BYU

BRIGHAM YOUNG UNIVERSITY

Lectures on Faith

Included under the title "Lectures on Faith" in the 1835 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants, these seven "lectures on theology" (HC 2:176) were presented to the School for the Elders in the early winter of 1834–1835 in Kirtland, Ohio. The school was organized to help Church leaders and missionaries "[qualify] themselves as messengers of Jesus Christ, to be ready to do His will in carrying glad tidings to all that would open their eyes, ears, and hearts," by being "more perfectly instructed in the great things of God" (HC 2:169–70; see also Schools of the Prophets).

The lectures address three major themes: "first, faith itself—what it is; secondly, the object on which it rests; and thirdly, the effects which flow from it" (Dahl and Tate, p. 31). The first lecture explains what faith is; the second shows how the knowledge of God first came into the world and traces this knowledge from Adam to Abraham; the third and fourth discuss the necessary and unchanging attributes of God; the fifth deals with the nature of God the Father, his son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost; the sixth teaches that acquiring faith unto salvation depends on knowing that one´s life is pleasing to God, which knowledge can be obtained only by the willingness to sacrifice all earthly things; and the seventh treats the fruits of faith—perspective, power, and ultimately perfection. In the 1835 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants the seven lectures comprised seventy-four pages. The lectures are organized in numbered paragraphs in which principles are stated and supporting scriptures quoted. Appended to the first five lectures are lists of questions and answers restating the principles discussed. These catechisms are about as long as the lectures themselves.

No clear evidence documents who actually wrote the lectures. Recent authorship studies ascribe the wording of the lectures "mainly to Sidney Rigdon," with Joseph Smith substantially involved, and others perhaps having some influence. Joseph Smith´s close involvement with the lectures is suggested by Willard Richards´s history, which reports that Joseph was "busily engaged" in November in making "preparations for the School for the Elders, wherein they might be more perfectly instructed in the great things of God" (HC 2:169–70). The same source indicates that in January 1835 Joseph was engaged in "preparing the lectures on theology for publication" (HC 2:180). From these references and other circumstances it seems evident that the lectures were prepared and published with Joseph Smith´s approval (Dahl and Tate, pp. 7–10; 16, n. 8).

Until 1921 the "Lectures on Faith" were printed in almost all the English-language editions of the Doctrine and Covenants, and in many, but not all, non-English editions. An introductory statement in the 1921 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants explains that the lectures were deleted because "they were never presented to nor accepted by the Church as being otherwise than theological lectures or lessons" (see Doctrine and Covenants Editions). The decision may also have been influenced by what many readers have perceived as conflicts between statements about the Godhead in the fifth lecture and certain later revelations (D&C 130; Dahl and Tate, pp. 16–19). Others have found these conflicts to be more apparent than real and have attempted reconciliations (R. Millet, in Dahl and Tate, pp. 221–40).

The "Lectures on Faith" have been published separately from the Doctrine and Covenants for the LDS community four times: in 1840–1843, by Parley P. Pratt in England; in 1940, by compiler N. B. Lundwall in Salt Lake City; in 1985, by Deseret Book Company, Salt Lake City; and in 1990, by the Religious Studies Center at Brigham Young University. They were published separately twice by schismatic groups: in 1845–1846, by Sidney Rigdon (in Pittsburgh, soon after he left the Church); and in 1952, by the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. The Religious Studies Center publication includes a newly edited version of the lectures designed to make the text more readable. It provides textual comparison charts that identify all textual changes that have occurred in various printings of the lectures from 1835 to 1990. It also contains a summary of historical information, a doctrinal discussion of the topic of each lecture, and an extensive bibliography (Dahl and Tate).

Most members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are not acquainted with the text of the "Lectures on Faith," though many may recognize excerpts that are occasionally quoted in speeches and writings of leaders and scholars. A sampling of these quotations as printed in the 1990 edited edition follows:

LECTURE ONE. (1) Faith [is] the first principle in revealed religion, and the foundation of all righteousness. (9) Faith is the assurance which men have of the existence of things which they have not seen and…the principle of action in all intelligent beings.(12) As faith is the moving cause of all action in temporal concerns, so it is in spiritual.(13) But faith is not only the principle of action, but it is also the principle of power in all intelligent beings, whether in heaven or on earth.(15) The principle of power which existed in the bosom of God, by which he framed the worlds, was faith.

LECTURE TWO. (55) Let us here observe that after any members of the human family are made acquainted with the important fact that there is a God who has created and does uphold all things, the extent of their knowledge respecting his character and glory will depend upon their diligence and faithfulness in seeking after him, until, like Enoch, the brother of Jared, and Moses, they shall obtain faith in God and power with him to behold him face to face.

LECTURE THREE. (2–5) Let us here observe that three things are necessary for any rational and intelligent being to exercise faith in God unto life and salvation. First, the idea that he actually exists; Secondly, a correct idea of his character, perfections, and attributes; Thirdly, an actual knowledge that the course of life which one is pursuing is according to His will.

LECTURE FOUR. (11) Without the knowledge of all things God would not be able to save any portion of his creatures. For it is the knowledge which he has of all things from the beginning to the end that enables him to give that understanding to his creatures by which they are made partakers of eternal life. And if it were not for the idea existing in the minds of men that God has all knowledge, it would be impossible for them to exercise faith in him.(13) It is also necessary that men should have the idea of the existence of the attribute justice in God in order to exercise faith in him unto life and salvation. For without the idea of the existence of the attribute justice in the Deity, men could not have confidence sufficient to place themselves under his guidance and direction. For they would be filled with fear and doubt lest the Judge of all the earth would not do right, and thus fear or doubt existing in the mind would preclude the possibility of the exercise of faith in him for life and salvation. But when the idea of the existence of the attribute justice in the Deity is fairly planted in the mind, it leaves no room for doubt to get into the heart; and the mind is enabled to cast itself upon the Almighty without fear, and without doubt, and with the most unshaken confidence, believing that the Judge of all the earth will do right.

