Abstract: This chapter argues that “the scriptural triad of faith, hope, and charity should be understood as something more than a general set of personal attributes that must be developed in order for disciples to become like Christ. Instead, as part of the ‘guarded tradition the Apostle’ [Paul] that is transmitted to readers in 1 Corinthians and elsewhere in scripture, these terms have been used to describe a distinct progression of ‘stages in a Christian’s earthly experience.’ The three stages that correlate to faith, hope, and charity were described by Joseph Smith as the ‘three principal rounds’ of a ladder of heavenly ascent. Each round marks a chief juncture in priesthood ordinances and on the pathway to eternal life.”
[Editor’s Note: Part of our book chapter reprint series, this article is reprinted here as a service to the LDS community. Original pagination and page numbers have necessarily changed, and movement of figures for pagination purposes may have altered some footnote numbering. Otherwise the reprint has the same content as the original.
See Jeffrey M. Bradshaw, “Faith, Hope, and Charity: The ‘Three Principal Rounds’ of the Ladder of Heavenly Ascent,” in “To Seek the Law of the Lord”: Essays in Honor of John W. Welch, ed. Paul Y. Hoskisson and Daniel C. Peterson (Orem, UT: The Interpreter Foundation, 2017), 59–112. Further information at https://interpreterfoundation.org/books/to-seek-the-law-of-the-lord-essays-in-honor-of-john-w-welch-2/.]
[Page 208]Within the prodigious scriptural writings of John W. Welch can be found delightful explorations of the wondrous ways in which Joseph Smith’s literary legacy serves as a bridge between the ancient and modern religious worlds. The prophetic recovery of key doctrines and ordinances, cherished in ancient times but unknown to most contemporary believers, remains one of the most stunning — and still underappreciated — facets of the latter-day “marvelous work and a wonder”2 that unfolds with increasing momentum every hour since the beginning of the Restoration. Each of us who has been mentored by Jack — both directly and through his writings — has been awakened by the generosity of his spirit and the keenness of his intellect to see extraordinary reflections of the Restored Gospel in places that we “never had supposed.”3
In this chapter, I will argue, in the spirit of Jack’s example, that the scriptural triad of faith, hope, and charity should be understood as something more than a general set of personal attributes that must be developed in order for disciples to become like Christ.4 Instead, as part of the “guarded tradition of the Apostle”5 that is transmitted to readers in 1 Corinthians6 and elsewhere in scripture,7 these terms have been [Page 209]used to describe a distinct progression of “stages in a Christian’s earthly experience.”8 The three stages that correlate to faith, hope, and charity were described by Joseph Smith as the “three principal rounds”9 of a ladder of heavenly ascent. Each round marks a chief juncture in priesthood ordinances and on the pathway to eternal life.
The arguments in the present chapter are structured somewhat like a jigsaw puzzle: three group of pieces will be described separately before they are assembled into a whole. First, I will introduce the idea of the ladder of heavenly ascent as it appeared anciently in various religious traditions. Second, I will discuss descriptions of similar ladders in the revelations and teachings of Joseph Smith, including his characterization of faith, hope, and charity as rungs corresponding to the three kingdoms of glory. Third, I will survey scripture references that relate faith, hope, charity, and “the doctrine of Christ.” Finally, I will show how an understanding of faith, hope, and charity as stages in a disciple’s experience can illuminate the layout and ordinances of the temple. In the magnificent word pictures of faith, hope, and charity painted in the prophetic corpus of Joseph Smith, we recover the lost essence of potent doctrines and symbols once found at the heart of Judaism and early Christianity.10
[Page 210]The Ladder of Heavenly Ascent in Ancient Tradition
Already a religious symbol in Egypt11 and Babylon,12 the biblical ladder of heavenly ascent first appears in the story of Jacob, who beheld “a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven: and behold the angels of God ascending and descending on it.”13
The story is later referenced in the Gospel of John. Alluding to the multiple deceits practiced in the story of Jacob/Israel and Laban, Jesus praised the approaching Nathanael at their first meeting, saying, “Behold an Israelite [i.e., a descendant of Jacob]…in whom [unlike Jacob himself] is no guile!”14 Then, referring to the ladder in Jacob’s dream on which angels had ascended and descended, He solemnly asserted His preeminence over the revered patriarch, declaring that He was the ladder of heavenly ascent personified: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Hereafter ye shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man.”15
[Page 212]Later, John records a similar declaration: “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.”17
In the tympanum above the central portal of the Strasbourg Cathedral, we see the “ladder” of the Savior’s cross, first as overcoming death and then as opening the way to life eternal. The composition shows three levels: 1. The body of Adam lying in hell with the crucified Christ poised on earth directly above him. The wooden cross, corresponding to a branch of the Tree of Knowledge that (in tradition) was planted in Adam’s grave and became an oil-bearing Tree of Mercy,19 is the axis that links the worlds of the dead and the living; 2. The cross fleury borne by the victorious Jesus, near a flourishing tree and Adam and Eve clasping [Page 213]hands, provides access to heaven; 3. Jesus ascended, the forerunner of those who are “lifted up” by His cross.20
I will not take space here to trace the trajectory of Jacob’s ladder in Christian tradition,21 including the well-known elaborations on the subject by theologians such as John Climacus (i.e., John “of the ladder”), Saint Augustine, Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, and Saint Thomas Aquinas. Suffice it to say that faith, hope, and charity — the “three theological virtues” — became important symbols of the process of spiritual progression and were identified frequently with the three principal rungs on this ladder. As Christians made their climb, some, sadly, as in Lehi’s vision of the Tree of Life, “after they had tasted of the fruit…fell away into forbidden paths and were lost.”22
The Ladder of Heavenly Ascent in Joseph Smith’s Teachings
In this section I will explore three instances of Joseph Smith’s teachings about the ladder of heavenly ascent. These instances demonstrate how his prophetic gifts allowed him to reach back beyond the religious speculations of the immediately preceding centuries to conceptions that are in harmony with more pristine religious traditions and the Bible. More specifically, Joseph Smith’s teachings, translations, and revelations about the ladder of exaltation are not close cousins of late elaborations that had replaced descriptions of literal and ritual heavenly ascent with abstruse metaphors and allegories. Instead, like the expression of supernal reality contained in the ten “building blocks”23 of the sefirot in mystic Judaism, the Prophet’s explanations of the principles that govern the eternal worlds (and the temple ordinances that reflect them) embody truths that are “quite far from the world of divine ‘attributes’ of which the medieval philosophers wrote with such caution and precision, and with which later apologists sought to identify them.”24 Indeed, it might be said that Joseph Smith’s teachings about the ladder of heavenly ascent, “gave his believing [followers] a sense of what was experientially real, not merely philosophically true.”25
[Page 215]Step-By-Step Ascent on the Ladder of Exaltation
Within the King Follett discourse, arguably the greatest doctrinal sermon given by the Prophet, Joseph Smith used the general imagery of a ladder to describe the process of learning the principles of exaltation step by step:
Original Notes Recorded from a Sermon Delivered on 7 April 1844 in Thomas Bullock Report:26 you thus learn the first prin of the Gospel when you climb a ladder you must begin at the bottom run[g] until you learn the last prin of the gospel for it is a great thing to learn Saln. Beyond the grave & it is not all to be com in this world.
Expanded Version from Joseph Smith’s History:27 Here, then, is eternal life — to know the only wise and true God;28 and you have got to learn how to be Gods yourselves, and to be kings and priests to God,29 the same as all Gods have done before you, namely by going from one small degree30 to another, and from a small capacity to a great one,31 from grace to grace,32 from exaltation to exaltation,33 until you attain to the resurrection of the dead,34 and are able to dwell in everlasting burnings,35 and [Page 216]to sit in glory,36 as do those who sit enthroned37 in everlasting power.38…
When you climb up a ladder, you must begin at the bottom, and ascend step by step, until you arrive at the top; and so it is with the principles of the Gospel — you must begin with the first, and go on until you learn all the principles of exaltation. But it will be a great while after you have passed through the veil39 before you will have learned them. It is not all to be comprehended in this world; it will be a great work to learn our salvation and exaltation even beyond the grave.40
As Joseph Smith linked ladder imagery with the principles of eternal life and exaltation, his words incorporated the terminology of temple ordinances and the model they provide for the life beyond.
