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Quotations from modern prophets on Freedom and Obedience, and on being an individual in the eternities

see also: Freedom
General Conference (the 'mask of Mormonism')
For 'solving our own problems,' see the page about being converted


I believe that I have reported these words fairly and without distorting them. However, I am not the world's prophet. This page does not constitute an official summary of revealed truth. (NB, some of these passages assume you are already familiar with the restored gospel.)

I have argued elsewhere that faith is entirely reasonable and rational. Faith is the first principle of the gospel, and the foundation for all the others. Every other principle is also reasonable and rational (bearing in mind of course the limits of the human intellect, and the need to learn from someone who knows more).

"Unity" only refers to ordinances and covenants

"I remember when President J. Reuben Clark, Jr., as a counselor in the First Presidency, would stand at this pulpit and plead for unity among the priesthood. I think he was not asking that we give up our individual personalities and become as robots cast from a single mold. I am confident he was not asking that we cease to think, to meditate, to ponder as individuals. I think he was telling us that if we are to assist in moving forward the work of God, we must carry in our hearts a united conviction concerning the great basic foundation stones of our faith. . . . If we are to assist in moving forward the work of God, we must carry in our hearts a united conviction that the ordinances and covenants of this work are eternal and everlasting in their consequences." - Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley, p. 672

"Every man … must answer to his own reason and to his own moral conscience. Anything less than this would betray his dignity as a human being and a child of God."

Hugh B. Brown, Improvement Era, June 1970, p.76: "Faith is the ground of all religion, but there is no special virtue in blind faith. Only faith that is grounded in a courageous search for truth is worthy of the student. We should reject every temptation to irrationality, overcome every inclination to disregard or distort the facts, avoid the extremes of fanaticism, and above all else, demand the truth. Here is the firm foundation for our religion -- a religion that describes the glory of God as intelligence and proclaims that man is saved no faster than he gains knowledge." ...

"Just as the truths of science must be tested and verified by reason and factual investigation, so the moral and spiritual truths which the world is seeking from its prophets must be proved and validated in the experience of men. In his search for truth, every man must be true to himself. He must answer to his own reason and to his own moral conscience. Anything less than this would betray his dignity as a human being and a child of God. True dignity is never won by place, and it is never lost when honors are withdrawn. Especially in the realms of spiritual and religious endeavor where faith ventures into untried fields, truth must meet the test of unbelief and endure the fires of persecution, opposition, rejection, and hatred. Truth crushed to earth shall rise again."

Each of us has always existed, as independent beings. If we are not independent, then effectively we do not exist.

Doctrine and Covenants 93:29-32:

"Man was also in the beginning with God. Intelligence, or the light of truth, was not created or made, neither indeed can be.

"All truth is independent in that sphere in which God has placed it, to act for itself, as all intelligence also; otherwise there is no existence.

"Behold, here is the agency of man, and here is the condemnation of man; because that which was from the beginning is plainly manifest unto them, and they receive not the light. And every man whose spirit receiveth not the light is under condemnation."

The desire for obedience is the natural result of a clearer understanding

Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, Section Two. p.49:
"We deem it a just principle, and it is one of the forces of which we believe ought to be duly considered by every individual, that all men are created equal, and that all have the privilege of thinking for themselves upon all matters relative to conscience. . . . We consider that God has created man with a mind capable of instruction, and a faculty which may be enlarged in proportion to the heed and diligence given to the light communicated from heaven to the intellect; and that the nearer man approaches perfection, the clearer are his views, and the greater his enjoyments, till he has overcome the evils of his life and lost every desire for sin; and like the ancients, arrives at that point of faith where he is wrapped in the power and glory of his Maker and is caught up to dwell with Him. But we consider that this is a station to which no man ever arrived in a moment: he must have been instructed in the government and laws of that kingdom by proper degrees, until his mind is capable in some measure of comprehending the propriety, justice, equality, and consistency of the same."

How God works with man

God only teaches us the minimum necessary. We are supposed to think for ourselves. Then, when we choose the best we can, he does not say "you are wrong." He supports us and helps us, if we let him. President Harold B Lee commented on this, when discussing how the Brother of Jared asked the Lord for lights for his boats (in Ether chapter 3). This is from Harold B Lee, "Stand Ye In Holy Places" p.243:

"Notice how the Lord dealt with this question. He said to the brother of Jared, 'What will ye that I should do that ye may have light in your vessels?' (Ether 2:23) -- as much as to say, 'Well, have you any good ideas? What would you suggest that we should do in order to have light?' . . .

