excerpt – Rational Theology
It is said that a man’s early mature work is his most creative. In the case of John Andreas Widtsoe (1872-1952), this would be his slim 1915 volume, Rational Theology, written during the productive period of his mid-forties at the height of his professional career. He was just concluding his work as president of Utah Agricultural College (later Utah State Agricultural College, then Utah State University), shortly to become president of the University of Utah, and only six years before being called as an apostle of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He had written on Mormon-related subjects, namely A Concordance to the Doctrine and Covenants (1906), Joseph Smith as Scientist (1908), and articles for the church’s Improvement Era. However, they were not developed religious treatises, as Rational Theology was, but were, with the exception of the Concordance, brief attempts to correlate popular scientific thought with Mormonism. Rational Theology was Widtsoe’s first substantial and, on several levels, most influential theological writing. It contains his ideas on the fundamental bases of Mormon theology to which his thought on learning and science relate and, more importantly, his claim that Mormon theology is a rational system of thought.
Two advantages Rational Theology enjoyed insured its continuing currency in the LDS church. He wrote it at the invitation of church officials to be used as a manual for Melchizedek priesthood quorums, and he wrote it when he was a prominent figure in higher education in Utah. So, for church readers, it carried the weight of having been written under church sanction.1 Equally significant, it carried a weight of having been written by one recognized as an authority in the rational enterprise of higher education, another, though different, kind of assurance of its worth.2 Because of its original sponsorship by the church and its wide and long official use, there is little question that it was regarded as an authoritative representation of LDS church theology.
In addition to its authoritative acceptance, one reason for recognizing its importance is its purpose. It is clear that from the first page, Widtsoe intended to present Mormon theology as respectably reasonable. The first lines in the preface state this intention:
A rational theology, as understood in this volume, is a theology which (1) is based on fundamental principles that harmonize with the knowledge and reason of man, (2) derives all of its laws, ordinances and authority from the accepted fundamental principles, and (3) finds expression and use in the everyday life of man. In short, a rational theology is derived from the invariable laws of the universe, and exists for the good of man (p. iii).
He intended to present “briefly, simply and without comment” the “principles of the Gospel,” as held by the church, “to show the coherence, reasonableness and universality” of its philosophy. Though he did not attempt to prove this contention, he assured readers that “Those who are led to study this rational theology in the light of the best knowledge and soundest thought, will enter a fertile field, and will find a surprising harmony between the Gospel and all discovered truth” (p. iv).3 Widtsoe clearly wanted readers to see that though he based his statements of church doctrine on the external authority of Mormon scriptures, doctrine by its own internal consistency will stand the test of rationality. Because of this emphasis, Rational Theology is generally recognized as his most intellectually significant work.
Sterling M. McMurrin, a Mormon widely known prior to his death as a philosopher and educator and as well a sympathetic critic of Mormon theology, believed the intention and spirit of Widtsoe’s little book helped to preserve what McMurrin regarded as a central strength of Mormonism. He held that Widtsoe’s effort sustained the view, long upheld in the church from its early days by key leaders, that theology ought to be rational.4 McMurrin contended that Mormon theologians in the past pursued with vigor the task of making the thought of the church reasonable in the light of science and philosophy; however, “Today, much of that strength is gone as Mormonism suffers the impact of religious and social conservatism, as the Mormon mind, in the general pattern of contemporary religion, yields to the seductions of irrationalism, and as the energies of the Church are increasingly drained by practical interests.”5 In light of this trend, McMurrin saw Widtsoe’s sponsorship of rationality as his most important contribution to Mormon intellectual life, especially when an essentially non-rational strain seems to be entering the life of the church. Widtsoe’s promotion that Mormon theology is rational and the fact that his book was officially and widely used by the church may be more important in the long run in preserving the tradition of rationality in the church than his exposition of the theology itself.