Faith, Hope, and Charity Within Peter’s Verbal Ladder
In his 21 May 1843 discourse on the doctrine of election,41 Joseph Smith expounded on the first chapter of 2 Peter. In verses 5–7, faith, hope, and charity form the backbone of a verbal ladder that is consistent with the Prophet’s other teachings about the process of exaltation:
Original Notes from Joseph Smith’s Journal:42 like precious faith with us… — add to your faith virtue & c…another point after having all these qualifictins [qualifications] he lays this injutin [injunction]. — but rather make your calling & election sure — after adding all. this. virtue knowledge &. make your cal[l]ing &c Sure. — what is the secret, the starting point. according as his divine power which hath given unto all things that pertain to life & godliness. [p. ]
[Page 217]how did he obtain all things? — th[r]ough the knowledge of him who hath calld him. — there could not any be given pertain[in]g to life & knowledge & godliness without knowledge
wo wo wo to the Ch[r]istendom. — the divine & priests; &c — if this be true.
Original Notes in Martha Jane Knowlton Coray Notebook:43 The Apostle says, unto them who have obtained like precious faith with us the apostles through the righteousness of God & our Savior Jesus Christ, through the knowledge of him that has called us to glory & virtue add faith virtue &c. &c. to godliness brotherly kindness — Charity — ye shall neither be barren or unfruitful in the Knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. He that lacketh these things is blind — wherefore the rather brethren after all this give diligence to make your calling & Election Sure Knowledge is necessary to life and Godliness. wo unto you priests & divines, who preach that knowledge is not necessary unto life & Salvation. Take away Apostles &c. take away knowledge and you will find yourselves worthy of the damnation of hell. Knowledge is Revelation hear all ye brethren, this grand Key; Knowledge is the power of God unto Salvation.
The list of personal qualities from 2 Peter 1:3–11 discussed by the Prophet have long been suspected by scholars such as Käsemenn to be a “clear example of Hellenistic, non-Christian thought insidiously working its way into the New Testament.”44 Now, however, this passage of scripture is generally accepted as “fundamentally Pauline”45 and, hence, thoroughly consonant with ideas found among the earliest Christians. The emphasis of these verses is on the finishing and refining process of sanctification, not the initiatory process of justification.46
[Page 218]2 Peter 1:4 sounds the keynote of the biblical list of the personal qualities of the perfected disciple, reminding readers of the “exceeding great and precious promises” that allow them to become “partakers [= Greek koinonos, ‘sharer, partaker’] of the divine nature.” The New English Bible captures the literal sense of these words: that the Saints may “come to share in the very being of God.”47 To those in whom the qualities of divine nature “abound,” there comes the fulfillment of a specific “promise”: namely, that “they shall not be unfruitful in the knowledge of the Lord.”48 In other words, according to Joseph Smith’s exposition of the logic of Peter, the additional “knowledge of the Lord” disciples will receive once they have qualified themselves through the cultivation of all these virtues and enter into God’s presence will be sufficient to make their “calling and election sure” in order that they may “obtain all things.”
Importantly, these qualities, to which Christian disciples are exhorted to give “all diligence,”49 are not presented in 2 Peter 1 as a randomly assembled laundry list but rather as part of an ordered progression leading to a culminating point.50 In Hellenistic, Jewish, and Christian literature this rhetorical form is called sorites, climax, or gradatio.51 Harold Attridge explains the ladder-like property of the [Page 219]personal qualities given in such lists: “In this ‘ladder’ of virtues, each virtue is the means of producing the next (this sense of the Greek is lost in translation). All the virtues grow out of faith, and all culminate in love.”52
Joseph Neyrey further observes that the Christian triad of faith, hope, and charity in 2 Peter 1:5–7 “forms the determining framework in which other virtues are inserted” in such lists.53 The table below summarizes key words in scriptural passages from Romans 5, 2 Peter 1, and D&C 4 that illustrate this idea:
Romans 5:1–5 2 Peter 1:5–7 D&C 4:6 faith faith faith virtue virtue peace knowledge knowledge temperance temperance hope [patience/experience]54 patience patience godliness [Page 220] brotherly kindness brotherly kindness godliness love charity charity humility diligence
Though the secondary virtues within the three lists differ,55 the reward for disciples who cultivate faith, hope, and charity is essentially the same. In 2 Peter 1:4, 8, 10, they are promised that they will become “partakers of the divine nature” and that ultimately they will be fruitful “in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” — thus, in Joseph Smith’s reading, making their “calling and election sure.” Likewise, in Romans 5:2 they are told that they will “rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” This means they can look forward with glad confidence, knowing they “will be able to share in the revelation of God — in other words, that [they] will come to know Him as He is.”56 Finally, in D&C 4:7 the promise given to [Page 221]faithful Saints evokes the words of the Savior: “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you”57 — a threefold promise that Matthew L. Bowen correlates to faith, hope, and charity. He also notes that “‘ask’ and ‘seek’ correspond to the Hebrew verbs sh’l and bqsh, which were used to describe ‘asking for’ or ‘seeking’ a divine revelation, often in a temple setting.”58 Jack Welch has argued [Page 222]likewise that the symbolism of knocking is best understood “in a ceremonial context.”59 However, it should be remembered that the temple ordinances foreshadow actual events in the life of faithful disciples who endure to the end.60
The expansion of 2 Peter’s list of virtues in D&C 4 warrants further discussion. In that revelation, the “three principal rounds” of faith, hope, and charity/love are specifically highlighted in verse 5 and then repeated as part of the longer list of virtues given in verse 6. Intriguingly, the list of eight qualities found in 2 Peter 1 is expanded in D&C 4 to ten in number.61 Jack Welch has shown how the number ten in Jewish tradition — which conveys the idea of perfection, especially divine completion — relates to human ascension into the holy of holies or highest degree of heaven:62
[Page 223]“The rabbinic classification of the ten degrees of holiness, which begins with Palestine, the land holier than all other lands, and culminates in the most holy place, the Holy of Holies, was essentially known in the days of High Priest Simon the Just, that is, around 200 bce.”63 Echoing these ten degrees on earth were ten degrees in heaven. In the book of 2 Enoch, Enoch has a vision in which he progresses from the first heaven into the tenth heaven, where God resides and Enoch sees the face of the Lord, is anointed, given clothes of glory, and is told “all the things of heaven and earth”64…
Kabbalah, a late form of Jewish mysticism, teaches that the ten Sefirot were emanations and attributes of God, part of the unfolding of creation, and that one must pass through them to ascend to God’s presence.65
Though the verbal ladders of Romans, 2 Peter, and D&C 4 make no explicit mention of rites inculcating the divine pathway of virtues, a lecture based on these teachings would be a fitting summary of the process of progression embodied in Latter-day Saint temple ordinances.66
The Three Degrees of Glory as the Main Rungs of the Ladder
An additional reference to the ladder of heavenly ascent appears in the reconstructed version of Joseph Smith’s 21 May 1843 discourse on election that was published in the History of the Church. There the Prophet is remembered as saying that Paul “ascended into the third heavens, and he could understand the three principal rounds of Jacob’s ladder — the telestial, the terrestrial, and the celestial glories or kingdoms.”67 The three kingdoms of glory, of course, naturally correlate [Page 224]to symbolic representations of these three differing glories within the temple.68 Already in 1832, Joseph Smith had equated the “mysteries of godliness”69 to Jacob’s ladder.
