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Apostle Arthur A. Oakman

God's Spiritual Universe

By Arthur A. Oakman

Chapter 2
The Latter-day Prophet

We have suggested [in the previous chapter] that there are many different types of prophets, and that accurate foretelling of events in nature or in history may be a normal activity of the human mind. A prophet of the kingdom of God is, however, qualitatively different and infinitely superior to these other prophets. Their divining rods may, upon being cast to the ground, become serpents, only to be swallowed up by the greater power of the prophet whose commission is constituted by the call of the eternal God. Nothing produced by savants serving the kingdoms of this world can survive when confronted by the activity of the servant of the kingdom. All other prophets are inferior in estate and function to the prophet of God.

Joseph Smith, Jr.

Such a prophet was Joseph Smith (1805–1844). His commission was constituted by the call of God—he was confronted by the Creator, and set to work. His work was to tell and foretell. It was to lay a foundation upon which future generations could build. Let us not minimize the importance of the predictive element in his ministry. He foretold, as a seer should, things which did "shortly come to pass" (Civil War, among others). But more than this was required of him. He was "inspired ... to lay the foundation" of his work, and "to move the cause of Zion in mighty power for good."1 He was to enunciate the moral law of the community to be gathered together, and lift its spirit and vision upward and forward to the "day of the Lord." It was an essentially spiritual enterprise in which he was engaged, and its spiritual nature was revealed with startling clarity in the requirements he laid upon the people to use "the things of this world in the manner designed of God."2 No mythical or nebulous Zion would do. It was never contemplated in his commission. From the moment he touched and handled and translated the plates of the Book of Mormon until the day, when "as calm as the summer's morning,"3 he went the eighteen miles to his death in Carthage, Illinois, his concern was that the resources of men and material at his disposal should be mobilized and directed in harmony with the prophetic vision he shared with the church. Thus, as we have constantly affirmed, spirit shows itself in the purposive control it exercises over the material world, and not in theories, philosophies, and systems derived from the reason of carnal man.

He was "called to bring to pass the gathering of mine elect,"4 to a place which "I shall prepare." This was a tremendous enterprise and it involved not only the proclamation of the gospel, but the shifting of people from place to place with all the manifold problems that entailed. In the spirit of his office he sought a community, as did Moses and others of the prophets before him. This community was to "be prepared in all things."5

His life was cut short and his work thereby left unfinished, but it was by no means a failure. In what transpired between 1820 and 1844 we can see clearly the divine intention. We can profitably evaluate the excellencies and the failings of those eventful days, and so continue to build upon the foundation well and truly laid.

His Calling

A true prophet of God finds his life and his commission in the word of God. While reading James 1:5, Joseph Smith was disposed to act out what was advised. "For," he said, "never did any passage of Scripture come with more power to the heart of man than this did at this time to mine." It was in the midst of this divinely actuated conduct that the first vision came to him. When truly uttered, the word of God executed itself, so that what is said is done. Joseph Smith prayed for wisdom. It was a prayer inspired by the spirit of wisdom, and that spirit answered itself with the declaration uttered in a splendor beyond the May sunshine: "This is my beloved Son, hear him."6 This declaration uttered by the Father (not echoed by men) is the essence of wisdom, of a wisdom that is the gift of the Spirit and the need of the world, which by its wisdom is unwise. Men who are fortunate enough to experience this revelation have the power to be made wise—wise unto salvation.

This experience of the boy Joseph was not a passing vision, which somehow he had to remember. It was much more. This vision constituted the initial act by which Christ restored his church to the earth. What Joseph saw was not for himself alone, but for all who could be persuaded to believe his testimony. It was the Eternal Spirit laying again, in the course of time, the foundation, the rock, on which the church was to be restored. God is. Jesus Christ is his Son. That was Joseph's testimony. And such testimony involves all who will believe. It involves them because their belief in the reality of the vision is but another or different function of the Spirit which gave the vision. Both the knowledge of Jesus Christ and belief in the testimony borne by those who have such knowledge are gifts of the Spirit.

The Calling of Other Prophets

This same testimony was acted out in the lives of the prophets—Noah, Moses, Mormon, and others. The testimony of the Father and Son was written also in the lives of the earliest men. Adam's son, Seth, was so like his father, that the only way one could be distinguished from the other was by his age. The identity of Adam and his son was based on a temporal order. So it is with God and Christ. The only distinction between them is based on a temporal manifestation, not on a temporary one, but on a manifestation given in the temporal world. A community dwells at the heart of the universe, and the universe proceeds from that communion—that eternal and holy love which constitutes the Being of God. That is the meaning of the first vision of 1820. And its implication is plain. The vision was also a calling. The calling was determined or wrought by the nature of the vision which revealed community in God. The consciousness of that community and the nature of its existence determined the structure of the church and gave direction to what the prophet was to do. Joseph Smith was taken up into communion with the Father and the Son, and this wrought in his soul such transcendent changes that he could do no other than give himself for the fraternity that he saw clearly must condition the coming kingdom. His vision constituted his calling. His calling shaped his ministry, and his ministry required his life.