Widtsoe begins his exposition of rational theology by defining the basic realities on which it rests. These fundamental givens appear constantly in his writings on science and other topics. He depicts man in the midst of a bewilderingly complex and seemingly mysterious universe, which man must come to understand, if only in part, in order “to know if possible his own place in the system of existing things” (p. 1).6 From what man is able to learn of the universe, he fashions his philosophy of life, or religion as Widtsoe calls it. If such a philosophy includes the idea of God, it is theology; and if the theology “includes the doctrine of the life and mission of Jesus Christ, as Son of God,” it is termed the gospel, the Christian religion, or the Christian theology. Widtsoe uses these terms interchangeably to designate the rational theology that he describes in his book.7
This knowledge from which man develops his religion is learned through his physical and spiritual senses and the accumulated learning of other men. But whatever the source of knowledge, man must test it by his own reason to determine if it is truth, for he must come to know for himself that the rational theology is based only on all “irrevocable truths.” The first of these is eternalism, which holds that matter, energy, and intelligence—the components of the universe—are uncreated, indestructible, eternal, and forever fixed. These components interact according to laws or principles of cause and effect that likewise are immutable and eternal. Therefore, this universe is at base reliable and knowable, not chaotic and mysterious, a central premise of the rational theology Widtsoe presented to the LDS church.
God and man—eternal, self-existent, uncreated intelligences (individuals) within the universe—by the exertion of will learn the principles that determine the interaction of the universe’s parts. Through knowledge they achieve power over matter and energy. God—the greatest intelligence, the most knowing being—controls and directs all “the operations of nature, from the simplest to the most complex” (p. 13). Man is assured that he too can eventually exercise such godly powers if he continues to learn.
God and man are the same kind of being, different not in their nature but in their relative accomplishment of power through the acquisition and use of knowledge. God’s power so far exceeds man’s that to man God is all-powerful. Yet the god Widtsoe portrays is not the absolutistic god of classic Christian theology but a dynamic god who is part of the universe and subject to universal laws. God, too, is growing: “If the great law of progression is accepted, God must have been engaged from the beginning, and must now be engaged in progressive development, and, infinite as God is, he must have been less powerful in the past than he is today” (p. 23).8
With God’s help man learns of the universe and extends his power over it. Each increasingly powerful person acting ever more intelligently on matter and energy operates under what Widtsoe calls the law of increasing complexity, another fundamental on which a rational theology is based. This law is that
As man observes phenomena and reasons upon them and applies them he grows in knowledge. Where he formerly had one fact to use, now he has many. … [M]an, as he gathers experience, becomes more powerful in using the forces of nature in the accomplishment of his purposes. … [T]he great law becomes a law of increasing power, of progressive mastery over the universe. … [T]he law expressing the resultant of the activities of universal forces is often called the law of progression (p. 20).
Extended to its logical conclusion, this line of thought leads to the proposition that the meaning of life is related to a man’s growth in learning and hence in power over the forces of the universe. This holds true for God and for man.
But power is not the summum bonum. Joy is. And joy is the growing sense man has of his increasing power over his surroundings gained through knowledge and the sense of fulfillment he has from helping others to increase their powers. Throughout his development from his pre-earth life, through his earth life, to the life after death, man learns to deal with the forms of matter and energy in each state of his experience and to experience joy in his growth.
In each estate, with each onward step, a profounder knowledge of the laws of nature is attained. When conscious, active wills are thus at work, the new knowledge makes possible a more perfect adaptation of man to law. The more completely law is obeyed the greater the consciousness of perfect joy. Throughout eternal life, increasing intelligence is attained, and with increasing knowledge comes the greater adaptation to law, and in the end an increasingly greater joy (p. 31).9
From the concept of eternalism, the law of increasing complexity, and the view that man’s fulfillment comes through growth in knowledge and resultant joy, Widtsoe defines rational theology as
an eternal plan based upon the everlasting relationship of the elements of the universe—a plan which, in some form, is adapted everywhere and forever, for the advancement of personal beings. This must be so, for as it leads to a definite end, and in accordance with the law of cause and effect, it must have a universal meaning.
…The Gospel is founded on tangible and eternal things and relationships. These eternal realities, no doubt, in their essence, lie beyond the full understanding of man, just as time and space transcend human understanding. This conception, carried far enough, leads to a gospel of life philosophy which is unshakable, because it rests upon eternal certainty (pp. 14-15).
These “eternal realities,” on which the gospel or rational theology is based, are in summary: The universe is a dynamic interaction of eternally existing matter, energy, and intelligent persons. Through increasing knowledge and mutual help, these persons (God and man) experience the joy of extending their mastery over the universe, which is ever increasing in complexity by the interaction of its components. Since God is far beyond man in power, he helps man by sharing his knowledge and experience with him. This is done by God’s revealing to him the gospel, a plan to more effectively learn and to use knowledge to extend dominion and gain joy in the experience. As God so helps man to grow, he requires that men help each other. These fundamentals of rational theology, strongly materialistic, presented in a highly rationalist manner, and emphasizing the importance of knowledge, provide a base for Widtsoe’s writings and sermons, and they are expressed or implied throughout his works.
