I was a prosecutor for 13 years. Occasionally a defendant would come to court and argue with the judge, "Your honor, I didn't know it was against the law! You can't fault me for something I didn't know was illegal."
But if you've taken a beginner's Criminal Justice course, then you know it is axiomatic that "ignorance of the law is no defense."
That means if I kill somebody, I can't rest my defense on the fact no one told me murder was wrong. "How was I supposed to know I couldn't throw toasters in the bathtub while my boss was bathing?"
I mean, if we think about it, imagine if society predicated accountability on our knowledge of the law; it would incentivize people to remain ignorant since anyone charged with a crime could just profess ignorance and avoid punishment.
That would be terrible public policy!
No Man Saved in Ignorance
Okay, but what about in the spiritual realm? How does "knowledge" differ in heavenly jurisprudence?
It is impossible for a man to be saved in ignorance.
Hmmm. Looks like ignorance of God's law is no defense, either.
But before we give up, how do we reconcile the fact that people who have no law come forth in the First Resurrection?
They that knew no law shall have part in the first resurrection; and it shall be tolerable for them.
I think we're discovering that "ignorance" straddles the fence, holding the middle-ground; the Doctrine and Covenants tells us that folks going to the Terrestrial Kingdom include "they who died without law" (D&C 76:72).
That is why we can infer from Joseph Smith's statement the following, inverse truth:
It is impossible for a man to be [damned] in ignorance.
After all, Lucifer could not have fallen so low if he hadn't risen up to become "a son of the morning."
What I am trying to say is that in order for a person to be exalted, they must obtain knowledge; but once they obtain knowledge they also become candidates for the pit, should they fail to abide by it.
Scary? The word of God is indeed a double-edged sword.
On Second Thought
While I often give hierarchies a hard time, there's a positive side to them.
Besides the obvious efficiencies created in a dictatorate ("He was a tyrant, but at least he made the trains run on time"), the people below their stewardship are insulated, in a measure, from personal accountability.
This is what the Lord was telling us about the Constitution, and why becoming His "constitution" is a risky proposition.
The Lord explained He established a constitution in order to make "every man accountable for his own sins" (D&C 101:78).
Let's just back up; we need a moment to digest that. Being self-governing increases our individual accountability, versus being subject to an unjust leader or a lesser law (the "where much is given, much is required" principle).
For this purpose have I established the Constitution of this land.
What purpose, again?
"that every man may act in doctrine and principle pertaining to futurity, according to the moral agency which I have given unto him, that every man may be accountable for his own sins in the day of judgment . . . And for this purpose have I established the Constitution of this land."
On second thought, maybe this whole Constitution-thing was not such a good idea; maybe it was better to sit underneath the sins of our wicked kings and NOT be accountable.
As Mosiah II declared:
I command you to do these things, and that ye have no king; that if these people commit sins and iniquities they shall be answered upon their own heads.
For behold I say unto you, the sins of many people have been caused by the iniquities of their kings; therefore their iniquities are answered upon the heads of their kings.
So before we decide to sign our John Hancock and become the Lord's constitution, we should ask ourselves if that is what we truly want.
Up until this time in 2022, we have not seen Zion because no people on earth have been willing to be the Lord's constitution; they've preferred the relative anonymity of co-habitating among Babylon's kings and lords, in ignorance.
"Ye Are My Constitution?"
On April 25, 1844 . . .
[Note the date: this was a month after the "Last Charge Meeting" in which Joseph rolled off the Kingdom of God to the Council of 50.]
. . . the revelation was received that fundamentally and forever changed the government of the Church on earth.
Or should have.
As you know, Joseph died two months later; what he might have done with this revelation we do not know, for in the wake of his departure, his followers wrestled for leadership of the Church and splintered into 100 various factions (and counting). Today the LDS Church is the largest and wealthiest of them.
Sometimes I wonder if we, who have the advantage of hindsight, have learned anything in the intervening 178 years?
"The chairman [Joseph Smith] then made some further remarks and advised that we let the constitution alone. He would tell us the whole matter about the constitution as follows--
"Verily thus saith the Lord, ye are my constitution, and I am your God, and ye are my spokesmen. From henceforth do as I shall command you. Saith the Lord.
"Er Rigdon motioned that the constitution be received and the vote was unanimous, whereupon the council adjourned."
Has this revelation been repealed, replaced, or set aside? Then why are we governing the Church like we're still in the middle ages?
As Joseph's spiritual heirs, we were bequeathed a dual legacy, for those brave enough to embrace it:
1. The Doctrine of Christ
First we have the Doctrine of Christ, which is the crowning doctrine of the kingdom:
Behold, this is my doctrine― whosoever repenteth and cometh unto me, the same is my church.
Whosoever declareth more or less than this, the same is not of me, but is against me; therefore he is not of my church.
How should we interpret this simple statement? May I proffer that, at a minimum, it means that anyone who teaches we come unto Christ by any means other than repentance is placing a stumbling block in our path?
For example, is declaring we come unto Christ only through the keys held by men and the covenants and ordinances they control "more or less than this"?
2. The Constitution of Christ
When the Lord called us His constitution, saying, "From henceforth do as I shall command you," He was merely codifying what Nephi taught long ago:
I say unto you that if ye will enter in by the way, and receive the Holy Ghost, it will show unto you all things what ye should do.
Behold, this is the doctrine of Christ, and there will be no more doctrine given until after he shall manifest himself unto you in the flesh. And when he shall manifest himself unto you in the flesh, the things which he shall say unto you shall ye observe to do.
(2 Nephi 32:5-6)
Well, will 'ya look at that; the two doctrines are the same!
When we actually compare the Doctrine of Christ and what it means to be His Constitution, they're speaking about the same thing; to wit: (1) come unto Christ and receive His word; and (2) do it.