Elements in His Theology

a. His Revelation of God

The utterances of the latter-day prophet have this characteristic tone. They point toward the day of the Lord, that day when he shall come to rule and reign in righteousness upon the earth. The revelations each make a distinctive and unique contribution to a prophetic whole. Each one is dependent upon the other, each having a bearing on the other, and all growing out of historical situations in order to create the kind of history which would be in harmony with what they foretold. For prophecy is itself a conditioning factor in what it foretells. Our heavenly Father shares his own vision with us and will for the future in order that we may be inspired to work with him to make it possible. The revelations are an invitation to "assist to bring forth my work"—this "great and marvelous work" which "is about to come forth."7

As we think of the content of the revelations given between 1829 and 1844 we notice their fidelity to what our Lord taught while here. God is one. The first few paragraphs of section seventeen are appropriate in this regard. Under prophetic leadership the church affirms "that there is a God in heaven who is infinite and eternal . . . the same unchangeable God." He gave his Son for the life of the world and sent his Spirit to testify, as the Holy Ghost: "Which Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are one God, infinite and eternal, without end. Amen." This considered statement grew out of experience. It was not the result of a formal course of theological instruction in a seminary, although some theological influences were undoubtedly at work. This one God is holy and utterly righteous, not able to look on sin with the "least degree of allowance," and commanding men to practice virtue and holiness.

b. A Personal God

God is personal and living. He manifests an interest and gives direction to all his creatures. As one reads these early revelations he is amazed at the number and complexity of the intimate details of the church's life in which God is involved. Men make covenant with him and break their covenant (Section 39). Why? (Section 40) Burdens must not be assumed which would prove too heavy to be borne. Temperance is enjoined. An ethical fervor pervades the revelations, but whenever ethical codes or formulas are enunciated, it is always with the feeling that the spirit gives power to perform that which is enjoined. And this is tremendously significant. For without divine help no one can live completely in harmony with the divine law. The expression found in Section 108:10, concerning the redemption of the righteous, reflects a total identification of God with his people—a living, personal God with his people, whom he loves:

And now the year of my redeemed is come, and they shall mention the loving kindness of their Lord, and all that he has bestowed upon them, according to his goodness, and according to his loving kindness, for ever and ever. In all their afflictions he was afflicted. And the angel of his presence saved them; and in his love, and in his pity, he redeemed them, and bare them, and carried them all the days of old.

c. A Creative God

He is the Creator, not only of the "rolling spheres, ineffably sublime," but also of each atom—"for all old things shall pass away, and all things shall become new, even the heaven and the earth, and all the fullness thereof, both men and beasts, the fowls of the air, and the fishes of the sea; and not one hair, neither mote, shall be lost, for it is the workmanship of mine hand" (Doctrine and Covenants 28:6c,d). He is also the father of the faithful. And the parable which illustrates this is significant in that it is associated with the distribution of temporalities, and is given in relation to the "land of your inheritance."

And I have made the earth rich, and, behold it is my footstool: wherefore, again I will stand upon it; and I hold forth and deign to give unto you greater riches, even a land of promise.—Doctrine and Covenants 38:4d.

When we think of the idea of the kingdom as outlined in latter-day revelation, we are astounded at the breadth and depth of Joseph's insight. God is king—that basic fact underlies all else.

But verily I say unto you, that, in time, ye shall have no king nor ruler, for I will be your king and watch over you. Wherefore, hear my voice and follow me, and you shall be a free people, and ye shall have no laws but my laws, when I come, for I am your lawgiver, and what can stay my hand? —Doctrine and Covenants 38:5a and b.

He is fashioning a people, "knowing the calamity which should come upon the inhabitants of the earth,"8 to use them for the salvation of mankind. His people are to prepare a "feast of fat things" and then invite the world to partake. If the world will not partake, then "cometh the day of my power"9 and the lame, the blind, and the halt shall be nourished.

All this teaching is interlocked with human experience. The church is living a life, and guidance is given to its thinking only that the life it is to live may be more easily understood and displayed. There is not the slightest indication in these revelations that Joseph was attempting a reasoned dialectical theology. Yet the insights he expressed are of utmost value in correcting error and helping those who murmur to "learn doctrine."10 As we compare the record of Jesus' ministry with these records of latter days, we are constrained to acknowledge that they constitute one continuous and indivisible whole.