During this early period (1897-1920) Widtsoe clearly idealized science. But as powerful as science had been in promoting love and search for truth and in shaping the modern world, Widtsoe in later works reminded readers more and more directly that science is only as “trustworthy” as the fallible human minds that conceived and developed it. This retreat from his praise of science in Rational Theology, for example, is illustrated in his 1939 response to the question “How Trustworthy Is Science?” After questioning man’s ability both to accurately observe nature and to interpret it correctly, he concluded, “Science is trustworthy as far as human senses and reason are trustworthy—no more. When the credentials of science are examined, the claims of religion seem more credible than ever.”10 This seems dark commentary for one who had previously written, “The triumphs of science are evidence of the supremacy of mind—a supremacy which dominates all nature.” It is a dim view of science as a product of the human mind and, it seems, a dismal reflection on any product of the human mind.
Why did Widtsoe begin to express his reservations about science when he had projected such a glowing vision of it earlier? By this later time he had spent six years directing the church’s missionary work in Europe (1927-33) when there was little time or opportunity to keep abreast of science and to nourish its values as he had done earlier. Also, for several intense years he had concentrated on converting people to the gospel in a simple and fundamentalistic way, not on presenting church members with evidence from science that Mormonism is true. Such an intense and simplified mode of work among people quite different from scholars and intellectuals must have altered his thinking about “how science contributes to religion.”
The distractions of this period in world history, too, contributed to his narrowing outlook on science. Times were difficult in post-war Depression years.11 The Mormon church was still somewhat in disrepute in Europe, though it was being regarded more and more favorably. Concentrating on converting people to Mormonism, Widtsoe came increasingly to present a picture of life in black and white. His growing preoccupation with this struggle is illustrated in the title of his collection Man and the Dragon, which, in his words, “implies man’s constant but victorious battle with the forces of evil issuing from ?the dragon, that old serpent, which is the devil, and Satan.'”12 In several places he reflected his growing remorse over the problems of society as he visited church members in various nations: “The traveler over the civilized world is sated and sickened by the never-ending glorification of war, and lingers for refreshment at the few shrines erected in honor of the people, patient men who have made our beautiful world more glorious for humanity.”13 And he wrote in his autobiography about those times: “Political conditions were at their worst in Europe. Hate, jealousy, destruction, were at work. Germany was still smarting under her defeat in World War I. Communism was entering the land.”14
Thus building the church in Europe during hard times and against mounting evil came to the forefront of Widtsoe’s mind. Much like the author of Revelation, from which he took the quote about “the dragon,” Widtsoe saw the issue as a cosmic war between good and evil with converts and missionaries as soldiers “battling for truth on the outposts of Zion.”15 A reading of two of his general conference sermons, the first delivered during a visit home in 1931, the second after his return, indicates two aspects of his changed view. In his 1931 talk he voiced a sense of urgency that the church take an authoritative role in the battle with evil: “We must stand upon our feet as men and as women possessing the true knowledge and authority of God, and teach it without hesitation to all the world. … We are the teachers of the world.”16 In the second he expressed remorse for humankind which possessed the scientific potential for unprecedented progress but which had failed even to fulfill the practical needs of men:
We stand at the pinnacle of human achievement, every natural force is more or less under our control. We have the radio, the telephone, the electric light, types of conquest undreamed of in the generations gone before; and yet we stand helpless from country to country, from ocean to ocean, before the means of supplying the common needs of mankind. We have harnessed the forces of nature but we are unable to apply them and use them to meet human needs. It is indeed a pathetic chapter that we are writing.17
It may be supposed that once he was back home he would change. But he did not. Nineteen years later, with additional evidence of man’s moral failure to use the discoveries of science, Widtsoe wrote this last sad testament: “The first and most fundamental error has been that in man’s mighty search for the truths of the universe which has made our civilization, he has confined himself, almost wholly, to the material world. Men are victoriously certain of physical laws—there they face the light; but confronting spiritual laws, they stand in cowed uncertainty—facing the darkness.”18 For Widtsoe, science offered evidence to support religion, but it did not lead men to experience it. A deep regret had come upon him since he wrote fifty years earlier, “The coming of the new century fills me with feverish joy.”
