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Jeffrey M. Bradshaw
Wednesday, April 25 2012

Knowledge as the Principle of Salvation

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[Editor: This is the third in a series of excerpts from Jeffrey M. Bradshaw’s new book, entitled “Temple Themes in the Oath and Covenant of the Priesthood.” You can read the first and second installments here. The book is available on and at selected LDS Bookstores (including Eborn Books, BYU Bookstore, the FAIR LDS Bookstore). An iBooks version is can be purchased from the Apple iBookstore, and a pdf version is available at].

02-1. TissotJ. James Tissot, 1836-1902: Sermon of the Beatitudes, ca. 1886-1894 (1)

Knowledge As the Principle of Salvation

The means by which we make our “step-by-step ascent into the Eternal Presence”[2] is not based directly on our actions. It is easy to see why this is so. Were it otherwise, the Final Judgment would require nothing more than a mechanical assessment at the end of our probation as to whether we had gone through the proper motions in every life situation. However, the terms of the New and Everlasting Covenant are much more demanding—as Jesus Himself taught when He contrasted lower and higher kinds of obedience in the Sermon on the Mount.[3] The scriptures teach that the purpose of this life is much more than outward compliance with divine law. Ultimately, it is to prepare us to be “spiritually… born of God,” having received a “mighty change in [our] hearts” and “his image” in our countenances.[4] Emphasizing this fact, Elder Dallin H. Oaks explained that the “the Final Judgment is not just an evaluation of a sum total of good and evil acts—what we have done. It is an acknowledgment of the final effect of our acts and thoughts—what we have become.”[5] The final effect of our choices can be seen both in what we want[6] and also in what we know.

One night at a reception, Edwin M. Stanton, Secretary of War in Abraham Lincoln’s administration, remarked to a friend that a certain man passing by was “a pretender, a humbug, and a fraud,” and said that he disliked his face. “But the poor man isn’t responsible for his face,” retorted the friend. “A man of fifty is responsible for his face!” countered Stanton.[7]

Though it is easy to find exceptions to Stanton’s generalization, there is eternal truth in the words of Proverbs 23:7: “As [a man] thinketh in his heart, so is he.” President David O. McKay often quoted James Allen’s comment that: “A man is literally what he thinks, his character being the complete sum of all his thoughts.”[8] In light of these things, we may certainly say that the powerful presence of a good man or woman is not acquired in an instant, but in the gradual transformation enabled by pure knowledge, righteous desires, Christlike deeds, and the sanctifying influence of the Holy Ghost.

02-2. Joseph SmithJoseph Smith, Jr., 1805-1844, ca. 1842 (9)

With respect to the role of knowledge in the process of sanctification, the Prophet Joseph Smith explained that God’s purpose in instituting laws for mankind was “to instruct the weaker intelligences,” allowing fallen humanity to gradually “advance in knowledge” so that eventually they “may be exalted with [God] himself.”[10] The Prophet taught that the “principle of knowledge is the principle of salvation,”[11] therefore “anyone that cannot get knowledge to be saved will be damned.”[12]

02-3. BrighamCharles W. Carter, 1832-1918: Brigham Young, 1801-1877[13]

“God Requires… a Searching After His Purposes”

Consistent with the teachings of Joseph Smith about knowledge as the principle of salvation, President Brigham Young saw an understanding of the “why” of the Gospel not merely as a nice-to-have add-on, but rather as an absolute necessity:[14]

Some have supposed that it would make but little difference with them whether they learn much or little, whether they attain to all the intelligence within their reach or not while they tarry in this world, believing that if they paid their tithing, went to meetings, said their prayers, and performed those things which are especially commanded, that it would be well with them and as soon as they laid off this mortal body, all would be well with them. This is a mistaken idea and that will cause every soul to mourn who embraces and practices upon it. When we arrive in the world of resurrected bodies, we will learn, to our sorrow [if we have not done what we should do] that God requires of us in this world not only obedience to His revealed will, but a searching after His purposes and plans.

02-4. Hugh B. BrownHugh B. Brown, 1883-1975[15]

President Hugh B. Brown expressed similar thoughts in memorable fashion:[16]

[S]ometimes ...some of us seem to indicate that having been baptized, [and] received the Holy Ghost, … and then having gone to church, and the men having received the priesthood, that we’ve done all that we ever need to do, that we’ve “arrived.” Then the older ones among us rest our hands comfortably on the shelf that nature gradually prepares for us, and we lean back and enjoy the ecstasy of thinking we’re going to be transported into heaven immediately.

It is to me something like a man who learned of electricity, that is, [who] learned that there was such a thing, and he … had a conduit wire connected to his house. And he bought him a little ten-watt bulb and installed it in the back room of his house and then sat down, put on his slippers, and took his pipe, and sat in the rocking chair and said, “I’ve got electricity. I’m the happiest man in the world. Nobody else can boast of more than I, because they, too, have electricity. And I have electricity.” Not … realizing that what he had was a little ten-watt bulb and that he was in semi-darkness. Not realizing that if he would he could have had ten-thousand times that illumination. He could have had a bulb in every room, and one over the reading lamp, and on the piano, and all around … He could have done all his work with electricity. But there he sits, placidly rocking, “Thank God I’ve got electricity.”

02-5. shutterstockTen-Watt Light Bulb in a Darkened Room[17]

Sometimes Latter-day Saints say, “Thank God I’ve got the Gospel.


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