1. Man’s Right to Freedom in Worship.—The Latter-day Saints proclaim their unqualified allegiance to the principles of religious liberty and religious toleration. Freedom to worship Almighty God as the conscience may dictate, they claim as one of the inherent and inalienable rights of humanity. The inspired framers of our charter of national independence proclaimed to the world, as a self-evident truth, that the common birthright of humanity gives to every man a claim to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Happiness is foreign, liberty but a name, and life a disappointment to him who is denied the freedom to worship as he may desire. No person possessing a regard for Deity and a sense of duty toward that power Divine, can be happy if he be restricted in the performance of the highest duty of his existence. Could one be happy, though he were housed in a palace, surrounded with all material comforts and provided with every facility for intellectual enjoyment, if he were cut off from communion with the being whom he loved the most? To the man who has learned to know his Divine Father, freedom of worship is preferable even to life.
2. What is Worship?—The derivation of the term suggests an answer. It comes to us as the lineal descendant of a pair of Anglo-Saxon words (weorth, meaning worthy, and scipe, the old form of ship, signifying condition or state), and conveys the thought of worthy-ship. The worship of which one is capable depends upon his comprehension of the worthiness characterizing the object of his reverence. Man’s capacity for worship is a measure of his comprehension of God. The fuller the acquaintance, the closer the communion between the worshiper and his Deity, the more thorough and sincere will be his homage. When we say of one, in figurative speech, that he is a worshiper of the good, the beautiful, the true, we affirm that he possesses a deeper and a more complete conception of worth in the object of his adoration, than has another whose perception does not lead him to reverence those ennobling qualities.
3. Man, then, will worship God according to his conception of the Divine attributes and powers; and this conception approaches the correct one in proportion to the spiritual light that has come to him. True worship cannot exist where there is no reverence or love for the object. This reverence may be ill-founded; the adoration may be a species of idolatry; the object may be in fact unworthy; yet of the devotee it must be said that he worships if his conscience clothe the idol with the attribute of worthy-ship. We have spoken of “true worship;” the expression is a pleonasm. Worship, as has been affirmed, is the heart-felt adoration that is rendered as a result of a sincere conception of worthiness on the part of the object; any manifestation of reverence prompted by a conviction inferior to this is but a counterfeit of worship. Call such “false worship” if you choose, but let it be remembered that worship is necessarily true, the word requires no adjective to extend its meaning, nor to attest its genuineness. Worship is not a matter of form, any more than is prayer. It consists not in posture nor in gesture, in ritual nor in creed. Worship most profound may be rendered with none of the artificial accessories of ritualistic service; for altar, the stone in the desert may serve; the peaks of the everlasting hills are temple spires; the vault of heaven is of all the grandest cathedral dome.
4. Man is at heart an inferior pattern of that which he worships. The savage, who knows no triumph greater than that of bloody victory over his enemy, who regards prowess and physical strength as the most desirable qualities of his race, and who looks upon revenge and vindictiveness as the sweetest gratifications of life, will assuredly ascribe such attributes to his deity; and will offer his profoundest reverence in sacrifices of blood. All the revolting practices of idolatry are traceable to perverted and fiendish conceptions of human excellence, and these are reflected in the hideous creations of man-made, devil-inspired deities. On the other hand, the man whose enlightened soul has received the impress of love, pure and undefiled, will ascribe to his God the attributes of gentleness and affection, and will say in his heart, “God is love.” He alone who has acquired a proper understanding of the glory and responsibility of parenthood, can intelligently use the Son’s title of invocation, “Our Father.” Knowledge, therefore, is essential to worship; man cannot adequately serve God in ignorance; and the greater his knowledge of the Divine personality, the fuller, truer, will be his adoration; he may learn to know the Father, and the Son who was sent; and such knowledge is man’s guarantee to eternal life.
5. Worship is the voluntary homage of the soul. Under compulsion, or for the hypocritical purposes of effect, one may insincerely perform all the outward ceremonies of an established style of adoration; he may voice words of prescribed prayers; his lips may profess a creed; yet his effort is but a mockery of worship, and its indulgence a sin. Our Father desires no reluctant homage nor unwilling praise. Formalism in worship is acceptable only so far as it is accompanied by an intelligent devoutness; and it is of use only as an aid to the spiritual devotion which leads to communion with Deity. The spoken prayer is but empty sound if it be anything less than an index to the volume of the soul’s righteous desire. Communications addressed to the throne of Grace must bear the stamp of sincerity if they are to reach their high destination. The most acceptable form of worship is that which rests on an unreserved compliance with the laws of God as the worshiper has learned their purport.