"Then, the Lord went away and left him alone. It was as though the Lord were saying to him, 'Look, I gave you a mind to think with, and I gave you agency to use it. Now you do all you can to help yourself with this problem; and then, after you've done all you can, I'll step in to help you.' "

[President Lee then observed how the Brother of Jared confessed his sins]

"This is the principle in action. If you want the blessing, don't just kneel down and pray about it. Prepare yourselves in every conceivable way you can in order to make yourselves worthy to receive the blessing you seek."

Even though we seldom choose the best, God wants to give us what we ask

As the Brother of Jared said to the Lord:

"We know that thou are holy and dwellest in the heavens, and that we are unworthy before thee; because of the fall our natures have become evil continually; nevertheless, O Lord, thou hast given us a commandment that we must call upon thee, that from thee we may receive according to our desires." - Ether 3:2

This is further illustrated in the famous section nine of the Doctrine and Covenants. Oliver Cowdery had desired to translate. The Lord had not told him to translate, but he wanted to do it anyway. You could look on this as interfering with someone else's calling. Yet, instead of rejecting his uninspired request, the Lord was prepared to grant his request - if only Oliver put in the necessary work.

How the Holy Ghost guides us

The Holy Ghost is available at all times if we are righteous. But it is often right for us to make our own decisions.

According to "Mormon Doctrine," the Gift of the Holy Ghost, "President Joseph F. Smith said, 'simply confers upon a man the right to receive at any time, when he is worthy of it and desires it, the power and light of truth of the Holy Ghost, although he may often be left to his own spirit and judgment.' (Gospel Doctrine, 5th ed., pp. 60-61.) . . . Even a righteous person is often left to himself so that he does not at all times enjoy the promptings of revelation and light from the Holy Ghost."

How the Light of Christ works

Everyone has a conscience - part of him that responds to the light of Christ. If we respond to that light, are we letting someone else make decisions for us? No. The decision is always ours. The light simply helps us to see things more clearly. But we do the judging. As Moroni chapter 7 explains:

"For behold, my brethren, it is given unto you to judge, that ye may know good from evil; and the way to judge is as plain, that ye may know with a perfect knowledge, as the daylight is from the dark night. For behold, the Spirit of Christ is given to every man, that he may know good from evil; wherefore, I show unto you the way to judge; for every thing which inviteth to do good, and to persuade to believe in Christ, is sent forth by the power and gift of Christ; wherefore ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of God."

[Notice that this is an intellectual judgment]

"But whatsoever thing persuadeth men to do evil, and believe not in Christ, and deny him, and serve not God, then ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of the devil; for after this manner doth the devil work, for he persuadeth no man to do good, no, not one; neither do his angels; neither do they who subject themselves unto him. And now, my brethren, seeing that ye know the light by which ye may judge, which light is the light of Christ, see that ye do not judge wrongfully; for with that same judgment which ye judge ye shall also be judged."

Can it ever be right to ignore or disregard counsel?

It is all very well saying that we will only get limited instructions. But if you add up all the guidance from church leaders involving all areas of our lives, that is A LOT of instructions. Enough to keep you busy your whole life, and more. So, can you righteously disregard any of it?

Not disregard, no. But sometimes we must knowingly let "the weightier matters of the law" take precedence over other things we have been commanded to do.

A common example:

The scriptures teach us to go to bed early and arise early. The scriptures represent this as an absolute requirement, with no exceptions. Yet people - no doubt including prophets - occasionally have to go to bed late for some reason.

An extreme example:

Most people are familiar with Nephi killing Laban (or Moses having various criminals or enemies killed), even though the command "thou shalt not kill" was well known.

A well established example:

Sometimes higher laws take precedence over lower laws. This happens whenever there is a miracle - a lower law appears to be broken, when in fact a higher law takes precedence.

The most famous example - the ox in the ditch:

Most Christians remember Jesus' teachings on the Sabbath. He never broke the Sabbath - indeed, he promoted all of the ten commandments. But he made the common sense observation that if your ox falls into a pit on the Sabbath day, you pull him out. You do not wring your hands about the day of rest while your poor animal dies!

