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Joseph Smith & the Recovery of ‘Eternal Man’ – Robert L. Millet


People who need no introduction usually get
a fairly lengthy one, and we have such a speaker this evening. Most of you know Brother Millet by reputation, through his work, or in other ways. Robert L. Millet was born in Baton Rouge–
was it Louisiana? Did I get that right?–and served
a mission eastern states of the United States and married Shawna Sizemore. He received his BS and MS degrees in psychology
from BYU and a PHD from Florida State University in religious studies. He worked in LDS Social Services, LDS Seminaries
and Institutes, and joined the BYU religious education faculty in 1983. He served as the chair of the Ancient Scripture
Department and later as Dean of Religious Education. Let me pause here before bringing this introduction
up to date. Many of you who know Brother Millet will know
him because of the great influence that he’s had in the lives of many Latter-Day Saints. I got on the internet this afternoon to try
to get some of the titles of his books and finally gave up. He is the author or editor of over 70 books
and 175 scholarly articles and book chapters, dealing mostly with the doctrine and history
of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and in recent years especially, how
that history and doctrine interfaces with other Christian faiths and other Christian
denominations. Depending on your age at the time, some of
you may have been blessed in your life by his early books, “Life Beyond” and “Within
Reach.” And I know several people of my own acquaintance
whose lives were touched for the better by what Brother Millet taught in “Within Reach.” “When a child wanders in 1996, alive in Christ
in 1997.” And then, one of my favorite titles, “After
All We Can Do, Grace Works” and “Holding Fast and Dealing with Doubt.” Currently, Professor Millet is an emeritus professor,
and he is the coordinator of religious outreach here for religious education at BYU. Some of his more recent books include “A Different
Jesus: The Christ of the Latter-Day Saints” and “Claiming Christ: A Mormon-Evangelical
Debate,” coauthored with Professor Gerald R. McDermott of Roanoke College, and “Talking
Doctrine: Mormons and Evangelicals in Conversation,” co-edited with Professor Richard Mouw of
the Fuller Theological Institution. He is also the coauthor of and encyclopedic
work called “LDS Beliefs,” published in 2011. Brother Millet has been a personal friend
over the years, and he has blessed my life on a number of occasions. He has a great capacity to see through issues
and to provide new insights and new knowledge, and that’s what we look forward to. Professor Millet’s lecture is entitled “Joseph
Smith and the Recovery of Eternal Man.” Professor Millet. I am grateful to be with you tonight brothers
and sisters and friends, and appreciate this kind, very kind, overly kind invitation. I am honored to be invited to deliver the
Truman G. Madsen lecture. Truman has been a hero of mine for many years,
stretching back about half a century to when I was serving in the Eastern States Mission. Several of his talks to the New England missionaries
and members made their way into our mission regularly. Truman had a way of blending seamlessly his
academic training in philosophy and religion and his spiritual knowledge and conviction. He paid a significant price to learn by study
and by faith, and it was that concentrated and consecrated effort that allowed him, like
his master, to teach as one having authority. One of the first books I took from my father’s
bookshelf and read, following my mission was Eternal Man. It stirred my soul and sent my mind reeling. I began at that early date to appreciate that
Mormonism was able to hold its own amid the great religions of the world, that it was
more than capable of withstanding rigorous study and scrutiny. I absconded the better part of my dad’s
library when I left Louisiana (for some reason he wasn’t bothered by that) and I transferred
to BYU when one of my most precious possessions was that book, which I now try to read at
least once a year. Consider or reconsider the following, rather
bold, stunning remark by Joseph Smith, “If men do not comprehend the character of God,
they do not comprehend themselves.” Hence, if somehow by some unfortunate means,
people began to misconstrue God, they never really grasp what man is. I will use the word ‘man’ hereafter exclusively
to refer to humankind, male and female. Truman Madsen himself pointed out that to
the extent that this teaching, that is the true nature of man, to the extent that this
teaching has been blurred or dismissed, many imponderables and paradoxes have arisen in
theological anthropology. Some of these we will consider. In the centuries following the Savior’s
ascension into heaven, the deaths of his 12 apostles, and the loss of the keys of the
priesthood within the Church of Jesus Christ, questions arose and debates ensued regarding
many theological points, particularly the nature of God and the Godhead. Issues that received special attention included,
“What is the relationship between the Father and the Son? Was Christ a created being or was he co-eternal
with the Father? Is Christ subordinate to the Father or is
he of equal mighty, power and glory? Who or what is the Holy Spirit and does that
spirit proceed from God the Father, God the Son, or both the Father and the Son? Are there three divine beings? Two Gods? Or one God?” In an effort to satisfy the accusations of
Jews who denounce the notion of three members of the Godhead, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,
as polytheistic and at the same time, incorporate ancient but appealing Greek philosophical
concepts of an all-powerful, moving force in the universe, the Christian church began
to redefine the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. They adopted a strict monotheism, the belief
that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three persons, but ontologically one being. An absolute distinction between mind and the
created things and the inferiority of created things. The total transcendence of deity, existing
outside time and space. God is incomprehensible and unknowable. The Almighty as incorporeal, without body,
parts, or passions, and the immutability of God, a belief that He never changes. In short, centuries of debate on the nature
of God, Christ, the Holy Spirit, took place at Nicea, Constantinople, Ephesus, Chalcedon,
resulting in creedal statements that eventually became the walk and talk of Christian doctrine. What was the result doctrinally? One Christian scholar observed, “The classical
theological tradition became misguided when under the influence of Hellenistic philosophy. It defined God’s perfection in static, timeless
terms. All change was considered an imperfection
and thus, not applicable to God, whereas one group of evangelical Christian scholars put
it, “The inevitable encounter between Biblical and Classical thought in the early church
generated many significant insights and helped Christianity evangelize Pagan thought and
culture. Along with the good, however,” they said,
“came a certain theological virus that infected the Christian doctrine of God, making it ill
and creating the sorts of problems mentioned above. The virus,” they continued, “so permeates
Christian theology today, that some have come to take the illness for granted, attributing
it to divine mystery while others remain unaware of the infection all together.” That is the end of the quote. The redefinition of God that had been formalized
and codified through Christian councils, created quite naturally a very different view of man. Christian theologian, Emil Brunner, a number
of years ago, spoke of the divide between God and man. He wrote this way, “There is no greater
sense of distance than that which lies in the words ‘creator-creation.’ Now this is the first and fundamental thing
which can be said about man,” he wrote. “He is a creature, and as such he is separated
