Recently in our COME FOLLOW ME studies we read that a faithful, ordinary saint named Lyman Sherman, who most hadn’t even heard about, was both named by the Lord in canonized scripture and then told “let your soul be at rest concerning your spiritual standing.”
Recently, I was teaching a newly baptized family. Their three-year-old son was actively being three, so the parents were a bit concerned at the continual disruption. I watched as the father enfolded him in his arms and held him while showing him something in a book. The father was obviously troubled by his son’s behavior but never for a moment did he express displeasure to his little son. But his strong arms restricted the activity of the boy, while the book and the father’s encouraging words focused the boy’s attention to something that would interest him and thereby stop the disruptive behavior. It not only worked, and as the boy became enthralled with the book, the father was also able to relax his restrictive, yet loving embrace. We had been talking about their coming temple trip and the purpose of symbolic ordinances. And, there right before me was the perfect example of why our loving Father in Heaven has given us these sacred temple ordinances.
Certainly, there are many purposes for sacred ceremonies by which God marks our “strait and narrow path” forward. Elder Neuenschwander explained that all sacred covenants are introduced by sacred ordinances.[i] Elder Eyring explained, “Every covenant with God is an opportunity to draw closer to him. To anyone who reflects for a moment on what they have already felt of the love of God, to have that bond made stronger and that relationship closer is an irresistible offer.”[ii] Is it possible, then that the ordinances are designed to help us, even when the heavens seem silent for a time, to know our spiritual standing with God as our father? I asked that new member father if he would ever want his son, even when misbehaving, to doubt his love for him? He glanced down at his then peaceful son and nodded, saying, “I hope that he always, even when I am correcting him, will know that I love him so much!!” I thought of Father Adam who had tried to teach his children but competed with satan who:
“…came among them, saying: I am also a son of God; and he commanded them, saying: Believe it not; and they believed it not, and they loved Satan more than God. And men began from that time forth to be carnal, sensual, and devilish”. Moses 5:13
The story of Cain and Abel follow with the ensuing rise and proliferation of secret combinations. A great missionary effort is launched but the division grew. One can imagine the feelings of Father Adam and Mother Eve as they watched this division grow and wickedness proliferate. They had been sent to earth to begin the family plan of happiness only to have satan infiltrate and continue the war he had started in heaven.
55 And thus the works of darkness began to prevail among all the sons of men.
56 And God cursed the earth with a sore curse, and was angry with the wicked, with all the sons of men whom he had made;
57 For they would not hearken unto his voice, nor believe on his Only Begotten Son, even him whom he declared should come in the meridian of time, who was prepared from before the foundation of the world.
58 And thus the Gospel began to be preached, from the beginning, being declared by holy angels sent forth from the presence of God, and by his own voice, and by the gift of the Holy Ghost. Moses 5
Every effort and all divine tools were used to reverse this division among Adam and Eve’s posterity, eventually ending in the flood and a start-over, with Noah and his family. But it is the last verse in this chapter that enlightens our study:
59 And thus all things were confirmed unto Adam, by an holy ordinance, and the Gospel preached, and a decree sent forth, that it should be in the world, until the end thereof; and thus it was. Amen.
Perhaps like Lyman Sherman and Joseph Smith and so many others, God mercifully confirmed unto them their standing with Him. Doctrine and Covenants 113 seems to be one of these moments for Joseph but here with Adam, that confirmation was given “by an holy ordinance.” We might conclude that this is just talking about the process of the great missionary effort, but the next chapter is all about priesthood and parenting and then ends with Adam’s baptism. Can we conclude anything about one of the purposes of ordinances like baptism and the temple?
Another example where God’s confirming came through an ordinance is Genesis 15. Here Abraham is musing over the promise God had given him some five or ten years earlier. He had been promised posterity as numerous as the sands upon the shore. Certainly, Sarai had been thrilled with the prospect since she was in her sixties at the time. With Abraham’s servant about to bear a child he concludes that it will be through servants that posterity will come and be credited to him. We can imagine the discussions Abraham and Sarai must have had over the years of waiting. But the Lord reassures them:
2 And Abram said, Lord God, what wilt thou give me, seeing I go childless, and the steward of my house is this Eliezer of Damascus?
