Wednesday, January 13, 2010

"My Spirit Shall Not Always Strive With Man"

“And he that repents not, from him shall be taken even the light which he has received; for my Spirit shall not always strive with man, saith the Lord of Hosts” (Doctrine and Covenants 1:33). This is another often misunderstood scripture. To which Spirit does the Lord have reference, the Light of Christ or the Holy Ghost? The purpose of this writing is to help bring clarity to the answer which is the Light of Christ.

A quote used in the previous writing from President Joseph F. Smith may not be clear on this point, but it will serve as a beginning for this discussion. “It is the Spirit of God which proceeds through Christ to the world, that enlightens every man that comes into the world, and that strives with the children of men, and will continue to strive with them, until it brings them to a knowledge of the truth and the possession of the greater light and testimony of the Holy Ghost. . . .” (Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine, 67-68). It would be reasonable to assume from this quote that the Light of Christ would continue unabated to strive with nonbelievers until eventually they come to know and accept the truth. But such a conclusion would be not true. Under the circumstances, it may be easier to explain first why the quote in the first Section of the Doctrine and Covenants does not have reference to the Holy Ghost. The remainder of this writing will discuss some of the scriptural evidence available to the effect that the Light of Christ is the Spirit to which the Lord had reference in that Section.

In my experience, Latter-day Saint youth who are baptized and confirmed at age eight are taught routinely to understand that they will experience the influence of the Holy Ghost in their lives only if they live worthily of that blessing. This is no less true of individuals who enter the Church in their adult years. The simple dictum is the Spirit of God, the Holy Ghost, will not dwell in an unclean tabernacle. The Apostle Paul’s counsel to the Corinthians was quoted in this context in the previous writing. “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are” (I Cor. 3:16-17). Elder Joseph Fielding Smith agrees with this conclusion. “The Holy Ghost will not dwell in unclean tabernacles nor strive with people unless they keep their minds as well as their bodies clean, and they are diligent before the Lord” (Joseph Fielding Smith, Answers to Gospel Questions, 4:88). Elder Smith uses the word “strive” as applying to worthy, diligent Latter-day Saints, not those involved in rebellion against the things of God. Indeed, I am not aware of any scripture that teaches us that the mission of the Holy Ghost includes striving with the unrepentant, the rebellious and the unbelievers in any context.

What we do learn from the scriptures is that the Light of Christ is the power present in the world for the purpose of countering the forces of Satan by influencing all men to do good as opposed to evil. However, the fact remains that some individuals may prove to be so rebellious against that which is good or the will of God, that the Lord’s spirit will cease striving with them leaving them in a most desperate condition. Consider Genesis 6:1-3 and Moses 8:13-17 in this regard. In Noah’s day, some daughters of the believers, “sons of God,” began to marry the sons of non-believers who were the “sons of men.” The Lord expressed anger over this growing trend and taught Noah that His spirit would not always “strive with man” here clearly meaning the non-believers or wicked of his generation.

During the “mortal combat” between the followers of Shiz and those of Coriantumr that marked the final destruction of the Jaredite people, the Prophet Ether reported, “But behold, the Spirit of the Lord had ceased striving with them, and Satan had full power over the hearts of the people; for they were given up unto the hardness of their hearts, and the blindness of their minds that they might be destroyed; wherefore they went again to battle” (Ether 15:19).

The Prophet Nephi looking ahead to the day his people would be destroyed concluded, “For the Spirit of the Lord will not always strive with man. And when the Spirit ceaseth to strive with man then cometh speedy destruction, and this grieveth my soul” (2 Nephi 26:11). What Nephi had foreseen, happened in fact. Mormon writing to his son, Moroni, said, “And now behold, my son, I fear lest the Lamanites shall destroy this people; for they do not repent, and Satan stirreth them up continually to anger one with another. Behold, I am laboring with them continually; and when I speak the word of God with sharpness they tremble and anger against me; and when I use no sharpness they harden their hearts against it; wherefore, I fear lest the Spirit of the Lord hath ceased striving with them” (Moroni 9:3-4).

In modern times, the Lord made clear reference to the wicked who were fighting against the establishment of Zion in Missouri as well as the wicked in general when he told the Prophet Joseph Smith, “I, the Lord, am angry with the wicked; I am holding my Spirit from the inhabitants of the earth” (D&C 63:32).

Verse thirty-three of Section one, with which this writing commenced, follows consistently the meaning of the previous verses. Those of God’s children who do not repent risk under certain circumstances having that light which they have received taken from them. For clearly, there is a limit to which the Lord will strive with man. And this is the caveat to the wicked that should be added to our understanding or application of President Joseph F. Smith’s quote used earlier in this writing. “When men harden their hearts against the light of Christ, it will cease to strive with them. They then are left to themselves, and Satan has power and dominion over them” (McConkie and Ostler, Revelations of the Restoration, 454).

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