By the late 1930s, the days of his concerted promotion of science were past. Though he attempted to keep up on science, he lacked the continuing stimulation of scientific work and association with scientists. More importantly, his ministry changed his perspective; and, at last, he partially lost the earlier optimism he had for science. This change would have been natural given his life as an apostle, his increasing preoccupation with the growth of the church, his deepening dismay over the near wreckage of the Western world through war and economic collapse, and his fears of another war. Yet his reservations also developed with the onset of age and troubled times. During what many believed were his most creative and optimistic years—his earlier, expansive years—he projected a genuine confidence to the church that science was potentially a great handmaiden to religion and a key to material progress. Just before he embarked for Europe in 1927, he wrote this passage in fervent praise of science:
This is a rapidly growing day. Knowledge is increasing beyond the capacity of any one man to understand and remember it. Science is changing our lives completely by the application of its gifts to daily life. So overwhelming is this change that all other knowledge is being investigated in the light of science—its methods and results. The question is constantly asked, Do the results of science confirm or do they tend to disprove the doctrines of religion? The answer comes with great distinctness, as our knowledge becomes more firmly established. The findings of science confirm and enlarge our sound religious views: and science, being a search for truth, stands, as the handmaiden of religion, which is the search for the greatest truth.19
With such a view displayed in his early years, there are good reasons to remember Widtsoe more for his distinctive voice of optimism than for the warnings he came to share with the rising doomsday chorus. Even in later life, on occasion, he flew the banner of science.
Above all else, John A. Widtsoe was an avowed Mormon. For his faith, he was many things to many people: promoter, publicist, apologist, idealist, authority, spiritual exemplar, reconciler, testifier, sentimentalist, and truth-seeker. But he was also, by disposition and training, a rational scholar-scientist. These roles of religionist and rationalist were compatible in Widtsoe’s mind; his commitment to Mormonism was both intellectual and emotional. He was convinced Mormonism is a rational theology, comprised of unchanging, fundamental truths about the nature of God, man, and the material universe. He resonated with the Mormon proposition that God’s glory lay in his intelligent power over the universe and in his purpose to help men become increasingly, eternally, and more effectively intelligent about the universe, first through gaining knowledge of gospel principles, then all knowledge, conceived in Mormon theology to be encompassed in the gospel.
Widtsoe’s sponsorship of the idea that theology should be a rational venture that we all must engage in for ourselves and his own personal truth-seeking example were nourishing for many who needed that kind of diet. One who spent a life of distinguished and individualized service in LDS education confided, as he fondly leafed through Rational Theology, “Widtsoe’s emphasis on human reason helped me to keep intellectually ‘alive’ through the years.”
Another who knew his work well said, “Widtsoe’s most significant contribution was in maintaining that theology ought to be reasonable.” Still another commented with appreciation, “John Widtsoe presented to the church the idea that a learned and educated man can remain faithful in the church, and, you see, that is a testimony to me.” Russell B. Swenson, former professor of Bible studies at Brigham Young University, was impressed by Widtsoe’s careful scholarship and with his emphasis on freedom of thought, tolerance for varying views, and deep interest in learning and reason. As a young teacher in the church, Swenson was so impressed with Widtsoe’s scholarly and open demeanor that he was encouraged to pursue a graduate degree, which he did at the University of Chicago.20 Students today who know Rational Theology also express pleasure in the kind of expansive and sensible manner in which Widtsoe endeavored to present Mormonism. Widtsoe did much to help retain the high regard for the use of the mind in the search for truth in religion and for the ideal of learning established in the early Mormon church by Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, and others.
Widtsoe not only wrote about the importance of learning, reason, and science, but when he spoke on these themes, he bore testimony to the importance of truth-seeking and science. That was the highest expression of conviction he could give in their behalf and a poignant educative force in his church pedagogy. Though he also possessed a powerful emotional response to Mormonism, he was heralded principally as the exponent of learning and reason, as the scientist who was convinced that Mormonism could hold its own in the intellectual marketplace of the world.