3 And Abram said, Behold, to me thou hast given no seed: and, lo, one born in my house is mine heir.
4 And, behold, the word of the Lord came unto him, saying, This shall not be thine heir; but he that shall come forth out of thine own bowels shall be thine heir.
God then invites Abram outside the tent. Once outside God points him heavenward and invites him to count the stars telling him that it would represent the number of his posterity. Now after waiting so many years since the last grains of sand metaphor, it is a powerful indication of Abram’s faith that:
6 And he believed in the Lord; and he counted it to him for righteousness.
But a change of metaphor is hardly sufficient to reassure Sarai who sleeps barren and undoubtedly forlorn over her sterility since receiving a child was to a Hebrew woman, God’s reassurance of her worthiness before Him. So, after some discussion over the rest of the promise, and in spite of the clarity that Abram already believed that Lord, Abram asks:
8 And he said, Lord God, whereby shall I know that I shall inherit it?
Like Adam’s need for confirmation, Abram sought a sign “whereby” he could KNOW. This becomes especially significant and pairs with Adam’s need, in that God’s response was to give Abram an ordinance. And, again like Adam, the ordinance was full of symbols that required interpretation for the confirmation to be understood. Like baptism with its name (willingness to take upon you the name of Christ), sign (water burial and re-birth), and token (weekly renewal of the relationship between covenant makers and the conditions and privileges of the covenant), Abram’s ordinance in Genesis 15 served as the sign “whereby” he could know from then on, that he would inherit the promises. This is followed in Genesis 17 by this venerable couple receiving new names that symbolized their new birth and new roles.[iii] The following chapter recounts Abram then receiving a token to his covenant, one that would renew and represent the renewal of the relationship between the bridegroom and bride of the covenant.
This function of ordinances is wrapped in the symbolism of what the scriptures call “the mysteries.” These are defined as those things which can only be taught by the Holy Ghost through direct revelation.[iv] They are, among other things, God’s way of personally confirming our standing with Him. They are wrapped in symbols so that we will wonder and ask, not just during the ordinance but at any time we feel our standing challenged by those dark places that always accompany trials associated with moving from one spiritual plateau to the next higher level like experienced by Adam[v], Enoch[vi], Abram[vii], Joseph[viii], Moses[ix], Jesus[x], Peter[xi], and Joseph Smith[xii].
Our loving father in heaven wants His children, the disciples of His greatest disciple, to live in the security of His love and competent hand to save them and preserve them through the refining fires of mortality. He has revealed sacred ordinances “by which we can know” of our standing before Him, even in our child-like stumbling. In fact, unless we have that actual knowledge, we will follow so many others off of the “straight and narrow way.”
“Unless they have an actual knowledge that the course they are pursuing is according to the will of God, they will grow weary in their minds and faint…” Joseph Smith, Lectures on Faith, 6
That actual knowledge is available to us anytime we humbly seek revelation through the symbols of the ordinances, whether during sacrament, in the temple, or in our memory.
Elder Holland also noted:
The Lord has probably spoken enough such comforting words to supply the whole universe, it would seem, and yet we see all around us unhappy Latter-day Saints, worried Latter-day Saints, and gloomy Latter-day Saints into whose troubled hearts not one of these innumerable consoling words seems to be allowed to enter. In fact, I think some of us must have that remnant of Puritan heritage still with us that says it is somehow wrong to be comforted or helped, that we are supposed to be miserable about something.
Consider, for example, the Savior’s benediction upon his disciples even as he moved toward the pain and agony of Gethsemane and Calvary. On that very night, the night of the greatest suffering that has ever taken place in the world or that ever will take place, the Savior said, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you. … Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27).
I submit to you, that may be one of the Savior’s commandments that is, even in the hearts of otherwise faithful Latter-day Saints, almost universally disobeyed; and yet I wonder whether our resistance to this invitation could be any more grievous to the Lord’s merciful heart. I can tell you this as a parent: as concerned as I would be if somewhere in their lives one of my children were seriously troubled or unhappy or disobedient, nevertheless I would be infinitely more devastated if I felt that at such a time that child could not trust me to help or thought his or her interest was unimportant to me or unsafe in my care. In that same spirit, I am convinced that none of us can appreciate how deeply it wounds the loving heart of the Savior of the world when he finds that his people do not feel confident in his care or secure in his hands or trust in his commandments.
Just because God is God, just because Christ is Christ, they cannot do other than care for us and bless us and help us if we will but come unto them, approaching their throne of grace in meekness and lowliness of heart. They can’t help but bless us. They have to. It is their nature.[xiii]
[i] By Elder Dennis B. Neuenschwander; “Ordinances and Covenants,” Ensign, Aug. 2001, p22–24
[ii] Henry B. Eyring; Making Covenants with God; September 08, 1996 BYU Fireside
[iii] To the Lord’s covenant people, names – particularly proper names-have always been very important. Adam and Eve themselves bore names that suggested their roles here in mortality (Moses 1:34; 4:26), and, when important covenants were made, men like Abram and Jacob took on new names that signaled a new life as well as a new identity (Genesis 17:5; 32:28). Jeffrey R. Holland, However Long and Hard the Road, p.15
As instances of names changed by divine authority to express added blessings, or special callings consider the following: “Abram,” “Sarai,” “Israel”, “Cephas” (Aramaic) or “Peter” (Greek)… James E. Talmage, Jesus the Christ: A Study of the Messiah and His Mission According to Holy Scriptures Both Ancient and Modern, p.37
[iv] Matthew 13:11 He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given.
DC 76:114-118 114 But great and marvelous are the works of the Lord, and the mysteries of his kingdom which he showed unto us, which surpass all understanding in glory, and in might, and in dominion;
115 Which he commanded us we should not write while we were yet in the Spirit, and are not lawful for man to utter;
116 Neither is man capable to make them known, for they are only to be seen and understood by the power of the Holy Spirit, which God bestows on those who love him, and purify themselves before him;
117 To whom he grants this privilege of seeing and knowing for themselves;
118 That through the power and manifestation of the Spirit, while in the flesh, they may be able to bear his presence in the world of glory.
[v] Moses 5:13-57
[vi] Moses 7:25-26 25 And he saw angels descending out of heaven; and he heard a loud voice saying: Wo, wo be unto the inhabitants of the earth.
26 And he beheld Satan; and he had a great chain in his hand, and it veiled the whole face of the earth with darkness; and he looked up and laughed, and his angels rejoiced.
[vii] Genesis 15:12 And when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and, lo, an horror of great darkness fell upon him.
[viii] Genesis 39:20 20 And Joseph’s master took him, and put him into the prison, a place where the king’s prisoners were bound: and he was there in the prison.
[ix] Moses 1: 12 And it came to pass that when Moses had said these words, behold, Satan came tempting him, saying: Moses, son of man, worship me.
[x] Matthew 4:1-11 The three temptations follow His baptism in Matthew 3 and precede the calling of His apostles later in chapter 4.
[xi] Matthew 16:23 23 But he turned, and said unto Peter, Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men.
This is followed by Matthew 17, the mount of transfiguration
[xii] JSH 1:15 15 After I had retired to the place where I had previously designed to go, having looked around me, and finding myself alone, I kneeled down and began to offer up the desires of my heart to God. I had scarcely done so, when immediately I was seized upon by some power which entirely overcame me, and had such an astonishing influence over me as to bind my tongue so that I could not speak. Thick darkness gathered around me, and it seemed to me for a time as if I were doomed to sudden destruction.