Feast upon the Word Blog

A blog focused on LDS scriptures and teaching

RS/MP Lesson 30: “Valiant in the Cause of Christ” (Joseph Smith Manual)

Posted by joespencer on February 24, 2009

If lesson 29 was a bit on the lighter side, lesson 30 is still lighter. My notes will be minimal, except with regard to one teaching in particular (the first paragraph on p. 355), and even then they will be inconclusive. Needless to say, I’m eager to get on to the much meatier material in lesson 31!

From the Life of Joseph Smith

The introductory section of the lesson covers Joseph’s initial imprisonment in Missouri and the circumstances surrounding it. (It does not go so far as his eventual imprisonment in Liberty.) It also provides a rather shortened version of Parley P. Pratt’s story about Joseph’s silencing of the guards—which is a fantastic story. But it’s most beautiful moment, in my opinion, is a snippet from Joseph’s letter to Emma: “Brother Robinson is chained next to me; he has a true heart and a firm mind. Brother Wight is next, Brother Rigdon next, Hyrum next, Parley next, Amasa next, and thus we are bound together in chains as well as the cords of everlasting love.” (p. 351) Let us all be so doubly bound together!

Teachings of Joseph Smith

One overarching message runs through every teaching in this lesson: doing good leads to glory. The most exultant teaching can be found on page 352, where section 128 of the Doctrine and Covenants is quoted in massively abridged form: “Now, what do we hear in the gospel which we have received? A voice of gladness!”

Now and again, a hint of connected and generally more profound truths emerge in the lesson. I like the phrase that concludes the half paragraph at the top of page 353: people only “break off their sins by righteousness” (prohibitions are best fulfilled when we do the good they seek to enable). And I enjoy Joseph’s emphasis on honesty in the middle of the same page, something there is far too little of among members of the Church—I mean complete, unshaken honesty. Joseph’s emphatic “Zion shall yet live, though she seem to be dead” on the same page resonates with me as well, as does the simple statement on page 356, “You cannot be too good.”

But these are, I think, the high points of the lesson. The remainder, with one exception, is made up of more or less simple (if not at times simplistic) injunctions to general righteousness.

But there is one teaching I would like to take a closer, though ultimately inconclusive, look at: the first paragraph on page 355.

After this instruction . . .

This one teaching too me completely by surprise, principally because it is so emphatically counter to everything Joseph says everywhere else. It reads: “After this instruction, you will be responsible for your own sins; it is a desirable honor that you should so walk before our heavenly Father as to save yourselves; we are all responsible to God for the manner we improve the light and wisdom given by our Lord to enable us to save ourselves.” And here I hope everyone hears the same jarringly dissonant chord in their head that I heard as I first read it!

Save ourselves?

A quick look at the footnote is quite revealing. It immediately points one to the manual’s appendix, page 562, item 3, which vitally reads: “Adding or changing words or phrases. Many of the original notes taken of the Prophet’s sermons are brief, incomplete, and disconnected. In some of these instances, Church historians reconstructed the Prophet’s sermons based on the available records, drawing also upon their memories and experiences with the Prophet. This work sometimes involved adding or changing words or phrases to fill in gaps and clarify meaning.”

That the footnote bothers to send us to this note is important: the teaching cannot be put forward as Joseph’s without at least a word of clarification, or even of warning, that the words are not exactly Joseph’s. So what did Joseph actually teach? Here are the original notes, as found in the Relief Society minutes written by Eliza R. Snow:

“After this instruction, you will be responsible for your own sins. It is an honor to save yourselves—all are responsible to save themselves.” (The Words of Joseph Smith, p.118)

First things first, then, it should be noticed how much this original teaching has been expanded. The first sentence is identical in the notes and the manual version. But the remainder has been changed drastically. “It is an honor to save yourselves” becomes “it is a desirable honor that you should so walk before our heavenly Father as to save yourselves.” And “all are responsible to save themselves” becomes “we are all responsible to God for the manner we improve the light and wisdom given by our Lord to enable us to save ourselves.” These changes greatly modify the meaning of the reported words.

