” and thus not aligned into a specific form; in quantum physics, it is “wavicles” in its “wave” form, as opposed to its particle form, the latter of which has a specific place in time and space with particular elemental attributes.
The implication that “chaos heard” is that this energy has a degree of consciousness and agency (despite it being element to be acted upon).
Some have taught that the energy honors God because of God’s love for all things and His redemptive sacrifice (see Cleon Skousen). Other have taught that this energy is intelligence or spirit or light which proceeds from God because it is part of God, so will obey Him because it is Him (Joseph Smith). Still others teach that wavicles become particles only when observed, so it would require the ability on the part of the observer to comprehend and simultaneously observe all of the energy in the cosmos to be able to organize it (quantum physics). These are not mutually exclusive teachings.
How can mankind gain sufficient faith to stop the sun in its course?
Only after having been ministered to by the Lord Himself, having been given the sealing power with control over the elements, and having been commanded by the Lord to be His tool on earth to perform the miracle could a human gain enough faith to accomplish this miracle.
However, not only are those things possible but those who survive the disasters of the last days and make it to Zion will be called upon to perform great miracles to both protect themselves and their loved ones, as well as to call the world to repentance before the great and terrible day of the coming of the Lord in glory as the Lion of Israel.
This faith must be demonstrated in the last days or all will be utterly wasted at His coming (or won’t even make it to that point).
What is implied by the fact that faith is the first great governing principle which has power, dominion and authority over all things?
God works primarily by faith.
If the energy/elements stopped obeying His commandments, He would cease to be God.
But it/they obey Him because He expects it/them to (He exercises faith) and because of the perfection of His attributes (and the fullness of light which He possesses because of those attributes), of which the perfect love He has for it/them is foremost; we love Him because He first loved us; but we all still have our agency, which He gives to us, which leads to why He must act or command in faith because He will not command in a way which violates faith.
What does it mean that by faith mankind exists?
To exist as a spirit being or organized intelligence in God’s image is to exercise agency – those with the ability and power to act are differentiated from that which can only be acted upon.
Heavenly Father and Mother, in organizing the intelligence that would become mankind, together “held” us in their thoughts, so we could not be controlled by either of them individually, but it was then up to us to exercise our agency and rise up to become their children; if it was not for our own faith, we would not exist as sentient beings.
What does it mean that “by faith mankind is upheld”?
The elements of creation are organized by God and upheld in that organization from moment to moment by God; He commands and they comply after the command is given, which means He must exercise faith that they will comply – and that He can comprehend them all at once, in their entirety.
In quantum physics, God is the “observer” or the one who can comprehend and address all of the elements or energy “wavicles” simultaneously (in part because they are part of Him – they proceed from Him to fill the immensity of space) and command them to take on a particular “super-position” in time and space, and due to His observation (and other attributes), they honor Him and comply.
What does it mean that by faith mankind are changed?
Christ is the prototype of the saved being (see LoF 7:9); to be saved means to be precisely as Christ is and nothing else; Christ would not have been saved unless He was precisely what He is; no one can become precisely as Christ is unless they walk the exact path that Christ walked – it is the pathway to Godhood; Christ testified that He did nothing He had not seen His Father do before Him (see TPJS 390-393).
So, if we are to be changed from our current state to be saved with Christ, we must also walk the exact path He walked.
Thinking about how riddled with sin and darkness mankind is now, it takes a an almost impossibly great act of faith to believe Christ when He promises us that WE can also be saved, or in other words, that we can also become precisely as He is by doing precisely what He has done during some future eternity; but the fact that He is a God of truth and cannot lie or will cease to be God means that somehow He knows (not just assumes) that His promise IS (not just will be) true – and you thought that the implications of time travel in the Marvel Cinematic Universe was mind-bending…