More than 700 people attended BYU's first symposium that focused on the seven Lectures on Faith given by Joseph Smith and others to a school of elders in Kirtland, Ohio, in 1834.
"We were thrilled at the response," said Larry E. Dahl, director of the Doctrine and Covenants Area of BYU's Religious Study Center, which sponsored the March 18-19 symposium. "People were fed not only intellectually, but also spiritually."Dahl said the lectures had been published with the Doctrine and Covenants from 1835 until 1921. In recent years, however, the lectures have been published under separate cover.
"Joseph Smith referred to the lectures as lectures on theology," said Dahl in the symposium's opening address, titled "The History and Authorship of the Lectures on Faith."
"Lecture 1 explains what faith is," he explained. "Lecture 2 describes how mankind comes to know God. Lectures 3 and 4 make clear the necessary and unchanging attributes of God. Lecture 5 deals with the nature of the Godhead. Lecture 6 proclaims that sacrifice of earthly things is prerequisite to gaining faith unto salvation. Lecture 7 treats the fruits of faith – perspective, power and eventually perfection."
Dahl said many early Church leaders participated in writing the lectures.
"It is clear that Joseph Smith and perhaps others prepared them for publication after they were written," he said. "The lectures were, in the words of President John Taylor, `published with the sanction and approval of the Prophet Joseph Smith.' It would therefore seem appropriate to use quotations from the Lectures on Faith and attribute them to the Prophet Joseph Smith."
The lectures, he said, were delivered by the presiding officers of the Church and some of the brethren to a school for the elders in the Kirtland printing office during the winter of 1834 to prepare them to be effective missionaries.
"I love the Lectures on Faith," Dahl concluded. "For me there is a special spirit associated with them. They are a rich source of doctrinal treasures couched in clear and powerful language. One can drink from them as deeply as he has a mind to."
Faith sustains hope for future
What then is faith? Lecture 1 quotes Hebrews 11:1, adding the word assurance: "Now faith is the substance [assurance] of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen."
Faith sustains hope for things not yet obtained and grants assurance that they will be. What is the practical import of this assurance? What is the nature of faith? The lecture affirms that faith is "the principle of action in all intelligent beings." These few words provide a new viewpoint from which to study the nature of faith. – Dennis Rasmussen, associate professor of philosophy at BYU, "What is Faith"
Chosen vessels inspire men to know God
To join the Church is to join the school of the prophets. To receive the priesthood is to assume the responsibility to teach and testify of those truths revealed to that vessel chosen to be the instrument of restoration in the dispensation one lives. Through God's chosen vessels, men are inspired to come to know God [Lecture 2}.
To those of our dispensation the Lord has said, "You shall declare the things which have been revealed to my servant Joseph Smith Jr." (D&C 31:4.) Thus it is for us to teach the message of the restoration. We ought to answer questions from the revelations of the restoration and not hide behind Bible texts.
It has become a common practice of recent years for those called up to pray in our meetings and classes to make some expression to the fact that what is taught be pleasing to the speaker or the teacher. If not improper, this is at least irrelevant. Anciently it was the likes of Sherem and Korihor who taught doctrines to please themselves and others. Our commission is to "declare the word with truth and soberness." That is to faithfully declare the gospel as it has been revealed without distortion of any sort to please either the speaker or the listener. – Joseph F. McConkie, professor of ancient scripture at BYU: "Chosen Vessels and the Order of the Priesthood"
Salvation hinges on knowing God
The third and fourth lectures examine God's character, perfections and attributes, and how those divine qualities relate to mankind's ability to exercise a saving faith.
"Ye receive no witness until after the trial of your faith." (Moro. 12:6.)
But the trial of faith is only as valid as the faith itself. A vain or false faith can only produce false results. Still, many religious people view faith pragmatically as an end in itself: faith in faith. It doesn't matter what you believe as long as you believe in something. This approach to faith is the equivalent of whistling past the graveyard – a psychological crutch for limping through mortality.
The notion that one god, or one religion, is as good as another is an attempt to democratize the principles of faith. But faith has no saving power if it is directed toward false gods or false religious concepts and practices. Jesus taught: "This is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent." (John 17:3.) No matter how fervent one's supposed faith, to be ignorant of that God and His will is to be without a hope of salvation. – Rodney Turner, professor of ancient scripture at BYU, "The Imperative and Unchanging Nature of God"
Lectures on Faith teach about God
The lectures [especially lecture 5] reveal a deep concept of God. We are made privy to a divine Being who is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent: He has all power, all knowledge, and is, by the power of His Spirit, everywhere present. We also are given insights into a Being who can be approached, a God who communicates with His people and reveals Himself to those who, like Enoch, the brother of Jared and Moses, seek after Him with diligence and faithfulness.
We come face to face with the reality later taught in the King Follett Sermon – that men and women can mature spiritually to the point where they can become even as their exalted Being.
These lectures are not primitive: they contain doctrinal pronouncements and allusions normally associated with the mature Joseph Smith in Nauvoo. These lectures are not Protestant: indeed, we learn of a truly infinite Being – an independent Being who possesses every godly attribute in perfection. But in no way do we encounter the transcendent Deity of the creeds. – Robert L. Millet, professor of ancient scripture at BYU: "The Supreme Power Over All Things: The Godhead in Lectures on Faith"
Man needs to know life acceptable to God
Lecture 6 treats two items:
- The necessity of a person knowing that his life is acceptable to God. After one learns of the perfect character and nature of God, what kind of a Being He is, there wells up within one's own bosom an intense desire and a craving and thirsting and a longing to be in harmony with Him. That is why repentance, followed by baptism for the remission of sins, and the laying on of hands for the baptism of fire or the Holy Ghost, accompanies true faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
- The necessity of being willing to sacrifice all earthly possessions and honors as the means to obtain the knowledge of and approval of the Lord Jesus Christ.
A large factor inherent in the sacrifice of all earthly possessions is that the plan of redemption did not begin in this mortal life. It began in the pre-mortal life. It began in the pre-mortal world. Man's knowledge in his natural, mortal, fallen state is earthbound. His affections are centered on this mortal life. What better test of his faith and his testimony than to ask him to forego his honors, possessions, reputation, and such things, to gain an inheritance in a time and place that he as a natural man doesn't even know exists nor does he naturally know that the sacrifice of all things is the way to get there? – Robert J. Matthews, dean of religious education at BYU, "Great Faith Only Obtained Through Sacrifice"
Eternal perspective, salvation and perfection are `Fruits of Faith'
The following relate to the fruits of faith presented in Lecture 7:
- Faith brings an eternal perspective of our mortal life – Faith is a principle, a key of power, that opens the door to our progress. The abundance of life and salvation can only come to us through our faith. It is the source of our feeling of well-being, of courage, and of peace, both in this life and in the world to come. Through the history of this earch, we see Adam's descendants receiving blessings and privileges according to their faith.
- Salvation as the result of faith – The relationship between faith and salvation is found in the Savior's teachings. Lecture 7 explains what Jesus proposed to the human family when He provided a means to save them. "He proposed to make them like unto Himself, and He was like the Father, the great prototype of all saved beings; and for any portion of the human family to be assimilated into their likeness is to be saved; and to be unlike them is to be destroyed; and on this hinge turns the door of salvation."
- Perfection through faith. – As we feast upon the words of Christ through earnest study to know His will, then humble ourselves and learn to bend our will as well as our knees, our faith increases, becoming stronger and stronger. We have an ever-increasing desire to know His will and want to carry it out. – Ardeth Kapp, General President of the Young Women: "Fruits of Faith"