Friday, April 06, 2007

King Follet and Fundamentals of the Gospel

When a friend died in an accident while building a well, it gave Joseph Smith the opportunity to preach about what he learned from all the years of study and revelation. He gave a concise presentation of Salvation and the ultimate possibilities of the faithful. Most readers focus on the deeper points of his presentation, while sometimes ignoring the basics of the gospel spread throughout. Despite the complicated theology he expounded, it was at its core a testimony of the life, death, atonement and resurrection of Jesus Christ. What might cause someone to ingore this part of the sermon is the focus on the nature of God the Father in expounding the Salvation of humanity.

At the center of this exploritory testimony is the words of John who said, "This is life eternal that they might know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent." (John 17:3) Some might at first think this refers to learning the theology of God and Jesus Christ by the study of the Scriptures. It is only the start of knowledge, Joseph Smith says, but ultimately the idea goes farther than that. To really know God and Jesus Christ is to have revelations about them and only by that can a person have eternal life. He implied that to know God is to have received a witness of Him. Those who don't, no matter what they preach and teach, can't be any different from what they call Joseph Smith: false prophet (Scriptural Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, Ed. by Joseph F. Smith and Annot. by Richard C. Galbraith, pg. 388 -389).

By understanding God we can understand ourselves. This is because, like Him and His Son Jesus Christ, we are eternal and of the same family. At first this might sound like mere isoteria to be pondered as if a great new secret. But, Joseph Smith doesn't simply say this to confound centuries of Christian dogma. Learning about the eternity of everything is the key to understanding the possibility of the Resurrection. Using the classic example of an uncut ring, he states, "That which has a beggining may have an end." (pg 397). Most of his sermon focuses on the Spirit, but he also says, "Element had an existance from the time [God] had . . . They had no beginning, and can have no end" (pg. 395). It is the eternal nature of both Spirit, Intelligence, and Elements that an eternal Resurrection is made logically possible. Putting them together makes an eternal Soul.

It is with the Gospel of Jesus Christ that Salvation is made possible. However, Joseph Smith ties this in with Jesus Christ's proclomation that if you have seen him you have seen the Father. Not actually stating that, but most likely having that in mind, he combines the nature of God, the nature of Jesus Christ, and the nature of humanity in a single stroke. He states, "God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens! That is the great secret" (pg. 390). Later, he continues:
What did Jesus say? (Mark it, Elder Rigdon!) The Scriptures infrom us that Jesus said, As the father hath power in Himself, even so hath the Son power - to do what? Why, what the Father did. The answer is obvious - in a manner to lay down His body and take it up again. Jesus, what are you going to do? To lay down my life as my Father did, and take it up again.

Not only that, but just as Jesus (as the Scriptures say) went from grace to grace, God also did the same. And, to put our own possible destiny in perspective, we must follow after Jesus Christ as he did the Father in progression. It is this way that we can attain Eternal Life in the Resurrection (pg. 391). God is essentially like us, having lived, died, and resurrected in like manner as Jesus Christ who makes our own Salvation possible. The major unanswered question is if God is more like Jesus as Savior or ourselves as mere mortals. Still, the idea is that we are, essentially, Children of God:
The gods in Joseph Smith's heaven are not distinct, willful personalities pursuing their own purposes. The Christian trinity was Joseph's model; the gods are one as Christ and the Father are one, distinct personalities unified in purpose and will . . . The way to become a god was to conform to the order of heaven and receive light and truth. The unity and order Joseph strove to instill in the Church was a type of the higher unity among the gods in their heavens.
- Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling, Richard L. Bushman, pg. 535.

Sometimes it is clear that what we have of the King Follet Sermon is not complete. Thoughts and ideas are fleshed out one place, and disjointed and incomplete in others. This isn't surprising considering it actually lasted two hours. We are probably lucky to have a third of what he said. This is important because one of the sections is about the Baptism of the Water and the Spirit as taught by Jesus Christ . Considering that the sermon is about the Exaltation of the Resurrection, it is not surprising that it would be mentioned. Joseph Smith's concern is that many teach only the Baptism of Water and reject or ignore the Baptism of Spirit; both essential to understanding Salvation. (pg. 405). Hazarding a guess, it is most like connected to the idea of the eternal nature of both the body and the spirit to create an eternal soul. Where it is well known that Baptism of Water represents the Resurrection of the body, Joseph seems to indicate that Baptism of the Spirit represents the Resurrection of the other part of our eternal self. Leaving one or the other aside is to leave the, "principles of the doctrine of Christ," that would, "let us go on unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, of the doctrine baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. And this will we do, if God permit. (Heb. 6: 1-3).

We are viewed in this life by God as if we are already in eternity. That is why we must think of the dead while we think of our own Salvation as if we are not actually living in mortality. It is in this way that we participate in the Atonement of Jesus Christ, that is actually the work of God (pg. 399). This Salvation goes beyond the grave and into the eternal spiritual worlds where work continues among those who have died without the Gospel. (pg. 400) In effect, we become one with Jesus the Savior who has become one with The Father by participating in extending the basic ordinances of the gospel. And it is this that, "What have we to console us in relation to the dead? . . . for we have seen them walk worthily in our midst, and seen them sink asleep in the arms of Jesus; and those who have died in the faith are now in the celestial kingdom of God" (pg. 403). Our faith in the Salvation and Resurrection of Jesus Christ is our hope.


JayFlow22 said...

The King Follet Sermon used to be a real problem with me as I was investigating the Church, but after further reading and studying has grown to be more proof to me that Joseph Smith could commune with God and was revealed some mighty things that had yet to have entered into the minds of other religious thinkers.

Jettboy said...

I think the biggest problem for us today is that we only have a part of the sermon, especially from various sources. That can make it hard to interpret everything. However, when I researched for this post it became easy for me to understand his message. Understanding Joseph Smith's past revelations and teachings made the Sermon rather coherent by filling in some of the questions.

To be honest, this is not one of my favorite sermons of his. It just happens to bring a lot of what he was teaching together into a sort of concise overview. Some of the sections in the Doctrine and Covenants about Priesthood are a lot more amazing.

Drew said...

This sermon among many others has served as spiritual proof that Joseph Smith was a Prophet of God.

Honestly, I don't know where I would be today without the true doctrine of eternal life and exaltation.