by an abyss, from the divine manner of being. The greatest dissimilarity between two things
which we can express at all, more dissimilar than light and darkness, more dissimilar than
death and life, good and evil, is that between the Creator and that which is created.” It is only natural for those who believe that
God and humanity are basically of a different substance and thus of a different race to also believe that God is a totally unattached
and uncreated being, to conclude that there was a time when only God existed and thus
that the creation had to be ex nihilo, out of nothing. For there to be anything in the universe to
which God will turn, or upon which he would rely in constructing the worlds, for example,
is to suggest the unthinkable. That element was as eternal as He was, which
notion theologians could even entertain. Unfortunately as Karen Armstrong pointed out
in one of her books, “The adoption of such doctrine represented, she wrote, a fundamental
change in the Christian understanding in the world. This doctrinal view tore the universe and
the children of God away from God,” she said. “Thus transforming the inhabitants of planet
Earth into an entirely different nature than the substance of the living God.” Accompanying a belief in an ex nihilo creation
was another teaching that arose in the early Christian centuries that broadened and deepened
the God-man chasm. This was the doctrine of human depravity. It postulates and as a result of the rebellion
and fall of our first parents, the human family inherits genetically the sin of Adam and Eve
and a nature so bent, so warped, that humans do not really have the capacity on their own
to choose the right or the good. This tenet, still fundamental to much of Christendom,
was elaborated and codified by Agustin and then resurrected by Luther and Calvin and
other leaders of the reformation as one of the fundamentals of the faith. That distance between deity and humanity certainly
persisted and perhaps even expanded by Joseph Smith’s day. My friend and dear colleague, Richard Mouw,
at Fuller Seminary, wrote the following: “While Joseph Smith and Mary Baker Eddy espoused
a very different, indeed opposing metaphysical system from one another, with Joseph arguing
for a thorough going physicalism and the founder of Christian science arguing for thorough
going mentalism, they each were motivated by a desire to reduce the distance between
God and human beings.” He continues, “These two reduced the distance,
theologies, emerged in an environment, shaped significantly by the high Calvinism of New
England Puritanism. I think it can be plausibly and rightly from
and Orthodox Christian perspective,” he said, “argue that New England theology would
stress the legitimate metaphysical distance between God and his human creatures. Nonetheless at the same time, fostered an
unhealthy spiritual distance between the Calvinist deity and his human subjects.” That is the end of the quote. You will recall that young Joseph Smith found
himself unable to find either comfort or clarity through a study of the Bible, given the various competing interpretations
of the Biblical text. Richard Bushman offered the following, I think
very perceptive assessment, of the challenge Joseph faced. Richard wrote, “At some level, Joseph’s
revelations indicate a loss of trust in the Christian ministry, for all their learning
and eloquence, their clergy could not be trusted with the Bible. They did not understand what the book meant.” This is an important point. “It was a record of revelations and the
ministry had turned it into a handbook. The Bible had become a text to be interpreted
rather than experience to be lived. In the process, the power of the book was
lost. It was the power thereof that Joseph and other
visionaries of his time, sought to recover. Not getting it from the ministry, they look
for it themselves.” Richard continues, “To me, that is Joseph
Smith’s significance for our time. He stood on the contested ground where the
enlightenment and Christianity confronted one another and his life posed this question,
“Do you believe God speaks?” Joseph was swept aside of course, in the rush
of ensuing intellectual battles and was disregarded by the champions of both great systems, but
his mission was to hold out for the reality of divine revelation and establish one small
outpost where that principle survived. Joseph’s revelatory principle,” Richard
concludes, “is not a single revelation serving for all time as the Christians of his day
believed, regarding the incarnation of Christ. Not a mild, sort of inspiration seeping into
the minds of all good people, but specific, ongoing directions from God to his people,
at a time when the origins of Christianity were under assault by the forces of enlightenment
and rationality, Joseph Smith returned modern Christianity to its origins in revelation.” Very perceptive. Thankfully, the Almighty did not intend for
things to remain in a spiritually disrupted condition, for he provided a medicine for
the malady. Among other things, Joseph Smith was charged
to restore correct knowledge of God and man, to assist humanity in accomplishing this near
impossible task, God had been about the business of orchestrating things in preparation for
that revolution we call the Restoration. This marvelous work and a wonder was not to
take place without immense and intricate preparation by divine providence. People would be in place, concepts and points
of view would be in the air, hearts would be open to a new revelation in a unprecedented
manner. Nothing was to be left to chance. The first vision in the spring of 1820 is
essentially the beginning of revelation of God to man in this final dispensation. Brother Joseph learned that the Father and
the Son were separate and distinct personages, separate Gods, and thus that the creedal statements
concerning the triune deity were incorrect. While Unitarians believed that the first and
second members of the Godhead were distinct beings, most Christians subscribed to the
doctrine of the Trinity. Only 11 days before his death, the prophet
Joseph stated this, “I have always declared God to be a distinct personage, Jesus Christ, a separate and distinct personage
from God the Father, and that the Holy Ghost was a distinct personage and a Spirit, and
these three constitute three distinct personages and three Gods.” Notice he said, “I have always taught that.” From the prophet Joseph we learn that God
is more than a word, more than an essence, a force, a law, more than the great first
cause. He has form, shape, an image, a likeness. He is a he. He has gender. We are uncertain when the young prophet learned
that God has a physical body. We can’t tell whether he learned it at the
time of the first vision simply because he doesn’t mention it. On the other hand, note the following from
Joseph Smith’s new translation, this Bible translation of Genesis, what we now have in
the sixth chapter of Moses. This would have been early. November-December, 1830. Listen. “In the day that God created man, in the
likeness of God made he him. In the image of his own body, male and female,
created he them and blessed them.” The doctrine of divine embodiment is inextricably
linked to such doctrines as the immortality of the soul, the incarnation of Christ, the
literal resurrection, eternal marriage, and a continuation of the family unit into eternity. We are given to understand from Brother
Joseph and his successors, that in his corporeal or physical nature, God can be in only one
place at a time. His divine nature is such, however, that his glory,
his power and his influence, meaning his Holy Spirit or what we call the Light of Christ,
fills the immensity of space and is the means by which he is omnipresent and through which
law and light and life are extended to us. Joseph Smith certainly did not believe that
God’s physical body limited the Father in his divine capacity, or detracted one whit
from his infinite holiness, any more than Christ’s resurrected body did so. The risen Lord said of himself, “All power
