Sunday, November 29, 2015

Voices of the Past, of the Present, of the Future

I have always been impressed by how seamlessly the voice of living prophets confirms the truths that were taught by ancient prophets.  This seamlessness is also discernible in the living prophets' witness in relation to their more immediate predecessors.  In other words, the voice of the living prophets takes precedence over any previous prophets, but there is a seamlessness to the message that they proclaim, because God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and Jesus Christ is the head of the Church.

To illustrate the truth that the living prophet is more vital to us than the standard works, President Ezra Taft Benson remembered that President Wilford Woodruff once told of an interesting incident that occurred in the days of Joseph Smith:

"I will refer to a certain meeting I attended in the town of Kirtland in my early days. At that meeting some remarks were made that have been made here today, with regard to the living prophets and with regard to the written word of God. The same principle was presented, although not as extensively as it has been here, when a leading man in the Church got up and talked upon the subject, and said: ‘You have got the word of God before you here in the Bible, Book of Mormon, and Doctrine and Covenants; you have the written word of God, and you who give revelations should give revelations according to those books, as what is written in those books is the word of God. We should confine ourselves to them.’

"When he concluded, Brother Joseph turned to Brother Brigham Young and said, ‘Brother Brigham I want you to go to the podium and tell us your views with regard to the living oracles and the written word of God.’ Brother Brigham took the stand, and he took the Bible, and laid it down; he took the Book of Mormon, and laid it down; and he took the Book of Doctrine and Covenants, and laid it down before him, and he said: ‘There is the written word of God to us, concerning the work of God from the beginning of the world, almost, to our day. And now,’ said he, ‘when compared with the living oracles those books are nothing to me; those books do not convey the word of God direct to us now, as do the words of a Prophet or a man bearing the Holy Priesthood in our day and generation. I would rather have the living oracles than all the writing in the books.’ That was the course he pursued. When he was through, Brother Joseph said to the congregation; ‘Brother Brigham has told you the word of the Lord, and he has told you the truth.’ (Conference Report, October 1897, pp. 18–19.)"

The same principle applies to the living oracles today.  One thing that is clear, however, is that there is a continuity and a consistency between ancient and modern scripture, and between past and present prophets.  It is a continuity worth paying attention to.

During the Saturday morning session of the General Conference of April 1971, President Spencer W. Kimball delivered an address entitled "Voices of the Past, of the Present, of the Future."  This talk is a perfect example of the seamless continuity and consistency in the voice of the Lord as revealed through ancient, modern, and living prophets.  In fact, President Kimball begins his talk with the following observation: 

"History repeats itself, and we need only return to the past to learn the solutions for the present and the future. The Corinthians seem to have been troubled by the same conflicting messages we hear in our own time. Paul told them:

'For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?'"

During the most recent General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Elder Gregory A. Schwitzer of the Seventy declared:

"The Apostle Paul taught us about comparing communication to musical instruments when he wrote to the Corinthians:

'And even things without life giving sound, whether pipe or harp, except they give a distinction in the sounds, how shall it be known what is piped or harped?

'For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?'2"

Elder Schwitzer, like President Kimball, and like the Apostle Paul, helps us to discern the voice of the Lord amidst the cacophony of different voices in the world.  (Elder Oaks has also spoken eloquently on a similar topic).  

Like Paul before him, and like living prophets after him, President Kimball does not mince words. He reminds his audience of Paul's prophecy that some would depart from the faith (1 Tim. 4:1).  He warns of the variety of voices that promote hedonism, sensuality and sin.  He warns against violations of God's law of chastity and punctuates his warning with a memorable punchline: "Strange, the proponents of depopulating the world seem never to have thought of continence!"

Although President Kimball spoke with a raspy voice, his message could not have been clearer: "Why do we speak in this vein? Why do we call to repentance when there are such pleasant subjects? It is because someone must warn the world of its doom if life does not change directions."

President Kimball then recalled to mind the classic lines from Alexander Pope's Essay on Man:

"Vice is a monster of so frightful mien,
As to be hated needs but to be seen;
Yet seen too oft, familiar with her face,
We first endure, then pity, then embrace."

I cannot count on one hand, or two for that matter, the number of times that I have heard our current prophet, President Thomas S. Monson, recite these same lines (click here for just one example).

Just as his warning and rebuke of sin is firm, President Kimball's love and kindness is deep in the invitation that he extends at the conclusion of his talk:

"We extend to every listener a cordial invitation to come to the watered garden, to the shade of pleasant trees, to the unchangeable truth.

Come with us to sureness, security, consistency. Here the cooling waters flow. The spring does not go dry.

Come listen to a prophet’s voice and hear the word of God.

The Lord does not change. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. His church stands firm and unchangeable. Sin will not be tolerated, but sincere repentance will be rewarded with forgiveness."

The words of the living prophets, those whom Brigham Young called the "living oracles," take precedence over previous prophets and scripture, but there is a seamless continuity and a consistency of truth that commands our attention, and persuades us to sincere repentance and obedience.

To read more about the general conference talks from 1971, see the following blog posts:

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