Yet if he held Mormonism to be the superior truth system that people could scrutinize and study, why did he not devote more time and thought to present a fuller case for it to the church, especially in his later years? Most probably he came to believe that the affective side of his response to Mormonism was in the end that which brought him the certainty he sought and which he tried to provide the church. His emotional ties to Mormons and the church as an institution with a world mission came to take precedence over his scholarly concerns, rationality, and all the vestiges of his professional life in education and science. Religion as experience rather than proposition was what Widtsoe finally came to “cling” to at the end of his life.
Whatever the paradoxes in Widtsoe’s roles to the church, he was a man who can be remembered for what he did do to promote thought, learning, and the uses of science to build the church. Perhaps he did not present his case to the satisfaction of those who needed more, but he did hold up the ideal of rationality as well as it has ever been done among the church’s general authorities. For that he should be remembered.
1. Rational Theology went through six editions between 1915 and 1952 and was translated into seven languages. It was used as an instructional manual for the Melchizedek priesthood and for the Mutual Improvement Association during several different years. It has been read for over sixty years by people from Norway to South America and by adults and youth alike.
2. Those were the days when men of Widtsoe’s professional stature wrote their own manuals for the church, which freely stood on the writers’ individual thought and experience and which bore their names. Those were also the days when faithful men from academic life were chosen to be authorities, certainly because of their devotion, but also presumably because of their learning. That this was so is seen in the fact that during part of Widtsoe’s ministry, four of the twelve apostles had Ph.D’s in science and were academicians: James E. Talmage, John A. Widtsoe, Joseph F. Merrill, and Richard R. Lyman. Now men with managerial abilities are needed more.
3. Widtsoe would have strengthened his case for a rational theology by explicitly demonstrating this harmony as he endeavored to do in his writings on science and Mormonism, though he may have felt it was not appropriate to do so in this little book and that its function was merely an overview of a rational theology.
4. Interview with Sterling M. McMurrin, May 26, 1976.
5. Sterling M. McMurrin, The Theological Foundations of the Mormon Religion (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1965), 111.
6. Widtsoe assumes from the outset that the universe is a “system” and hence orderly, that it is essentially meaningful and knowable because it is directed by God, and that man does have his place in it by divine appointment. Since Widtsoe assumes a commonality among men, he can write, “All men are placed in the same universe, with approximately the same powers, and under conditions nearly alike” (p. 2). This alleged commonality of men and what Widtsoe takes to be the universality of gospel principles helps him meet the inherent difficulties of arguing for the one true gospel for all humankind in the face of the many glaring dissimilarities among people who live in such widely differing places and times in world history.
7. The term “gospel” is popularly used by Mormons to denominate their whole range of religious thought and practice. Widtsoe used it in Rational Theology more specifically to mean a system of theology. Elsewhere (in the pulpit) he lapsed into the popular usage.
8. The doctrine of a growing god was taught by such early Mormon leaders as Brigham Young and Wilford Woodruff and, later, B. H. Roberts. But in recent times the idea of God as absolute and infinite in all respects—a static god in his perfection—has been preached by some contemporary leaders. For an historical-philosophical treatment of the Mormon view of God as a non-absolutistic being, see McMurrin, The Theological Foundations, chap. 9.
9. “Estate” designates a separate time period in man’s existence. Commenting on the importance of man’s experience with the matter of this earth estate, Widtsoe wrote: “No spirit can acquire real mastery over the universe until this form of matter is so thoroughly understood as to be used and governed” (p. 30). This helps to account for Widtsoe’s interest in the study of soil chemistry and in his urge to master nature. It is further an illustration of his Mormon theology influencing his life in a decided manner.
10. Widtsoe, “How Trustworthy is Science?” Improvement Era 42 (Nov. 1939): 673.
11. T. Edgar Lyon, a Mormon historian and mission president for a time under Widtsoe in Europe, said that Widtsoe foresaw another war and endeavored to adjust the leadership of the European missions with that possibility in view. This was still another distraction to Widtsoe’s mind (interview with I. Edgar Lyon, Feb. 17, 1977).