is given unto me in heaven and in earth. In LDS theology, Truman Madsen noted, “The
physical body is not the muffling and imprisoning of the spirit. The body is the spirit’s enhancement. It is an instrument of redemption and the
instrument itself is to be redeemed. In Josephs view, Brother Bushman pointed out
in another occasion, making God corporeal (physical) did not reduce him. Joseph had little sense of the flesh being
base. In contrast to conventional theologies, Joseph
saw embodiment as a glorious aspect of human existence. As many of you know, research by professor
David Paulsen of our BYU philosophy department, demonstrates that God’s corporeality was
taught in early Christian church and into the fourth and fifth centuries, before being
lost to the knowledge of the people. I have been very interested in the work of
scholars outside our own faith, who have dared to explore the notion of God having a physical
body. James Kugel, Professor emeritus of Hebrew
literature at Harvard, has written that some scholars, most basic assumptions about God
including the idea that he has no body but exists everywhere simultaneously, are not
articulated in the most ancient parts of the Bible. “In time, the God who spoke to Moses directly,
became an embarrassment to later theologians,” he wrote. “It is,” they said, “the real universal
God who is omniscient and omnipresent and utterly unphysical.” He says, “Indeed, does not the eventual
emergence of Christianity in particular Nicene Christianity with its doctrine of the Trinity,
likewise represent in its own way an attempt to fill the gap left by the God of old?” That is the end of the quote. The late Christian theologian, Clark Pinnock,
has written that “If we are able to take Biblical metaphors seriously, is God in some
way embodied? Critics will be quick to say that although
there are expressions of this idea in the Bible, they are not to be taken literally. I do not believe” he said, “that the idea
is as foreign as the Bible’s view of God as we had assumed. In tradition, God is thought to function primarily
as a disembodied spirit. This is scarcely a Biblical idea.” He continues, “Having a body is certainly
not a negative thing, since it makes possible for us to be agents. Perhaps God’s agency would be easier to
envisage if he were in some way corporeal. Add to that the fact that in the theophonies
of the Old Testament, God encounters humans in the form of a man. Add to that that God took on a body in the
incarnation and Christ has taken that body with him into glory. It seems to me that the Bible does not think
of God as formless.” That is the end of that quotation. Dr. Stephen Webb, Roman Catholic scholar and
previous Truman Madsen lecturer pointed out that “far from being nothing, matter for
the Latter-Day Saints is the very stuff of the divine. Joseph Smith rejected the philosophical move,
stretching all the way back to Plato, of dividing the world into immaterial and material substances. We have observed that William Tyndale was
just as controversial in his day as Smith was in his. Tyndale wanted to get the Bible into the hands
of everyday believers while Joseph Smith wanted to open the ears of ordinary people to divine
revelation. Reformers like Tyndale broke the Catholic
churches political and religious power in Europe and let loose a host of social changes
that they could not have anticipated and were not able to control. Webb then poses this rather fascinating question,
“Could it be that Smith, who had virtually no formal education, put in motion ideas that
will overthrow the consensus of western theological immaterialism?” I site these scholars and religious thinkers
who are not of the LDS faith not because Mormons seek or require some kind of academic premature
to hold to such doctrine, but to demonstrate that a theological concept revealed to the
prophet in the formative years of Mormonism may not be as strange or as radical as many
traditional Christians make it out to be. The saints may have been teaching and discussing
God’s physical body as early at 1835 or 1836. Professor Milton Backman brought to light
many years ago a description of Mormonism by a Protestant clergyman in Ohio, Truman
Coe, a Presbyterian minister. He had for four years lived among the saints
in Kirtland and he published the following in the 11 August 1836 Ohio Observer regarding
the beliefs of the Mormons. “They contend that the God worshipped by
the Presbyterians and all other sectarians, is no better than a wooden God. They believe that the true God is a material
being, composed of body and parts that when the Creator formed Adam in his own image,
he made him about the size and shape of God himself.” Now that appears in the Ohio Observer in 1836. The earliest reference in a sermon by Joseph
Smith to the corporeality of God, now in our possession, seems to be 5 January 1841. On that occasion, William Clayton recorded
the prophet saying, “That which is without body or parts is nothing. There is no other God in heaven but that God
who has flesh and bones.” Six weeks later, Joseph said concerning the
Godhead, that it was not as many imagined: three heads and one body. He said the three were separate bodies. On 9 March 1841 he declared that the Son had
a tabernacle and so had the Father. Finally, it was on the 2 April 1843 in Ramus,
Illinois that Brother Joseph delivered instructions on the matter that are the basis for what
we have in the 130th section of the Doctrine and Covenants: “The Father has a body of flesh
and bones as tangible as mans, the Son also. The Holy Ghost is a personage of spirit.” I have been asked a question many, many times
over the years by persons of other faiths. The question? Where is the LDS concept of the nature of
man? It seems that what they want to know is this. Do we believe that men and women are basically
good or basically evil? I generally respond with a question of my
own. To which man do you have reference? Do you have reference to fallen or mortal
man or are you speaking of eternal man? Let me explain my response. Consider, how would Joseph Smith have learned
about humanity, whether men and women are depraved or divine? It seems to me that his first serious entry
into theological anthropology, the nature of humanity, would have come through is exposure
to the teachings of the Book of Mormon prophets. Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery would have
learned through the translation of the golden plates that because Adam and Eve transgressed
by partaking of the forbidden fruit, they were cast from the Garden of Eden and the
presence of the Lord. The experienced spiritual death. As a result came blood, sweat, toil, opposition,
bodily decay and finally physical death. Even though the Fall was a vital part of the
great plan of an eternal God, as much a foreordained act as Christ’s intercession. Our state, including our relationship to and
contact with God, changed dramatically with the Fall. Even though the Book of Mormon often presents
what is called “the fortunate Fall.” That Adam fell that men might be. The prophets within that record proclaim fearlessly
and repeatedly that all humanity are in a lost and fallen state and ever will be save
they shall rely on this redeemer. Again, the coming of the redeemer presupposes
the need for redemption. We learn also that from the Book of Mormon,
although God forgave our first parents of their transgression, although there is no
original sin entailed upon Adam and Eve’s children, and although the Son of God hath
atoned for original guilt, wherein the sins of the parents cannot be answered upon the
heads of the children, that is not to tell the whole story. To concede that we are not accountable for
or condemned by the Fall of Adam, is not to say we are not affected by it. No, we do not believe with Augustin and the
reformers in the moral depravity of humanity, that human beings, because of intrinsic or
genetic carnality, do not even have the power to choose good over evil, or the children
