Sunday, November 14, 2010

Living on Borrowed Light

"They that are wise. . . have taken the Holy Spirit for their guide" (D&C 45:57).

We live in a glorious day in the earth's history.  But we also live in perilous times when wickedness abounds.  In the preface to the Book of Commandments (now the Doctrine and Covenants) the revelation reads:  "For verily the voice of the Lord is unto all men" (D&C 1:2).  Imagine that!  God speaks to all men!  He is speaking and will continue to speak.  The question is how many are listening?

Learning to discern, to recognize and to receive personal revelation is a challenging quest, but it is possible.

The revelation introducing the Doctrine and Covenants continues:  "And the voice of warning shall be unto all people" (verse 4).

What's the warning about?  A few verses later we read:  "Wherefore the voice of the Lord is unto the ends of the earth, that all that will hear may hear:  Prepare ye, prepare ye for that which is to come, for the Lord is nigh; And the anger of the Lord is kindled, and his sword is bathed in heaven, and it shall fall upon the inhabitants of the earth." (D&C 1:11–13).  A sword that is "bathed" is unsheathed and ready for action.

So what is it we should be prepared to deal with?  We learn:  "[I] will that all men shall know that the day speedily cometh; the hour is not yet, but is nigh at hand, when peace shall be taken from the earth, and the devil shall have power over his own dominion."  (D&C 1:35).

We now live in that day.

Two thousand years ago, the Apostle Paul saw and wrote about our day.  He said, "This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come." (2 Timothy 3:1).

President Gordon B. Hinckley
General Conference followed within a month after the attacks on September 11, 2001.  In that conference, President Gordon B. Hinckley made the following statements:

"Wonderful as this time is, it is fraught with peril. Evil is all about us. . . .

"We live in a season when fierce men do terrible and despicable things. . . ." (President Gordon B. Hinckley, "Living in the Fulness of Times," Ensign November 2001, 5, 6).

"I do not know what the future holds. I do not wish to sound negative, but I wish to remind you of the warnings of scripture and the teachings of the prophets. . . . The time will come when the earth will be cleansed and there will be indescribable distress."  (President Gordon B. Hinckley, "The Times in Which We Live," Ensign November 2001, 73–74).

President Boyd K. Packer
In early 2004, President Boyd K. Packer addressed the religious educators of the Church and also spoke of the day in which we live:

"The world is spiraling downward at an ever-quickening pace.  I am sorry to tell you that it will not get better. . . .  These are days of great spiritual danger for our youth. . . .  I know of nothing in the history of the Church or in the history of the world to compare with our present circumstances.  Nothing happened in Sodom and Gomorrah which exceeds in wickedness and depravity that which surrounds us now.

"Words of profanity, vulgarity, and blasphemy are heard everywhere. Unspeakable wickedness and perversion were once hid in dark places; now they are in the open, even accorded legal protection.

"At Sodom and Gomorrah these things were localized. Now they are spread across the world, and they are among us."  (President Boyd K. Packer, "The One Pure Defense," 4).

Nothing in the history of the world or the Church that compares to our present circumstance? That's a sobering conclusion and gives some much-needed insight into why President Packer is speaking so forcefully in General Conference when he warns about the LGBT agenda.  The Lord, knowing all these things, has sent forth the warning voice from the earliest days of this dispensation of the gospel.

We can spend a lot of time discussing how dark and dreary the path ahead seems.  There is ample evidence to suggest things will not be improving.  The Church is filled with people who focus on all the signs we see.  But for those who are living the gospel the best they know and are clinging to the iron rod of the word of God, the troubling warnings are for the wicked, not for them.  Instead, they may find comfort in knowing in advance what the looming conditions will be without the attendant fear and anxiety.

Those are but two statements presaging what is yet to come.  But here's a scripture chain to offer hope, and it's only a small sampling:

"And it came to pass that I, Nephi, beheld the power of the Lamb of God, that it descended upon the saints of the church of the Lamb, and upon the covenant people of the Lord, who were scattered upon all the face of the earth; and they were armed with righteousness and with the power of God in great glory." (1 Nephi 14:14).

