The revelations and teachings of Joseph Smith and the truths made known through modern prophets testify that faith is a principle of power and is a moving cause of all action in both the temporal and spiritual spheres. Further, faith is a system of salvation by which we can grow into a meaningful spiritual union with the Lord and eventually qualify to go where Gods and angels are.
Faith Based on Evidence
Faith is based on evidence. "All belief is founded on evidence," Elder Orson Pratt wrote. "The greater the evidence, the greater will be the faith resulting from that evidence." (Orson Pratt's Works, p. 48.) The Apostle Paul thus observed that "faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." (JST, Heb. 11:1, emphasis added.)
Individuals who reflect seriously on the purpose of life, who consider meaningfully the nature and order of the cosmos, upon what might be termed external evidence - these often come to sense the reality of a divine Creator behind the creation. "All things denote there is a God," Alma testified to Korihor, "yea, even the earth, and all things that are upon the face of it, yea, and its motion, yea, and also all the planets which move in their regular form do witness that there is a Supreme Creator." (Alma 30:44; compare D&C 88:45-47.)
There is also what we might call internal evidence, the quiet but pervasive assurance that comes to the human heart, by and through the Holy Spirit. It is an evidence less visible but more certain, an evidence that establishes spiritual realities. Elder Pratt explained: "The gift of the Holy Ghost was given to me; and when it was shed forth upon me, it gave me a testimony concerning the truth of this work that no man can ever take from me. . . . And while I am speaking upon the subject, let me say that the gift and power of the Holy Ghost given to an individual is the greatest evidence that he can receive concerning God, godliness, and the kingdom of heaven set up upon the earth. There is no evidence equal to it." (Journal of Discourses 7:178, emphasis added.)
President Brigham Young likewise spoke of the influence of this kind of evidence that comes by the power of the word: "If all the tact, wisdom, and refinement of the world had been sent to me with the Book of Mormon, and had declared, in the most exalted of earthly eloquence, the truth of it, . . . they would have been to me like the smoke which arises only to vanish away. But when I saw a man without eloquence, or talents for public speaking, who could only say, `I know, by the power of the Holy Ghost, that the Book of Mormon is true, that Joseph Smith is a prophet of the Lord,' the Holy Ghost proceeding from that individual illuminated my understanding, and light, glory, and immortality were before me. I was encircled by them, filled with them, and I knew for myself that the testimony of the man was true." (JD 1:90.)
Prerequisites for Faith
The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that three things are essentially necessary for any rational and intelligent being to exercise faith in God unto life and salvation: the idea that God actually exists; a correct idea of His character, perfections, and attributes; and an actual knowledge that the course of life one is pursuing is according to the will of God (Lectures on Faith 3:2-5).
It is axiomatic that unless we have the idea in our minds that there is a God, we simply cannot exercise faith in Him. As we have seen, that idea comes through the presentation of the word, through the power of human testimony, through the declaration of one who knows. Thus "from the time [the knowledge of GodT was first communicated, it was retained in the minds of righteous men, who taught not only their own posterity but the world." (Lectures on Faith 2:44.)
The Prophet explained, "Faith comes by hearing the word of God, through the testimony of the servants of God; that testimony is always attended by the spirit of prophecy and revelation." (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 148; compare Romans 10:17.)
Faith unto life and salvation cannot be exercised in that which is untrue. (See Alma 32:21.) Thus Joseph Smith instructed that one cannot gain faith or power if he or she is not possessed of a correct knowledge of God. No matter one's commitment to a god of wood or stone, no matter one's sincerity in bowing down before the winds or the thunder, the faith of which the scriptures speak - faith to move mountains, heal the sick, raise the dead, and come into the presence of God - is found only in the hearts of those who have come to know the true and living God, to know His nature and His character.
The scriptures set forth clearly and unmistakably that the God we worship possesses all of the divine attributes - such qualities as knowledge, power, love, justice, judgment, and mercy - in perfection. That is, our God is not and cannot be deficient in any particular attribute. Otherwise, His children could not have the faith or confidence that would motivate them to call upon Him, trust in Him, and serve Him at all hazards.
In regard to God's omniscience, for example, the Prophet explained that "without the knowledge of all things, God would not be able to save any portion of his creatures; for it is by reason of the knowledge which he has of all things, from the beginning to the end, that enables him to give that understanding to his creatures by which they are made partakers of eternal life; and if it were not for the idea existing in the minds of men that God had all knowledge it would be impossible for them to exercise faith in him."
Similarly, if there were any question in people's minds concerning God's justice, "they would be filled with fear and doubt lest the judge of all the earth would not do right, and thus fear or doubt, existing in the mind, would preclude the possibility of the exercise of faith in him for life and salvation." (Lectures on Faith 4:11, 12.)
The first two prerequisites for faith mentioned above pertain to Deity; if we are to grow in faith in a manner that would allow us to navigate a safe course to eternal life, we must know certain things about God.
The third prerequisite requires us to know something about ourselves; that is, in order to have faith or confidence in God, we must know that our lives are pleasing to Him, that the course we are pursuing is according to the will of heaven. This kind of faith is inextricably tied to spirituality, for as President David 0. McKay observed, spirituality is "the consciousness of victory over self and of communion with the Infinite." (Gospel Ideals, p. 390.)
This is a type of self-confidence that transcends dramatically what the world has come to know as self-esteem. It is the peaceful and sacred and soul-satisfying assurance that our lives are acceptable to our Father in heaven. The Prophet Joseph Smith went on to teach that such a knowledge could be had only through being willing to sacrifice all things. Indeed, it is only as we honestly and completely submit to the will of the Lord; only as we are willing to part with all earthly things, including our own lives if necessary; only as we "count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus" (Philip. 3:8) will we be in a position to lay hold on eternal life. In this sense we become truly free only through an unconditional surrender to the Lord.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints makes tremendous demands (in terms of time, talents, and means) on of its members, for, as the Prophet observed, "a religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things never has power sufficient to produce the faith necessary unto life and salvation; for, from the first existence of man, the faith necessary unto the enjoyment of life and salvation never could be obtained without the sacrifice of all earthly things." (Lectures on Faith 6:7, emphasis added.)
It was Abraham's willingness to sacrifice Isaac, his beloved child of promise, that laid the foundation for his faith unto life and salvation. God knew Abraham but, as President Hugh B. Brown has wisely pointed out, "Abraham needed to learn something about Abraham." (Cited in Truman G. Madsen, The Highest in Us, p. 49.)
In the same spirit, after the Lord had sealed Joseph Smith unto eternal life He said: "Behold, I have seen your sacrifices, and will forgive all your sins; I have seen your sacrifices in obedience to that which I have told you. Go, therefore, and I make a way for your escape, as I accepted the offering of Abraham of his son Isaac." (D&C 132:49-50.) Elder B. H. Roberts therefore explained that through meeting these three prerequisites for faith men and women may grow "from righteousness to righteousness, until the heavens will be opened to them and they will hold communion with the Church of the Firstborn, with Jesus Christ, and with God the Father, and thus will they make their calling and election sure - through faith ripening into knowledge." (The Gospel and Man's Relationship to Deity, p. 111.)
Living and Working by Faith
Persons with faith are faithful persons. They are dependable. They are trustworthy. Truly, we cannot exercise saving faith unless we are striving to be obedient to the commandments of God and are thus in a position to have the approval of God. Joseph Smith taught that "when a man works by faith he works by mental exertion instead of physical force." (Lectures on Faith 7:3.) But this is not the mental exertion associated only with intellect. Nor is it the power of positive thinking. Rather, it is the subduing of self, the bending of the whole soul, and the molding of the personal will that enables the faithful to know the mind and will of the Almighty, to gain "the mind of Christ." (1 Cor. 2:16.)
In commenting upon the Prophet's discussion of working by faith, Elder Bruce R. McConkie wrote: "Working by faith is not the mere, speaking of a few well-chosen words; anyone with the power of speech could have commanded the rotting corpse of Lazarus to come forth, but only one whose power was greater than death could bring life again to the brother of Mary and Martha. Nor is working by faith merely a mental desire, however strong, that some eventuality should occur. There may be those whose mental powers and thought processes are greater than any of the saints, but only persons who are in tune with the Infinite can exercise the spiritual forces and powers that come from Him." To say this another way, we work by faith when we come to know and carry out the will of the Lord.
Elder McConkie continued: "Faith cannot be exercised contrary to the order of heaven or contrary to the will and purposes of him whose power it is. Men work by faith when they are in tune with the Spirit and when what they seek to do by mental exertion and by the spoken word is the mind and will of the Lord." (A New Witness for the Articles of Faith, pp. 191-92, emphasis added.)
Salvation is the ultimate fruit of faith, for salvation consists of being with and like Jesus Christ, who is the prototype of a saved being. Those who wish to be saved must thereby seek to become as Christ is. "When men begin to live by faith they begin to draw near to God; and when faith is perfected they are like him; and because he is saved they are saved also." (Lectures on Faith 7:8; see also 6:1 1; 7:9.) In this light the plan of salvation becomes "a system of faith - it begins with faith, and continues by faith; and every blessing which is obtained in relation to it is the effect of faith, whether it pertains to this life or that which is to come." (Lectures on Faith 7:17.)
In a day of spreading disbelief; in a time when people are ensnared by the ephemeral and the fleeting and thus less focused on the significant and the eternal, we are wont to cry out like one man did to Jesus in the meridian of time: "Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief." (Mark 9:24.)
Indeed, there are few problems in our generation that could not be rectified through a return to gospel fundamentals, a resurgence of that faith and hope had and enjoyed by the ancients. And it is the testimony of the Latter-day Saints that the Lord has restored to earth the ancient system of salvation, the everlasting plan of happiness that will bring to those who accept it peace and joy in this world and eternal reward and glory in the world to come.
Truly, the gospel has been restored "that every man might speak in the name of God the Lord, even the Savior of the world; that faith also might increase in the earth." (D&C 1:20-21, emphasis added.) This is the legacy of the Latter-day Saints, the burden and the blessing available to all who seek to come unto Christ and be saved.