6. Religious Intolerance.—The Church holds, that the right to worship according to the dictates of conscience has been conferred upon man by an authority higher than any of earth; and that, in consequence, no worldly power can justly interfere with its exercise. The Latter-day Saints accept as inspired the constitutional provision, by which religious liberty within our own nation is professedly guarded, that no law shall ever be made “respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;” and they confidently believe that, with the spread of enlightenment throughout the world, a similar guarantee will be acquired by every nation. Intolerance has been the greatest hindrance to true progress in every period of time; yet under the sable cloak of perverted zeal for religion, nations while boasting of their civilization, and professed ministers of the gospel of Christ, have stained the pages of the world’s history with the record of such unholy deeds of persecution as to make the heavens weep. In this respect, so-called Christianity ought to bow its head in shame before the record of even pagan toleration. Rome, while arrogantly, though none the less effectively, posing as the mistress of the world, granted to her vanquished subjects the rights of free worship, requiring of them only that they refrain from molesting others or one another in the exercise of such freedom.
7. But as soon as the gospel of Christ was established upon the earth, its devout adherents immediately, and its more pretentious though less sincere devotees of a later day, came to regard themselves as of such sanctity and excellence that all who believed and professed not as did they, were wholly unworthy of consideration. Nay, even long prior to the advent of the Teacher of Love, Israel, knowing the covenant of Divine favor under which they had flourished, counted themselves sure of an exalted station, and looked upon all who were not of the chosen seed as unworthy. Christ, in His ministry among the Jews, saw with compassionate sorrow the spiritual and intellectual bondage of the times, and declared unto them the saving word, saying, “The truth shall make you free.” At this, those self-righteous children of the covenant became angry, and boastfully answered, “We be Abraham’s seed, and were never in bondage to any man; how sayest thou, Ye shall be made free?” Then the Master reproved them for their bigotry:—”I know that ye are Abraham’s seed, but ye seek to kill me, because my word has no place in you.”
8. There is little cause for wonder in the fact that the early Christians, zealous for the new faith unto which they had been baptized, and newly converted from idolatrous practices and pagan superstitions, should consider themselves superior to the rest of humanity still sitting in darkness and ignorance. Even John, now known as the Apostle of Love, but surnamed by the Christ, he and his brother James, Boanerges, or Sons of Thunder, was intolerant and resentful toward those who followed not his path; and more than once he had to be rebuked by his Master. Note this incident:—”And John answered him, saying, Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name, and he followeth not us; and we forbade him because he followeth not us. But Jesus said, Forbid him not: for there is no man which shall do a miracle in my name, that can lightly speak evil of me. For he that is not against us is on our part. For whosoever shall give you a cup of water to drink in my name, because ye belong to Christ, verily I say unto you, he shall not lose his reward.” And again, while traveling with their Lord through Samaria, the apostles James and John were incensed at the Samaritans’ neglect shown toward the Master; and they craved permission to call fire from heaven to consume the unbelievers, but their revengeful desire was promptly rebuked by the Lord, who said, “Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of. For the Son of man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.”
9. Intolerance is Unscriptural.—The teachings of our Lord breathe the spirit of forbearance and love even to enemies. He tolerated, though he could not approve, the practices of the heathen in their idolatry, the Samaritans with their mongrel and unorthodox customs of worship, the luxury-loving Sadducees, and the law-bound Pharisees. Hatred was not countenanced even toward foes. His instructions were:—”Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.” The Twelve were commanded to salute with their blessing every house at which they applied for hospitality. True, if the people rejected them and their message, retribution was to follow; but this visitation of cursing was to be reserved as a Divine prerogative for the judgment day. In His Parable of the Tares, Christ taught the same lesson of forbearance; the hasty servants wanted to pluck out the weeds straightway, but they were forbidden lest they root up the wheat also; and were assured that a separation would be effected in the time of harvest.
10. In spite of the prevailing spirit of toleration and love which pervades the teachings of the Savior and His apostles, attempts have been made to draw from the scriptures justification for intolerance and persecution. Paul’s stinging words, addressed to the Galatians, have been given a meaning wholly foreign to the spirit which prompted them. Warning the Saints of false teachers, he said:—”As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.” With such an utterance, self-styled ministers of Christ, who, if the whole truth were considered, are perhaps preaching doctrines foreign to the apostolic precepts, seek to justify their sectarian hatred and unchristian cruelty; forgetting that vengeance and recompense belong to the Lord.