Assuming the gist of Joseph Smith’s statement correlating the “three principal rounds of Jacob’s ladder” to the three kingdoms of glory is reported accurately, it would be, along with the “rough stone rolling”70 anecdote, a second wordplay in the discourse that might have been recognized by the Prophet’s fellow Freemasons. Significantly, within the first degree of Masonry, the ladder is said to have “three principal rounds, representing Faith, Hope, and Charity,” which “present us with the means of advancing from earth to heaven, from death to life — from the mortal to immortality.”71 Like the reconstructed statement of Joseph Smith, Masonic sources correlate these three “principal rounds” with three different worlds or states of existence, beginning with the physical world and ending with the Heavens. All these culminate in a fourth level, associated with “Divinity.”72 Putting this ancient imagery [Page 225]in Masonic terms already familiar to many of the Nauvoo Saints might have served a pragmatic purpose, favoring acceptance and understanding of the scriptural ladder of exaltation better than if a new and foreign vocabulary had been used.73
Of course, it must be understood that Freemasonry is not a religion and, in contrast to Latter-day Saint temple ordinances, does not assert divine sanction for its rites.74 Unlike the allegories of Masonic ritual, which include beautiful moral truths while eschewing salvific claims, LDS temple doctrines and ordinances purport a power in the priesthood that imparts sanctity to their simple forms, making earthly symbols holy by connecting them to the divinely delegated authority of the living God.75 Thus, when Joseph Smith taught the Saints about charity, he was not merely speaking in general, philosophical terms about the desirability [Page 226]of renouncing sinful habits and acquiring a Christlike character. Rather, he believed that charity was a literal perfecting and protecting attribute of divine power that became fully operative only in connection with the sealing blessings of earthly and heavenly priesthood ordinances. In 1831, the Prophet taught:
Until we have perfect love we are liable to fall, and when we have a testimony that our names are sealed in the Lamb’s Book of Life we have perfect love, and then it is impossible for false Christs to deceive us.76
A Survey of Scripture References to
Faith, Hope, Charity, and the Doctrine of Christ
With Joseph Smith’s teachings about the ladder of heavenly ascent as background, I will now survey scripture references to faith, hope, charity, and the general sequence of ordinances and blessings known as “the doctrine of Christ.”77 Then I will examine four exemplary passages of scripture in more detail. Two of these passages weave faith, hope, and charity directly into discussions of the doctrine of Christ, thus joining two seemingly disparate terminologies into a single, rich description of the ladder of heavenly ascent.
Faith, Hope, and Charity
Although the biblical triad of faith, hope, and charity is, strictly speaking, a New Testament construct, David Calabro has suggested that in the context of ancient covenants, faith was understood “as faithfulness (an expression of loyalty), hope as expectation for deliverance by the protecting suzerain, and charity as the stipulation of love for the suzerain (like a son to a father) as required in ancient vassal treaties.”78
[Page 227]Calabro79 also compares Proverbs 8 — with its preexistent and coeval personification of Wisdom, by whose power God created the world — to the mention of the framing of the world by faith in Hebrews 11:3, to the reification of hope as a representation of the glorified Christ in Hebrews 6:18–20, and to the personified description of eternally enduring charity in 1 Corinthians 13:4–8 and Moroni 7:44–46.80 The significance of this comparison with Proverbs 8 is enhanced in remembering that Wisdom — like faith, hope, and charity (as argued in the present chapter) — was associated anciently with knowledge of the mysteries received in the temple.81
In addition, Joseph Neyrey has observed that in the Hebrew Bible, “love” and “faith” were already linked “in terms of hesed and ‘emet, that is, ‘steadfast kindness’ in a covenant relationship.”82 One might also note in this connection the biblical symbolism of the three divine throne attributes of truth (‘emet), righteousness (tsedaqah), and uprightness (yashar) that enabled individuals to pass through veiled gates to stand in the Lord’s presence within His temple throne room.83
Psalm 15 lists ten qualifications — including, significantly, the three previously mentioned divine attributes of truth, righteousness, and uprightness — for those who would “abide in [the] tabernacle.”84 Similar lists of commandments were displayed outside ancient temples.85 Second temple Judaism, like later Christianity, produced long lists of [Page 228]virtues and vices that are related to a greater or lesser extent with temple themes and the idea of heavenly ascent.86
Within the New Testament, faith, hope/patience,88 and charity/love89 are mentioned together in fifteen passages, but appear only four times in [Page 229]that order.90 Twelve of these instances are within writings traditionally attributed to Paul, two are found in 1 and 2 Peter, and one is within the book of Revelation. Within the Book of Mormon, faith, hope, and charity are mentioned together by Nephi, Alma, Mormon, and Moroni in eight places, and in the Doctrine and Covenants they are referenced six additional times.91 Significantly, within modern scripture the themes of faith, hope, and charity are discussed in the same specific order for every instance but one.92
The Doctrine of Christ
The term “doctrine of Christ” is mentioned explicitly in two places in the New Testament: Hebrews 6:1 and 2 John 1:9. In the Book of Mormon, it is mentioned three times in 2 Nephi 31–32,93 twice in Jacob 7,94 and once in 3 Nephi 2:2.
So far as I have been able to determine, Joseph Smith’s sermons never directly addressed the relationship among faith, hope, and charity as they appear in the New Testament, the Book of Mormon, and the Doctrine and Covenants, except within the 21 May 1843 discourse on [Page 230]the first chapter of 2 Peter that was discussed previously.95 Moreover, his only references to the “doctrine of Christ” occurred when he directly quoted Hebrews 6:1–2 without elaboration. The absence of commentary by Joseph Smith on relevant passages from the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants is consistent with his general propensity to draw almost exclusively from the Bible and biblical language in his teachings. In light of the Prophet’s silence on the teachings of modern scripture in this regard, it would seem difficult to sustain arguments that would require Book of Mormon passages that describe sophisticated relationships among faith, hope, charity, and the doctrine of Christ to have originated in the mind of Joseph Smith himself.
Connecting Faith, Hope, Charity, and the Doctrine of Christ
Scriptural teachings that relate faith, hope, and charity to the doctrine of Christ can be summarized in two paragraphs:
- All who are determined to become followers of Christ must first begin by repenting and exercising faith in Him, which brings about a justificatory96 remission of their sins through baptism97 — a preparatory ordinance of the Aaronic Priesthood. Baptism prepares disciples for the work of hope. The work of hope is to receive and keep all the additional ordinances of the Melchizedek Priesthood, beginning with the the bestowal of the right, through worthiness, to receive and enjoy the gift of the Holy Ghost.
- Keeping the covenants associated with ordinances endows disciples of Christ with the increased knowledge and strength [Page 231]they need to remain patient and steadfast through the testing process of sanctification.98 As they continue to “press forward”99 with “unshaken faith”100 on this path, they develop “a perfect brightness of hope,101 and a love of God and of all men”102 that enables them to consecrate their all to the building up of the kingdom of God.103 Then, if they continue to “endure to the end, in following the example of the Son of the living God,”104 having been “chastened and tried, even as Abraham,”105 and being “filled”106 with charity, “the pure love of Christ,”107 they will be prepared to hear the Father’s sure oath: “Ye shall have eternal life.”108
Although most scripture references to faith, hope, and charity or the doctrine of Christ consist only of brief allusions to the wider picture just described, in a few instances these concepts are explained in greater detail. I will now examine four such instances more closely.
Four Exemplary Scriptural Passages on Faith, Hope, Charity, and the Doctrine of Christ
Of the four instances examined below, two center on faith, hope, and charity (Ether 12 and Moroni 7) and the other two explicitly describe the doctrine of Christ (Hebrews 6 and 2 Nephi 31–32). Notably, both of the chapters that contain detailed discussions of the doctrine of Christ (Hebrews 6, 2 Nephi 31–32) artfully and deliberately weave faith, hope, and charity into their instruction.
Significantly, the three exemplars chosen from the Book of Mormon are not random or obscure selections; each plays a prominent role in [Page 232]the overall teaching scheme of its author (Nephi, Mormon, Moroni). Likewise, Hebrews 5:11–6:20 is not a simple digression in the doctrinal arguments of its author but rather a key to the interpretation of the entire epistle.