LECTURE FIVE. (2) There are two personages who constitute the great, matchless, governing, and supreme power over all things, by whom all things were created and made…. They are the Father and the Son: the Father being a personage of spirit, glory, and power, possessing all perfection and fulness. The Son, who was in the bosom of the Father, is a personage of tabernacle, made or fashioned like unto man, being in the form and likeness of man, or rather man was formed after his likeness and in his image. He is also the express image and likeness of the personage of the Father, possessing all the fulness of the Father, or the same fulness with the Father; being begotten of him, and ordained from before the foundation of the world to be a propitiation for the sins of all those who should believe on his name. He is called the Son because of the flesh…possessing the same mind with the Father, which mind is the Holy Spirit that bears record of the Father and the Son. These three are one; or, in other words, these three constitute the great, matchless, governing and supreme power over all things. (Q & A 15) Do the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit constitute the Godhead? They do.

LECTURE SIX. (2) It is essential for any person to have an actual knowledge that the course of life which he is pursuing is according to the will of God to enable him to have that confidence in God without which no person can obtain eternal life. (4) Such was and always will be the situation of the Saints of God. Unless they have an actual knowledge that the course they are pursuing is according to the will of God, they will grow weary in their minds and faint. (7) Let us here observe that a religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things never has power sufficient to produce the faith necessary unto life and salvation. For from the first existence of man, the faith necessary unto the enjoyment of life and salvation never could be obtained without the sacrifice of all earthly things. It is through this sacrifice, and this only, that God has ordained that men should enjoy eternal life. And it is through the medium of the sacrifice of all earthly things that men do actually know that they are doing the things that are well pleasing in the sight of God. (12) But those who have not made this sacrifice to God do not know that the course which they pursue is well pleasing in his sight. For whatever may be their belief or their opinion, it is a matter of doubt and uncertainty in their mind; and where doubt and uncertainty are, there faith is not, nor can it be. For doubt and faith do not exist in the same person at the same time. So persons whose minds are under doubts and fears cannot have unshaken confidence, and where unshaken confidence is not, there faith is weak. And where faith is weak, the persons will not be able to contend against all the opposition, tribulations, and afflictions which they will have to encounter in order to be heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ Jesus. But they will grow weary in their minds, and the adversary will have power over them and destroy them.Lecture Seven (19) All things which pertain to life and godliness are the effects of faith. (20) When faith comes, it brings its train of attendants with it-apostles, prophets, Evangelists, pastors, teachers, gifts, wisdom, knowledge, miracles, healings, tongues, interpretation of tongues, etc. All these appear when faith appears on the earth and disappear when it disappears from the earth. For these are the effects of faith and always have attended and always will attend it. For where faith is, there will the knowledge of God be, also, with all things which pertain thereto: revelations, visions, and dreams, as well as every other necessary thing, so the possessors of faith may be perfected and obtain salvation (Dahl and Tate, pp. 31–104).

The Prophet Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, Sidney Rigdon, and Frederick G. Williams, who compiled the first edition of the Doctrine and Covenants, said in the "Lectures on Faith" preface "that it contains, in short, the leading items of the religion which we have professed to believe," and "we have…endeavored to present our belief, though in few words, and when we say this, we humbly trust that it is the faith and principles of this society as a body" (Dahl and Tate, pp. 29–30).

Although it is impossible to evaluate the long-term impact of the lectures on LDS belief and teaching, the process of producing the lectures led early Church leaders to articulate and synthesize some of what they had learned from the revelations of the Restoration with the understanding of the Bible that they inherited from American Christianity. Although these lectures have received limited attention from most Latter-day Saints, others have taken them quite seriously and praised their value. LDS scripturalist and apostle Bruce R. McConkie wrote regarding the lectures, "They were not themselves classed as revelations, but in them is to be found some of the best lesson material ever prepared on the Godhead; on the character, perfections, and attributes of God; on faith, miracles, and sacrifice. They can be studied with great profit by all gospel scholars" (MD, p. 439). The 1990 republication of the lectures signals the desire of some LDS scholars to stimulate interest in their historical and doctrinal significance for the Church.

LARRY E. DAHL
Bibliography
 

Dahl, Larry E., and Charles D. Tate, eds. The Lectures on Faith in Historical Perspective. Provo, Utah, 1990.

Gentry, Leland H. "What of the Lectures on Faith?" BYU Studies 19 (Fall 1978):5–19.

Larsen, Wayne A.; Alvin C. Rencher; and Tim Layton. "Who Wrote the Book of Mormon? An Analysis of Wordprints." BYU Studies 20 (Spring 1980):249, app. E ("Lectures on Faith"); rev. repr. in Book of Mormon Authorship, ed. Noel B. Reynolds, pp. 183–84. Provo, Utah, 1982.

Phipps, Alan J. "The Lectures on Faith: An Authorship Study." Master´s thesis, Brigham Young University, 1977.

Van Wagoner, Richard S.; Steven C. Walker; and Allen D. Roberts. "The ´Lectures on Faith´: A Case Study in Decanonization." Dialogue 20 (Fall 1987):71–77.