12. Widtsoe, Man and the Dragon (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1945), 14.
13. Ibid., 14. Widtsoe admired individuals, scientists, and others whose work advanced humankind, as is indicated here.
14. Widtsoe, In a Sunlit Land (Salt Lake City: Published by Milton R. Hunter and G. Homer Durham, 1952), 201.
15. Widtsoe, LDS Conference Report, Apr. 1934, 114.
16. Widtsoe, LDS Conference Report, Apr. 1931, 60.
17. Widtsoe, LDS Conference Report, Apt. 1934, 115.
18. Widtsoe, “Has Christianity Failed?” Improvement Era 56 (Jan. 1953): 79.
19. Widtsoe, How Science Contributes to Religion (Salt Lake City: The General Board of the Y.M.M.I.A., 1927), 7.
20. For the influence that Widtsoe and other officials of the Mormon church had in encouraging young scholars to pursue graduate degrees out of Utah, see Russell B. Swenson, “Mormons at the University of Chicago Divinity School: A Personal Reminiscence,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 7 (Summer 1972): 13-26. For a contrasting view, see Ephraim E. Erickson, “William H. Chamberlin, Pioneer Mormon Philosopher,” Western Humanities Review 8 (Autumn 1954): 268ff.
* * * * *
A rational theology, as understood in this volume, is a theology which (1) is based on fundamental principles that harmonize with the knowledge and reason of man, (2) derives all of its laws, ordinances and authority from the accepted fundamental principles, and (3) finds expression and use in the everyday life of man. In short, a rational theology is derived from the invariable laws of the universe, and exists for the good of man.
This volume is an exposition; it is not an argument. The principles of the Gospel, as held by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, are stated, briefly, simply and without comment, to show the coherence, reasonableness and universality of the gospel philosophy. The authority for many of the statements found in the volume is given in the references included in the appendix. The doctrines herein stated are, however, the common knowledge of the members of the Church. No attempt has been made to correlate the doctrines discussed with current philosophical opinions. Those who are led to study this rational theology in the light of the best knowledge and soundest thought, will enter a fertile field, and will find a surprising harmony between the Gospel and all discovered truth.
The book could not be made larger, were it to serve well the special purpose for which it was written. Therefore, the treatment is brief and many important and interesting subjects are omitted. Moreover, the book had to be completed within a short, set time, and many of the imperfections of the work are the results of the hurried preparation.
Every writer who in this day attempts an exposition of the Gospel must draw heavily upon the clear thoughts of those who, from Joseph Smith to the living workers, have written and spoken in behalf of the truth. I acknowledge, gratefully, my obligation to the makers of “Mormon” literature. Many friends have, also, in various ways, given kindly aid; to them I offer hearty and sincere thanks.
JOHN A. WIDTSOE
* * * * *
GOD AND MAN.
The doctrine of man’s pre-existence leads to an understanding of the relationship between God and man, which must lie at the very basis of rational theology.
Why God is God. To determine this relationship between God and man it is necessary to discuss, first, the conditions under which God became God. As already said, God is the supreme intelligent Being in the universe, who has the greatest knowledge and the most perfected will, and who, therefore, possesses infinite power over the forces of the universe. However, if the great law of progression is accepted, God must have been engaged from the beginning, and must now be engaged in progressive development, and, infinite as God is, he must have been less powerful in the past than he is today. While it is folly for man to attempt to unravel in detail the mystery of the past, yet it is only logical to believe that a progressive God has not always possessed his present position.
It is clear also that, as with every other being, the progress of God began with the exercise of his will. In “the beginning” which transcends our understanding, God undoubtedly exercised his will vigorously, and thus gained great experience of the forces lying about him. As knowledge grew into greater knowledge, by the persistent efforts of will, his recognition of universal laws became greater until he attained at last a conquest over the universe, which to our finite understanding seems absolutely complete. We may be certain that, through self-effort, the inherent and innate powers of God have been developed to a God-like degree. Thus, he has become God.
God, the supreme Being of the universe, absolutely transcends the human understanding. His intelligence is as the sum of all other intelligences. There can be no rational discussion of the details of God’s life or nature. To him we give the most complete devotion, for to us he is in all respects infinite and perfect. His Godhood, however, was attained by the use of his power in simple obedience to the laws he discovered as he grew in experience.