Finally, in anticipation of the final section of this chapter, we note that these four passages might be seen as excerpts from larger “temple texts,” standing alongside other temple texts that have been brilliantly described by Margaret Barker, Jack Welch, and others.109
- Hebrews 6. The chapter begins by distinguishing between “the [first] principles of the doctrine of Christ”110 and the higher way of “perfection”111 that has been opened by Jesus Christ, the “sure and stedfast” object of our hope112 and, in the role of “an high priest for ever after the order of Melchizedec,”113 our “forerunner”114 “within the veil.”115
According to one Bible scholar, Hebrews 6:1–8 “may be the most difficult passage to interpret in the entire epistle.”116 Happily, Joseph Smith returned to these verses often in his teachings, relying on the summary of the first principles of the Gospel [Page 233]given in verses 1–2117 and on the description of specific aspects of the doctrine of election in verses 4–8.118
Significantly, the transition between the first and last part of chapter 6 introduces faith, hope/patience, and charity into the discussion in reverse order. Elsewhere, such reversals portray these three qualities as the fruits of divine knowledge gained through experience:119 “For God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love.…And we desire that every one of you do shew the same diligence to the full assurance of hope [Page 234]unto the end: That ye be not slothful, but followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises.”120
Chapter six concludes with a description of the sure promise of eternal life vouchsafed anciently by God to Abraham and the equally “sure and stedfast” “anchor to the soul”121 that is made available to all the Saints by the Savior, the object of their hope, who entered “within the veil” as a “forerunner…for us.”122 The Prophet Joseph Smith explicitly associated the imagery of these verses in Hebrews with the “more sure word of prophecy” described in 2 Peter 1:19.123
- 2 Nephi 31–32. In these chapters, presumably authored near the end of his ministry, Nephi has chosen to write, “according to the plainness of [his] prophesying,” “a few words…concerning the doctrine of Christ”124 “that he has selected out of a lifetime of vivid events and important theological concepts.”125
Nephi exhorts his readers to “follow the Son, with full purpose of heart”126 and enter the gate of “repentance and baptism by water” [cf. the altar of sacrifice and the laver that sit in the courtyard, outside the temple door] in order to receive “a remission of…sins by fire and by the Holy Ghost.”127
Then, he weaves the one and only mention of faith, hope, and charity in chapters 31 and 32128 into a beautiful description of the culminating sequence of the pathway to eternal life: “And now, my beloved brethren, after ye have gotten into this strait and narrow path, I would ask if all is done? Behold, I say unto you, Nay; for ye have not come thus far [i.e., through the gate] [Page 235]save it were by the word of Christ with unshaken faith in him, relying wholly upon the merits of him who is mighty to save. Wherefore, ye must press forward [i.e., along the high priestly way of the temple] with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope [cf. the lamp in the Holy Place], and a love of God and of all men [cf. consecration at the altar of incense that stood just in front of the veil]. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ [cf. the temple shewbread129], and endure to the end [cf. the veil that conceals the Holy of Holies], behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life”130 [cf. the personal oath of the Father].
In 2 Nephi 33:9, having just expressed the charity he has for all people, Nephi reiterates that there is no other way besides the one he has just outlined: “But behold, for none of these can I hope except they shall be reconciled unto Christ, and enter into the narrow gate [through the faith that has led them to repent and be baptized], and walk in the strait path [of hope] which leads to life [i.e., eternal life, conferred at the veil], and continue in the path until the end of the day of probation [cf. the requirement to endure to the end].”
- Ether 12. Ether 12 is a significant excursus by Moroni that was inspired by Ether’s historical record.131 It provides much in the way of instruction and examples of faith,132 while also mentioning hope in five places133 and enjoining charity six times.134
Following his initial focus on faith in the first part of the chapter, Moroni acknowledges his “weakness in writing”135 and expresses his “fear lest the Gentiles shall mock at [his] words.”136 (Note that Moroni expresses this concern immediately after describing the awe-inspiring experience of the brother of Jared at the veil — which took place on a mountain called Shelem [Page 236]“because of its exceeding height”137 and perhaps also because the name relates to the Semitic root for “ladder.”138) The Lord replied comfortingly to Moroni’s concern by making it clear that His “grace is sufficient for the meek”139 and that in order for “weak things [to] become strong”140 the Gentiles must be shown that it is “faith, hope and charity [that] bringeth unto me — the fountain of all righteousness.”141 “Bringeth unto me,” of course, may be interpreted both ritually and literally.
- Moroni 7. Following a summary of liturgical information in chapters 1–6, Moroni records his father Mormon’s sermon “concerning faith, hope, and charity”146 as a prime example of the preaching and exhorting that took place in the Nephite Church at that time.147
Mormon begins by reminding his hearers that it is not merely their actions but also the sincerity of their hearts that matters to God148 — in other words, unless they “do that which is good…with real intent it profiteth…nothing.”149 Then he shows them how they can “know good from evil”150 “with a perfect knowledge”151 through diligent search “in the light of Christ.”152 [Page 237]But knowing what is good is not enough — Mormon also asks: “how is it possible that [the members of the Church] can lay hold upon every good thing?”153 The answer is: through faith,154 hope,155 and charity.156 Mormon defines charity, “which is the greatest of all,”157 as “the pure love of Christ.”158 He further explains that this gift is the key to divine sonship, being “bestowed upon all who are true followers of [God’s] Son, Jesus Christ; that [we] may become the sons of God; that when he shall appear we shall be like him.”159
A beautiful instance of gradatio in Moroni 8:25–26 directly links faith, hope, and love/charity to the successive areas of the ancient temple that bring individuals step-by-step to the point where they can “dwell with God”:160 “And the first fruits of repentance is baptism [cf. the altar of sacrifice and laver]; and baptism cometh by faith unto the fulfilling the commandments; and the fulfilling the commandments bringeth remission of sins; And the remission of sins bringeth meekness, and lowliness of heart; and because of meekness and lowliness of heart cometh the visitation of the Holy Ghost [cf. the lamp], which Comforter filleth with hope and perfect love, which love endureth by diligence unto prayer [cf. the altar of incense near the veil], until the end shall come [cf. the veil itself], when all the saints shall dwell with God [cf. the Holy of Holies].”
Significant passages that link instruction on faith, hope, and charity with the doctrine of Christ sometimes seem to have been directed specifically toward those who had already received the higher ordinances of the Melchizedek Priesthood. In Moroni 7, Mormon’s hearers are specifically said to be “the peaceable followers of Christ” who already had “obtained a sufficient hope by which [they could] enter into the rest of [Page 238]the Lord, from this time henceforth until [they would] rest with him in heaven.”161 Similarly, the disciples addressed by Paul162 in Hebrews were not novices in need of “milk” but such as had been prepared and should have been ready to feast on “strong meat.”163 Moreover, just as Paul chided his readers because he had to teach them again about the “first principles of the oracles of God”164 when he expected them to be qualified already as teachers themselves,165 so Alma, prior to his brief exhortation about faith, hope, and charity,166 sought to awaken his hearers to a sense of their “duty to God”167 so they could “walk after the holy order of God, after which [they had already] been received.”168
Faith, Hope, and Charity and the Journey
through the Temple and Its Ordinances
In this section, I relate faith, hope, and charity to a journey through the temple. The succession of three primary sacred spaces of increasing holiness found in Israelite temples is usually followed in the physical layout of modern LDS temples.