11. The intent of John’s words of counsel to the Elect Lady has been perverted, and his teachings have been made a cover of refuge for persecutors and bigots. Warning her of the ministers of Antichrist who were industriously disseminating their heresies, the apostle wrote:—”If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God-speed: for he that biddeth him God-speed is partaker of his evil deeds.” By no rightful interpretation can these words be made to sanction intolerance, persecution, and hatred.
12. The apostle’s true meaning has been set forth with clearness and force by a renowned Christian writer of the present day, who, after deploring the “narrow intolerance of an ignorant dogmatism,” says:—”The Apostle of Love would have belied all that is best in his own teaching if he had consciously given an absolution, nay, an incentive, to furious intolerance…. Meanwhile, this incidental expression of St. John’s brief letter will not lend itself to these gross perversions. What St. John really says and really means, is something wholly different. False teachers were rife, who, professing to be Christians, robbed the nature of Christ of all which gave its efficacy to the atonement, and its significance to the incarnation. These teachers, like other Christian missionaries, traveled from city to city; and, in the absence of public inns, were received into the houses of Christian converts. The Christian lady to whom St. John writes is warned, that if she offers her hospitality to these dangerous emissaries, who were subverting the central truth of Christianity, she is expressing a public sanction of them; and by doing this, and offering them her best wishes, she is taking a direct share in the harm they do. This is common sense, nor is there anything uncharitable in it. No one is bound to help forward the dissemination of teaching what he regards as erroneous respecting the most essential doctrines of his own faith. Still less would it have been right to do this in the days when Christian communities were so small and weak. But, to interpret this as it has in all ages been practically interpreted—to pervert it into a sort of command to exaggerate the minor variations between religious opinions, and to persecute those whose views differ from our own—to make our own opinions the conclusive test of heresy, and to say with Cornelius-a-Lapide, that this verse reprobates ‘all conversations, all intercourse, all dealings with heretics’—is to interpret scripture by the glare of partisanship and spiritual self-satisfaction, not to read it under the light of holy love.”
13. Toleration is not Acceptance.—The human frailty of running to extremes in thought and action finds few more glaring examples than are presented in man’s dealings with his fellows on matters religious. On the one hand, he is prone to regard the faith of others as not merely inferior to his own, but as utterly unworthy of his respect; or, on the other, he brings himself to believe that all sects are equally justified in their professions and practices, and that therefore there is no distinctively true order of religion. It is in no wise inconsistent for Latter-day Saints to boldly proclaim the conviction, that their own Church is the accepted one, the only one entitled to the designation “Church of Jesus Christ,” and the sole earthly repository of the eternal priesthood in the present age; and yet to willingly accord kind treatment and a recognition of sincerity of purpose to every soul or sect honestly professing Christ, or merely showing a respect for truth, and manifesting a sincere desire to walk according to the light received. My allegiance to the Church of my choice is based on a conviction of the validity and genuineness of its high claim to distinction, as the one and only Church possessing a God-given charter of authority; nevertheless, I count the sects as sincere until they demonstrate that they are otherwise, and am prepared to defend them in their rights.
14. Joseph Smith, the first prophet of the last dispensation, while reproving certain of his brethren for intolerance toward the cherished beliefs of other men, taught that even idolaters ought to be protected in their worship; that, while it would be the strict duty of any Christian to direct his efforts toward enlightening such benighted minds, he would not be justified in forcibly depriving even the heathen of their rights of adoration. In the pure eyes of God, idolatry is one of the most heinous of sins; yet He is tolerant of those who, knowing Him not, yield to their inherited instinct for worship by rendering homage even to stocks and stones. Deadly as is the sin of idolatrous worship on the part of him to whom light has come, it may represent in the savage the sincerest reverence of which he is capable. And, as set forth in a preceding lecture, the voice of the Eternal One has declared that the heathen who have known no law shall have part in the first resurrection.
15. What justification can man find for intolerance toward his fellow, when God, who is grieved over every sin, manifests so marked a forbearance? The free agency of the human soul is sacred to Deity.