Many Gods. During the onward march of the Supreme Being, other intelligent beings were likewise engaged, though less vigorously, in acquiring power over the forces of the universe. Among many intelligent beings thus moving onward, there is little probability of any two attaining exactly the same place, at the same time. There is rather the probability of infinite gradation from the lowest to the highest development. Next to God, there may be, therefore, other intelligent beings so nearly approaching his power as to he coequal with him in all things so far as our finite understanding can perceive. These beings may be immeasurably far from God in power, nevertheless immeasureably far above us mortal men of the earth. Such intelligent beings are as Gods to us. Under this definition there may he a great number of intelligent beings who possess to a greater or less degree the quality of Godhood.
The acceptance of the preceding doctrines makes it almost a logical necessity that there are many gods or beings so highly developed that they are as gods, in fact are Gods. This is a fundamental doctrine of the Gospel.
Why Man is Man. It is fairly evident from what has been said why man is man. Man is subject to eternal laws, and in the far-off beginning he must have exercised his will more slowly or not at all; perhaps, even, as laws came to him he ignored or opposed them. As more knowledge and power are attained, growth becomes increasingly more rapid. God, exalted by his glorious intelligence, is moving on into new fields of power with a rapidity of which we can have no conception, whereas man, in a lower stage of development, moves relatively at a snail-like, though increasing pace. Man is, nevertheless, moving on, in eternal progression. “As man is, God once was; as God is, man may become.” In short, man is a god in embryo. He comes of a race of gods, and as his eternal growth is continued, he will approach more nearly the point which to us is Godhood, and which is everlasting in its power over the elements of the universe.
God’s Help to Man. Self-effort, the conscious operation of will, has moved man onward to his present high degree. However, while all progress is due to self-effort, other beings of power may contribute largely to the ease of man’s growth. God, standing alone, cannot conceivably possess the power that may come to him if the hosts of other advancing and increasing workers labor in harmony with him. Therefore, because of his love for his children and his desire to continue in the way of even greater growth, he proceeded to aid others in their onward progress.
Knowledge may be transmitted from intelligence to intelligence. God offered to the waiting intelligent beings the knowledge that he had already gained, so that they need not traverse that road, but might attack some other phase of universal existence. He devised plans of progression whereby the experiences of one person might be used by an inferior one. Each person should give of his experience to others, so that none should do unnecessary work. In that manner, through the united effort of all, the whole race of progressive beings would receive an added onward impetus.
Man’s Help to God. The progress of intelligent beings is a mutual affair. A lone God in the universe cannot find great joy in his power. God, being in harmony with eternal laws, can progress best as the whole universe becomes more complex, or advances. The development of intelligence increases the complexity of the universe, for each active individual may bring new relationships into view, and increases many-fold the body of acquired truth. In that sense, the man who progresses through his increase in knowledge and power, becomes a co[-]laborer with God, and may be said, indeed, to be a help to God. It is a comforting thought, not only that we need God but also that God needs us. True, the need God has of us is relatively small, and the help he gives its is infinitely large, yet the relation exists for the comfort and assurance of man.
God’s Attributes. To analyze the supreme intelligence of the universe, the God whom we worship, is a futile attempt, to which men of shallow minds, only, give their time. That which is infinite transcends the human understanding. The Gospel accepts this condition, calmly, knowing that, in the scheme of things, greater truths will come with increased power, until, in the progress of time, we shall understand that which now seems incomprehensible. For that reason, eternal, or everlasting, or infinite things are things understood by God, the supreme and governing Power, but not understood by us. Thus, “eternal punishment is God’s punishment; endless punishment is God’s punishment.” Likewise, everlasting joy or endless blessings are God’s joy and God’s blessings. Man acknowledges in this manner that all things are relative to God.
Man does not understand God fully, yet an understanding between man and God does exist in that God in the course of his progression has gone over the road that we are traveling and therefore understands its fully. He understands our difficulties, our hopes, our sorrows, our faults and our follies. God is supreme, and his justice is perfect; his love is unmeasureable and his mercy without end; for his justice and love and mercy are tempered by the memory of his own upward career. God’s relation to man is, in a literal sense, that of father to son, for we are of the same race with God. We may rest secure that God’s attributes are, with others, those that man possesses, made great and beautiful. He is our Father who knows and understands us.
We are not the last spirits to enter upon the earth career. There are yet countless numbers of unborn spirits waiting for the privilege of receiving earthly bodies and of tasting the sorrows and the joys of earth. The living, who understand the Great Plan, must not then confine their attention to themselves and to those who have gone before. The waiting spirits must be a concern of our lives.