are born in sin. Yet the Book of Mormon prophets knew very
well that since man had fallen, he could not merit anything of himself, but the sufferings
the death of Christ atoned for their sins through faith and repentance. President Brigham Young who declared that
everything he learned about the restored gospel he learned from Joseph Smith taught, “It
requires all the atonement of Christ, the mercy of the Father, the pity of angels, and
the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ to be with us always. Then, to do the very best that we possibly
can to get rid of this sin within us so we can escape from this world and into the Celestial
Kingdom.” Now, let’s point ourselves in a different
direction. Joseph Smith learned also by revelation that
man is an eternal being. Of man’s divine capabilities, Joseph said
on one occasion, “We consider that God has created man with a mind capable of instruction
in a faculty which may be enlarged in proportion to 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 until he has overcome the evils of his life
and lost every desire for sin.” The doctrine of the premortal existence of
men and women comes surprisingly early in the Prophet Joseph’s ministry. It appears that such mention if such an idea
within the restored gospel is to be found in the Book of Mormon in the 13th chapter
of Alma. Here we read if men being prepared and ordained,
we would say foreordained from the priesthood from the foundation of the world. Orson Pratt indicated however that this passage
in the Book of Mormon simply did not register for him and it was not until he encountered
the prophets inspired translation of the early chapters as Genesis, what we now have as the
book of Moses, that he could recognize the doctrine. This may have been the case with Joseph Smith
as well. Between June and October 1830, the Bible translators,
Joseph and Oliver, made their way deliberately through those early chapters of the Bible
until they came to the end of the Creation of the heavens and the earth. Then these words appear in the new translation. “I the Lord created all things of which
I have spoken spiritually before they were naturally upon the face of the earth. For I the Lord God had not caused it to rain
upon the face of the earth, and I the Lord had created all the children of men and not
yet a man to till the ground. For in heaven, created I them. There was not yet flesh upon the earth, neither
in the water, neither in the air.” Soon thereafter, we read in the inspired translation
of the council on heaven, wherein Jehovah was chosen to be the Savior and Redeemer,
the chief proponent and advocate of the Father’s plan of salvation, while Lucifer’s nefarious
and amendatory offer was refused and he and his minions were cast down to earth. Within a matter of weeks, a revelation in
the Doctrine and Covenants spoke of a much larger group in the counsel, that a third
part of the hosts of heaven turned Lucifer away from me because of their agency and they
were thrust down and thus came the devil and his angels. Then within three months, Joseph and the saints
learned via the Bible translation that God called upon Adam by his own voice saying,
“I am God. I made the world and men before they were
in the flesh.” In Section 93 of the Doctrine and Covenants,
this is in May of 1833, again very early, we read the following: Now verily I say unto
you (the Savior is speaking), I was in the beginning with the Father and am the First
Born. All those who are begotten through me are
partakers of the glory of the same and are the church of the First Born. Herein is contained the scriptural basis for
the Latter-Day Saint belief that Jehovah was the firstborn spirit child of the Father,
a teaching eluded to in the New Testament. An official proclamation in 1909 said it this
way. “Jesus is the firstborn among all the sons
of God. The first begotten in the Spirit and the only
begotten in the flesh. We, like him, are in the image of God.” Section 93 continues, “Ye were also in the
beginning with the father. That which is spirit, even the spirit of truth. Man was in the beginning with God, intelligence,
or the light of truth, was not created or made, neither indeed can be.” Clearly there is something within the human
being, call it intelligence or ego or some primal
essence that has always lived and indeed had no beginning. Most Christians wrap their mind around the
fact that we will continue to live after this mortal life comes to an end, that there is
in fact a post-death immortality of the soul, that because Jesus rose from the tomb, so
will each and every one of us rise from the dead. What Jesus made possible in other words, for
each of our inhabitants, is the inseparable union of body and spirit that comes with the
resurrection. In other words, we know that even if the resurrection
did not take place, we would continue to live forever, for we are beings who are without
beginning or end. This revelation to Joseph Smith adds however,
a unique and profound insight into the Christian concept of immortality, a perspective that
is singularly Latter-Day Saint. Namely. that we have been, are and will forevermore
be immortal persons. As Truman put it, “Man as a self had a beginningless
beginning. He has never been identified wholly with any
other being, nor is he a product of nothing.” The Prophet Joseph continued to turn the key
of knowledge and pull back the veil concerning the eternal nature of men and women in his
King Follett discourse, delivered in Nauvoo on the 7th of April 1844. In speaking of the mind of man, the immortal
spirit, the prophet said, “Where did it come from? All learned men and doctors of divinity say
that God created it in the beginning, but it is not so. The very idea lessens man in my estimation. We say that God himself is a self-existent
being. Who told you so? It is correct enough, but how did it get into
our heads? Who told you that man did not exist in a like
manner upon the same principles? Man does exist upon the same principles. I am dwelling on the immortality of the spirit
of man. Is it logical to say that the intelligence
of spirits is immortal and yet that it had a beginning? The intelligence of spirits had no beginning,
neither will it have an end.” Joseph goes on, “That is good logic. That which has a beginning, has an end.” In short, Brother Joseph taught that this
property called by philosophers “aseity” or necessary self-existence, is in any characteristic
of both deity and humanity. Joseph responded to the universally accepted
Christian doctrine of an ex nihilo creation out of nothing, by declaring that the Hebrew
word translated is create, really means to organize, implying that deity drew upon already
existing matter. He taught, “We infer that God had materials
to organize the world out of chaos, chaotic matter, which is element, and in which dwells all
the glory. Element had an existence from the time God
had. The purer principles of element are principles
which can never be destroyed. They may be organized and reorganized, but
not destroyed. They had no beginning, they can have no end.” Truman Madsen trumpeted the distinctive LDS
perspective on who we are and what we may become in these words:
“What the eternal Father wants for you and with you, is the fullness of your possibilities,
and those possibilities are infinite. He did not simply make you from nothing into
a worm. He adopted and begat you into his likeness
in order to share his nature. He sent his firstborn son to exemplify just
how glorious that nature can be, even in mortality. That is our witness.” About 30 years ago, I stepped outside my front
door to retrieve the newspaper. As I bent down, I noticed also a small plastic
bag containing a paperback book. I opened the package, noticed the title, and
sensed what kind of book it was. After reading the first page, I recognized
it as an anti-Mormon publication that I learned later, was distributed to about 50,000 LDS
homes that morning. It was written by an ex-Mormon, now a Protestant