16. Man is strictly Answerable for his Acts.—The unbounded liberality and true tolerance with which the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints regards other religious denominations, and the teachings of the Church respecting the assurance of final redemption for all men except the few who have fallen so far as to have committed the unpardonable sin, thereby becoming Sons of Perdition, may suggest the erroneous conclusion, that we believe that all so redeemed shall be admitted to equal powers, privileges, and glories in the Heaven of our God. Far from this, the Church proclaims the doctrine of many and varied degrees of glory, which the redeemed will inherit in strict accordance with their merits. We believe in no general plan of universal forgiveness or reward, by which sinners of high and low degree shall be exempted from the effects of their deeds, while the righteous are ushered into heaven as a dwelling place in common, all glorified in the same measure. As stated, the heathen whose sins are those of ignorance, are to come forth with the just in the first resurrection; but this does not imply that those children of the lower races are to inherit the glory provided for the able, the valiant, and the true, in the cause of God on earth.
17. Our condition in the world to come will be strictly a result of the life we lead in this probation, as, by the light of revealed truth regarding the pre-existent state, we perceive our present condition to be determined by the fidelity with which we kept our first estate. The scriptures repeatedly declare that man will reap the natural harvest of his works in life, be such good or evil; in the effective language with which the Father encourages and warns his frail children, every one will be rewarded or punished according to his works. In eternity, man will enjoy or loath the “fruit of his doing.”
18. Degrees of Glory.—That the privileges and glories of heaven are graded to suit the various capacities of the blessed, is indicated in Christ’s teachings. To His apostles He said:—”In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.”
19. This utterance is supplemented by that of Paul, who speaks of the graded glories of the resurrection as follows:—”There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial: but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for one star differeth from another star in glory. So also is the resurrection of the dead.”
20. A fuller knowledge of this subject has been imparted in the present dispensation. From a revelation given in 1832 we learn the following:—Three great kingdoms or degrees of glory are established for the future habitation of the human race; these are known as the Celestial, the Terrestrial, and the Telestial. Far below the last and least of these, is the state of eternal punishment prepared for the Sons of Perdition.
21. The Celestial Glory is provided for those who merit the highest honors of heaven. In the revelation referred to, we read of them:—”They are they who received the testimony of Jesus, and believed on his name and were baptized after the manner of his burial, being buried in the water in his name, and this according to the commandment which he has given, that by keeping the commandments they might be washed and cleansed from all their sins, and receive the Holy Spirit by the laying on of the hands of him who is ordained and sealed unto this power, and who overcome by faith, and are sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise, which the Father sheds forth upon all those who are just and true. They are they who are the Church of the First-born. They are they into whose hands the Father has given all things,—they are they who are Priests and Kings, who have received of his fulness, and of his glory, and are Priests of the Most High, after the order of Melchisedek, which was after the order of Enoch, which was after the order of the Only Begotten Son; wherefore, as it is written, they are Gods, even the sons of God;—wherefore all things are theirs, whether life or death, or things present, or things to come, all are theirs, and they are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s…. These shall dwell in the presence of God and his Christ for ever and ever. These are they whom he shall bring with him, when he shall come in the clouds of heaven, to reign on the earth over his people. These are they who shall have part in the first resurrection. These are they who shall come forth in the resurrection of the just…. These are they who are just men made perfect through Jesus, the mediator of the new covenant, who wrought out this perfect atonement through the shedding of his own blood. These are they whose bodies are celestial, whose glory is that of the sun, even the glory of God, the highest of all, whose glory the sun of the firmament is written of as being typical.”
22. The Terrestrial Glory.—This, the next lower degree, will be attained by many whose works do not merit the highest reward. We read of them:—”These are they who are of the terrestrial, whose glory differs from that of the Church of the First-born who have received the fulness of the Father, even as that of the moon differs from the sun in the firmament. Behold, these are they who died without law, and also they who are the spirits of men kept in prison, whom the Son visited, and preached the Gospel unto them, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, who received not the testimony of Jesus in the flesh, but afterwards received it. These are they who are honorable men of the earth, who were blinded by the craftiness of men. These are they who receive of his glory, but not of his fulness. These are they who receive of the presence of the Son, but not of the fulness of the Father; wherefore they are bodies terrestrial, and not bodies celestial, and differ in glory as the moon differs from the sun. These are they who are not valiant in the testimony of Jesus; wherefore they obtain not the crown over the kingdom of our God.”