How important are our talents?

God gives everyone different talents, or spiritual gifts. Our talents are what make us different. We should improve our talents in every area. But does that mean that we should spend more time on the things we do badly, and less time doing things we do well? It seems to me that God does allow us to specialize to some degree.

Brigham Young said (JD, vol.8, p.346):
"If you give anything for the building up of the kingdom of God, give the best you have. What is the best thing you have to devote to the kingdom of God? It is the talents God has given you. How many? Every one of them. What beautiful talents! What a beautiful gift! It is more precious than fine gold that I can stand here and give you my ideas, and you can rise up and tell me what you think and feel, and thus exchange our ideas. It is one of the precious gifts bestowed upon human beings."

And in JD, vol.8, p.292:
"We own nothing but the talents God has given to us to improve upon, to show him what we will do with them."

President Benson (Teachings, p.220) said:
"Every activity or experience for the quorum ought to be tailored to develop a young man's faith, talents, and abilities."

And on page 484:
"What will you choose for a career? What will your work be? It has been said that no one is born into this world whose work is not born with him or her. We bring from our premortal state various talents and abilities. We strive to find the right wife, and it is our responsibility to strive to find where we can make a contribution to our fellowman -- an area where we have some interest and abilities and where we can, at the same time, provide for our own."

But what counts as a talent? Music, compassion, obviously. But what about being a writer of non-fiction? What about being a researcher? In the October 1998 General Conference, the General Relief Society President stated that:

"Our talents are developed as we are called upon to serve. If we will faithfully accept the call, hidden talents will be discovered, such as love, compassion, discernment, being a good friend, peacemaker, teacher, leader, homemaker, writer, researcher - these are all talents."

(Note that she did not limit "researcher" to "genealogist.")

Do righteous immortal beings specialize according to talents?

Our Heavenly Father is the father of our spirits. And he does some fatherly things that Jesus Christ does not - for example, we pray to the Father, and not to Jesus.

The Lord Jesus Christ was the first born spirit son of God, and is our Savior. Is this a coincidence? Or perhaps his unique experience made him better suited to this most important role.

The Holy Ghost does not have a body of flesh and bones - so presumably he has never been born into mortality. Why does he have this role? The prophets teach that our mortal roles were decided in the pre-existence, based on the talents we had developed there. So presumably the Holy Ghost is also fulfilling the role he is best suited for.

Michael the archangel (Adam) seems to have a very specialized role (assisting nations) that grows naturally from his mortal role as father of the human race.

Gabriel (Noah) seems to have a very specialized role (preparing for great events) that grow naturally from his mortal role of preparing for the Flood.

Moses was prepared for his mortal role by being trained in Pharaoh's court. With his great experience of the twelve tribes of Israel, he was given the keys of their gathering in the last days (Doctrine and Covenants 110:11).

It does seem that our talents in the pre-mortal life determine our work in this life. Our talents before joining the church influence our work after joining the church (hence Moses, Brigham Young, John Taylor, etc.) And our talents while members of the church in mortality influence our righteous role in the next life.

How important are the programs?

Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson (April 1986 conference): "Young men, take full advantage of the Church programs. Set your goals to attain excellence in the achievement programs of the Church. Earn the Duty to God Award -- one of our most significant priesthood awards. Become an Eagle Scout -- do not settle for mediocrity in the great Scouting program of the Church."

Does this mean that for every young man, Eagle Scouting is essential to salvation? Even to the young man who would rather study the violin or go on missionary splits? No, but in the vast majority of cases it does. For example: the Osmond singers, at the height of their fame, were counseled to not go on missions – they did more good by singing. But that is the only example I have ever heard of where a worthy young man was told "don't go on a mission."

President Benson (April 1965 conference): "Usually the Lord gives us the overall objectives to be accomplished and some guidelines to follow, but He expects us to work out most of the details and methods. The methods and procedures are usually developed through study and prayer and by living so that we can obtain and follow the promptings of the Spirit. Less spiritually advanced people, such as those in the days of Moses, had to be commanded in many things. Today those spiritually alert look at the objectives, check the guidelines laid down by the Lord and His prophets, and then prayerfully act -- without having to be commanded 'in all things' (D&C 58:26). This attitude prepares men for godhood."