minister, to invite Mormons to save themselves from deception and leave The Church of Jesus
Christ of Latter-Day Saints as soon as possible, as well as to warn other unwary persons of
the evils of this cultish clan. During the next few days, I browsed the book. Stopping occasionally to read carefully certain
selections that appeared particularly interesting. I settled on one segment in which the author
was attempting to prepare readers for the coming of the Mormon missionaries to their
door. He warned them to be certain not to listen
to anything these young men and young women had to say, and certainly not to allow them
into your home. If however, the missionaries were somehow
able to mischievously make their way into your living room, they would deliver their
message, and they would prevail upon you to pray about it. The author said, “This you must not do. Do not get on your knees, and do not pray.” He then explained why. “Because our natures are so corrupted by
evil, our minds so polluted with sin and our feelings so twisted and scarred by Satanic
influences, there are three things” he wrote “men and women can never trust in determining
the truthfulness of a religious claim. We cannot trust our thoughts. We cannot trust our feelings, and we cannot
trust our prayers. If we do,” he said, “we will be deceived. “There is only one thing in this life that
we can trust,” he hastened to add. “We can trust the Holy Bible.” I did smile for a few seconds, but then found
myself filled with sadness. How tragic. How terribly unfortunate for a minister of
the Gospel of Jesus Christ to discourage anyone from thinking, feeling and praying about matters
of eternal import. It reminded me of what Nephi taught, that
God always encourages his children to pray. Why does the evil spirit that teacheth not
a man to pray, but teacheth him he must not pray? I also shook my head, almost in disbelief,
wondering how a person could trust the Bible in its teachings if he or she could not think,
feel or pray without fear of deception. I also had a shiver run down my spine as I
reflected on a poignant remark made in the Liberty Jail by Joseph Smith. “None but fools,” he said, “will trifle
with the souls of men. Less than two months before his martyrdom,
Joseph the Seer, remarked concerning the work he had set in motion. “I calculate,” he said, “to be one of
the instruments of setting up the kingdom of God foreseen by Daniel by the word of the
Lord. I intend to lay a foundation that will revolutionize
the whole world.” Bold? Certainly. Audacious? Perhaps, at least in the minds of many. Indeed the work of the restoration was destined
to be in every way, revolutionary, radical, certainly heterodox. Joseph went on to say how this was to be done. “It will not be by sword or gun that this
kingdom will roll on. The power of truth is such that all nations
will be under necessity of obeying the gospel.” If asked to describe the nature of humanity,
the Christian world generally, particularly its more conservative branches, will do so
in terms of fallen man, the person desperately in need of divine grace
and pardoning mercy. As I have tried to point out, we are not totally
in disagreement with our brothers and sisters of other faiths on this matter. The fall of Adam and Eve was very real and
takes a measured toll on us physically and spiritually. Joseph Smith did however, confront and denounce
the concept of human depravity, if that means that men and women do not even
have the power to choose good or by extension cannot trust their thoughts, feelings, and
prayers. The scriptures of the restoration teach otherwise. Through the intercession of the Messiah, fallen
men and women become redeemed men and women. The Fall and man’s fallen state are necessary
ingredients in the plan of God the Father. In the words of Elder Orson F. Whitney, the
Fall had a two-fold direction. Downward, yet forward. It brought man into the world and set his
feet upon progression’s highway. The Fall opens the way for the atonement,
and as C.S. Lewis observed once quite wisely, “Redeemed humanity will rise far higher
than unfallen humanity.” Knowledge of eternal man has come to us through
the instrumentality of the prophet Joseph Smith Such insight is precious, profound, soul satisfying
and spiritually elevating. And yes, it is without question, revolutionary. Our late friend and colleague, Rodney Turner,
never one hesitant to speak his mind, wrote some years ago, “To know what God is, is
to know what man is and what he may become. The loss of this knowledge, goes far to explain
the present plight of humanity. Man, like water, cannot rise higher than his
beginnings. If an ever increasing number of men and women
are choosing to wallow in the mire of carnality, we must not forget that they were taught that
the human race was spawned in mire. We have little desire to reach for the stars
if we do not believe that we came from the stars.” He continues, “That we did, is the message
of the restored gospel. That is why the Church of Jesus Christ of
Latter-Day Saints, that where the valiant are concerned, the origin of man is the destiny
of man.” I would ask, why would we dare take any other
course, given that according to the Bible we have been created in the very image and
likeness of God. Speaking of the image and likeness of God,
our beloved friend, Truman Madsen said this, “One can ascribe to the children of God,
more than rationality and creativity. In an embryonic state, other divine attributes
and powers inhere in human nature. We are theomorphic.” Further and by logical extension he said,
“The ultimate intent and meaning of Christ’s life and death is theosis, the universal transformation
of the whole of human nature and the whole of the human family.” That is the end of the quote. In short, in this mortal condition, our second
estate, we are as set forth in the Hebrew text of Psalms 8, “a little lower than the
Gods.” Our discussion tonight is not at all about
lowering a high and holy God to the level of lowly and languishing humanity. It is about worshipping a being with whom
we can identify, one who may be known, understood, approached. One with body, parts and passions, who like
his beloved son, may be touched with the feelings of our infirmities. If it is, as Jesus prayed, life eternal to
know God, to know Jesus Christ, how disappointing to find that the wonders and ways of the godhead
had been shrouded in history, never to be understood. Nor our conversation tonight about identifying
and worshipping the God that resides within each of us as some mistakenly believe. Rather it is very much about having a correct
view in character and attributes of God, which then automatically opens the door to understanding
man’s nobility and potentiality. Let’s end where we began. If men do not comprehend the character of
God, they do not comprehend themselves. President Brigham Young simply turned things
about and pointed out that to know and understand ourselves and our own being is to know and
understand God and his being. Or as the man we honor tonight, Truman Grant
Madsen, put it so beautifully, “One begins mortality with the veil drawn, but slowly
he is moved to penetrate the veil within himself. He is, in time, lead to seek the holy of holies
within the temple of his own being.” Elder Neal A. Maxwell commented on those poignant
counters with forever. “Brothers and sisters,” he said, “in
some of those precious and personal moments of deep discovery, there will be a sudden
surge of recognition, of an immortal insight, the doctrinal deja vu (if you will). We will sometimes experience a flash from
the mirror of memory that beckons us forward toward a far horizon.” These things are true. They matter. They are not merely the product of clever
or whimsical theological explorations. They mark the path to understanding the God
we worship and the Redeemer we seek to emulate, which is the path to life eternal. When received humbly and gratefully, these
teachings are liberating and exhilarating. They point us to an infinite past and a never