23. The Telestial Glory.—The revelation continues:—”And again, we saw the glory of the telestial, which glory is that of the lesser, even as the glory of the stars differs from that of the glory of the moon in the firmament. These are they who received not the gospel of Christ, neither the testimony of Jesus. These are they who deny not the Holy Spirit. These are they who are thrust down to hell. These are they who shall not be redeemed from the devil, until the last resurrection, until the Lord, even Christ the Lamb shall have finished his work.” We learn further that the inhabitants of this kingdom are to be graded among themselves, comprising as they do the unenlightened among the varied opposing sects and divisions of men, and sinners of many types, whose offences are not those of utter perdition;—”For as one star differs from another star in glory, even so differs one from another in glory in the telestial world; for these are they who are of Paul, and of Apollos, and of Cephas. These are they who say they are some of one and some of another—some of Christ, and some of John, and some of Moses, and some of Elias, and some of Esaias, and some of Isaiah, and some of Enoch; but received not the gospel, neither the testimony of Jesus, neither the prophets, neither the everlasting covenant.” Evidently a considerable part of the human family will fail of all glory beyond that of the telestial kingdom, for we are told,—”But behold, and lo, we saw the glory and the inhabitants of the telestial world, that they were as innumerable as the stars in the firmament of heaven, or as the sand upon the seashore.” They are thus not wholly rejected; their every merit will be respected. “For they shall be judged according to their works, and every man shall receive according to his own works, his own dominion in the mansions which are prepared; and they shall be servants of the Most High, but where God and Christ dwell, they cannot come, worlds without end.”
24. The Kingdoms with Respect to One Another.—The three kingdoms of widely differing glories are themselves organized on an orderly plan of gradation. We have seen that the telestial kingdom comprises a multitude of subdivisions; this also is the case, we are told, with the celestial; and, by analogy, we conclude that a similar condition prevails in the terrestrial. Thus the innumerable degrees of merit amongst mankind are provided for in an infinity of graded glories. The Celestial kingdom is supremely honored by the personal ministrations of the Father and the Son. The Terrestrial kingdom will be administered through the higher, without a fullness of glory. The Telestial is governed through the ministrations of the Terrestrial, by “angels who are appointed to minister for them.”
25. It is reasonable to believe, in the absence of direct revelation by which alone absolute knowledge of the matter could be acquired, that, in accordance with God’s plan of eternal progression, advancement from grade to grade within each of the three specified kingdoms will be provided for. But if the recipients of a lower glory be enabled to advance, surely the intelligences of higher rank shall not be stopped in their progress; and thus we may conclude that degrees and grades will ever characterize the kingdoms of our God. Eternity is progressive; perfection is relative; the essential feature of God’s living purpose is its associated power of eternal increase.
26. The Sons of Perdition.—We learn of another class of souls whose sins are such as to place them beyond the present possibility of redemption. These are called Sons of Perdition; children of the fallen angel, once a Son of the Morning, now Lucifer, or Perdition. These are they who have violated truth in the full blaze of the light of knowledge; who, having received the testimony of Christ, and having been endowed by the Holy Spirit, then deny the same and defy the power of God, crucifying the Lord afresh, and putting Him to an open shame. This, the unpardonable sin, can be committed by those only who have received the knowledge and the sacred conviction of the truth, against which they then rebel. Their sin is comparable to the treason of Lucifer, by which he sought to usurp the power and glory of his God. Concerning them and their dreadful fate, the Almighty has said:—”I say that it had been better for them never to have been born; for they are vessels of wrath, doomed to suffer the wrath of God, with the devil and his angels in eternity; concerning whom I have said, there is no forgiveness in this world nor in the world to come…. They shall go away into everlasting punishment, which is endless punishment, which is eternal punishment, to reign with the devil and his angels in eternity, where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched, which is their torment; And the end thereof, neither the place thereof, nor their torment, no man knows; neither was it revealed, neither is, neither will be revealed unto man, except to them who are made partakers thereof: Nevertheless I, the Lord, show it by vision unto many, but straightway shut it up again; wherefore the end, the width, the height, the depth, and the misery thereof, they understand not, neither any man except them who are ordained unto this condemnation.”
27. Surely the doctrines of the Church are explicit in defining the relationship between the mortal probation and the future state, and in teaching the individual accountability and the free agency of man. The Church affirms that in view of the terrible responsibility under which every man rests, as the unrestrained director of his own course, he must be and is free to choose in all things, from the life that leads to the celestial home, to the career that is but the introduction to the miseries of perdition. Freedom to worship, or to refuse to worship, is a God-given right.