But were these particular changes made according to someone’s memory, as the appendix suggests was sometimes the case? Though it may well have been such elsewhere, it certainly was not the case here: the discourse was given to the Relief Society, and no Church Historians were present at Relief Society meetings. The original notes have been expanded for purposes of clarification, but it remains to be shown that Joseph had anything like the expanded version in mind.

For my own purposes, I am content simply to dismiss the later version and return to what Sister Snow wrote into the Relief Society minutes. But even then, there remains this business of having to save ourselves. So what did Joseph mean?

First, context: Joseph was speaking to the sisters, and at length. His sermon ranges over a number of topics, and it is only towards the end that he makes the announcement that is the first sentence of his teaching: “After this instruction, you will be responsible for your own sins.” This seems straightforward enough. It is a common prophetic act to teach or instruct in such a way that the prophet is no longer responsible for the sins of the people: they have been taught clearly enough that the responsibility for their sins is now their own. No problems, I think, so far.

The next statement, though, is a bit harder to sort out: “It is an honor to save yourselves.” At the very least, this cannot be disconnected from the theme of responsibility: now that the sisters to whom Joseph was speaking have been taught, there is a heavy responsibility on them. It would seem that Joseph wanted to connect that responsibility to salvation itself. But what did Joseph mean by “save yourselves”? Did this have reference to salvation in the “plan of salvation” sense? Was it more limited in scope when it was given in context? Does this sentence in the minutes summarize a whole paragraph of what Joseph had to say? That remains unclear.

The final statement, though still quite obscure, seems rather straightforwardly to universalize the particularity of the statement preceding it: “all are responsible to save themselves.” But does this not contradict in some sense what Joseph says in the first two statements, where it is necessary to be taught in order to assume such responsibility? Again, more of the context and more of what Joseph actually said would be needed to make the clearest sense out of what Joseph said here.

Which means that I am myself rather at a loss as to how to make sense of what Joseph said on this occasion. I would be very interested to know exactly what it was that he taught, since he seems here to be saying something (“We have to save ourselves”!) that is fundamentally at odds with most of what he taught. I trust that whatever Joseph actually said, it would be quite instructive. But I’ll confess I am without resources here. What did Joseph teach?

At any rate, I think the expanded version, severed from its context and attributed to Joseph Smith, is a bit deceptive. (Which is why the manual includes the footnote reference to the appendix. I am not saying that I think the manual or the Church is being deceptive here!) To take Joseph as having once definitively taught that it is up to us to save ourselves—that we are saved by our works, and not by grace—is to do over-hasty work.

But the remainder of the lesson speaks loud and clear in the meanwhile: do good, and glory will follow.

20 Responses to “RS/MP Lesson 30: “Valiant in the Cause of Christ” (Joseph Smith Manual)”

  1. Rameumptom said

    I think the phrase means we have to work out our own salvation. While Christ atones for our sins and resurrects us, we have to put ourselves in the position to be able AND willing to receive the gift of Christ’s grace.
    We cannot blame others for our failure to be saved. We, alone, are responsible for ourselves and our salvation. When we all are brought before the bar of God (Alma 11, Mormon 9), will we stand with confidence in God’s presence, or will we shrink and wish rocks would cover us up to hide us? (Alma 12).

    I think Joseph is referencing accountability here. While Christ actually saves us, we are the ones that have to accept the gift. And accepting the gift is based upon what we’ve become. Some are unwilling to accept the entire gift. Others are unable to receive the entire gift, due to weakness, etc.

    In this sense, we MUST save ourselves. I must be the one to pray, study scriptures, ponder, do good works, receive ordinances, and everything else for ME. I must be the one who accepts Christ and his atonement fully into my life. Otherwise I cannot be saved.

  2. joespencer said

    Rameumptom,

    I think that is nicely put, and I think that is quite likely what Joseph meant: that, in the end, if we are not saved, it will have been because we have chosen not to be. I think the expansion, which I read first, made it difficult to see so simple an interpretation of the original notes.

    Thanks.