"The overall objective to be accomplished in missionary work, temple work, providing for the needy, and bringing up our children in righteousness has always been the same; only our methods to accomplish these objectives have varied. Any faithful member in this dispensation, no matter when he lived, could have found righteous methods to have carried out these objectives without having to wait for the latest, specific church-wide program."

Initiative is essential to salvation

President Benson wrote, regarding supporting the American constitution: "The last neutralizer that the devil uses most effectively is simply this: 'Don't do anything in the fight for freedom until the Church sets up its own specific program to save the Constitution.' This brings us right back to the scripture about the slothful servants who will not do anything until they are 'compelled in all things' (D&C 58:26). Maybe the Lord will never set up a specific Church program for the purpose of saving the Constitution. Perhaps if He set one up at this time it might split the Church asunder, and perhaps He does not want that to happen yet, for not all the wheat and tares are fully ripe (D&C 86:5-7)." (CR April 1965, Improvement Era 68 [June 1965]: 537-39.)

Bruce R. McConkie, Doctrinal New Testament Commentary: "The saints are expected to try and better their circumstances in temporal and spiritual matters, in social and governmental affairs, and in all things. Initiative in choosing and advocating proper causes is essential to salvation. [he then quoted Doctrine & Covenants 58:26-29.]"

We will not be commanded in all things

Doctrine and Covenants 58:26-30:
"For behold, it is not meet that I should command in all things; for he that is compelled in all things, the same is a slothful and not a wise servant; wherefore he receiveth no reward. Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness; For the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves. And inasmuch as men do good they shall in nowise lose their reward."

On many decisions, "it matters not" which course we choose

DC 27:2: "For, behold, I say unto you, that it mattereth not what ye shall eat or what ye shall drink when ye partake of the sacrament, if it so be that ye do it with an eye single to my glory--remembering unto the Father my body which was laid down for you, and my blood which was shed for the remission of your sins."

DC 60:5: "But, verily, I will speak unto you concerning your journey unto the land from whence you came. Let there be a craft made, or bought, as seemeth you good, it mattereth not unto me, and take your journey speedily for the place which is called St. Louis."

DC 61:22: "And it mattereth not unto me, after a little, if it so be that they fill their mission, whether they go by water or by land; let this be as it is made known unto them according to their judgments hereafter."

DC 62:5: "And then you may return to bear record, yea, even altogether, or two by two, as seemeth you good, it mattereth not unto me; only be faithful, and declare glad tidings unto the inhabitants of the earth, or among the congregations of the wicked."

DC 63:40: "And let all the moneys which can be spared, it mattereth not unto me whether it be little or much, be sent up unto the land of Zion, unto them whom I have appointed to receive."

DC 80:3: "Wherefore, go ye and preach my gospel, whether to the north or to the south, to the east or to the west, it mattereth not, for ye cannot go amiss."

An example of where instructions include great flexibility:
Finding a better way to do missionary work

The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, p.572: "I remember when I started in my family life, we were raising alfalfa almost totally in the valley where I lived. Alfalfa was our main crop. We also had grain and such, but cotton came into the program, so we all plowed up our alfalfa fields and put them into cotton. We could get a great deal more per acre by raising cotton than we could alfalfa. We had to return to alfalfa once in a while because it enriched the soil and we needed the alfalfa once in a while to do that; but consistent with every good reason, we grew cotton because it brought us more money to take care of our family. That is the way it is in missionary work. There is always a better way to do it. Always something that will be more efficient to use, some plan, organization or otherwise, and that we continue to pray for. (78-30)...

"Missionaries should take initiative. Someone has said that initiative is doing the right thing at the right time without having to be told. What a thrilling thing it is to see an aggressive, resourceful, willing, untiring, well-directed, spiritual [stake] missionary who can do the right things on his own initiative and keep on doing them to the end. (67-11)"

More recently, in the October 1998 General Conference, Elder Eyring made a similar statement. He observed that we are to warn our neighbours, but our neighbours usually do not see any danger. So, he suggests, a solution is to love and warm them into the gospel. He did not say that socializing people into the church was the basic command, but simply the apparently reasonable way of going about a different command - warning people. It is a wise and sensible program, but not the only way to do it. It is just chosen because it seems like the best way at the time.

