Abiding Precepts

About six months before the Atonement (according to the book of John) Jesus went secretly into Jerusalem and taught in the temple. Those listening questioned His authority:

“How knoweth this man letters, having never learned?”

John 7:15

Jesus’ response is one of His most significant doctrines. He responded:

“If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.”

John 7:17

Jesus is essentially saying:

“I know I haven’t been educated in the system you guys are used to, but don’t let yourselves be blinded to the truth simply because I haven’t gone through your earthly, man made schooling process. If you really want to know whether or not what I have to say comes from God then just try it out! You will know by living the doctrine I teach whether it comes from God or whether I’ve made it up all on my own.”

Since that time too many people to count have followed this guidance and learned for themselves that God lives, that Jesus Christ is His Only Begotten Son, and that by His power we are redeemed from the Fall and can be redeemed from our own sins. Just as many people – perhaps more – have rejected that opportunity and never come to a knowledge of the truth regarding who Jesus really is and what His role in God’s great plan for us is.

But this invitation to test the truth of the doctrine by living it is not limited only to learning about Jesus and His teachings. It applies to all the words ever spoken by anyone claiming to be sent by God with a message for His children. It can, therefore, be applied to Joseph Smith and every aspect of what is known in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as the restoration of the Gospel.

I’ve heard a lot of reactions to and opinions about the Church and Joseph Smith from a lot of different people. Most of them sound very much like the statements made about the Savior above. Some others parallel the objections made by Jewish leaders regarding Jesus during His ministry – leaders who feared more the loss of power, respect, deference, and notoriety among their people than they loved knowing and following God and His truth.

In the millennia since Jesus’ life we haven’t changed all that much. We still have leaders more skeptical of the truth because it isn’t popular or undermines their authority than because they want to live or follow the truth – it’s only where those leaders sit that has changed.

One of the sentiments I’ve often heard expressed about the prophet Joseph Smith by people of faiths other than my own – who often are simply repeating what their ecclesiastical leaders told them – is that he can’t be a true prophet.  This assertion is typically coupled with another well known statement made by Jesus Christ:

“Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.”

(Matthew 7:15)

If you’re wanting to simply dismiss Joseph Smith without another thought it would be easy to stop there and assume that because Jesus warned us to beware of false prophets every person from that point on who comes around claiming to be a prophet must in fact be a false one.

If, however, you happen to be a lover of truth, reading the verses which follow the warning shed some light on what Jesus was really trying to communicate:

“Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?

“Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.

“A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.

“Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.

“Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.”

(Matthew 7:16-20)

So Jesus’ point is not to reject every person coming after Him who claims to be a prophet, but rather to examine the fruits they bear to determine whether or not they are a true prophet sent from God. In context of the scripture passage I mentioned at the start of this post, this means that if we really want to know if a person is a true or false prophet we must attempt to live their teachings and then by doing so we will know if they come from God or from somewhere else.

For those of us still questioning whether or not Joseph Smith saw what he said he saw and was subsequently called by God to be a prophet, I have finally found a way to put the conversation to rest. And this process will accomplish the same work for those of us simply looking to draw closer to God or strengthen our testimony of Jesus Christ or that the Book of Mormon is the word of God. It requires that every person individually does a bit of work in order for us to know for ourselves, but isn’t that what Jesus invited us to do in the first place?

On the 28th of November 1841 Joseph Smith is quoted as saying:

“I told the brethren that the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book.”

Book of Mormon – Introduction, paragraph 6

From this statement, and based on the criteria Jesus set forth for knowing a true prophet from a false one combined with His invitation to live the doctrine as a test for truth, there is a simple way for any person to know for themselves if Joseph Smith was a prophet and if the Book of Mormon is true.

Joseph’s promise is this: That by living the precepts of the Book of Mormon anyone can come closer to God than living by the precepts of any other book (including the Bible).

The test is this: As one of Joseph’s “fruits,” we can test if the Book of Mormon comes from the “true vine” (Jesus Christ – see John 15:1-2) and if Joseph Smith was a true prophet by setting aside any preconceived notions regarding the Book of Mormon, reading it and looking for its precepts, and living by those precepts every day until completing the book.  If in the process of this project you find yourself growing closer to God than you were prior to it then you know the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith were sent by God and that Joseph Smith truly was a prophet.

As one of the projects of this blog (see The Russty Follower of Christ Project) I intend to do just that: read the Book of Mormon and begin to live more perfectly by its precepts than I have before.  Not because of any doubt I may have of the truth of the Book of Mormon or Joseph’s role as a prophet, but because I have a bit of rust I need to clean up in my life and growing closer to God is the only way to go about cleaning it up.

I hope you enjoy the process as I go through the Book of Mormon following the outlined readings in Come Follow Me – For Individuals and Families: Book of Mormon 2020 identifying 5 precepts by which we can live which can bring us closer to Christ and our Father in Heaven in each of the outlined chapters/sections.  I intend to do a post once a week each Sunday night with the precepts found the preceding week during my scripture study, but this may change as the scope of this and other projects may grow.  I hope that in the process many of us will find our path to God become more clear, more direct, and more full of light than it was before.  In short, I hope all of us can clean up a bit of rust out of our lives and faith as a result of putting Joseph Smith and this prophetic statement to the test!

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