  3. JerryYoung said

    Thanks Joe & Rameumptom,
    You reminded me of verse 4 of High On the Mountain Top:
    “For there we shall be taught
    The law that will go forth,
    With truth and wisdom fraught
    To govern all the earth;
    Forever there His ways we’ll tread
    And save ourselves and all our dead.”
    Another example, that Joel Hills Johnson recognized we shall first be taught before we can do the things which help save ourselves and the dead.
    Jerry

  4. […] RS/MP Lesson 30: “Valiant in the Cause of Christ“ […]

  5. Tad said

    Joe, I was struck by a parenthetical statement in your thoughts on this lesson, that: “(prohibitions are best fulfilled when we do the good they seek to enable).” Thoughts like these are why I come back to your lesson blogs.

    I don’t recall ever having someone put it that way. Or, at least I never heard it that way! (Likely I didn’t have ears to hear it.) Could you suggest a church talk, a scripture or a teaching from Joseph or another prophet that aligns with it? Something that expands on that thought. I really would like to further consider prohibitions in the good they seek to enable.

    Thanks,

    Tad

  6. joespencer said

    Thanks, Tad. In some sense, this idea informs every word written by the apostle Paul, and I think that, in the end, it is from him that I get it. But let me dig around a bit and see if there isn’t anywhere else I might point you….

  7. JerryYoung said

    Joe:
    The inspired manual authors had what at first glance was the same topic in #19 which dealt with enduring life’s storms. This lesson #30 is not a repeat and it is important we appreciate the difference. My take on it is in the focus on TESTIMONY.
    Time is short before Sunday and as of now I plan to begin by the emphasizing the difference.
    Again, thanks for your efforts,
    Jerry

  8. joespencer said

    Jerry,

    I think that is a fantastic approach. I’ve very much enjoyed, as often as I’ve found the time to do it well, getting “into the heads” of the creators of this manual. It remains, without question, the best manual the Church has ever produced!

  9. Julie said

    Is being valiant in the Cause of Christ the same thing as being valiant in your Testimony of Christ? What specifically is “the cause of Christ”?

    According to the title of the lesson, I expected it to be about standing firm in the face of opposition, but it feels more about being good and obedient. Perhaps the point is that if you are valiant in your testimony, you will be valiant in the cause?

  10. JerryYoung said

    I am using the Christlike Attribute Activity page from “Preach My Gospel” …. those assure you are going toward the Cause of Christ.

  11. Molly Bennion said

    Julie’s insightful question sparks my comment. I see this lesson as a cry to unite testimony and action. The historical excerpts each demonstrate or call for action. The cause of Christ seems to be our individual development of virtue and talents that we may walk “a holy walk,” “above all, be charitable, always abounding in all good works,” “do good and work righteousness,” “be just,” “be liberal.” To be responsible “for our own sins” involves that “walk” before God. Isn’t that “walk” service, feeding his sheep, and isn’t that his cause? #19 stressed comfort, #31 will enlarge on the theme of peace and endurance, but #30 seems the action plan that we may not only have faith and be but also do.

  12. Cathy said

    “After this instruction, you will be responsible for your own sins. It is an honor to save yourselves—all are responsible to save themselves.” (The Words of Joseph Smith, p.118)

    Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.” (Galatians 6:7-8)

    . . . We know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.” — II Nephi 25:23.

  13. NathanG said

    My wife and I went through the first two sections while we were travelling today. She is teaching tomorrow. One thing that struck me through these early experiences is how much suffering the early saints endured and how suffering seems to be a condition that we don’t really appreciate, or at least that we turn to man to fix (I recognize that many people suffer, but the attitude is that man should be able to take the suffering away). If the injustices in Missouri with the extermination order were to happen today there would be protestors and court cases and we would demand the government on another level step in to intervene. Boycotts of Missouri would be called for. It would not be allowed to happen. If a prisoner had to suffer in those conditions in Liberty there would be government watchdog groups, court cases, news reports, etc. If someone is sick or suffering physically we seek for a pill to cure our woes, and we turn to man’s solutions (for better or for worse). Many of the early saints grew in their faith in Christ as they trusted in him to endure their trials. How do trials or suffering aid in our becoming valiant? I don’t bring this up to suggest we abandon things that make life easier, but I do wonder if our expectations regarding suffering are such that we are less likely to benefit from the experience.