Preparing to Leave the Telestial World: Faith and the First Principles and Ordinances of the Gospel
The journey of the high priest through the Israelite temple began in the temple courtyard. This courtyard can be compared with the “World Room” in the Salt Lake Temple, a representation of humankind’s fallen state of existence in a place of telestial glory.169 In the courtyard of the [Page 239]Israelite temple were located the altar of sacrifice170 and the laver of water used by priests for purification before they entered the temple proper.171 David Calabro has compared the function of the temple altar of sacrifice to the description in Moses 5 of the obedience of Adam and Eve and their attentiveness to the ordinance of sacrifice after they were driven from the Garden of Eden. Likewise, he has linked the function of the laver to the account of Adam’s baptism that is given in Moses 6.172 John S. Thompson observes: “As one ascends to the Holy of Holies, there appears to be an expectation of participating in preparatory rites and laws of an Aaronic order associated with the courtyard that give one access to the temple, wherein further rites and laws of a higher order will be manifest, allowing one to enter into the presence of God in the Holy of Holies.173
Consistent with such a picture, Hebrews 11, Ether 12, and Moroni 7 emphasize the undergirding quality of faith, not as mere belief in the truth or falsity of some proposition174 but as “the moving cause of all action.”175 As such, faith necessarily accompanies every righteous striving to follow the Savior, Jesus Christ. In Hebrews 6:1–2, Paul describes “the [first] principles of the doctrine of Christ,” which include “repentance from dead works,…faith toward God,…baptisms, and…laying on of hands.”176 Throughout 2 Nephi 31, Nephi also emphasizes the specific [Page 240]ordinances that accompany faith. More pointedly, it might be said that “faith produces ordinances.”177 Joseph Fielding McConkie notes that “in establishing these principles [of the doctrines of salvation] relative to baptism, Nephi established principles that apply with equal force to all ordinances of salvation. Salvation [in the celestial kingdom of God]…is Nephi’s subject — baptism is but the illustration.”178
Visualizing a movement from the temple courtyard to the temple proper makes Nephi’s words about repentance and baptism (corresponding [Page 241]to the temple altar and laver) as “the gate”180 (corresponding to the temple door) that is entered “with unshaken faith”181 in Christ more vivid and meaningful:182
17 Wherefore, do the things which I have told you I have seen that your Lord and your Redeemer should do; for, for this cause have they been shown unto me, that ye might know the gate by which ye should enter. For the gate by which ye should enter is repentance and baptism by water; and then cometh a remission of your sins by fire and by the Holy Ghost [i.e., justification].
18 And then are ye in this strait and narrow path [of sanctification] which leads to eternal life [i.e., exaltation]; yea, ye have entered in by the gate; ye have done according to the commandments of the Father and the Son; and ye have received the Holy Ghost, which witnesses of the Father and the Son, unto the fulfilling of the promise which he hath made, that if ye entered in by the way ye should receive.
19 And now, my beloved brethren, after ye have gotten into this strait and narrow path, I would ask if all is done? Behold, I say unto you, Nay; for ye have not come thus far [i.e., through the gate] save it were by the word of Christ with unshaken faith in him, relying wholly upon the merits of him who is mighty to save.
Moroni 7 provides an excellent summary of the way faith provides a basis for the entire process of salvation from beginning to end. Mormon opens by exhorting listeners to exercise the discerning power of the “light of Christ”183 to judge “with a perfect knowledge”184 “every thing which inviteth to do good”185 and which “is of God”186 from “whatsoever persuadeth men to do evil, and believe not in Christ, and deny him, and serve not God”187 — which things are “of the devil.”188 He emphasizes [Page 242]that it is through faith that the children of men are called to repentance189 in “divers ways”190 by God’s messengers — for example, both through “angels”191 and through “prophets.”192 By this means “men began to exercise faith in Christ”193 and, by virtue of keys restored to the earth by divine messengers and exercised by mortal priesthood holders, they may be baptized.194 Thus each disciple may be enabled to “lay hold upon every good thing”195 up to and including the ability to “become the sons of God,”196 being “saved by faith in his name.”197
Transitioning through the Terrestrial World: Hope and the Ordinances of the Melchizedek Priesthood
The journey into the Israelite temple proper commenced as the high priest left the courtyard to “draw near” to God in the Holy Place with “full assurance of faith,” having been cleansed through both the outward ordinances of sacrifice and washing and the inner transformations of repentance and spiritual cleansing from sin.198 The Holy Place can be compared to the “Terrestrial Room” in modern LDS temples,199 a representation of the greater glory that Adam and Eve experienced as they began the process by which “all things were confirmed unto Adam, by an holy [i.e., Melchizedek Priesthood] ordinance.”200 It is a place where disciples are meant to “wax stronger and stronger in their humility, and firmer and firmer in the faith of Christ, unto the filling their souls with joy and consolation, yea, even to the purifying and the sanctification of their hearts.”201 In that ritual and actual state of existence, they participate in further covenant-making and testing connected with the ordinances of the Melchizedek Priesthood to see whether they will “hold fast the profession of [their] faith [= Greek elpis, literally hope] without [Page 243]wavering.”202 For those who continue to the end of the high priestly way, the Terrestrial Room provides a transition to the Celestial Room. This transition, symbolizing the resurrection, takes place through the Veil of the Temple,203 “that is to say, [the] flesh [of the Jesus Christ, the Redeemer].”204
The hope experienced in the Terrestrial state of existence is not a “natural hope” for “bodily and worldly matters — the hope that our job will be rewarding, that our children will do well in school, that we will get a raise. Christian hope is the hope for salvation.”205 Moreover, Christian hope is a palpable divine gift, not simply a vague and wistful longing. Those who have proven faithful are chosen or elected to inherit the kingdom “according to a preparatory redemption”206 and obtain an initial hope of attaining it when God grants them the “earnest of the Spirit in [their] hearts.”207 By receiving and keeping all the laws and ordinances of the Gospel, this first, dim hope will be replaced by a “perfect brightness of hope”208 (as described by Nephi), “a more excellent hope”209 (as described by Mormon), or “the full assurance of hope”210 (as described by Paul). Thus, step by step, disciples are brought “unto the end,”211 at which point, according to Moroni, they “receive an inheritance in the place which [the Lord has] prepared.”212
Moroni 7:41 explains that the ultimate hope of receiving an inheritance in the presence of God is manifested in the resurrection, as also it is symbolized in the temple endowment: “And what is it that ye shall hope for? Behold I say unto you that ye shall have hope through the atonement of Christ and the power of his resurrection, to be raised unto life eternal.”213 With startling specificity, Hebrews 6:18 20 associates sacred ordinances [Page 244]with the quality of hope in great detail. Paul addresses as his audience all those of us who “have claimed his protection by grasping the hope set before us.”214 Continuing the description, he writes: “That hope we hold. It is like an anchor for our lives, an anchor safe and sure.215 It enters in through the veil, whose Jesus has entered on our behalf as a forerunner, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.”216
Alluding to the blessings of the Oath and Covenant of the Priesthood,217 Paul wanted to assure the Saints of the firmness and unchangeableness of God’s promises symbolized in “grasp[ing] the hope set before [them].”218 The “two irrevocable acts” that provide that firm assurance to disciples are “God’s promise and the oath by which He guarantees that promise.”219 By these verses, we are meant to understand that so long as the we hold fast to the Redeemer, who has entered “through the veil on our behalf…as a forerunner,” we will remain firmly anchored to our heavenly home, and the eventual realization of the promise “that where I am, there ye may be also.”220
According to Margaret Barker, there is also undoubtedly the sense that “Jesus, the high priest, [stands] behind the veil in the Holy of Holies to assist those who [pass] through.”228 According to Harold Attridge: “The anchor would thus constitute the link that ‘extends’ or ‘reaches’ to the safe harbor of the divine realms…providing a means of access by [Page 246]its entry into God’s presence.”229 David Moffitt argues that just as Jesus was “exalted…above the entire created order — to the heavenly throne at God’s right hand,” so “humanity will be elevated to the pinnacle of the created order.”230 And just as the Son received “all the glory of Adam,”231 so “His followers will also inherit this promise if they endure…testing.”232
In comments relating to these verses, the Prophet Joseph Smith equated the hope described in Hebrews 6:18–20 — a “sealing”233 that is promised and anticipated within the endowment — with the “more sure word of prophecy”234 as described by Peter and discussed earlier in this chapter.235 Significantly, the following passage from a letter that Joseph [Page 247]Smith wrote in his own hand to his uncle, Silas Smith, on 26 September 1833, demonstrates the Prophet’s comprehension of these matters long before the temple ordinances were given to the Saints in Nauvoo:236
Paul wrote to his Hebrew brethren that God being more abundantly willing to show unto the heirs of his promises the immutability of his council “confirmed it by an oath.”237 He also exhorts them who through faith and patience inherit the promises.238
“Notwithstanding we (said Paul) have fled for refuge to lay hold of the hope set before us, which hope we have as an anchor of the soul both sure and steadfast, and which entereth into that within the veil.”239 Yet he was careful to press upon them the necessity of continuing on until they as well as those who inherited the promises might have the assurance of their salvation confirmed to them by an oath from the mouth of Him who could not lie, for that seemed to be the example anciently and Paul holds it out to his brethren as an object attainable in his day. And why not? I admit that, by reading the scriptures of truth, saints in the days of Paul could learn beyond the power of contradiction that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had the promise of eternal life confirmed to them by an oath of the Lord, but that promise or oath was no assurance to them of their salvation. But they could, by walking in the footsteps and continuing in the faith of their fathers, obtain for themselves an oath for confirmation that they were meet to be partakers of the inheritance with the saints in light.
