Chapter 11, ‘I Seek Not Mine Own Will but the Will of the Father’, may seem a little bit ‘jarring’ in its location within the book coming as it is does after the important chapter of coming to the temples. The issues that are raised in the chapter are important to discuss however. It is one of those chapters that, unlike the previous chapter, involve detailed analysis of Lorenzo Snow’s theology to discern the LDS theology from the Christian theology. In our journey examining Snow’s thoughts on Jesus’ famous statement that is used as the title for his chapter, we shall focus on two distinctive Mormon ideas in the text. Firstly, we shall investigate the idea that it is possible to take a path where there will be no failure and secondly we shall investigate the difference between successful and faithful with God.
The first area we shall look at focuses on the very first section of Snow’s teaching in this chapter. The particular quotation that is important is ‘there is a course for every person to pursue in which there will be no failure’. This quotation needs to be understood in light of the reference from Doctrine and Covenants that comes shortly after the quotation:
‘If your eye be single to my glory, your whole bodies shall be filled with light, and there shall be no darkness in you, and that body which is filled with light comprehendeth all things. Therefore sanctify yourselves that your minds become single to God (D&C 88:67-68).
We must begin with the areas where Mormonism and Christianity agree. It would be unwise and improper to suggest that saying that ‘seeming failures’ cannot be successes in actuality in God. When we consider Peter, we can see that his massive failures in abandoning Jesus as well as his failure to understand Jesus’ messages were transformed by God into great wisdom and leadership for His purposes. Our greatest failures can be turned into great Godly successes. Where Snow begins to go into areas where Christianity must disagree is the reasoning behind why the LDS church of the 1890’s has not fallen into failure. Snow argues the church has avoided failure as they have ‘fixed upon the true principles of life, and have conformed to their duty’. The church has the Spirit ‘and have followed it. Hence there has been no failure’. This along with the quotation we have seen before, signals a progression from failure being redeemed by God to humanity being able to avoid failure by works, in affect humanity being free from sin through works and redeeming itself.
Now am I over exaggerating here? Am I reading far too much into what Snow is saying? I do not believe that I am. When Snow states that the church has avoided failure has come from ‘conforming to duty’, he states that the avoidance of failure in the sight of the Lord has come from the church’s action rather than the mercy and grace of Christ. This theology has been cut from the same cloth as the theology in chapter five where men can become gods by their works. Snow does say in this section that the ‘people generally have had the Spirit of the Lord, and have followed it’. That seems biblically orthodox doesn’t it? Well, it would again seem a bit bizarre to say that Peter hadn’t failed in his leadership of the church when he was caught in hypocrisy as he ate with Gentiles when James wasn’t around but refused in James’ presence. It would also be bizarre an absurd to say that Peter did not have the Spirit or that the Spirit abandoned him at that time. Peter’s failure in this regard came about by the sin that is in us all. Our lives are a constant wrestle with obeying the Spirit and giving into our sinful urges. There will always be sinful failure on an individual level and on the corporate level as we are all sinful until our purification in our resurrection at death. As such to argue that we can avoid failure in this life by works is not just theologically wrong, but folly.
Our next point of exploration is the difference between success and faithfulness when it comes to God. The sentence that follows the quotation from Doctrine and Covenants we have previously discussed is as follows ‘That is the key by which a person can always be successful’. The quotations that follow, Philippians 3:14 and Doctrine and Covenants 84:38, make references to prizes, which are the reward for success. I do believe however that Snow has misappropriated the quotation from Philippians. The prize he is talking about is the resurrection from the dead that comes from a life with Jesus.
When we consider Philippians 3:13, Paul exhorts us to repent and leave our sins in the past and keep going through the trials, the pain and our own sinfulness towards our true prize, relationship with Christ in eternity. This sounds more like faithfulness rather than success. So what does the LDS church define ‘success’, the word Snow uses on page 150 as? The Bible Dictionary on the LDS website does not give us a definition under the term ‘success’ but this word is used in a couple of other definitions such as Maccabees and Jonah. In these definitions, the word ‘success’ is used in its classical sense, in that the aims that one set out with were achieved and that success was accredited to the person who ‘achieved’ the success.
So is Snow talking about ‘faithfulness’ or ‘success’? The answer to this can be found on page 150 when Snow begins to articulate on the will of God worked through our lives. In this section, Snow works through the lives of Moses and Jeremiah about how the will of the Father is worked through them despite their inadequacies.
Before this discussion however, Snow quotes John 5:19 and then proceeds to argue that if anything needs to be done that requires an ‘exertion’, we need to align our will with God’s. This is, of course, is perfectly Christian. Where it gets a little odd is when Snow argues that when we do this, it will always lead to success that we will eventually see, even if it takes a while for the success to flower. The truth of the matter is that when we align our wills, we do not do so for success. We do so because our creator God asks us to serve Him. He asks us to follow His will just like Jesus so that we can faithful to him.
The element of success that Snow introduces is a clear sign of the work-based salvation that is present in Snow’s thought as seen in chapter 5. It can be argued that the ‘success’ that Snow talks about is rooted within the trek west to the Salt Lake Basin and the overcoming of challenges to get to the Basin in the first place and the challenges that were involved in establishing settlements in the Basin. With this in mind, it could be argued that Snow is using his experiences in trying to articulate his thoughts and this could be conceivable if it weren’t for the other examples of work based salvation theology that have been present in the previous chapters. Snow’s theology, as shown by this example, is part of the foundation of Mormon soteriology (doctrine of salvation) which proclaims that humanity can work their way to the celestial kingdom to exaltation and godhood. Achieving this is what is considered success.
So in conclusion, what can we say about chapter eleven? We can say that, as with previous chapters, Snow is not unfamiliar with Christian theology and makes some points which are not out of step with Christian orthodoxy. What we can also see however is that Snow is still deeply rooted in the idea that humanity can be perfect and work their way to the celestial kingdom, in essence, you can work your way to heaven, something Christianity cannot accept.