On July 15, 1838, American poet and prophet, Ralph Waldo Emerson, gave a speech to the graduating class of the Harvard Divinity School. It is known as the "Divinity School Address."
It was one of the most inspired speeches in American history.
Ralph Waldo Emerson and Joseph Smith
You might remember Mr. Emerson from high school English class. He was born two years before Joseph Smith in 1803. The lives of these two shapers of American society had some interesting parallels and striking contrasts.
1. Both Emerson and Joseph Smith viewed Christianity as corrupt.
2. Emerson was a Unitarian minister and was refined. Joseph was a frontier preacher and was rough.
3. Emerson's legacy was picked up by Henry David Thoreau; Joseph's by Brigham Young.
4. In 1837-39, Joseph Smith had completed the Kirtland Temple and was navigating the fallout of the Kirtland Safety Society. He abandoned Kirtland and settled in Far West.
5. By 1838, Emerson, a widower, had remarried and had financial woes of his own. He prevailed in a lawsuit to inherit after his first wife's death, and was awarded over $22,000 (which would be around $500,000 today).
6. In the 1840s, while Joseph went on to be the editor of the Times and Seasons in Nauvoo, Emerson and his transcendentalist disciples published a journal called The Dial.
So what's the point of all of this history mumbo-jumbo?
I am glad you asked!
"God is, not was."
Did you know that Joseph Smith was a poet himself?
Joseph wrote a poem-version of his Vision that he received with Sidney Ridgon in 1832 (Doctrine and Covenants 76).
And now after all of the proofs made of him, By witnesses truly, by whom he was known, This is mine, last of all, that he lives; yea he lives! And sits at the right hand of God, on his throne.
And I heard a great voice, bearing record from heav'n, He's the Saviour, and only begotten of God-- By him, of him, and through him, the worlds were all made, Even all that career in the heavens so broad,
Whose inhabitants, too, from the first to the last, Are sav'd by the very same Saviour of ours; And, of course, are begotten God's daughters and sons, By the very same truths, and the very same pow'rs.
(Joseph Smith, "A Vision," stanzas 18 - 20; see, https://faculty.cs.byu.edu/~clement/rel325/vision-poem.pdf)
Here was a witness of a man who communed with God. Joseph Smith gave languishing Christianity a renewed hope in a God that lives and speaks TODAY; in a heaven whose windows are open; in a scriptural canon ripe for more revelation raining from above.
As Emerson put it in his Harvard Divinity School Address:
It is the office of a true teacher to show us that God is, not was; that He speaketh, not spake. The true Christianity, -- a faith like Christ's in the infinitude of man, — is lost.
Is it lost? Have we lost God's voice?
In 2022, where is the word of God to be found? Where can we hear Him speak? Where do we find God at work? Where can we find messengers sent by Father to teach us?
You know, something Emerson said nearly 200 years ago is just as relevant TODAY than it was then:
"It is my duty to say to you, that the need was never greater of new revelation than now."
Infinite Regression of Religions
The state of religion in 2022 is not great. We read in the newspaper about the plummeting membership rolls of churches; of multitudes fleeing organized religion for a variety of reasons.
But the problem is not people leaving religion. The problem is religions that cripple people's intelligence, or in other words, light and truth ― or in other words, their authentic, divine selves.
Emerson cautioned us that the fault lies not in man, but in religion. He said (and while reading this quote, think of our modern worship services):
It seemed strange that the people should come to church.
It seemed as if their houses were very unentertaining, that they should prefer this thoughtless clamor. It shows that there is a commanding attraction in the moral sentiment, that can lend a faint tint of light to dullness and ignorance, coming in its name and place.
[Emerson is implying that our preaching of platitudes and trite 'moral sentiment' is a far cry from the light God has planted within us. Our spirits leave Church unedified because we are taught dull and ignorant doctrines.]
The good hearer is sure he has been touched sometimes . . . when he listens to these vain words, he comforts himself by their relation to his remembrance of better hours, and so they clatter and echo unchallenged.
