Like in all theological writings, we can see how the life experiences and the culture that surrounds the author have influenced the writings themselves. John Calvin’s direct and systematic approach can be traced to the need for clarity as well as justification of thought in the Reformation. The German theologians of the nineteenth century are very inaccessible due to the academic style at the time. Lorenzo Snow’s life and experiences were forged in the great trek west and the trials and poverty that it entailed. It is also impossible to ignore the persecution that he endured whilst the LDS were still in the Midwest. This helps to explain the theme of this chapter and the one before, faithfulness in the midst of trial. There is content in this chapter that would seem to be orthodox within Christianity but the undercurrent from chapter 6, ‘becoming perfect before the Lord’, is still prevalent and it is this undercurrent we shall be exploring.
At this point, it is important to point out areas of agreement between the LDS and Christianity in this chapter before we distinguish the differences. On pages 121-122, Snow reflects of the prophets, in particular the character of the prophets. Moses is picked out by Snow as an example of particular note. Moses was a man who wrestled within himself before God and led the Israelites with great courage and conviction in the Exodus and risked his own well-being to save his people from destruction in Exodus 32. Jonah is also picked out as another example, a man who recognizes his own faults and does everything he can to rectify those mistakes. Nothing that Snow actually says in these texts are factually incorrect. To argue otherwise would be wrong. Snow is also correct to state on page 123 that we should be very self-aware and quick to repent of any flaw and sin, private and public. If we were to start arguing that the need for repentance is not necessary, it would be safe to say that we are not either in LDS territory or in Christian territory.
There are however some things that are troubling in these sections of text. When Snow is discussing the need for repentance, there is no mention of Jesus as part of the repentance. There is mention of the Holy Spirit but the emphasis is firmly on the one repenting not the one who has provided the salvation by way of repenting. This issue is the same in the section on the prophets. The emphasis is on the great works of Moses and Jonah, not on the patient, forgiving God who blessed them with those works and forgave them their sins. The emphasis is not on God. We can see this in LDS scriptures.
These scriptures are further evidence that points towards a very human emphasis within Mormonism rather than an emphasis on God, a theme we have discussed in this review of Snow.
This leads us swiftly onto our next point of investigation, the question of being fit before God. Like most of this chapter, Snow begins on a theme that would not be out of place in orthodox Christianity. We all would like to think that if the Lord were to search us, as it says in the quotation from Psalm 139:23-24, we would like to think that God would be pleased. There is a certain logic to the case Snow argues for in relation to this quotation in that it is easier to honestly desire this in corporate prayer and penitence than it is individually as there is more accountability and visibility in corporate activity. It all sounds perfectly fine theologically to a point. It seems to veer off with the following quotation
‘Such persons…and to establish a character before God that could be relied upon in the hour of trial, and that would fit them to associate with holy beings and with the Father himself when they shall have passed into the spirit world.’
Snow has taken a very important principle, a reliable character, and turned it into a rather anthropocentric (human centred) idea. It is by God that we have a character that can be relied upon. It is by the Holy Spirit, the armour of God (Ephesians 6) that we can stand firm. If the history of the Israelites is anything to go by, the people of God do not have it within themselves to stand firm in the hour of trial. Not even David had a character that stood firm in time of trial. Snow, like the doctrines and teachings of Mormonism, emphasise the aspects of free will and the power of the human will to such a degree that humanity can make themselves perfect (for a more in depth investigation of this topic, please see the review of Chapter 6). Not only is this anathema to Christians, but also it does not fit with the patterns of the Bible as seen by the history of the Israelites. Only Jesus was a perfect human being, but that was due to his divinity. Mormonism of course teaches that man may become God (see chapter 5) but this is something that is blasphemy if there is one God.
This trend continues on page 123. Snow again takes a very key idea in repentance after being made aware of fault and turned it into an anthropocentric idea. When Snow writes that we should repent and try to make reparation, the statement is correct. To say however, that by doing so ‘we strengthen our own character, we advance our own cause, we fortify ourselves against temptation and in time, we shall have so far overcome as to astonish ourselves at the progress we have made in self-government, and improvement’ (italics added) is astonishing in its human-centered attitude. Just like we do not do anything to further God’s cause other than be his instruments (1 Corinthians 3), we cannot mould overcome without God and his work through the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:3). Not only can we see in this section that Snow is evidently a key player in the development of the Mormon theology of human self-advancement to godhood, but we can also see that Mormonism seemingly has twisted repentance into a rather one sided arrangement. We the sinners repent and we the sinner make the reparation. There is no mention of what Jesus did on the cross of how his death and resurrection is the one and only reparation humanity ever needs. This paragraph does sum up the fundamental differences between Mormonism and Christianity.
We can see this again on page 124 with the suggestion of elevation. Is it really possible to ‘elevate ourselves still higher in the righteousness of God?’ When we consider Romans 8:31-39, we can see that we can never be separated from the love of God and that no worldly or demonic power can ever change that. If that is the case, how can we possibly elevate ourselves before God if we are already the apples of his eye as his children?
In conclusion, by this point of the book, we can begin to see certain themes developing in Snow’s, and Mormon, thought. We can see that the fundamental starting points of Mormon theology often begin in orthodox Christian theology and are point that most Christians would strongly agree with. These thoughts then metamorphose however into anthropocentric ideas of attainable perfection and godhood. This chapter, like the chapters that proceed this, reveals that Snow is looking to our ‘perfection’ rather than to our service to our creating, sustaining, saving God and it is in this that we see the difference between Mormonism and Christianity.