ending future. In understanding and accepting them, we begin
to turn the pages of our book of eternal possibilities. Thank you. Thank you, Professor Millet, for that discourse. I’m sure that Truman, himself, would be very pleased. We have a few moments for questions. In a gathering this large, we have, really, no viable alternative than using this microphone to ask your questions. I know people don’t like to get up and walk down, but I’d ask you to do so if you would like to ask Professor Millet a question. This is a question I’ve had for a while, and it comes largely from a lot of the work that Truman Madsen and David Paulsen have done. One of the important features of your talk mentioned that man, in terms of personality and person-hood, has had some kind of meaningful, necessary existence. My question is: if we understand man, as a person, the way that we understand our current existence now, as having an eternal existence, then what do we mean when we say that God gave agency to man? Because typically in the Church, we understand agency to be freedom to act. That’s an essential characteristic of how we understand our own person-hood. If we’ve existed as a man in the full-blooded sense, obviously without a body, but in some kind of meaningful sense, then how do we make sense of God giving agency to man? The language used, for example in Moses 7 is, “in the garden, God gave to man his agency.” I think that just means he extended to him alternatives to choose. If we believe what we’ve just talked about, it means that agency is a part of the human personality. As you’re probably aware, there are different schools of thought about, “what is intelligence?” We don’t know what it is. I think Truman would be in this school of thought, that would say agency, identity, consciousness has always existed. There’s another school of thought that says, “No, agency, consciousness, identity came into being at the time of spirit birth. I think we can believe, though, that for a long time, we’ve had agency. I think those expressions mean God gives to man the opportunity to exercise his agency. Man has his agency, meaning man has his choice. I have a question about the scripture, where it says, “all things must fail, but charity never faileth.” That seems to insinuate that everything will eventually fail or end or fail us somehow but, charity won’t. I’d like to know how that works. That 13th chapter of 1 Corinthians is an amazing chapter. It’s in that same chapter that Paul says something like this. Remember the background. He’s been talking about spiritual gifts. In Chapter 12, he’s doing spiritual gifts. In [Chapter] 14, he’s going to talk about some of the spiritual gifts he prefer we have. He’s not real big on tongues, and he thinks we ought to “covet to prophesy,” is what he says. “Get the spirit of revelation in your life.” Chapter breaks are nice and convenient, but they often mess things up because they break the continuity. In Chapter 12, we’ve been talking about spiritual gifts, and it ends with, “and now I show unto you a more excellent way.” Chapter 13 begins, “though I speak with the tongue of men and of angels,” meaning it’s one conversation. Paul is so encouraging, pushing, yearning for the saints to seek for the gift of charity, the pure of of Christ, as Mormon would say, that it’s as if he’s saying it’s head and shoulders–and he’s already said that, really– it’s head and shoulders above all other gifts. I think he’s saying there will come a time when it’s no big deal if I say, “well, I have all knowledge.” And someone else says, “well, so do I. What’s the big deal?” I think he’s saying there will come a time when knowledge will fill the earth as the waters cover the sea, like Isaiah would say, but there will never come a time when the pure of love Christ, godlike love, will not only be necessary but will be a part of eternity. As one person I read said it, “charity is not just a feeling, it’s the song we sing in eternity.” He said, “and we better start learning the music.” I think it’s just his way of saying the gift that will endure forever, the gift that will always have relevance and there will always be a need for, is the gift of love like God loves. What are your thoughts on the meaning of the word, faith? Faith? If I were to go to the Book of Mormon for a definition of faith, here’s what I’d come up with. I’d come up with three synonyms, trust confidence, reliance. Those words are used almost interchangeably. If I have faith in Christ, I trust Christ. I trust him that He can do just what He says He can do. I have confidence in Him, complete confidence, that He can carry out what He says He can carry out. I’ve learned to rely upon Him totally. That’s the language Nephi uses. “Relying wholly upon the merits and mercy” of Christ. Faith, to me, is this ability to be able to lean completely upon the Lord in terms of knowing He has all power and possesses all attributes in perfection and that we not only have no reason to be not only hesitant but to doubt that He can do anything He says He can do. So, in one sense, faith, in my mind, is to have total trust in the Lord, total confidence in the Lord, and to rely always on the Lord. Joseph and the early brethren were taught it was a principle of power. In the Lectures on Faith, the word they choose, interestingly, as a synonym for it is “confidence.” Confidence. You’ll remember how interesting this is. Three things are necessary for any rational, intelligent being to exercise faith in God unto life and salvation. 1. The idea that He actually exists. 2. A correct idea of His character, attributes, and perfections. 3. An actual knowledge that the course in life you’re pursuing is according to the will of God. Now those first two make perfect sense. If you’re going to have faith, you’ve got to know there’s a God. You’ve got to know something about Him. The third one, though, is different. You’ve got to know something about yourself. There’s the sense in which, when a person is seeking, to the best of their ability, to keep their life in order and to maintain the Spirit of the Lord, there comes a quiet confidence. That’s a word used often in the New Testament as well, confidence, or in the Doctrine & Covenants, “then shall thy confidence wax strong.” So, there’s a sense in which it’s a principle of power and it’s also knowing that I’m on course, and that God is pleased with where I am, which leads automatically to hope. That’s why faith and hope are almost the same as two sides to the same coin. Thank you. You’re welcome. This isn’t a spiritual question, but I served my mission in Louisiana. You’re a wise man. I just followed what the prophet said to do. I was mentioning one of your books, and they kept saying, “that’s not how you pronounce his name. It’s Mille.” Millet Well, they kept saying it was Mille Well, they were wrong. I believe you. I wanted to hear you say that. If you’re in Paris or you’re in southern Louisian–I mean really southern– it is Mille. I grew up with Millet, but I came to Utah and nobody could say that. They could say Millet. They’d heard of Millet. They knew of Joseph Millet, and they knew of Artemus Millet. So, I became a Millet. I’ve been adopted into the family of Millet. That is a profound question. What years were you in the Eastern States mission? I served in that mission. I was there from January of 1967 to January, 1969. I was there from 1949… Little bit before me. If I served then, I would’ve been two. I hope you’ll be patient with me. That I can ask this question in a real humble way. I look upon the creation, and I think about the preexistence. Of all those pre-existent children that were created, a third of the host of heaven rebelled. The other two thirds have come to this earth. It seems to me the prevalence of influence on mankind is so overwhelmingly from Satan and his angels, and I don’t feel the same kind of emphasis from our Father in Heaven to teach us about Him in this life. About Satan you mean? About man. About us. Man is