"For the time soon cometh that the fulness of the wrath of God shall be poured out upon all the children of men; for he will not suffer that the wicked shall destroy the righteous. Wherefore, he will preserve the righteous by his power. . . . Wherefore, the righteous need not fear." (1 Nephi 22:16–17).

"The Lord shall have power over his saints, and shall reign in their midst." (D&C 1:36).  (This verse follows the one saying Satan shall have power over his dominion.)

"And it shall be called the New Jerusalem, a land of peace, a city of refuge, a place of safety for the saints of the Most High God; And the glory of the Lord shall be there, and the terror of the Lord also shall be there, insomuch that the wicked will not come unto it." (D&C 45:66–67).

"The gathering together upon the land of Zion, and upon her stakes, [will] be for a defense, and for a refuge from the storm, and from wrath when it shall be poured out without mixture upon the whole earth." (D&C 115:6).

Prespective in the ongoing unfolding process is much needed and is available through personal revelation to all who seek to know what is to come.

Wedding Feasts

There is a book in my library I have found invaluable in helping me to understand the Middle East culture and the rich symbols and metaphors from which the Savior drew his parables and many of his teachings.  Particularly insightful is this description about weddings:

[Middle Eastern] marriages usually take place in the evening. . . .

During the day the bride is conducted to the house of her future husband, and she is there assisted by her attendants in putting on the marriage robes and jewelry. During the evening, the women who have been invited congregate in the room where the bride sits in silence, and spend the time commenting on her appearance, complimenting the relatives, discussing various family matters, and partaking of sweetmeats and similar refreshments.

As the hours drag on their topics of conversation become exhausted, and some of them grow tired and fall asleep. There is nothing more to be done, and everything is in readiness for the reception of the bridegroom. . . .

The bridegroom meanwhile is absent spending the day at the house of one of his relatives. There, soon after sunset, . . . his male friends begin to assemble, . . . to spend the evening with the bridegroom and then escort him home. The time is occupied with light refreshments, general conversation and the recitation of poetry in praise of the two families chiefly concerned and of the bridegroom in particular. After all have been courteously welcomed and their congratulations received, the bridegroom, about eleven o'clock, intimates his wish to set out. Flaming torches are then held aloft by special bearers, lit candles [or small hand lamps] are handed at the door to each visitor as he goes out, and the procession sweeps slowly along towards the house where the bride and her female attendants are waiting.

A great crowd has meanwhile assembled on the balconies, garden-walls, and flat roofs of the houses on each side of the road. . . . The bridegroom is the centre of interest. Voices are heard whispering, "There he is! There he is!" From time to time women raise their voices in the peculiar shrill, wavering shriek by which joy is expressed at marriages and other times of family and public rejoicing. The sound is heard at a great distance, and is repeated by other voices in advance of the procession, and thus intimation is given of the approach half an hour or more before the marriage escort arrives. . . . As the house is approached the excitement increases, the bridegroom's pace is quickened, and the alarm is raised in louder tones and more repeatedly, " He is coming! He is coming!"

Before he arrives, the maidens in waiting come forth with lamps and candles a short distance to light up the entrance, and do honour to the bridegroom and the group of relatives and intimate friends around him. These pass into the final rejoicing and the marriage supper; the others who have discharged their duty in accompanying him to the door, immediately disperse, and the door is shut.  (George M. Mackie, Bible Manners and Customs, 123–26).

Wise and Foolish Virgins 

This description provides meaning and significance to the parable of the ten virgins found in Matthew 25.  It is always useful to ask, as the Prophet Joseph did, what drew the parables forth from Jesus (see TPJS, 276).

Only days before His crucifixion, Jesus was on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem with His disciples.  Some commented on the magnificent beauty of the temple.  Surprising them, Jesus declared the day would come when "there shall not be left here one stone upon another." (Matthew 24:2). Together they left the city through the east gate, walked down through the Kidron Valley below, then climbed the Mount of Olives immediately east of the Temple Mount.  As they rested, the disciples, now clearly troubled, asked Jesus to explain what he had said earlier:  "Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?" (verse 3; see also JS–M 1:3–4).