Be effective - not just busy

The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, p.491: "Please, priesthood brethren, do not get so busy trying to manage Church programs that you forget these basic duties in what the apostle James described as 'pure religion and undefiled.' (James 1:27.) (78-25)

"Be careful with time. Just as the bishop takes care that no more funds are expended from the ward budget than have been budgeted for each organization, so he should be the chief budget officer in monitoring local expenditure of the time of Church members. In both cases, he must always keep the budget in balance.

"The measured flexibility we are giving you is to help you to use your time more effectively in serving the Saints. There is a difference between being 'anxiously engaged' and busy work. (78-04)

"Fathers and mothers, we must 'come back home.' We must sacrifice some of our other interests, and organize our Church programs better so that both parents and youth will not be away from the home so much of the time. We must get more people to work in the Church so that the burden will not fall so heavily on the few. Then we must organize and do the maximum possible in the minimum amount of time, so that there can be more proper home life. (MF 256)

"We need at times to strive to focus on the basic purposes of our work so that mere busyness does not create the illusion that we are effective when we are not."

Will we be different individuals in the eternities?

Joseph Fielding Smith Jr., The Way to Perfection, p.49:
" All Not Gifted Alike:
President Joseph F. Smith once said: "
Things upon the earth, so far as they have not been perverted by wickedness, are typical of things in heaven. Heaven was the prototype of this beautiful creation when it came from the hand of the Creator, and was pronounced 'good.' Such information as the Lord has been pleased to give us confirms this view. We see around us various grades of intelligences. No two persons are alike. Our talents are varied. One person excels in music, another in painting or mathematics, another in mechanics or statesmanship. It is a common thing to hear someone say of a friend, 'He is a natural-born musician,' or 'He is a born horticulturist.' 'Nothing that I plant will grow,' said one of my acquaintances, 'but everything my neighbor puts in the ground grows to perfection.' A talented artist would scarcely make a successful farmer, and a man who loves the soil would perhaps be a failure as an artist. The Lord said: 'For all have not every gift given unto them; for there are many gifts, and to every man is given a gift by the Spirit of God.' -- D.C. 46:11."

And on page 50, he wrote:
"We developed certain traits of character in the world of spirits before this earth-life began. . . . Under such conditions it was natural for our Father to discern and choose those who were most worthy and evaluate the talents of each individual. He knew not only what each of us could do, but also what each of us would do when put to the test and when responsibility was given us. Then, when the time came for our habitation on mortal earth, all things were prepared and the servants of the Lord chosen and ordained to their, respective missions."

Note that the pre-existence was under the control of our Heavenly Father just as life after death will be. It seems reasonable to assume that since God was pleased with different talents then, he will be pleased with different talents in the next life.

JD, vol.7, p.7, Brigham Young:
"Improve day by day upon the capital you have. In proportion as we are capacitated to receive, so it is our duty to do. Some learn more and faster than others--more readily see and comprehend the bearings of their lessons and the relationship they sustain to their fellow-beings. Then will every one who secures an exaltation be happy? Yes. Will all be of one mind there? Yes. Should we not be one here? Yes. Should every man be a President? Should every man be a member of the Quorum of the Twelve? Should every man be the President of our Government, or a King? No; but each should possess the Spirit of the Lord; and through observing its teachings, every one will be rewarded and enjoy according to his capacity. Each vessel will be filled to overflowing, and hence all will be equal, in that they are full.

John A. Widtsoe, Evidences and Reconciliations, p.305:
"This [the principle of eternal marriage] makes individuals of men and women -- individuals with the right of free agency, with the power of individual decision, with individual opportunity for everlasting joy, whose own actions throughout the eternities, with the loving aid of the Father, will determine individual achievement. There can be no question in the Church of man's rights versus woman's rights. They have the same and equal rights."

David O. McKay, Gospel Ideals, p.464:
"When we meet these personalities [our family] in the eternal realm, we shall recognize them and know them because of these experiences in this life. And that union of loving hearts will be perpetuated after life. That is why we are married -- sealed -- for time and eternity. It isn't just a mere dogma of the Church -- it is a truth fundamental to the life and happiness of all humanity. It is the part of wisdom to choose the house of the Lord in which to plight your love and to consecrate your vows."


the bottom line

Neal A. Maxwell, A More Excellent Way, p.1:
"We of the Church have special reasons for being concerned with leadership:
personality and eternity are irretrievably enmeshed with each other."


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