Eternity of Sex. It has already been said that sex is an eternal principle. The equivalent of sex has always existed and wilt continue forever. As the sex relation, then, represents an eternal condition, the begetting of children is coincidently an eternal necessity. We were begotten into the spirit world by God the Father, and have been born into the world which we now possess.
The Waiting Spirits. According to the Great Plan, all who, in the Great Council, accepted the Christ, will in time appear on earth, clothed with mortal bodies. All these spirits must be born as children into the world. A high purpose, if not the main one, of the earth work must be, therefore, to continue the race by begetting children and properly caring for them until they reach maturity. Undoubtedly, the waiting spirits are hoping patiently for their turn to reach the earth—a glorious step in the progressive advancement of man, which the spirits have earned by their righteous lives.
The Meaning of the First Command. This doctrine makes clear the meaning of the first great command, to multiply and replenish the earth. It is not only for the joy and satisfaction of humanity that the sex relation, with the possibility of begetting offspring, prevails on earth, but as much for the fulfilment of the eternal Great Plan. It becomes a necessary duty, for all wedded persons who dwell on earth, to bring children into the world. This is the greatest and holiest and most necessary mission of man, with respect to the waiting spirits. Fatherhood and motherhood become glorified in the light of the eternal plan of salvation.
The doctrine that wedded man and woman should not beget children or should limit the number of children born to them, is contrary to the spirit of the Great Plan, and is a most erroneous one. Let the waiting spirits come! Let children be born into the earth! Let fatherhood and motherhood be the most honored of all the professions on earth! Marriage resulting in parenthood is a great evidence of the reality of the brotherhood of man, of the unselfishness of man. However, only in the marriage relation should children be begotten. Looseness of life, between man and woman, is the most terrible of human iniquities, for it leads, assuredly, to the physical decay of the race. With the sanction of the Priesthood, men and women should contract to live together as husband and wife.
The Family. The unit of society is the family. The family circle is intimate, and in it the keenest human loves prevail. As the family develops so will society, as a whole, develop. By children comes complete family life. Without children, family life is incomplete. Children are, then, a real necessity in the fulfilling of the possibilities of the Church. The true Church always encourages the begetting of children; the intensifying of family life, and the dignifying of all the duties pertaining to procreation.
Celestial Marriage. If sex is eternal, it follows of necessity, that the marriage covenant may also be eternal. It is not a far step to the doctrine that after the earth work has been completed, and exaltation in the next estate has been attained, one of the chief duties of men and women will be to beget spiritual children. These spirits, in turn, in the process of time, will come down upon an earth, there to obtain an acquaintance with gross matter, and through the possession of earthly bodies to control more fully, and forever, the manifold forces surrounding them. It is one of the rewards of intelligent development, that we may be to other spiritual beings, what our God has been to us.
Among those who understand the Gospel, marriage may be, and indeed should be, for time and eternity. Marriage that lasts only during the earth life is a sad one, for the love established between man and woman, as they live together and rear their family, does not wish to die, but to live to grow richer with the eternal years. Marriage for time and eternity establishes a unique relation between husband and wife. Their children belong to them for time and eternity; the family is continued from this earth into the next life, and becomes a unit in the eternal life, and, in all family relations, the vision is cast forward, in anticipation of an undying relationship.
The Sealing Powers. Naturally, the power to seal men and women to each other, for time and eternity, and to seal children to their parents for eternal ages, is a supreme power, committed to man’s keeping. The President of the Church is the only person on the earth who holds the keys of these sealing ordinances. True, he may delegate his power to workers in the temples, so that celestial marriages and sealings may go on, but such delegated authority may be withdrawn at any moment. In that respect, it differs wholly from the power of the Priesthood, which can be withdrawn from a man only who is found in sin. It is proper that only one man should hold this power, for it is of infinite effect, and should be guarded with the most jealous care, and kept from the frail prejudices and jealousies of men.
The power to bind for time and eternity is the power, also, to loose that which has been bound, should it be found necessary. Undoubtedly, under human conditions, mistakes may be made, but if such mistakes are made and are not rectified on earth, they will, no doubt, under a supervising intelligent Being, be rectified in the hereafter. It is, however, only through the sealing power that the eternal relationship of the sexes, the eternal increase of life, and the consequent eternal joy, may be obtained.