It would require a volume to make all the comparisons possible between the teaching of the New Testament and that of the Doctrine and Covenants. Modern revelation grows out of modern problems. Ancient revelation grew out of ancient problems. But all ancient revelation was once modern, and through both ancient and modern there can be discerned the one God communicating himself to men and shaping history to serve his purpose. Jesus inherited a religious tradition, and he enlarged and extended it. Joseph Smith also, by the same Jesus Christ, restored to the earth those same spiritual concepts, and he, the Spirit, through the prophet, continued his work of enlightening and guiding his people as in former days.

The Vindication of His Calling

Of course we reverence the life and ministry of Joseph Smith. He gave his life for his people. Martyrdom, in this truly Christian sense, is always sacred. But we follow him only as he points us to Jesus Christ, and his utterances have value for us only as they bequeath and extend in our souls the vision of Christ's kingdom. It is his Spirit which we have received through the prophetic ministry which alone conveys and enlarges this vision, and it is the spirit which, true to those from whom he proceeds, safeguards us from false manifestations. Joseph Smith himself asserted that vindication of his calling rested not in his claims to having been called, but in the fruits that calling bore as his testimony rang with truth. Jesus likewise claimed authority because his Father vindicated him in his work. Would a false prophet urge his followers to "become acquainted with all good books,"11 and proceed to lay down a curriculum worthy of any modern university? No. He who sheds light abroad has no need to fear the light already shed abroad.

He rejected many of the creeds of his day as utterly unworthy of a loving Father, and the conscience of men has since vindicated his judgment. He translated the Book of Mormon, which is regarded as Scripture today by well over a million people, and the contents of which are being confirmed by archaeology. Only willful prejudice closes men's eyes to its claim. Thousands of people who are neither literary experts nor scientists have found that book to be true as its sincere testimony vindicates itself in their souls. The Book of Mormon contains prophecies which have been fulfilled since 1829 when it was first translated and given to the world. It contains hundreds of new words never before heard or written in the English language.

He gathered to the church thousands of people during his fourteen brief years, and built cities and communities. At his side were found doctors, lawyers, philosophers, and mathematicians as well as ministers converted from other faiths. All these things he accomplished in the midst of persecution, and at the age of thirty-nine yielded himself in death.

Many years ago our Lord said, "As it was in the days of Noe, so shall it be also in the days of the Son of man."12 In these earlier days a prophet appeared and foretold the end of the age; he built a way of escape from destruction, and gathered to it every necessary living thing through which the purpose of God, temporarily frustrated through wickedness, could be restored and continued. The same divine work is presently going on in our age, thus fulfilling the prophecy of Jesus. The vision has been given. The preaching of it goes forward, and all the while, slowly but surely, the ark of safety is being prepared in the midst of the nations, to which will be gathered every living thing of value, through which the divine purpose must be wrought out. The earlier baptism was by water—and it cleansed the earth. That same element which was used as judgment on wickedness was used also as a means of salvation for the repentant. The eight souls in the ark of Noah were baptized (I Peter 3:19–21). So in our age, in this modern age, those who will adjust their lives to conform to the demands of the prophetic vision, and will be baptized in water, will receive the Holy Ghost and be baptized with fire. Fire will consume the wicked away at Christ's coming, and it is that same fire which will save those who are baptized with it.

One dominant note sounded by Joseph Smith concerns the "approaching end of the age."13 The bulk of the spiritual utterances attributed to him deal with this apocalypse and how men must prepare for it.

and as it is written, Whatsoever ye shall ask in faith, being united in prayer according to my command, ye shall receive; and ye are called to bring to pass the gathering of mine elect, for mine elect hear my voice and harden not their hearts;

wherefore the decree hath gone forth from the Father that they shall be gathered in unto one place, upon the face of this land, to prepare their hearts, and be prepared in all things, against the day when tribulation and desolation are sent forth upon the wicked;

for the hour is nigh, and the day soon at hand, when the earth is ripe; and all the proud, and they that do wickedly, shall be as stubble, and I will burn them up, saith the Lord of Hosts, that wickedness shall not be upon the earth.—Doctrine and Covenants, Section 28:2c,d,e.