eternal, as you say, but it seems to me that when you look at this earth–6,000 years of bloodshed, war, and terror, and so many different kinds of philosophy and thinking. It seems to me that Satan has a greater marketing plan than God does. _________, I think is the one who said that the Fall, the Christian doctrine of the Fall, is is the only doctrine that doesn’t need to be proven. That still doesn’t answer the question. Why isn’t God’s manifestation and His presence… We just discuss it. All we get is all kinds of different answers. Mankind is just in a terrible state today. I don’t mean to oversimplify, but it’s sort of the reason we send people out as missionaries. We’re trying to get into the minds of people that… It’s not just that Mormonism is a nice church to join, and “these are nice people, and boy I really like their family values.” It’s that there is a revolution that can take place in your mind in terms of seeing God and seeing yourself. If we could get that spread, we would do great service in the world. We’ve had 6,000 years and 99.8% of people in the world haven’t even heard of God! You’re right. We’ve got work to do. I wish that I could get an answer from you. I don’t have an answer. Let’s take these three. Thank you. If before God is the present, the past ,and the future, how come God cannot be in two places physically at once? What he’s saying is that God doesn’t have to go to the past and stand there to see the past. He doesn’t have to run to the future. Joseph’s statement is “all things past, present, and future are and were with Him one eternal now,” meaning He is absolutely aware of things that were and things that will be, meaning He knows the truth. You and I do our best to approximate truth. He is the truth. It’s not limiting Him in any way. It’s just saying He has a complete awareness of what’s past, what’s now, and what’s to come. My younger brother asked me a question recently that I didn’t feel that I answered well. How can we reconcile the God of the Old Testament that commanded the children of Israel to wipe out Caanan, kill every man woman and child and the other harshness of the Old Testament , with people being struck by lightning for touching the ark in the wrong way. with the God of the New Testament. It hasn’t been a faith shaker for me, but my younger brother has had a hard time reconciling that. Let’s look at it doctrinally first. The God of the Old Testament is who? It’s Jehovah. And Jehovah becomes? Jesus Christ. So it’s the same person. So His nature isn’t going to change, but what does change are circumstances and people. Part of our challenge, I think, as mortals–and I don’t know how we can get around this until we’re not mortals– is seeing some things with such finality, like death. I’m aware of a sermon where President John Taylor said–he’s not saying this is the way it was– but he said, “I think I can imagine spirits in the premortal life looking down, and they know they’re going to be sent to earth in the days of Noah.” He said, I think I can see them saying to God, ‘I don’t want to go down there.'” And the Lord says, “you’re right. I’ll cleanse the earth.” We look at the flood, and we see it as a tremendous catastrophe, but is it, knowing what we know about death? What do we learn from Peter? That many of those people had the opportunity to be taught the gospel in the spirit world. I think circumstances change. People’s ability to receive truth changes. We’re talking about people had come out of centuries of Paganism, centuries of the worship of multiple gods, centuries of involvement in sexual immorality. Sometimes God had to teach hard lessons in dramatic ways. For example, keeping the Sabbath holy. We have an episode where a man breaks the Sabbath, and he’s struck dead. Interestingly, we don’t have anyone else mentioned about breaking the Sabbath. That’s one trial learning. You only have to have that one time. The word gets out. It’s like Ananias and Sapphira in the New Testament. Don’t cheat at consecration. It is not good for your soul. Circumstances change. People change. We’re talking about the same God though. He loved them as much as He loves the people in the New Testament, but in a very real way Jesus had a different set of circumstances to work with than Jehovah had, working with people who had been immersed in pagan life. The second thing would be we have to somehow begin to see death a little less dramatic and final. It’s a change in assignment. It’s a transfer. It’s an opportunity to see things from a different perspective. I have a favorite talk by Neil A. Maxwell, where he introduces a scripture by saying, “there’s this scripture, which I wish I understood.” I thought that was really interesting. You’re going to start with that? I’m not going to ask about that scripture, but I was wondering if there was a scripture which you wish you understood, what it is, and why. This is really awkward, because if I don’t come up with anything, that means I know everything about all the scriptures, doesn’t it? I’m probably going to have to lie about some scripture that. . . Nothing comes to mind, but I’ll bet if you and I had half an hour, I could sit down and say, “here are twenty that I wish I understood. OK. Let me give you one. We talked about mystery tonight and how I didn’t feel like it was healthy to shroud the godhead in mystery. Yet, there’s a sense in which we have a mystery in our concept of the godhead as well. It’s a little bit of a doctrinal tension. My friends of other faiths have made this very clear to me. They’ll ask the question: Is Jesus a created being? I’ll say, “we believe He’s a begotten being. The scriptures day that.” “Was He God forever?” Our answer to that has to be no. He wasn’t. He was Jehovah forever. Take that and balance that with with the Book of Mormon, on the very title page calling Christ what? “The Eternal God.” I think we could reason that to the floor, but I think that’s an example how . . . We have an awful lot in the Restoration, but we don’t have it all. We have a great deal given to us. I remember when Joseph McConkie had finished writing a book on life after death. He refereed to it. Richard [Williams] did. I remember we were sitting. We’d read through our chapters and gotten things the way we wanted them. I remember turning to him [Joseph McConkie] saying, “I think we (and I meant the Church) know more about about the post-mortal spirit world than anybody in the world, and we don’t know much.” I think it’s a bit like that. These things we talked about tonight . . . please don’t assume that I think we really understand all this stuff. I think God, through His prophets, gives us little glimpses, little points here and there, these deja vu experiences, doctrinal deja vu, as Brother Maxwell called them. I think he gives us enough light to sense there’s something magnificent there, and that it’s worth pondering on for a lifetime. We also have our mysteries, and that’s OK. There are things we don’t understand. When it comes to the nature of God and the nature of man, Latter-Day Saints are on track, but our knowledge is still not complete. One quick experience, and then I’ll sit down. I was in New York City one time, meeting with some leaders of churches. While we were there, I talked with the public affairs people and said, “would it be possible to meet with three members of the Church who were converts from Judaism?” What I wanted to talk the them about– other than proxy baptism . . . What do Jews have trouble with? One brother gave some good things, very helpful, mostly about lifestyle. Another one also about lifestyle. The younger one–he was an attorney. He said something that has just weighed on me. He said, “I had an old rabbi say to me, ‘you people do have answers, but you seem so smug in giving answers to life’s greatest questions.’ He said, ‘I think you ought to be a little more humble about it.'” I think that’s right. Why? Because we don’t have all the details. We have some. We have enough to keep us searching and to keep us humble.

