Lesson 7: Various scriptures on the First Principles and Ordinances
Before I offer some study questions, let me say why I object to this year’s way of organizing our Sunday School lessons. The approach to the scriptures in these lessons is topical: choose a topic and then find scriptures that allow you to explicate that topic. There are perfectly legitimate uses for doing that, but it isn’t scripture study. It is topical study. The problem with topical study is that it cannot escape the fact that the person who chooses the topic and chooses the scriptures that discuss that topic must assume that he or she already knows what the scriptures have to teach us about it. The person need not assume complete knowledge, merely adequate knowledge. If my job is to give a talk on a topic in Sacrament meeting or to teach a lesson on that topic, that is a legitimate way to proceed. I decide what I want to teach and then find scriptures that support that teaching.
However, if instead I am trying to learn what the scriptures themselves teach, and perhaps to learn something I didn’t know before or to have an experience that shows scriptural teachings in a new light or to be brought up short by a question that I had never considered or to be motivated to faith and repentance, then this method is unlikely to produce results. Lesson 5 pointed out that personal revelation often requires that we ponder the scriptures, but the topical approach is exactly not a matter of pondering them. As I said, it explicates them in terms of what we already understand: my understanding is the origin of what is said and thought about, rather than the scriptures. So, if, as the Sunday School manual says, we are to teach from the scriptures rather than from what we already know, we ought not to use a topical approach.
Now that I have that off of my chest, consider these questions about the scriptures for this lesson.
Doctrine and Covenants 19:23
What does the Savior mean when he commands us to learn of him? If we are familiar with the Gospels and Third Nephi, then we have all of the facts of his biography that are known. Presumably that isn’t what he is commanding us to learn, so what is he commanding? How do we listen to his words? How do we walk in the meekness of his Spirit? What does it mean to have peace in Christ?
Doctrine and Covenants 88:118
What does “words of wisdom” mean? How do we seek them diligently? In the context of this section to what does “the best books” refer? What does the revelation mean when it commands us to “seek learning, even by study and also by faith”? What does “study” mean in this case? How do we seek learning by faith?
2 Nephi 2:23
What are the two purposes for Nephi’s writing? How does the Book of Mormon persuade us to believe in Christ? How does it persuade us to be reconciled to God? What does it mean to be saved by grace? (Compare 2 Nephi 31:19; Mosiah 2:21; and Luke 17:7-10.) Why does Nephi’s point about being saved by grace follow his statement of his purposes for writing? Why make that point here? We sometimes read this verse to say that first we do everything we can, then Christ makes up the difference between what we can do on our own and what is needed. However, to my knowledge, the scriptures don’t say anything like that anywhere else. (Look, for example, at the three scriptures mentioned earlier in this paragraph.) Webster’s 1828 dictionary tells us that the phrase “after all” meant “when all is said and done.” Does that make it possible to understand this verse in another way, or does it require us to stretch the meaning of these words too far?
Why must the Zoramites awake and arouse their faculties? Webster’s dictionary of 1828 defines “faculty” as “That power of the mind or intellect which enables it to receive, revive, or modify perceptions. [. . .] The power of doing anything.” Does that add any understanding to what Alma is saying? In the same dictionary, “experiment” is defined as a “trial; an act or operation designed to discover some unknown truth.” The Oxford English Dictionary, a historical dictionary, tells us that “experiment” first meant “an experience” and then came to mean “something ascertained by trial.” Do we learn anything about what Alma is asking them to do if we substitute the older words: “arouse your faculties, even to an experience based on my words”? Does thinking about these older meanings of the word help us understand any better or differently what Alma was asking the Zoramites to do? What does he mean when he asks them to exercise “a particle of faith”? Is a desire to believe the same as a particle of faith? How so?
Doctrine and Covenants 58:42-43
Verse 42: What does the Lord mean when he says that he remembers no more the sins of a repentant person? Does it mean that he no longer knows that they occurred? Does it mean that he no longer remembers them as things that stain us, preventing us from being righteous, in other words, as sins?
Verse 43: Which sins need to be confessed to a Church authority and which sins need only to be confessed to the Lord? Why do we have to confess our sins in order to be repentant? “Forsake: 1. to quite or leave entirely; to desert; to abandon” (Webster’s 1828). What does this tell us about or attempts to overcome particular sins? Is it significant that this scripture speaks of forsaking our sins, in the plural? Does that suggest forsaking them one at a time or something else?
Doctrine and Covenants 18:22
What does “saved” mean in this verse? Why are only three requirements for salvation mentioned (repentance, baptism, endurance to the end)? Why aren’t obedience and ordinances mentioned? If “endure to the end” means “continue to be obedient,” why does the Lord use endurance as a metaphor for obedience?
Doctrine and Covenants 20:37
How does one humble himself before God? How do people “witness before the church that they have truly repented of all their sins”? That they “are willing to take upon them the name of Jesus Christ”? How do they show that they have “a determination to serve him to the end”? What works manifest “that they have received of the Spirit of Christ unto the remission of their sins”?
2 Nephi 2:6-9
Verse 6: This verse begins with “wherefore,” or “because.” Redemption comes through the Messiah because the law cuts us off. What does that mean? What does “redemption” mean in this context? Why is the Savior referred to here as the Messiah rather than by one of his other names? Lehi tells us that redemption comes through the Messiah because he is full of grace and truth. How does that explain that redemption comes through him? What do “grace” and “truth” mean in this context?
Verse 7: What does the phrase “to answer the ends of the law” mean? “Ends” usually means “purposes.” What is the image of a broken heart and why is it relevant? Why are “broken heart” and “contrite spirit” used as synonyms? Why can the sacrifice of the Messiah apply to no one but those who have a broken heart and a contrite spirit? Why doesn’t Lehi mention obedience or ordinances?
Verse 8: Why does Lehi tell Jacob it is important to make these things known to everyone? Jacob is in the wilderness of a new land, without much chance to tell very many others this gospel. Why is it that “no flesh [. . .] can dwell in the presence of God, save it be through the merits, and mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah”? What is his merit? His mercy? His grace? Why does Lehi connect resurrection to redemption? We know that everyone will be resurrected, but only those who come to Christ with a broken heart and contrite spirit, or as it says here, relying on the merits and mercy and grace of Christ, will be able to enter into the presence of the Father.
Verse 9: Why is the Savior said to be the firstfruits? First fruit of what? Does this have anything to do with the fact that he is called the First Born? Why do the scriptures so often reduce to requirements for salvation to belief in Christ?
The Gift of the Holy Ghost
Doctrine and Covenants 49:13-14
What kind of gift is the gift of the Holy Ghost? Why is it a gift rather than something we earn by having faith, repenting, and being baptized? What is the power of the Holy Ghost? (See Bible Dictionary, “Holy Ghost,” page 74.) Can you think of reasons that might explain why we confer the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands? What kinds of symbolism might be in that act?