    I think I would also add that it’s easy to focus on enduring to the end and doing good works, but many comments in the first section dealt with trusting in Christ or having faith in Christ or faithful enduring. So the focus should be to do the works that bring us closer to Christ because through Christ and his grace we can endure all things.

  14. Molly Bennion said

    NathanG, It seems to me part of the answer to your good question, how do trials aid in our becoming valiant, is in next week’s lesson. When D & C 122 counsels us “these things shall give thee experience,” isn’t it suggesting experience should yield deepened comprehension of the human condition so that we can be more compassionate and more effective in responding to suffering, our own and that of others? For all the aids we have to prevent and end suffering, there is still plenty of it requiring our creative and thoughtful response. To explain suffering as necessary for chastening, redemption or purification, all found in the scriptures, is to answer your important question differently and, I think, less effectively, than does “experience.”

  15. BrianJ said

    Nathan: I think it’s worth sharing that only a small part of my testimony comes out of personal trials. And the bulk of motivation for me to be valiant is not to avoid the sorrow of vice but to enjoy the fruits of virtue.

  16. NathanG said

    Brian: I feel the same that only a small part of my testimony comes out of personal trials, but probably because I either haven’t had very significant trials (nothing that would be passed throughout the church as a faith-promoting story), or the “trials” I have had aren’t really categorized as trials for me. I say this cautiously because I am not out seeking for experiences like the early Saints experienced. I don’t feel I need to seek for suffering to strengthen my testimony. I like your suggestiong about your motivation to enjoy the fruits of virtue

    Molly: Yes I think experience is a nice word to use and it should help us be more compassionate and help us to respond better to suffering. It should help us be more Christlike, as he descended below all things. And lest we get too self centered, I like to throw in that it should allow us greater trust in Christ and draw us nearer to Christ.

  17. joespencer said

    Great thoughts, all. My apologies for not having had much time this week to keep up on the discussion….

  18. winniemae said

    I just found your site a month or so ago. I give the even numbered lessons and it was a great help for #28.For me, the pattern is the change that occurred after Elijah et all appeared to Joseph and the emphasis changed from building the organization of the church to saving the family of God. Lesson 15 was Establishing the Cause of Zion…this one is Being Valiant in the Cause of Christ. One is the Vehicle…the other the destination. I was also impressed that the isolation of the apostles in Europe was another training school, much like the military trek to Missouri, and the School of the Prophets…all in preparation to gain an understanding of the true relationship between God, Christ, and man, and man’s purpose on earth. I don’t think this lesson is so much about trials, as it is about gaining a perspective that trials are not as burdensome when we recognize the joy of that relationship.

  19. Michelle said

    Something that interested me is Sidney Rigdon, after his share in the trials at Liberty, said he felt his sufferings were greater than the Saviors. I believe if we are humble, our trial sanctify us. If we are not, we can fall into and grow in bitterness which leads to apostasy. Some turn on God altogether, others look for Him elsewhere. Not that I would have been better than S. Rigdon. Who can tell?

    David O’McKay emphasized the joy of living, the ecstasy of life- can we enjoy life when we aren’t where we thought we’d be? Can we be obedient and grateful for what we have when we don’t have our greatest desire? The capacity for eternal perspective.

  20. John Kendall said

    I think the gift of salvation that the Savior has given us can be diveded into three general areas. First – he atoned for our sins. This is a free gift that is given to all. We don’t need to accept it or do anything else to get it. We can’t earn it, or repay the Savior who gave us this gift. Second – the resurrection. All will be raised from the dead and restored to their physical bodies. Again, this is a free gift that cannot be earned. Third – the Savior has taught us how to save ourselves from a life of sin by living his commandments. This requires us to make a choice. This is what Joseph Smith was talking about when he referred to saving ourselves. We not only have to learn the commandments, but after we know them there is a learning process we must go through to live by the light we’ve been given. As Joseph said, we must learn to save ourselves, and he meant we must learn to live the teachings of the Saviour and save ourselves from a life of sin.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

 
%d bloggers like this: