Do We Need to Obey or Can We Simply Believe?

It is often stated in a Sunday School class something along the lines of  “The Lord knows your heart and if you would obey (insert gospel principle), don’t worry about if you actually have to do it”. This is often in reference to going through persecution, giving up land, jobs, family, etc. for the Gospel, doing something like the pioneers, or a whole list of other such things.

Thankfully, this issue has already been addressed and we, as faithful saints, don’t need to speculate. One of the Lords prophets during this last dispensation, John Taylor, wrote to a questioning sister about a gospel principle she wondered if she could simply believe and not have to obey in this life. Though our questions might be about different issues, this principle will help us discern.

As found in Brigham Young University special collections

A letter from John Taylor to Mrs. Malinda J. Merrill, Salt Lake City, Utah, January 19, 1883.

Dear Sister:

In regard to the question which you have proposed pertaining to plurality of wives you say: ‘According to my understanding of the revelation, I thought it was sealing, but some say it is plurality.’ Permit me to say that it is both, you will find that the revelation is on The Eternity of the Marriage Covenant, including Plurality of Wives, and the first paragraph reads:

‘Verily thus saith the Lord, unto you my Servant Joseph, that inasmuch as you have inquired of my hand, to know and understand wherein I the Lord justified my Servants, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; as also my servants Moses, David and Solomon, as touching the principle and doctrine of their having many wives and concubines.’

The question that was asked was evidently in relation to those people, and especially in relation to the plurality of wives. In the 4th verse it is said:

‘For behold, I reveal unto you a new, and everlasting covenant, and if ye abide not that covenant, then are ye damned, for no one can reject this covenant and be permitted to enter into my glory. For all who will have a blessing at my hand shall abide the law which was appointed for that blessing, and the conditions thereof as were instituted from before the foundation of the world, and as pertaining to the new, and everlasting covenant, it was instituted for the fulness of my glory, and he that receive the fullness thereof, must and shall abide my law, or he shall be damned, saith the Lord God.’

You ask: ‘If a man and woman go to the House of the Lord and get their Endowments and are sealed for time and all eternity, and they two live together quietly and peaceably and teach their children the principles of life and salvation, and bring them up in the fear of the Lord, will they gain an exaltation in the Celestial Kingdom with a continuation of their seed or not? I have been sealed to my husband, and my patriarchal blessing says: “I shall raise children in the Millenium,” and I would like to live so as to gain that blessing. I hear men say that one cannot gain an exaltation and a continuation of their seed in the eternal world unless they take more wives than one, and I am anxious to understand it.’ In fulfilling this, you have entered so far into the everlasting covenant, which is so far into the everlasting covenant, which is so far acceptable before the Lord, but in regard to the Law, it is further said, verse 32: ‘Go ye, therefore, and do the works of Abraham.’ The question is: What is the Law? The 34th verse says:

‘God commanded Abraham, and Sarah gave Hagar to Abraham to wife. And why did she do it? Because this was the law: and from Hagar sprang many people. This, therefore, was fulfilling, among other things, the promises.’

In the 37th verse it is said:

‘Abraham received concubines, and they bore him children, and it was accounted unto him for righteousness, because they were given unto him, and he abode my law; as Isaac also, and Jacob did none other things than that which they were commanded.’ ‘David also received many wives and concubines, as also Solomon and Moses my servants; as also many others of my servants. from the beginning of creation until this time; and in nothing did they sin, save in those things which they received not of me.’ 38th verse.

You seem desirous to take part of the Law and reject the other part, but it is plainly stated as above quoted, that they were ‘to do the works of Abraham, and that if ye enter not into my Law, ye cannot receive the promise of my Father which was made unto Abraham.’ It is further said:

‘God commanded Abraham and Sarah gave Hagar to Abraham to wife, and that the reason why she did it was because it was the Law.’

It is evident therefore from the whole of the above that other wives were included in this Law as well as the one. You further inquire: ‘What is the difference in a man having dead wives sealed to him than living women, so that he has one living wife; will they gain as great an exaltation if they have dead women sealed to them as they would if they had living women sealed to them?’

This Law pertains more particularly to the living, and on this point I refer you to verse 52 wherein it is said:

‘And let mine handmaid, Emma Smith, receive all those that have been given unto my servant Joseph, and who are virtuous and pure before me; and those who are not pure, and have said they were pure, shall be destroyed, saith the Lord God,’

and in the 64th verse:

‘And again, verily, verily, I say unto you, if any man have a wife, who holds the keys of this power, and he teaches unto her this law of my Priesthood, as pertaining to these things, then shall she believe and administer unto him, or she shall be destroyed, said the Lord your God; for I will destroy her; for I will magnify my name upon all those who receive and abide in my law.’

‘This is the Law of Sarah, who administered unto Abraham according to the Law, when I commanded Abraham to take Hagar to wife.’

You seem to be desirous of having dead women sealed to your husband instead of living ones, where as the law pertaining to these matters does not put things in that shape. We read that the Lord commanded and Sarah gave Hagar to Abraham to wife, and it is for wives as well as husbands to perform their part in relation to these matters as explicitly stated in verse 64 wherein it is said:

‘If he teaches unto her the law of my Priesthood as pertaining to these things, then shall she believe and administer unto him, or she shall be destroyed, saith the Lord your God.’

Circumstances do not always place it in the power of man to enter into this Covenant and these matters are left with the Lord to adjust, but no man or woman has authority to point out any other way than that which the Lord has appointed.

Respectfully your Brother in the Gospel.

Signed: John Taylor.

3 thoughts on “Do We Need to Obey or Can We Simply Believe?”

  1. We as humans generally tend to feel emotions about the subject of polygamy in the light of our current understanding and experiences – which is very normal human behaviour and very a very normal human way of thinking and experiencing emotion. We tend to find it extremely difficult to remove our conscious thinking process from the quagmire of emotions and socially imposed norms.

    If we can learn anything else from the Law of the Everlasting Covenant as it dealt with divine polygamy, it would be that God’s way of perceiving, judging, thinking, and feeling is so infinitely more elevated than that of humans. and at the very least, we should be willing to admit to ourselves that we will be denying ourselves blessings when we refuse to let go of human perception. We need to be truthful to ourselves and admit that we feel uncomfortable and perhaps even scared to make a jump of faith, and then recognize that we will be even further blessed by being obedient to the Lord in the face of our fears.

    1. Though the example of Celestial Marriage was given, it wasn’t the point of the post. When we get distracted by issues instead of focusing on principles, we let emotion get in the way.

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