Some articles and talks have come out recently making the claim that,
“the phrase ‘free agency’ does not appear in the scriptures”
Is that true? Is the term “free agency” not found in the scriptures and isn’t really anything more than a figment of Mormon culture?
First, it is important to understand what “scripture” is. Too often we confuse “canon” with “scripture” or conflate the two as being the same thing.
Canon is something a religious group of people vote on to be authoritative. The Council of Trent voted to accept bible text in 1546 as canon.
Scripture is defined by the Lord as,
“whatsoever they shall speak when moved upon by the Holy Ghost shall be scripture” D&C 68:4
Something can be canon but not be scripture, and something can be scripture and not be canon. For example, the Songs of Solomon are in our canonized scripture yet the prophet Joseph Smith said,
“The Songs of Solomon are not inspired writings,” note in JST manuscript
On the other hand, we have section 138 of the Doctrine and Covenants that was given to Joseph F. Smith in 1918 but were not “canonized” until 1976 and was then put into the “standard works” in 1979.
One of the articles “debunking” “free agency” gives some good background on early usage of the term saying,
“One of the earliest references to ‘free agency’ comes from a lecture on theocracy by Orson Pratt in 1859. Discussing the approach of the Second Coming, he said, ‘While time shall last, the free agency of man should be protected…’ (emphasis added). However, a few lines later he goes on to say that ‘when the archangel shall stand forth…woe be unto the wicked and those who have rejected the servants of God, for they shall be…punished for the abuse of that moral agency given them…’ (emphasis added).
A decade or so later, in 1872, Brigham Young said ‘We have our free agency, to think and act just as men think and act, independent of the promptings of the Spirit of God; but that is not our object…’ (emphasis added).
Soon after, in 1873, Pratt added to this evolving idea of ‘free agency,’ explaining that ‘The spirits of men and women who leave this world are intelligent, and intelligence is founded upon free agency, and hence, inasmuch as they who are in the spirit world are agents, they can exercise that agency in believing; when they have a testimony they can exercise that agency in repenting of sins of which they have been guilty’”
However, unlike the statements made in recent articles, this wasn’t a mere product of mistaken culture. No, the phrase is actually found in scripture (which the above actually qualify as if they were spoken “when moved upon by the Holy Ghost”), they were spoken by the Lord Himself.
In this dispensation, we have documentation of the Lord using the term “free agency”, no less than eleven (11) times.
“And because I am kind and beneficent to all peoples, and because I have given to man his free agency, and have always maintained that free agency among all peoples” (Revelation to John Taylor, June 27, 1882, Church History Library of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, call #MS5355)
“Satan sought to take away the free agency of man in the beginning” (Ibid.)
“the government of the United States sought to deprive My people of their free agency.” (Ibid.)
“And for this cause have I introduced My church and My kingdom, that pure and righteous principles might be inculcated, and man by his free agency yield a willing obedience to My law;” (Ibid.)
“ For this is My right; and while man has free agency, judgment belongs to Me, saith the LORD.” (Ibid.)
“And because, according to My eternal decrees, the free agency of man should be guaranteed to all men,” (Ibid.)
“for the purpose of exhibiting into My kingdom that I would still maintain the free agency of man, and that I hold inviolate that principle, and will still maintain it to the end” (Ibid.)
“For My people’s rights, and immunities, and free agency shall be acknowledged as well as those of all other people” (Ibid.)
“But no man shall violate his covenants, pervert My laws, subvert others free agency” (Ibid.)
“They have their free agency and use it” (Revelation to John Taylor June/July 1882)
These words were part of two revelations given to John Taylor in 1882 and accepted by the Quorum of the Twelve,
“Two revelations were accepted as the word and will of God. They were given through President John Taylor, and in the same the Lord has promised to fight our battles for us.” J. H. Smith Journal, June 27, 1882
“Free agency” is found in the scriptures, and now you know.