Two topics -- when and what's the sign going to be of your coming again?

Jesus gave the answers to their questions in great detail in what later came to be known as the "Olivet Discourse."  When he is done, he then immediately likens the kingdom of heaven unto the ten virgins.  (See JST–Matthew 25:1).  That's the background of the parable, and it's important to have that context to understand what follows.

Here are the highlights:

•  There were ten virgins who took their lamps and went forth to meet the bridegroom, who is Jesus (verse 1).  (President Spencer W. Kimball said the ten virgins represented members of the Church, see Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, 183).  I once heard him say in a candid moment, "They were all good girls, they were all virgins, who else could they represent?" as he further elaborated on his interpretation.

•  Five of the ten were wise, and five were foolish (verse 2).  They all had small hand lamps, but those who were wise had brought an extra supply of oil in anticipation of the bridegroom's late arrival.  The foolish ones had no more than about an hour's supply of oil and were foolish for not having made provision in advance.

•  At midnight, when the cry went up that the bridegroom was coming, all ten arose and trimmed their lamps (verse 7).  "Trimming" is making sure the wick is laid properly in the oil and there is sufficient oil in the lamp.

•  It was then the five foolish realized their lamps had "gone out" and asked the others to share their oil with them (verse 8).  The wise said if they did that, there wouldn't be enough for their own lamps (verse 9).

•  While the five foolish were gone to try to buy oil, when the bridegroom came, "and they that were ready went in with him to the marriage: and the door was shut" (verse 10).

•  When the five others finally returned, they begged to have the door opened so they could enter, but the bridegroom said, "I know you not," and they were excluded from the marriage supper (verses 11–13).  Joseph Smith corrected that verse in the Inspired Version to read, "Ye never knew me."  (We are informed from other verses that the “marriage supper” represents the Second Coming of Christ and the establishment of the Kingdom of God upon the earth (see Revelation 19:7-16; D&C 58:11; 88:92-94).

The Oil of the Spirit

The key element in this parable is the oil.  The five wise had extra oil, the five foolish did not.  So what does the oil represent?  All ten of the virgins had lamps; all ten had oil, but only half had the foresight to bring extra.  What's the lesson for us?  The Prophet Joseph supplies the answer in this revelation:

"At that day, when I shall come in my glory, shall the parable be fulfilled which I spake concerning the ten virgins.
"For they that are wise and have received the truth, and have taken the Holy Spirit for their guide, and have not been deceived — verily I say unto you, they shall not be hewn down and cast into the fire, but shall abide the day"  (D&C 45:56–57).

The oil represents the Holy Spirit and the truth He brings.  The symbol for light is the oil.  The Holy Ghost brings us light and truth.

President Spencer W. Kimball
Some unknowing commentators have suggested the five wise virgins were not very "Christian" because of their unwillingness to share what they had.  But President Kimball explains why this could not be:

"The foolish asked the others to share their oil, but spiritual preparedness cannot be shared in an instant. . . . This was not selfishness or unkindness. The kind of oil that is needed to illuminate the way and light up the darkness is not shareable. How can one share obedience to the principle of tithing; a mind at peace from righteous living; an accumulation of knowledge? How can one share faith or testimony? How can one share attitudes or chastity, or the experience of a mission? How can one share temple privileges? Each must obtain that kind of oil for himself.

"The foolish virgins were not averse to buying oil. They knew they should have oil. They merely procrastinated, not knowing when the bridegroom would come."  (President Spencer W. Kimball, Faith Precedes the Miracle, 255–56).
President Kimball compares the oil to spiritual preparedness.  How does the Lord prepare us for the perilous times in which we live?  The oil is the symbol for light, or personal revelation.

President Kimball further explored the implications and applications of the parable for us today:

"In the parable, oil can be purchased at the market.  In our lives the oil of preparedness is accumulated drop by drop in righteous living.  Attendance at sacrament meetings adds oil to our lamps, drop by drop over the years.  Fasting, family prayer, home teaching, control of bodily appetites, preaching the gospel, studying the scriptures — each act of dedication and obedience is a drop added to our store.  Deeds of kindness, payment of offerings and tithes, chaste thoughts and actions, marriage in the covenant for eternity — these, too, contribute importantly to the oil with which we can at midnight refuel our exhausted lamps.