Moroni provides a concise encapsulation of how the qualities of faith and hope associated with earthly temples prepare disciples to enter the presence of God in the heavenly temple: “Wherefore, whoso believeth in God might with surety hope for a better world, yea, even a place at the right hand of God, which hope cometh of faith, maketh an anchor to the souls of men, which would make them sure and steadfast, [Page 248]always abounding in good works, being led to glorify God.”240 It must be understood, of course, that priesthood ordinances received in earthly temples provide only an initial, anticipatory “hope for a better world,” and not a firm guarantee of entrance into it.241
Words of Warning to the Elect
Before continuing with their descriptions of the culminating events by which one’s calling and election are made sure, both Hebrews 6:4–8 and 2 Nephi 31:14242 deliver words of warning to the elect, reminding them of the peril they face if they break their covenants and deny what they will sooner or later come to know with absolute certainty.243 This is consistent with an idea reportedly expressed by Hyrum Smith that terrestrial glory is a transitory state culminating either in progress or regress:244
Hiram [Smith] said Aug 1st 43 Those of the Terrestrial Glory either advance to the Celestial or recede to the Telestial [or] else the moon could not be a type [i.e., a symbol of that kingdom]. [for] it [the moon] “waxes & wanes.”
Of the “very elect”246 who suffer irreparable regression, the Prophet said: “awful is the consequence.”247 On two known occasions, he used language from Hebrews 6:6 to explain that such individuals “can’t [be] renew[ed] to repentance”248 and to describe why their sin (i.e., “crucifying the Son of God afresh & putting him to an open shame”249) could not be forgiven. The Prophet taught that no power in earth or heaven can protect an individual against committing the unpardonable sin.250 Indeed, he taught that to have the “heavens…opened” (i.e., to experience, in the words of Ehat and Cook, “a direct [Page 250]heavenly vision on the order of the blessings attending the visitation of the Second Comforter”251) and then to “deny Jesus Christ”252 is precisely what it means to become one of the “sons of perdition.”253
Before proceeding to his final summation of the doctrine of Christ and his description of the end of the path of eternal life, Nephi writes the following by way of similar solemn warning:255
But, behold, my beloved brethren, thus came the voice of the Son unto me, saying: After ye have repented of your sins, and witnessed unto the Father that ye are willing to keep my commandments, by the baptism of water, and have received the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost, and can speak with a new tongue, yea, even with the tongue of angels, and after this should deny me, it would have been better for you that ye had not known me.
On the surface, Nephi’s reference to the “tongue of angels” looks like a parallel to the statement in 1 Corinthians 13:1 that mentions the [Page 251]“tongues of men and of angels.” The phrase as used in 1 Corinthians clearly alludes to the gift of tongues discussed in chapter 12 that was seen as “nothing” when compared with charity. However, there is a better interpretive possibility that suggests itself for the similar phrase in 2 Nephi.
In this connection, it should be noted first that the pointed warnings to the elect in Hebrews 6:4–8 and 2 Nephi 31:14 both precede by a few verses a description of the “more sure word of prophecy”256 experienced at the heavenly veil — the equivalent of the symbolic veil of temple ritual — an event described as “the end” by both authors.257
With this context in mind, Nephi’s reference to speaking “with the tongue of angels”258 evokes Jewish accounts of Abraham and Moses, who were portrayed as reciting angelic words (described as a “song,” recalling Alma’s “song of redeeming love”259) as they ascended and entered within the heavenly veil.260 The words of Abraham’s song were said to have been taught him by the angel who accompanied him during his heavenly ascent.261 The text relates that while he “was still reciting the song,” he heard a voice “like the roaring of the sea”262 and was brought through the veil into the presence of the fiery seraphim surrounding the heavenly throne.263 Similarly, an account by Philo describes the great and final song of thanksgiving264 that Moses sang “in the ears of both mankind [Page 252]and ministering angels”265 as part of his heavenly ascent.266As illustrated in a mural from Dura Europos, Moses is shown standing on the earth with the sun, moon, and seven stars (i.e., planets) above his head. Erwin Goodenough took special note of the striking representation of the sun with its depiction of laddered rays, recalling the ubiquitous symbolism of the “divine ladder that connects man to God.”267
Entering the Celestial World: Charity and Consecration
The Holy of Holies in the Israelite temple can be compared to the area associated with celestial glory in the Salt Lake Temple, including the apartments bordering the Celestial Room proper where additional ordinances are performed.269 It represents the highest kingdom of glory where those who, in likeness of their Savior, have “overcome all things”270 and are heirs of eternal life and exaltation may dwell forever and ever. All this, however, is dry recital without an understanding of the eternal, enduring271 flame that provides light, life, warmth, and glory to this place of supernal joy: charity.
[Page 253]The scriptures clearly assert the supremacy of charity over its two companion virtues. Although Moroni affirms that the joint effects of “faith, hope and charity bringeth unto”272 Christ, charity alone is described as “the bond of perfectness”273 and therefore “the greatest of these”274 three. Indeed, Mormon calls charity “the greatest of all,”275 without which one is “nothing.”276 Specifically, he teaches that “except men shall have charity they cannot inherit that place which [Christ has] prepared in the mansions of [His] Father.”277
Further elaborating, Moroni affirms that “ye receive no witness” — meaning the sure witness that came when Christ personally “showed himself unto our fathers”278 — “until after the trial of your faith.”279 “And there were many whose faith was so exceedingly strong…who could not be kept from within the [heavenly] veil,280 but truly saw with their eyes the things which they had beheld [previously] with an eye of faith, and they were glad.”281 It is in serving God and their fellow man “at all hazards,”282 having obtained a “fulness of the priesthood of God…in the same way that Jesus Christ obtained it…by keeping all the commandments and obeying all the ordinances of the house of God,”283 and having reached [Page 254]the point where their “bowels [are] full of charity,”284 the “pure love285 of Christ,”286 that His disciples are prepared to have their calling and election made sure. Whether in this life or the next, they will be sealed up to eternal life and exaltation — if they remain faithful.287 According to Nephi, “a love of God and of all men” is the final requirement of all those who “endure to the end”288 and eventually qualify to receive “all that [the] Father hath.”289
According to Hugh Nibley, charity is the “essence of the law of consecration,…without which, as Paul and Moroni tell us, all the other laws and observances become null and void.”290 President Ezra Taft Benson described the law of consecration as being “that we consecrate our time, talents, strength, property, and money for the upbuilding of the kingdom of God on this earth and the establishment of Zion.”291 He notes that all the covenants made up to this point are preparatory, explaining that: “Until one abides by the laws of obedience, sacrifice, the gospel, and chastity, he cannot abide the law of consecration, which is the law pertaining to the celestial kingdom.”292 Nibley likewise affirmed that the [Page 255]law of consecration is “the consummation of the laws of obedience and sacrifice, is the threshold of the celestial kingdom, the last and hardest requirement made of men in this life”293 and “can only be faced against sore temptation.”294 Similarly, Jack Welch has argued that consecration is the step that precedes perfection.295
In compensation for the supreme effort in life to acquire the “pearl of great price,”296 President Harold B. Lee avers that to the “individual who thus is willing to consecrate himself, [will come] the greatest joy that can come to the human soul.”297 Indeed, it is through consecration that we come to know God.298 And knowing God and Jesus Christ is eternal life.299
In our strivings to be “filled with charity”300 to the point where we are able to fully live the law of consecration, Jesus Christ provides a peerless, perfect prototype. The law of consecration is not foremost an economic law, but one in which we first give ourselves, our time, and our toil301 — our will, like the Savior’s, “being swallowed up in the will of the Father.”302 “Wherefore, my beloved brethren,” Mormon concluded in his sermon on faith, hope, and charity, “pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become the sons of God; that when he shall appear we shall be like him,303 for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may be purified even as he is pure.”304
[Page 256]The supreme manifestation of charity and consecration was in the Savior’s offering of Himself for our sake: “And again, I remember that thou hast said that thou hast loved the world, even unto the laying down of thy life for the world.”305 In the agonies of His Atonement, Jesus Christ trod “the wine-press alone,…and none were with [Him].”306 Yet He was with us — fully with us in that moment — turning outward in charity to relieve us from our suffering in the midst of the unspeakable depths of His own distress.307 He pressed forward on our behalf in the torments that accompanied His exercise of complete compassion, not permitting Himself in the slightest degree to become “weary in well-doing”!308
For the Savior to accomplish His “infinite and eternal”309 sacrifice, His consecration of self had to be whole and complete. Had there been but one particle of selfishness in His soul, it would have been sufficient to undermine the purity of integrity and the totality of commitment needed to sustain the completion of His mission to save us through His suffering. Someday, if we are to follow the Son back to the presence of the Father, each of us must likewise extinguish the last crumb of selfishness from our souls, being willing to submit to the Father in all things He may require of us,310 “yea, every sacrifice which…the Lord, shall command,”311 even if it be a sacrifice like that of Abraham.312
[Page 257]Although Abraham previously had received the blessings of patriarchal marriage and then had been made a king and a priest under the hands of Melchizedek,313 Abraham’s “election sure” came only afterward, when he demonstrated his willingness to sacrifice his son Isaac.314 In Hebrews 11:19, the evidence of Abraham’s absolute consecration in the sacrifice of his son and the form of the blessing he received are described respectively using the language of death and resurrection. In trying to make sense of this idea, we might remember that in some Jewish315 and early Christian316 creedal formulations bearing on accounts of Abraham’s sacrifice, one finds the idea that Isaac actually died, ascended to heaven, and was resurrected — though it should be remembered that these eschatological ideas fit equally well in a ritual context.317 Harold Attridge concluded that “Isaac’s rescue from virtual death318 on the sacrificial pyre is symbolic of the deliverance that all the faithful can expect.”319 Likewise, Abraham’s recovery of what he had once thought lost is emblematic of the reward of eternal life that comes through whole-souled consecration.
[Page 259]In his careful paraphrase of Paul’s description of faith, hope, and charity320 within the thirteenth Article of Faith,321 Joseph Smith pointedly distinguished between the early Saints’ previous attainments with respect to the first ladder rungs of faith (“We believe all things”) and hope (“we hope all things”), and their unfulfilled aspirations as they climbed toward the last, hardest rung of charity:322 “we have endured many things, and hope to be able to endure all things.”323
In this regard, Jack Welch observed that the Nauvoo Saints’ yearning for perfection was expressed in “the highest ambitions of the building of the City Beautiful, with the construction of the splendid Nauvoo Temple already underway.”324 However, just as they had suffered a period of trial, apostasy, and eventual abandonment of Kirtland after the dedication of the earlier temple, so Joseph Smith “prophetically looked forward to yet further trials and trails of tears moving westward.” With happy anticipation, the last Article of Faith looks forward to the brighter day when the Saints will be able to endure all things — to complete the climb of the ladder of heavenly ascent “by the patience of hope and the labor of love.”324
So far as I am aware, the meaning of faith, hope, and charity in relation to the ladder of heavenly ascent and the thirteenth Article of Faith has not been explored previously by LDS scholars. For example, James E. Talmage entitles a chapter on the thirteenth Article of Faith “Practical Religion” and emphasizes the wholesome and generous practices of LDS in everyday life. Articles of Faith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1984), 389–412. Neither the explicit use of the language of 1 Cor. 13:7 nor the implicit allusion to faith, hope, and charity is mentioned. In a similar approach to this article of faith, Bruce R. McConkie entitles his chapter “‘Pure Religion and Undefiled’” and briefly discusses the commitment of the Saints to moral principles that is “a natural outgrowth of believing the eternal truths that save.” A New Witness for the Articles of Faith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1985), 701. For more on this topic, see the discussion of the thirteenth Article of Faith at the end of this chapter.
An earlier, Israelite form of sorites was used, e.g., in Joel 1:3; Gen. 36:31–43; 1 Chron. 1 and 2. Matt. 1:1–17 and Moshe Lieber, The Pirkei Avos Treasury: The Sages Guide to Living with an Anthologized Commentary and Anecdotes (Brooklyn: Mesorah Publications, 1995) 1:1, pp. 6–11 are famous examples of the classic form of sorites in use during the Hellenistic period as applied to lists of genealogy and transmission of authority.
As to the use of ethical or ethico-metaphysical sorites similar to Rom. 5:3–5 and 2 Pet. 1:5–7 in Jewish and Roman literature, see Herbert Marks, Gerald Hammond, and Austin Busch, The English Bible: King James Version, A Norton Critical Edition (New York City: W. W. Norton, 2012), Wisdom 6:17–20, p. 2:739; The Mishnah: A New Translation, ed. Jacob Neusner (London: Yale University Press, 1988), Sotah, 9:15:III:MM, 466; Lucius Annaeus Seneca (ca. 5 bce – 65 ce), Ad Lucilium, Epistulae Morales 2, trans. Richard M. Gummere (London: William Heinemann, 1962), 85:2, pp. 286–87; Cicero, “De Legibus,” in On the Republic; On the Laws, trans. Clinton W. Keyes (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1928), 1:7:22–23, pp. 320–23. For an example of sorites in modern revelation, see D&C 84:6–17.
Sorites arguments have been studied extensively by philosophers since the late nineteenth century because of logical paradoxes that can arise in some formulations. See Dominic Hyde, “Sorites Paradox,” in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, ed. Edward N. Zalta. http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2014/entries/sorites-paradox/. (accessed 3 June 2017).
Paul uses a compound word. In this case the term he chooses is hupo-meno. Hupo has to do with “under” and meno means “to remain.” As a compound, this word describes “The affliction under which one remains steadfast.” If makrothumia [longsuffering] is the patience of the powerful, hupomene is the patience of the weak who unflinchingly endure suffering.…Jesus…is the supreme example of [this] virtue. Kenneth E. Bailey, Paul Through Mediterranean Eyes (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press Academic, 2011), 368.
Matthew Bowen observes that the Hebrew word for “hope” (tiqvah), often equated with “patience” in the New Testament, comes from a root that means to “wait” (Bowen, pers. comm., 7 March 2016; cf. footnote 214 below). He suggests that this may reflect the process of preparation and trial as one approaches the veil (cf. D&C 136:31). Note that to “endure to the end” means to complete the path that leads to eternal life or, in other words, to come to the point where the personal oath of the Father, the sure promise of calling and election, is received. See 2 Ne. 31:15, 20; 2 Tim. 2:10; 1 Ne. 13:37; 22:31; 2 Ne. 9:24; 33:4; 3 Ne. 15:9; Mormon 9:29; Brant A. Gardner, Second Witness: Analytical and Contextual Commentary of the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford, 2007), 2:445–446; Hafen and Hafen, Contrite Spirit, 57–58.
