Sunday, December 6, 2015

Warnings from Warnings from the Past

Elder Mark E. Petersen
Elder Mark E. Petersen was born on November 7, 1900.  That seems like a long time ago.  He was called as an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ on April 4, 1944.  That also seems like a long time ago. He gave his talk "Warnings from the Past," in the General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in April of 1971.  Even that seems like a long time ago.

But Elder Petersen's warnings were echoes of warnings that were raised centuries, and even millennia ago.  What were those warnings?  Why were they raised?  Why do they matter today?

In this talk Elder Petersen echoes the warnings of three great civilizations: the Jaredite civilization, the Nephite civilization, and our own.  What caused the downfall of the great Jaredite civilization? What caused the downfall of the great Nephite civilization?  What will cause the downfall of our own great civilization if we fail to learn the lessons of civilizations past?

Like the prophets of old, from the times of the Jaredites and the Nephites, Elder Petersen raises a clear warning voice against the sins of pride, of sexual immorality, of violence, and of idolatry.  Lest we suppose that our own civilization is somehow immune to the self-destructive tendencies of previous civilizations, Elder Petersen reminds us that "Much of the corruption which is common among us today resembles in striking detail the degradation that afflicted them."  What is the striking detail of which he speaks?  A careful study of the Book of Mormon will reveal it to you.

Recently the living prophets and apostles have encouraged members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to strengthen their faith in Jesus Christ by improving Sabbath day worship.  Is this something new?

"The Almighty provided that we should observe a sacred Sabbath each week," declares Elder Petersen.   "We have flouted this law to his face, and most of us have turned his holy day into one of pleasure or of 'business as usual,' and yet the Sabbath was given as a symbol of allegiance to our Creator."  

A symbol of allegiance to the Savior.  That's food for thought.

God consecrated the American continent to the Lord's work, and to the service of the Lord.  The Jaredites failed to heed the warning.  The Nephites failed to learn from the example of the Jaredites. Will we fail to heed the warning, or to learn from the demise of the two great civilizations that preceded our own?

Elder Petersen echoes the voices of a few of the great leaders and statesmen of the past:
  • George Washington: "… we ought to be no less persuaded that the propitious smiles of Heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right which Heaven itself has ordained. …" (First inaugural address, April 30, 1789.) 
  • Abraham Lincoln: "told the people of his day that America 'need fear no danger from without. … If danger were ever to threaten the United States, it will come from within. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide...We have grown in numbers, wealth and power. … But we have forgotten God. … It behooves us then to humble ourselves before the offended Power, to confess our national sins, and to pray for clemency and forgiveness.'"
  • Daniel Webster: "If we and our posterity reject religious instruction and authority, violate the rules of eternal justice, trifle with the injunctions of morality and recklessly destroy the political constitution which holds us together, no one can tell how sudden a catastrophe may overwhelm us, that shall bury all our glory in profound obscurity."  
Elder Petersen then quotes the economist Roger Babson: 

"Only religion can prevent democratic rule from developing into mob rule. A nation can prosper only as its citizens are religious, intelligent, capable of service and eager to render it... Every great panic we have ever had has been foreshadowed by a general decline in observance of religious principles."

Are we religious? Intelligent? Capable of service and eager to render it?  Do we observe religious principles?

Will the warnings of three great civilizations suffice?  Will we listen to the still, small voice?  Or will we listen to the voice of the Lord in tempests, earthquakes and other calamities?

"The extinct civilizations of the past now speak to us out of the dust of the ages, giving warning against the same conditions which brought them down to oblivion." - Elder Mark E. Petersen

Will we listen?  There's no better time to start listening than now.

Other blog posts looking back on the Saturday Afternoon Session of the April 1971 General Conference:

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