It is worth noting that Lorenzo Snow was born (April 3, 1814) at what is generally regarded as the end of the Enlightenment period (c.1650-1804) and the start of a century that, in America at least, was preoccupied with mysteries, esotericism and religious experimentation.
He and his peers inherited the iconoclastic confidence of the French philosophes, the great encyclopaedists, the drive to secular education and learning, and the determination to overturn traditional concepts regarding church and state. It was a period that saw the French Revolution, the American War of Independence, the publication of Thomas Paine’s Rights of Man, and the US Bill of Rights. At the same time they entered a century that would apply the disciplines of this philosophical revolution to ultimate questions of origins, purpose, hope and faith.
The century that gave us Darwin’s Origin of Species would give us a hugely influential Adventism preoccupied with signs of the times and arcane knowledge, an influence that is with us to this day. A dizzying variety of movements would spring up to initiate people into mysteries designed to enlighten and educate the true believer. It is this combination of an educational philosophy designed to raise mankind above the superstitions of previous ages and the promise of esoteric knowledge that Lorenzo Snow found in Mormonism.
Its important to understand this because Mormons would have you believe their faith and philosophy was unknown to the modern world until “restored” by Joseph Smith. However, Smith’s claim to be a “Rough Stone Rolling” is very far from the truth. He was influenced by every new philosophy and movement of his age, an age that produced Mormonism from soil rich with ideas Smith would later develop and claim as his own.
Learning by Faith
Lorenzo Snow was very much a product of this exciting age and we are told he regarded education as “the leading star” of his youth. No surprise then that he was drawn to a man who declared, “Truth is knowledge of things as they are, as they were and as they are to come…The glory of God is intelligence.” (Doctrine and Covenants [D&C] 93:24&36, 6th May 1833)
The marrying of Enlightenment philosophy and esoteric knowledge is no better depicted than in this first chapter. It describes the fundamental philosophy of Mormonism, telling a story not of fallen, sinful man redeemed by a gracious Saviour, but of ignorant man saved from himself by education and initiation. Some key quotes will illustrate:
“In this system of religion that you and I have received there is something grand and glorious, and something new to learn every day, that is of great value. And it is not only our privilege but it is necessary that we receive these things and gather these new ideas.” (p.38)
What we have here is not a Saviour but a system; of learning, of new ideas, of secret knowledge, hidden realities. This is integral to understanding the Mormon Plan of Salvation. Where the Bible speaks of God becoming man in Jesus, Emmanuel, whose birth we have just marked, Mormonism speaks of a system that makes man become god through schooling in occult knowledge. In this Jesus is an exemplar, sent to show the way rather than be the way. According to Lorenzo Snow this sums up Mormonism.
“The whole idea of Mormonism is improvement—mentally, physically, morally and spiritually. No half-way education suffices for the Latter-day Saint.” (p.38)
“It is our duty to make every effort for the purpose of advancing ourselves in the principles of light and knowledge, as well as of increasing around us the temporal blessings and comforts of this life.” (p.40)
This secret knowledge must be learned, repeated, drummed into people.
“You have heard [some principles] perhaps hundreds of times, and yet it seems to be necessary that these things should be taught us over and over again.” (p.40)
“When [a teacher] stands before the people he should do so realizing that he stands before them for the purpose of communicating knowledge, that they may receive truth in their souls and be built up in righteousness by receiving further light, progressing in their education in the principles of holiness.” (p.41)
The longer your earthly life the more opportunity to “gain experience and knowledge…The more knowledge and intelligence [gained] in this life the greater the advantage in the next.”
“It is profitable to live long upon the earth and to gain the experience and knowledge incident thereto: for the Lord has told us that whatever intelligence we attain to in this life will rise with us in the resurrection, and the more knowledge and intelligence a person gains in this life the greater advantage he will have in the world to come” (p.38)
The key text teaching this fundamental Mormon doctrine is D&C 130:18–19 as cited on page 38:
“Whatever principle of intelligence we attain unto in this life, it will rise with us in the resurrection.
And if a person gains more knowledge and intelligence in this life through his diligence and obedience than another, he will have so much the advantage in the world to come.