Glenn Chapman

17 Comments

  1. i learn so much from Robert Millet that I am watching all of his speeches. no, I am not LDS yet…

  2. Good for you betsy. i i had had the opportunit. to hear or read all this vefore joining the church i had done it with delight because while i was groing up i always believe all this that us taught in the lds church even when i grew up wuth no religion.

  3. I was watching Grant Cardone, and it lead me here. This is how im gonna run my Buisness

    1. God
    2.Family
    3.Dream
    4.Buisness

    I know it will succeed

  4. My wife is currently enthralled with both Truman Madsen as well as Robert Millet.

  5. How can the progress of man not go to omnipotence, and omnisience. The more you know the more you can know. The more capability you have the more you can have. Like a nuclear chain reaction a knowledge, and power explosion occures and never ends till all is obtained. Why should their not be a race that has existed for many billions or even eons beyond comprehension that have become Divine as we understand Divinity to be? Why do men think they can not be children of such potential when even our earth society, if we survived our moral lack, would be very advanced beyond imagination in millions, billions, trillions and more years. Life in this tiny earth time is not the only life progressing over the vastness of existence.

  6. I have been LDS for almost 2 decades. I learned so many gospel and universal facts from Brother Millet through the many lectures recorded years ago. I recommend them.

  7. It seems that all comments are so positive. This proves Joseph Smith was indeed a profit of God, and was given permission by God, to marry little girls. Only, the profit Joseph Smith could receive this divine revalation. Pay Lay Ale.

  8. I can affiliate with no so called church ..twer a gun to my head, I'd say an " monotheistic agnostic"

  9. Satan may have a marketing plan that seems to out perform God's plan but if God was to manifest His power and dominance over Satan it would not require faith to be lead to God's plan. It shows the wisdom, humility and restraint of God. As he says at the end it keeps us humble and searching, even against the apparent odds.

  10. What can I say this talk is where the tire meets the road. Thank you Bro Millett for this great dissertation, it fills my soul.

  11. Around the 5:55 min mark, ''withstand scrutiny'' Very true. As Mormons are not afraid of HONEST scrutiny of their own doctrines.

  12. Fascinating overview by R.Millet on J.Smiths ideology. Mormonism looks far more credible explained here by this speaker +

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