"Midnight is so late for those who have procrastinated."  (Ibid., 256).

We Cannot Live on Borrowed Light

President Harold B. Lee
President Harold B. Lee often quoted President Heber C. Kimball on this topic:

Years ago when I served as a missionary, we had a visit from Dr. James E. Talmage of the Council of the Twelve. . . .

On one occasion he said to us, "I want to tell you missionaries something. The day of sacrifice is not past! The time will come, yet, when many Saints and even Apostles will yet lose their lives in defense of the truth!"

I've had occasion many times since that remark was made to remember those words, and I've come to see the reality of it. There's a testing for every human soul. And there's a test every year, every month in the year, for the Saints of the Most High God. And their blessing and progress will depend only upon whether or not they pass the test.

President Heber C. Kimball
President Heber C. Kimball, speaking about this matter, said this:

"We think we are secure here in the chambers of the everlasting hills, where we can close those few doors of the canyons against mobs and persecutors, the wicked and the vile, who have always beset us with violence and robbery, but I want to say to you, my brethren, the time is coming when we will be mixed up in these now peaceful valleys to that extent that it will be difficult to tell the face of a Saint from the face of an enemy to the people of God. [Mark well that statement!] Then, brethren, look out for the great sieve, for there will be a great sifting time, and many will fall; for I say unto you there is a test, a test, a TEST coming, and who will be able to stand? . . .

"Let me say to you, that many of you will see the time when you will have all the trouble, trial and persecution that you can stand, and plenty of opportunities to show that you are true to God and his work. This Church has before it many close places through which it will have to pass before the work of God is crowned with victory. To meet the difficulties that are coming, it will be necessary for you to have a knowledge of the truth of the work for yourselves. The difficulties will be of such a character that the man or woman who does not possess this personal knowledge or witness will fall. If you have not got the testimony, live right and call upon the Lord and cease not till you obtain it. If you do not you will not stand. Remember these sayings, for many of you will live to see them fulfilled. The time will come when no man nor woman will be able to endure on borrowed light. Each will have to be guided by the light within himself."  (Teachings of Harold B. Lee, 143–44).

The reference to borrowed light is, of course, a reference to the parable of the ten virgins.  President Lee concluded:

"This is the time of which President [Heber C.] Kimball spoke, when each will have to stand on his own feet, and no man will be able to exist and stand on borrowed light. Each, for himself, must have an unshakable testimony of the divinity of this work if he is to stand in this day!" 

If we are living each day seeking to understand the voice of the Lord in our lives, then all shall be well with us as midnight and the approaching wedding draws nearer.  We will have the light we need day by day, year by year.  As much as we would love to share it with others, particularly with those of our own family, this store of light and truth is only available on an individual basis.  Like manna it is extremely perishable and will not sustain us without gathering all we can.  Having made no such methodical and consistent preparations, the unwise virgins among us cannot hear, recognize or respond to the voice in time.

The judgments foretold are looming, there seems little can be gained by ignoring those realities, but we know Him as our Heavenly Father.  He loves us; He knows us; He cares for us; He desires to bless us, and He offers this promise to all who walk in the light of His Spirit:

"For thus saith the Lord — I, the Lord, am merciful and gracious unto those who fear me, and delight to honor those who serve me in righteousness and in truth unto the end.
"Great shall be their reward and eternal shall be their glory.
"And to them will I reveal all mysteries, yea, all the hidden mysteries of my kingdom from days of old, and for ages to come, will I make known unto them the good pleasure of my will concerning all things pertaining to my kingdom.
"Yea, even the wonders of eternity shall they know, and things to come will I show them, even the things of many generations. . . .
"For by my Spirit will I enlighten them, and by my power will I make known unto them the secrets of my will — yea, even those things which eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor yet entered into the heart of man." (D&C 76:5–8, 10).

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