[Here Emerson is saying that we are content with "vain words" and the emotional appeal they have, and do not challenge what we hear from the pulpit.]
Why is religion incapable of satisfying our innate desire for God?
Because God is not "out there. " God is "in here." This is the essence of the Doctrine of Christ (!)
The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: [meaning, you can't see it] Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! [meaning, we won't find it here or there] for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.
Yes, yes Jesus really said that.
Did he mean it?
"You. Yes, you!" He's saying the kingdom of God is within YOU.
It's there! His word, the words of eternal life, are IN YOU and can grow into life everlasting.
Carnal Commandments are a Sign of Condemnation
Why do people view the Law of Moses as the gold standard for religion?
I mean, often in Church I hear people expressing their faith in terms of whether they are keeping the commandments like it was 1200 B.C.
To put another way, why do we place Old Testament Religion on a pedestal?
After all, the Law of Moses was given to the Israelites because they rejected the higher law! The Lord gave them a lesser law to their "condemnation."
Why would we want to emulate a religion that was given when God was angry (or, as it says in the scriptures, "in his wrath")?
The law of Christ, on the other hand, is not written on stone tablets but upon the fleshy tablets of our hearts and inward parts.
Be Like Christ, Not Moses
Emerson celebrated Christ as the "greatest Man." He said:
Alone in all history, [Christ] estimated the greatness of man; One man was true to what is in you and me.
He saw that God incarnates himself in man, and evermore goes forth anew to take possession of his world....
That which shows God in me, fortifies me. That which shows God out of me, makes me [weak].
Question: What attempts to "show God out of us?" Answer: Religion.
Question: What attempts to "show God in us?" Answer: The gospel, or the Word of God.
Alma, Tell It Like It Is
Let's break down just a single verse from our friend Alma in Chapter 32:28, to help us understand the Doctrine of Christ a little better:
Now, we will compare the word unto a seed.
Well, this is already interesting: we've got to start from scratch. We can't transplant a rhododendron bush from our neighbor's yard to ours. The word of God is not something that can be grown outside of us. It has to be incubated within from its simplest state.
Now, if ye give place, that a seed may be planted in your heart,
[FAITH] Okay, this tells us where this seed has to go. It has to go inside us, in our heart, which circulates spiritual blood to all of our limbs. Notice how this is all voluntary ("if ye give place"). No one can force-feed us this seed. No one can cram it down our throats.
behold, if it be a true seed, or a good seed, if ye do not cast it out by your unbelief, that ye will resist the Spirit of the Lord,
Ahhh. [REPENTANCE] That is the most interesting definition of "unbelief" I have found: "to resist the Spirit of Lord." It doesn't say anything about whether we believe the truth propositions of our Churches; it doesn't say anything about obedience to our leaders; no, the test is entirely different from what religion teaches: will we receive, or resist, the Spirit of the Lord? A person who receives the Spirit of the Lord will always, invariably, repent.
behold, it will begin to swell within your breasts;
When a seed germinates, it becomes bigger. How? The seed starts to retain water. Remember what comes next? [BAPTISM]
and when you feel these swelling motions, ye will begin to say within yourselves—It must needs be that this is a good seed, or that the word is good, for it beginneth to enlarge my soul; yea, it beginneth to enlighten my understanding,
[HOLY GHOST] The Spirit is a revelator. Remember what Joseph said happened after he and Oliver were baptized? "We were filled with the Holy Ghost.... Our minds being now enlightened, we began to have the scriptures laid open to our understandings" (JS-H 1:73-74). This is the manifesting of the Spirit, to have the Word of God magnified in our minds.
yea, it beginneth to be delicious to me.
[FEAST] You know what I do when something is so delicious? Like cherry cobbler with vanilla ice cream? I devour it. I feast on it.
Feast upon the words of Christ; for behold, the words of Christ will tell you all things what ye should do.