Saturday, July 9, 2011

Harold B. Lee's BYU 1954 Lecture Series

Many years ago (April, 1981), I attended a stake conference where I had a chance to get better acquainted with  Dean H. Lee, a son of S. Perry Lee, who was the older brother of Harold B. Lee. We had a delightful visit. He was visiting our stake in his assignment as the region's Church Welfare Agent.

Elder Thomas S. Monson
When his father Perry died, then-Elder Thomas S. Monson was a speaker at his funeral on August 17, 1978. In his remarks Elder Monson made reference to a book Perry had given him, one of only ten copies that had been published. The contents, he explained, were a compilation of the teachings of Harold B. Lee to Seminary and Institute instructors on the campus of BYU during the summer of 1954.

While my father, L. Brent Goates, was writing the definitive biography about President Harold B. Lee, he discovered several references in President Lee's diary in that year about the lecture series. It was obvious from his entries that this experience was a source of joy for Elder Lee. He frequently traveled day after day from Salt Lake to Provo in the company of many of his brethren whom he had invited to participate as presenters on particular doctrinal topics.

I told Dean about Dad's efforts in preparing his manuscript for the Harold B. Lee biography, and asked him if he had a copy of the content of the 1954 lecture series. He said he did, and let me borrow his copy. Dad's book was later published as Harold B. Lee: Prophet and Seer.

For many months thereafter I laboriously reworked the content after discovering several missing scriptural references, punctuation and grammatical errors, and confusion over which words were original with Harold B. Lee and which were quoted from other sources. When I was done, I gave my corrected copy to Dad and he and Mom printed a few limited copies for the family. I never had the original manuscript in my hands that was prepared by Uncle Perry until last week after my brother Drew died.

I'm not certain how it came into Drew's possession, but when his son Chris asked me if there were any mementos I would like to have from among his father's personal effects, that was the only thing I could think of that was of interest to me. Drew had shown it to me several years ago, but had been unwilling at the time to part with it for sentimental reasons.

This last week I have been comparing the original manuscript with what I produced. I was delighted to discover Uncle Perry's copy from which I had worked compared favorably.

Now that I have assurance of its accuracy, from time to time I will refer to it going forward. It reminds me of the long-standing reluctance we had in the Church of quoting from the Inspired Version. Since the Reorganized Church had the original manuscript of Joseph Smith's revisions, and we had never been able to verify the content, the Inspired Version was always looked upon as being suspect. Not until Robert Matthews was invited to inspect the original in the archives of the Reorganized Church, did we gain confidence, and now it has been properly enthroned as the "Joseph Smith Translation" and is incorporated extensively in footnotes throughout our canon of scripture.

When visiting my father's ward in recent years, Elder Quentin L. Cook confirmed he was being taught with his other newly ordained contemporaries in the Twelve by President Boyd K. Packer, using this compilation as their shared text. It's a treasure trove of doctrinal insight for which I have been grateful since it came into my possession as a gift from Dean H. Lee.

The Holy Spirit of Promise

Since it is topical and sheds light on my hope and my anticipation of a yet-future reunion with my recently departed brother, Drew, I choose this morning to focus on the topic of the Holy Spirit of Promise.

Elder Harold B. Lee, circa 1954
Here are the words of Elder Harold B. Lee in 1954, as part of his lecture series:

Now to the question of the meaning of the Holy Spirit of Promise. Very often there have been some peculiar ideas with reference to that, ofttimes stemming from those who attempted to make an explanation with not very much understanding. In a sermon by the late Elder Melvin J. Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve, on the "Three Degrees of Glory," he said this in explanation of the word of the Lord as contained in the Doctrine and Covenants, section 76:

[These are they] who overcome by faith, and are sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise, which the Father sheds forth upon all those who are just and true. (Verse 53).

Elder Ballard makes this explanation:

I would like to pause and emphasize that passage, because, while we receive eternal blessings at the hands of the priesthood which has the right to seal on earth and it shall be sealed in Heaven, this revelation clearly states it must be sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise also.

Now mark you!

A man and woman may by fraud and deception obtain admittance to the house of the Lord and may receive the pronouncement of the holy priesthood, giving to them, so far as lies in their power, these blessings. We may deceive men, but we cannot deceive the Holy Ghost, and our blessings will not be eternal unless they are also sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise, the Holy Ghost, one who reads the thoughts and hearts of men and gives his sealing approval to the blessings pronounced upon their heads. Then it is binding, efficacious and of full force. I thank the Lord that there is this provision, so that even though men are able to deceive their brethren, they are not able to deceive the Holy Ghost and thus come into possession of their blessings unless they prove in word, in thought, and in deed their worthiness and righteousness. (Missionary pamphlet, "Three Degrees of Glory," by Melvin J. Ballard, Ogden Tabernacle, Sept. 22, 1922, emphasis mine).

If you have that in mind with respect to the sealing by the Holy Spirit of promise, not only must the marriages to which that had reference be sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise, but the Priesthood itself, baptism must be sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise, and all eternal covenants before they are to be ours for eternity. You, who go to the temple, if you will listen carefully to the sealing ceremony, you will find that truth clearly taught to dissipate that idea that is ofttimes taught by some (see D&C 132:26) that if one, by some hook or crook, can get into the temple and be married they are assured of an exaltation no matter what they do short of committing the unpardonable sin. If we added three more words to that one verse, "if they repent," we would have what the Lord is trying to tell us. They will receive an exaltation if they repent and receive a forgiveness of their sins if they have not committed the unpardonable sin. But before that time, "they shall be turned over to the buffetings of Satan and they shall be destroyed in the flesh until the day of their redemption." When you understand that, and decide what these words mean, then you will have the terms on which one, who has been blessed and falls short of them, may eventually receive the promised blessings later. (Emphasis mine).

* * *

As I have stated before, it seems to me the pre-eminent qualification for exaltation is repentance. There will be no heirs of that highest degree in the Celestial Kingdom but repentant sinners. The magnitude of those sins and their relative seriousness were all contemplated in the bloody sweat of Gethsemane and the agony of the cross at Golgotha. 

I have witnessed the fulfillment of those words in President Lee's posterity in the passing of my brother Drew. He did everything he could in the flesh to repent of his sins, despite his obvious limitations. He was certainly buffeted by Satan and his minions. On several occasions I had the opportunity to lay my hands on his head and rebuke the evil spirits who tormented him, only to witness their return again and again. 

He is now at peace from the buffetings that destroyed him in the flesh. However, his spirit is free to soar, and I have every assurance his progression will continue in the spirit world to enable him to ultimately and eventually obtain the promised blessings he sought.

Too often in the Church it is my belief we do two things incorrectly: 1) We limit the saving power of the atonement and grace as supernal gifts from our Father in Heaven and His Only Begotten Son; and 2) we measure and compare ourselves against the relative performances of others against the laws the gospel. We demand justice for others, while claiming mercy only for ourselves.

I invite us all to consider more mercy for others.

Even if you're wrong, you'll be at peace and certainly less judgmental.

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