There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated—
And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated.”
Treasure in Heaven
This is a very different take on storing treasure in heaven. If you recall, Jesus was asked by a rich young ruler, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Seeing the young man to be of good character Jesus answered, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” (Mark 10:17-21) When the Bible speaks of treasure in heaven it is in contrast to worldly treasure. Paul wrote to Timothy:
“As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy.
They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.” (1 Timothy 6:17-19)
What is truly life? “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” (John 17:3) It is well to remember that it was Lorenzo Snow who coined the infamous couplet, As man is God once was, as God is man may become.” But heaven’s treasure is not esoteric knowledge learned by rote leading to initiation into godhood but knowledge of the One true God and Christ leading to Christlike character that glorifies the God that saves.
While Mormons seek the way to attain to godhood, become gods themselves, by learning and following principles and instruction, Christians seek the way to worship the Godhead by being rich in good works, generous and ready to share – by emulating the Christ we worship. He is our treasure.
Mormonism concentrates the individual’s mind on building for themselves an estate in the next life much as they would in this. In the Book of Abraham, in the Pearl of Great Price we read, “And they who keep their first estate shall be added upon; and they who keep not their first estate shall not have glory in the same kingdom with those who keep their first estate; and they who keep their second estate shall have glory added upon their heads for ever and ever.” (Abraham 3:26)
The first estate is the pre-mortal life Mormons believe we had with God before coming to earth. This world, the second estate, is seen as a stage in the process of building that eternal estate, becoming gods and, in turn, having and sending their own children through that same process to attain to the same goal of godhood.
Temples of Further Education
In an article in the November 1980 Ensign magazine Robert L Simpson wrote, “The temple is a house of instruction-yes, even divine instruction-about God’s eternal plan for his children. In the temple one gains a superior perspective about his personal relationship with his Maker and with the Savior – yes, special knowledge about God and Jesus Christ, which is essential to the obtaining of life eternal.”
In the May 1989 Ensign F Enzio Busche wrote, “It has become my conviction that the temple is the only “university” for men to prepare spiritually for their graduation to eternal life. The temple is the place where the Lord wants us to make a sincere evaluation of our mortal lives.”
In the November 2012 Liahona magazine Richard G Scott wrote, “We must accomplish the priesthood temple ordinance work necessary for our own exaltation”
“Our own exaltation?” Yes, the plan of Mormonism is the exaltation of man. Mormon temples are not so much places of worship as universities, places of instruction where Mormons learn special knowledge to prepare them for graduation into that eternal estate they have been building by good works. Into that place where they will be exalted.
Christianity and education go hand in hand. The history of the church is the history of raising people up by education. Long before national schools were established the church and the synagogue were vital centres of learning. The first people to popularise the codex, or book form, as opposed to scrolls of papyrus were Christians. The Gutenberg Bible was the first book printed in the West by means of movable type and Christians have prized and encouraged education wherever they have taken the gospel.
The difference is in the fact that Christians prize education as a means of building character, lifting people out of ignorance and poverty and schooling them in the things of God so they may build the lives for which they were created and for which they have been saved. It is clear from this first chapter that Lorenzo Snow saw and Mormonism today sees education as a means of elevating man to a place coveted by Satan in the beginning – godhood. The former glorifies God by finding his place as a creature in God’s universe, the latter seeks his own ultimate glory by learning to find his place among the gods.
It is important to understand that everything else about Mormonism, every reference to familiar Christian terms that lead people to believe Mormonism is Christianity is part of this fundamental idea of man lifting himself by learning, initiation into arcane knowledge, passing through stages, or estates of testing to ultimately attain to godhood.
This is the Mormonism I joined in 1973. It is a Mormonism we don’t so readily hear these days as the Mormon Church seeks public approbation and acceptance. It will be interesting to see how going through the teaching of Lorenzo Snow in 2013 affects how Mormons speak of their faith.
Mike Thomas was a Mormon for 14 years, became a Christian 25 years ago and for many years worked with Reachout Trust speaking and writing about Mormonism. He has a blog where he regularly posts his thoughts on Mormon issues The Mormon Chapbook