Biblical Keys for Discerning True and False Prophets/Considering Joseph Smith/Living with Differences and Uncertainty

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Living with Differences and Uncertainty

“by proving contraries, truth is made manifest”
(Joseph Smith to Daniel Rupp., June 1844)

Earlier in this study, I quoted to apparently contradictory scriptures from the New Testament.

Matthew 12:30
He that is not with me is against me; he that gathered not with me, scattereth abroad.
Compare Mark 9:38-41
But Jesus said, forbid him not: for there is no man which shall do a miracle in my name that can lightly speak evil of me. For he that is not against us is on our part.

I noted that the apparent contradiction can be reconciled if we read each passage in context. The passage in Matthew shows Jesus calling his appointed apostles, and commencing the work of preaching and gathering. The passage in Mark shows Jesus urging his apostles to accept the virtue and goodness of those “who followed” not. The same apparent difference, and the same contextual solution appears in the teachings of Joseph Smith.

In the accounts of his first vision, Joseph Smith reported that Jesus told him that he was to join none of the sects, “for they were all wrong” that “all their creeds were an abomination in his sight” (Joseph Smith History, 1:19).

On several occasions, Joseph explained how he understood the problem with creeds:

I cannot believe in any of the creeds of the different denominations, because they all have some things in them I cannot subscribe to, though all of them have some truth. I want to come up into the presence of God, and learn all things; but the creeds set up stakes, and say, "Hitherto shalt thou come, and no further;" which I cannot subscribe to.

Not only does Joseph assert that “all of them have some truth” here, but in a similar discussion on creeds, he added “It does not prove that a man is not a good man because he errs in doctrine.”

While the vision accounts are personal reminiscences, given at different times, the first section of the Doctrine and Covenants contains a formal revelation, declaring the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to be “the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth, which I, the Lord, am well pleased, speaking unto the church collectively, and not individually.” D&C 1 as a whole explains that along with this distinction, though God has called Joseph Smith for a great work, he has also spoken to “others” and is “no respecter of persons,” and is “willing to make these things known unto all flesh.” The revelation says of LDS leaders that “inasmuch as they have erred, it might be made known.” This should set our expectations, and hence, the way we go about testing. We should see neither truth, nor virtue as exclusive to, nor excluded from the LDS gathering. The distinction is expressly of “well pleas[ingness]” relative to priesthood, revelation, ordinances, covenants, and fullness of the Gospel.

Regarding those who rejected his claims, Joseph Smith commented that:

If I esteem mankind to be in error, shall I bear them down? No. I will lift them up, and in their own way too, if I cannot persuade them my way is better; and I will not seek to compel any man to believe as I do, only by the force of reasoning, for truth will cut its own way. Do you believe in Jesus Christ and the Gospel of salvation which he revealed? So do I. Christians should cease wrangling and contending with each other, and cultivate the principles of union and friendship in their midst; and they will do it before the millennium can be ushered in and Christ takes possession of His kingdom.

In another discourse he offered this:

The great designs of God in relation to the salvation of the human family, are very little understood by the professedly wise and intelligent generation in which we live. Various and conflicting are the opinions of men concerning the plan of salvation, the requisitions of the Almighty, the necessary preparations for heaven, the state and condition of departed spirits, and the happiness or misery that is consequent upon the practice of righteousness and iniquity according to their several notions of virtue and vice.
But while one portion of the human race is judging and condemning the other without mercy, the Great Parent of the universe looks upon the whole of the human family with a fatherly care and paternal regard; He views them as His offspring, and without any of those contracted feelings that influence the children of man, causes "His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust." He holds the reins of judgment in His hands; He is a wise Lawgiver, and will judge all men, not according to the narrow, contracted notions of men, but, "according to the deeds done in the body whether they be good or evil," or whether these deeds were done in England, America, Spain, Turkey, or India. He will judge them, "not according to what they have not, but according to what they have," those who have lived without law, will be judged without law, and those who have a law, will by judged by that law. We need not doubt the wisdom and intelligence of the Great Jehovah; He will award judgment or mercy to all nations according to their several deserts, their means of obtaining intelligence, the laws by which they are governed, the facilities afforded them of obtaining correct information, and His inscrutable designs in relation to the human family; and when the designs of God shall be made manifest, and the curtain of futurity be withdrawn, we shall all of us eventually have to confess that the Judge of all the earth has done right.

The one place for certainty comes from the same source that Joseph Smith sought and found it.

If any of ye lack wisdom, let him ask of God, who upbraideth not, but giveth to all men liberally. (James 1:5).