Our Lord, too, was at great pains to enlighten his apostles concerning the end. "Behold," he said to them, "I have foretold you all things."14 Such knowledge is certainly as a light in a dark place and, rightly understood, such prophecy exerts determinative influence on character and conduct. It was such foreknowledge which saved the Christian community in A.D. 70 because they remembered the words of Jesus about Jerusalem's destruction being nigh when the city was surrounded by the armies of Titus. Again, "history written before time" supplied the motive and sustained the effort of Noah and his family, who preached for one hundred and twenty years and built an ark. It is important that a people such as we are, under prophetic leadership, should learn to decipher the signs of the times, and as they did anciently, prepare for the revelation which is to come.15

The ark was more than a place of safety for the believers. It was the means by which the divine purpose was to be realized. The calling and election of Israel as a nation, similarly, was to be a means through which all the nations of the earth were to be blessed. Self-preservation may be, as some have said, "the first law of nature," but it is not the first law of the kingdom. The first law of the kingdom is love, not fear, and that love is the motive on which all movements toward the Gathering must be based. Out of this motive comes the utterance predicting the coming of Zion and the great day of the Lord. It is an expression of the divine embodying the divine nature, motivating those who receive it, to endeavor for others what Christ has endeavored for them.

By every biblical canon available to us Joseph Smith is revealed as one of the great prophets of the kingdom. His teaching confirms this assertion. His life together with the quality of his leadership attests it. He laid well and truly the foundations of Zion in the midst of the nations.

Let us continue in reverent care to build upon those foundations.

NOTE:

Elias, the Restorer

There are many references in the Scripture to an Elias who is to restore all things. The New Testament speaks of an Elias who is to restore all things, and he is distinct from the Elias—John the Baptist—who was to prepare the way before the Lord.

That Elias has come already, concerning whom it is written, Behold, I will send my messenger and he shall prepare the way before me. . . . Then the disciples understood that he spake unto them of John the Baptist, and also of another who should come and restore all things.—Matthew 17:11,14, I.V.

Again in the first chapter of John's Gospel, John the Baptist of himself says, "I am not that Elias who was to restore all things." In Section 26 of the Doctrine and Covenants, too, the statement is made that the Lord would again partake of the sacrament with his disciples, "and also with Elias, to whom I have committed the keys of bringing to pass the restoration of all things, or the restorer of all things spoken by the mouth of all the holy prophets since the world began." Our heavenly Father says that he will send his angels before him with a sound of a great trumpet (Mark 13:44, I.V.). Again in Matthew 17:10, Inspired Version, "Elias truly shall first come, and restore all things, as the prophets have written." The word "Elias" seems to be a generic term indicating someone raised up for a special work. It is applied to Jesus Christ, to Elijah, and to John the Baptist. Joseph Smith was, on this showing, an "Elias." So, then, we have an Elias who is to restore all things. Section 26 names in backward order from Jesus to Adam the heads of all the dispensations with the exception of Noah. The inference is that he is mentioned earlier, only as the "Restorer of all things." Noah was engaged in the work of restoring all things during his ministry upon the earth. He it was who gathered into the ark all things that were necessary for the rehabilitation of the world after the flood.

In his "Exegesis of the Priesthood" Apostle Gorner Griffiths quotes the Millennial Star of 1855, pages 310 and 311, where Joseph the Martyr is giving an explanation of the priesthood and the definition of some of the duties therein. This address was given in June, 1839. "The priesthood was first given to Adam; he obtained the first presidency, and held the keys of it from generation to generation. He obtained it in the creation before the world was formed as in Genesis 1:20, 26, and 28. He had dominion given him over every living creature. He is Michael, the archangel spoken of in the Scriptures. Then to Noah, who is Gabriel, he stands next in authority to Adam in the priesthood; he was called of God to this office, and was the father of all living in his day, and to him was given the dominion. These men held keys first on earth and then in heaven. The priesthood is an everlasting principle."

It seems reasonable to infer, and it is my considered opinion, that Noah is the restorer of all things and furthermore is Gabriel, the archangel, mentioned in the Scriptures. The Restorer visited Elizabeth the mother of the Baptist, and ordained John to his ministry. (See Doctrine and Covenants 26:2; Luke 1:11–19; Doctrine and Covenants 83:4.)

  1. Doctrine and Covenants 19:1, 2
  2. Ibid., 128:8
  3. Ibid., 113:4
  4. Ibid., 28:2
  5. Ibid.
  6. Church History, Volume I, page 9
  7. Doctrine and Covenants 10:1, 4
  8. Ibid., 1:4
  9. Ibid., 58:3
  10. Isaiah 29:32 (I.V.)
  11. Doctrine and Covenants 87:5
  12. Luke 17:26, 27
  13. See Note at end of Chapter
  14. Mark 13:23 (King James)
  15. Doctrine and Covenants 98:5a

 

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