Sunday, June 22, 2008

Constructive Thoughts: Liberty

I must warn you up front: as those of you who know me well understand, this is a topic near and dear to me. This will likely be a long post--and will probably take up two posts. Buckle up.

Liberty: "Since the beginning of the world, many have talked, written, suffered, cried, and died for liberty. Artists paint it, sculptors sculpt it, philosophers describe it, dictators and tyrants suppress it, and prophets teach it." (Charles Didier, "Liberty," New Era, Jul. 1986 at 4.) But what is liberty?

The 1828 edition of Webster's Dictionary defines liberty as: "Freedom from restraint, in a general sense, and applicable to the body, or to the will or mind. The body is at liberty, when not confined; the will or mind is at liberty, when not checked or controlled. A man enjoys liberty, when no physical force operates to restrain his actions or volitions." We could add to that definition, saying the soul is at liberty by obedience to the law of Christ, and "One who enjoys such liberty is, in the words of Jesus, ‘free indeed.' He is possessed of perfect liberty." (Marion G. Romney, "The Perfect Law of Liberty," Ensign, Nov. 1981 at 43 (quoting John 8:36).)

In the Book of Second Nephi in the Book of Mormon, the Prophet Lehi and his family have arrived in a new land, a promised land, which modern revelation teaches us is the Americas. As the book begins, Nephi has taught the colonists, and exhorted them, using the words of the Prophet Isaiah, which scriptures they have brought with them in their records. Lehi, their patriarch and living prophet, speaks to the group regarding their behavior, the land, and the promises God has made to them. Lehi is nearing the end of his days and takes this opportunity to teach and counsel his family. He tells them that "we have obtained a land of promise, a land which is choice above all other lands; a land which the Lord God hath covenanted with me should be a land for the inheritance of my seed. Yea, the Lord hath covenanted this land unto me, and to my children forever, and also all those who should be led out of other countries by the hand of the Lord." (2 Nephi 1:5)

Aside: That passage has always reminded me of the words of the poet Emma Lazurus: "Give me your tired, your poor, / Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free . . . ."

Father Lehi adds further emphasis to this point, saying: "Wherefore, I, Lehi, prophesy according to the workings of the Spirit which is in me, that there shall none come into this land save they shall be brought by the hand of the Lord." (2 Nephi 1:6) Truly a promised land; there must surely be a requirement, a stewardship, imposed upon inhabitants of a promised land.

True in this case: the requirement which must be met to prosper in this promised land is a message of great importance. Lehi restates the requirement five times in this chapter alone. It is a message of great importance not only to Lehi's family, but also a message of great importance to our day concerning our righteousness and our prosperity in the land. What is this requirement? Let's take a look at several verses in 2 Nephi:

10 But behold, when the time cometh that they shall dwindle in unbelief, after they have received so great blessings from the hand of the Lord—having a knowledge of the creation of the earth, and all men, knowing the great and marvelous works of the Lord from the creation of the world; having power given them to do all things by faith; having all the commandments from the beginning, and having been brought by his infinite goodness into this precious land of promise—behold, I say, if the day shall come that they will reject the Holy One of Israel, the true Messiah, their Redeemer and their God, behold, the judgments of him that is just shall rest upon them.
Then go back a few verses to verse 7:
7 Wherefore, this land is consecrated unto him whom he shall bring. And if it so be that they shall serve him according to the commandments which he hath given, it shall be a land of liberty unto them; wherefore, they shall never be brought down into captivity; if so, it shall be because of iniquity; for if iniquity shall abound cursed shall be the land for their sakes, but unto the righteous it shall be blessed forever.
. . . .
9 Wherefore, I, Lehi, have obtained a promise, that inasmuch as those whom the Lord God shall bring out of the land of Jerusalem shall keep his commandments, they shall prosper upon the face of this land; and they shall be kept from all other nations, that they may possess this land unto themselves. And if it so be that they shall keep his commandments they shall be blessed upon the face of this land, and there shall be none to molest them, nor to take away the land of their inheritance; and they shall dwell safely forever.
Then jumping ahead to verse 20: "And he hath said that: Inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments ye shall prosper in the land; but inasmuch as ye will not keep my commandments ye shall be cut off from my presence." And finally to verse 31:

