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Sep 14, 2008

The Lord Looks Apon The Heart

The early days of Christ’s Church were not much different than in previous times. During His Earthly ministry the Savior called and ordained twelve Apostles to minister and preserve the unity of the Church after His ascension into Heaven (see Matthew 10: 1-10; John 15: 16). He also gave them His authority or priesthood to receive revelation, as the prophets had before, for the instruction and guidance of the Church. After Jesus Christ’s accession the Apostles continued to preach the gospel to the various nations spread around the Mediterranean, building up the Church in whatever capacity they could. Their instruction to the saints and the revelations that they received comprise the majority of what we call the New Testament and remain pertinent today.

However with the ever-increase growth of the Church throughout Europe and the Middle East and the lack of instant communication, the Apostle’s ability to preserve unity of doctrine and faith was drastically limited. Without constant supervision new converts would bring their previous practices, traditions, and superstitions with them when they joined the Church and seek to incorporate them into their new found faith. Paul’s Epistles to various Church leaders and congregations are full of instruction to keep “the simplicity that is in Christ,” (2 Corinthians 11:3). With the increasing persecution from all fronts (an early fulfillment of Paul’s prophecy in 2 Timothy 3:12) and the rapid martyrdom of the Apostle at a faster rate than more could be ordained, the various congregations of the early Church were left isolated. Much worse, being devoid of priesthood leadership, they were also without the authority to receive revelation for the Church. Without this vital safeguard, men began to change the doctrines of Christ’s gospel to fit their respective circumstances. Thus a dark night of apostasy fell upon the land.

As a result of the rapid growing power of various congregations (now sects) of the Christian church, the Roman emperor Constantine decided to do something that his predecessors had not previously done. Constantine was a progressive thinker, as demonstrated by his decision to switch the ancient seat of Roman sovereignty from the decaying Western Empire centered in Rome, to a newer location in Asia Minor later named “Constantinople.” His decision to endorse Christianity as the new state religion flew in the face of thousands of years of pagan practices and Christian persecution.However Constantine was also a realist. He knew that if he could unite the competing Christians sects, he could preserve the trade routes and his empire. After a series of contentious councils held and with the imposition of iron-hand rule, the “Byzantine Orthodox Church” was formed—a loose confederation of churches that disagreed on more than they agreed and in no way resembled the Church of Christ. Out of egocentricity, Constantine appointed himself the Church’s new head, denying not only priesthood authority, but divine revelation.

As history tells both the Western and the Eastern Roman Empires crumbled with age and pagan invasions, and so did their Churches. In 410 A.D. the ancient city of Rome was sacked by the invading Visigoth tribes from the north, its citizens left stranded in barbarian rule. Sometime later Constantinople was conquered by the Ottoman Turks, its ancient houses of worship left defiled with the spilt blood of the innocent. With the destruction of these cities, humanity fell further from the Lord’s gospel. It was as though Christ’s gospel and His Church was a sheet of glass which had been dropped amidst the contention and persecution of the early centuries A.D. and had shattered into a thousand pieces. As the smoke cleared, people ran about trying to pick up as many pieces (doctrines) as possible, forming churches to their liking from the pieces they had.

As religious wars were waged and the slaughter of heretics continued, an Old Testament prophecy was fulfilled. “Behold, the days come, saith the Lord GOD, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD: And they shall wander from sea to sea, and from the north even to the east, they shall run to and fro to seek the word of the LORD, and shall not find it,” (Amos 8:11-12). Without continuous revelation from the Lord or even access to holy writ (resulting from the imposition of regulations on who could read God’s word and the heresy of translating it to the understandable vernacular) a famine for God’s word cursed the land.

Recognizing that the Savior’s Church was no longer upon the Earth, men such as Luther, Calvin and Zwingli sought to reform the church from within. Although none professed that he had been called of God like Christ’s Apostles to restore lost truths, the impact of their respective missions had lasting effects on the religious world. In exposing the corruption of the established church, each made religious truths more and more accessible to the masses. Their endorsement of the Bible’s translation into the vernacular and encouragement that all should read it, boosted literacy levels and opened the floodgates to a new era of learning. However religious persecution and warfare continued to pollute the nations.

Amidst the war of words was a fourteen year old boy who wanted to know which of all denominations was Christ’s Church. Being raised religious he knew that there should be “one Lord, one faith, one baptism,” but knew not where to find it (Ephesians 4:4-5). The religious professors of the day could interpret a scripture so differently that it would distort the truth beyond all recognition. During this tumult of words and opinion he one day was reading in the Epistle of James, chapter one, verse five: “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.” He stated that “never did any passage of scripture come with more power to the heart of man than this did at this time to mine,” (J.S. History 1:12). Determining that he must either remain in darkness or follow James’ council, he retired to a grove of trees near his house and offered a prayer to the Almighty God.

What happened next can only be recounted in his words: “I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me... When the light rested upon me I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air. One of them spake unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other—This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!” (J.S. History 1:16-17). The young boy was Joseph Smith and his inquiry in 1820 was to know which of all the sects was Christ’s Church. However the answer he received surprised him. The Lord told Joseph that none were His and that he should not join any of them.

Like those before him, Joseph Smith was later tutored by the Lord and called to be His prophet to restore His Church in these days. The promise given to Amos of a prophet was once again fulfilled (see Amos 3:7). Like Samuel of the Old Testament, Joseph was just an ordinary boy who wanted to know what course of action he should take. Through him, the Lord restored the plain and precious truths lost during centuries of confusion with the authority to receive continuous revelation for the body of the Church. Though he was just a youth compared to the prophets of antiquity, he was chosen by the Lord “for the Lord seeth not as man seeth, for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh upon the heart,” (1 Samuel 16:7). Throughout his life he would face immense opposition and persecution—even sealing his mission with his own blood—but his legacy and testament of Christ live on in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Written By ELDER W. W. PRYOR

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