In the New Testament and modern scripture, the quality of “longsuffering” (Greek makrothymia) is often mentioned, typically in conjunction with patience. Cf. Eph. 4:2; 1 Cor. 13:4; 2 Cor. 6:6; Gal. 5:22; Eph. 4:2; Col. 1:11; 3:12; 2 Tim. 3:10; Alma 7:23; 13:28; 17:11; 38:3; Moro. 7:45; D&C 107:30; 118:3; 121:41.
The Greek verbs meaning “ask” and “seek” correspond to the Hebrew verbs sh’l and bqsh, which were used to describe “asking for” or “seeking” a divine revelation, often in a temple setting. [Tvedtnes] detects a further temple echo in “knock” (John A. Tvedtnes, “Temple Prayer in Ancient Times,” in The Temple in Time and Eternity, ed. Donald W. Parry and Stephen D. Ricks [Provo, UT: FARMS, 1999], 90), which should resonate with Latter-day Saints. The two divine passive reward clauses “it shall be given you” and “it shall be opened to you” also may suggest a temple situation with Jesus as “keeper of the gate” (2 Ne. 9:41–42). See John Gee, “The Keeper of the Gate,” In The Temple in Time and Eternity, 233–73.
These suppositions are supported by Nephi’s assertion, “If ye cannot understand,…it will be because ye ask not, neither do ye knock; wherefore, ye are not brought into the light, but must perish in the dark” (2 Ne. 32:4). A person’s being “brought into” a place seems to imply the presence of a keeper-of-the-gate figure or paralemptor, as when Jesus promised the disciples, “I will come and receive [paralempsomai] you to myself” (John 14:3). The “light” would then be that part of the temple where God’s full presence shines as represented by the Holy of Holies.…Granted, there are additional senses in which one might understand this reward clause. However, if the temple is the locus par excellence of inquiring, asking, and seeking revelation from the Lord (see Psalm 27:4), then the divine passive to be “brought into the light” probably connotes being brought into the light of the Lord’s countenance (see Num. 6:24–27), a full reception of the blessings of the Atonement or the royal “adoption” (Rom. 8:15–23), the greatest possible “revelation.”
Regarding revelation, Bowen (ibid., 248 n. 41) continues:
The word “revelation” from Latin revelatio originally connoted “a taking away of the veil” (compare Greek apokalyptein, “uncover”). This idea is depicted in 2 Cor. 3:14–18, where Paul connects “liberty” (Greek eleutheria; Greek aphesis, “release”) to revelation and beholding the Lord’s glory with “open face” and being transformed into His glory (see 2 Cor. 3:15–19). We note again Paul’s declaration that creation anxiously awaits the “revelation [apokalypsin] of the sons of God” and being “delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty [eleutherian] of the children of God” (Rom. 8:19, 21).
In both the Macrocosm and the Microcosm there are four levels. The lowest of these is the physical world, symbolized in the Macrocosm by the Chequered Pavement and in the Microcosm by the theological virtue Faith. The second level up is that of the psyche which is represented in Macrocosm by the central area of the board with most of the symbols, and in the Microcosm by the theological virtue Hope. The third level up is the Spirit, represented by the Heavens and by the theological virtue Charity. The fourth level is Divinity. It is represented in the Heavens by the Star that contains the “All-Seeing Eye” of the Deity; and It, the Source of all things, is the fourth level and the Source of both the Macrocosm and the Microcosm.
[Joseph] Smith regularly found ways to make productive and pedagogic use of the Saints’ “traditions” by harnessing words and concepts already available to his listeners and then gradually modifying them in an effort to better explain complex and original — even radical — doctrines. If the Prophet was correct in the Saints’ tendency to “fly to pieces like glass as soon as anything comes that is contrary to their traditions” (Smith, Teachings, 20 January 1844, 331), then introducing the endowment ceremony in wholly unfamiliar terms would have been extremely difficult. [For example, t]he deployment of “key” [in discussing] the temple was one strategy that allowed the Saints to understand the endowment as both an extrapolation of already familiar doctrines and the expression of new truths in a new way. “Keywords: Joseph Smith, Language Change, and Theological Innovation,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 38, no. 2 (Summer 2005): 36.
Responding to critics of the Book of Mormon who see its passages on faith, hope, and charity as having been lifted directly from 1 Cor. 13:13, Nibley notes Paul’s fondness for “quoting from old Jewish and Greek sources.” Hugh W. Nibley, “Howlers in the Book of Mormon,” in The Prophetic Book of Mormon, ed. John W. Welch (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1989),254; cf. Archibald M. Hunter, Paul and His Predecessors (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1961); Hugh W. Nibley, Since Cumorah (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1988), 112, 455–56 nn. 2–4. Nibley gives an example of “a much older and unknown source” that demonstrates the possibility that both the Book of Mormon and the New Testament were drawing on common antecedents. Nibley, “Howlers,” 254, 257 n. 23.
A visual example of the concepts of heavenly ascent followed by descent in the traditions of Second Temple Judaism can be found in the Dura Europos Mural of Ezekiel. See Jeffrey M. Bradshaw, “The Ezekiel Mural at Dura Europos: A tangible witness of Philo’s Jewish mysteries?” BYU Studies 49, no. 1 (2010): 4–49. See also account of descent followed by ascent described in chapter 1 of the book of Moses. See Bradshaw, Temple Themes in the Book of Moses, 23–50. Eliot Wolfson has perceptively observed that the result of this ascent-descent pattern “renders what is above within and what is within above.…From this perspective heavenly ascent and incarnational presence may be viewed as two ways of considering the selfsame phenomenon.” “Seven mysteries of knowledge: Qumran e/sotericism recovered,” in The Idea of Biblical Interpretation: Essays in Honor of James L. Kugel, ed. Hindy Najman and Judith H. Newman (Atlanta: SBL, 2004), 213.
While there is no evidence that the temple laver was used as a baptismal font, it was definitely large enough to suggest such a use, and Joseph Smith’s specifications for a baptismal font modeled after the Solomonic laver for the Nauvoo Temple show that he understood it in this connection. Ibid., 172.
See also Bradshaw, “LDS Book of Enoch,” 57–58; Bradshaw amd Bowen, “By the Blood,” 144.
Though [the Saints addressed by Peter (2 Pet. 1:21)] might hear the voice of God and know that Jesus was the Son of God, this would be no evidence that their election and calling was made sure (2 Pet. 1:10), that they had part with Christ, and were joint heirs with Him. Then they would want that more sure word of prophecy (2 Pet. 1:19), that they were sealed in the heavens and had the promise of eternal life in the kingdom of God.
Then, having this promise sealed unto [us is] an anchor to the soul, sure and steadfast (Heb. 6:19). Though the thunders might roll and lightnings flash, and earthquakes bellow, and war gather thick around, yet this hope and knowledge would support the soul in every hour of trial, trouble, and tribulation. Then knowledge through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is the grand key that unlocks the glories and mysteries of the kingdom of heaven…
Then I would exhort you to go on and continue to call upon God until you make your calling and election sure for yourselves, by obtaining this more sure word of prophecy, and wait patiently for the promise until you obtain it.
Elsewhere in the published words of Joseph Smith, “charity” and “love” are specifically equated: “charity (or love)” (Smith, Teachings, 4 January 1833, 16; J. Smith, Jr. et al., Documents, July 1831-January 1833, 4 January 1833, 354). “Charity, which is love” (Smith, Teachings, 23 July 1843, 316). Note that “Charity, which is love” is missing from the official record of the 23 July 1843 discourse. J. Smith, Jr. et al., Journals, Vol. 3, 23 July 1843, 66. It was added retrospectively by Church historians. The original notes include the words “love” and “friendship,” but not “charity.” However, there may be an allusion to 1 Pet. 4:8 (“charity shall cover the multitude of sins”) in Elder Richards’ record (“covered all the faults among you”).
… indeed we may say that we follow the admonition of Paul; “we believe all things: we hope all things:” we have endured many things, and hope to be able to endure all things.