31 Wherefore, because thou hast been faithful thy seed shall be blessed with his seed, that they dwell in prosperity long upon the face of this land; and nothing, save it shall be iniquity among them, shall harm or disturb their prosperity upon the face of this land forever.
Careful study of these Book of Mormon verses reveal many other Book of Mormon references to this covenant with those in this promised land. This concept appears to be one of those prophetic utterances that was preserved in the hearts and writings of the people from generation to generation. The Psalmist, for example, said it this way: "Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD." (Psalms 33:12.)

Modern revelation tells us that "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." (D&C 130:20-21) In other words, where we have received a promise from God, all we need is to obey His commandments concerning that promise in order to receive a fulfillment of that promise.

What was required of Lehi's family? To keep the commandments.

What was the promised reward? They shall be blessed upon the land, never be brought unto captivity, they would prosper in the land, etc.

And all that was required was to keep His commandments. Put another way, only iniquity would destroy their prosperity.

In yet other words, iniquity destroys liberty.

How important is this idea, that libery, prosperity, and observance of the Lord's commandments are all interrelated? Consider the following quotations: (all emphases in the originals).
    • "Of all the . . . habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. . . . Let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. . . . it is substantially true that virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government. . . . Who . . . can look with indifference upon attempts to shake the foundation of the fabric?" --George Washington

    • "Neither the wisest constitution nor the wisest laws will secure the liberty and happiness of a people whose manners are universally corrupt." --Samuel Adams

    • "Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other." --John Adams

    • "I agree to this Constitution . . . and I believe, further, that this is likely to be well administered for a course of years, and can only end in despotism, as other forms have done before it, when the people shall become so corrupted as to need despotic government, being incapable of any other." --Benjamin Franklin

    • "Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become corrupt and vicious they have more need of masters." --Benjamin Franklin

    • "Statesmen . . . may plan and speculate for liberty, but it is Religion and Morality alone, which can establish the Principles upon which Freedom can securely stand. The only foundation of a free Constitution is pure Virtue, and if this cannot be inspired into our People in a greater Measure, than they have it now, they may change their Rulers and the forms of Government, but they will not obtain a lasting liberty." --John Adams
These are just a few quotes of many; the Founding Fathers understood this requirement. Massachusetts Governor and 2008 Presidential candidate Mitt Romney put the thought to voice in this way: "Freedom opens the windows of the soul so that man can discover his most profound beliefs and commune with God. Freedom and religion endure together, or perish alone."

All of these thoughts share the same idea: "Freedom is not an absolute concept, but is a kind of balance between two extremes. One extreme is the lawlessness and disorder of anarchy, which is the total absence or suspension of government the other extreme is the absence of liberty resulting from complete control of the people by the government. This balance, called freedom, can exist only as long as the people involved, by their own inward motivation, act righteously enough for it to continue." (Jerome Horowitz, The Elders of Israel and the Constitution at 27 (2d ed. 1970) (emphasis added).)

Of course, freedom is not the only promise from God found in these passages. There is another promise, a more dire promise. In verse 10 we are told that those that dwindle in unbelief and reject the true Messiah shall have the judgments of God rest upon him. Look again at the "areas of dwindling" listed in that verse. Those who dwindle lose their belief in the following: the creation by God of the earth and all men; the scriptural record of the 'great and marvelous works of the Lord'; the possibility and ability to do things by faith; the Commandments; the infinite goodness of the Lord; and finally, the Messiah.

Has this nation dwindled since the days of our ancestors?

In how many of these beliefs is America still solid?

Think about that; I'll be back with more soon.

No comments: