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THE VITALITY OF MORMONISM
THE MUSTARD SEED AND THE TREE
Development, Not Growth Alone
WHY does "Mormonism" persist? The question is perennial, while the fact implied therein commands increasing interest and concern.
Determined attempts were made to stifle the system at its birth, to destroy the mustard seed at the planting; and, paradoxically, in proportion as the actuality of its survival has become generally evident, the assumed certainty of its imminent decline has been the more confidently proclaimed. The fall of the spreading tree, whose branches afford unfailing food and shelter, has been predicted time and again, but never realized.
On the sixth day of April, 1830, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was organized as a body corporate at Fayette in the State of New York, with a membership of six persons. True, at that time a few times six had associated themselves more or less closely with the new religious movement; but, as the laws of the State specified six as the minimum required to form a religious corporation, only that number took part in the legal procedure. And they, save one, were relatively obscure.
The name of Joseph Smith had already been heard beyond his home district. He was at the time a subject of widening notoriety if not of enviable fame. The Book of Mormon,
purporting to be a record of the aboriginal peoples of the Western Continent, had already been published. In refer ence to the title page of this work the appellation "Mormons" came to be fastened upon members of the Church.
Such a beginning as that of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints would seem to afford little ground of either hope or fear as to future developments. What was there to cause hostile concern over the voluntary association of six men and a few of their friends in an organization of openly expressed purpose, and that, the peaceful promulgation of what they verily believed to be the uplifting religion of life, the Gospel of Jesus Christ? Whatever may be the answer to the query, the fact that the Church met opposition, which for a long period was increasingly severe, is abundantly attested by history.*
Today the "Mormon" Church is known, by name at least, throughout the civilized world, as well as among most of the semi-cultured peoples in the remoter parts of the earth and on the islands of the sea. The six have increased to over half a million adherents.
The growth of the organization is apparent to even the poorly informed. But the Church has not only grown; it has developed. Between growth and development there is an essential difference; and not a few of the grave mistakes of men, even in every-day affairs-in business, in politics, in statesmanship-are traceable to our confusing and confounding the two. Growth alone is the result of accretion, the accumulation of material, the amassing of stuff. Development involves an extension of function, a gradation of efficiency, a passing from immaturity to maturity, from the seed to the fruiting tree.
* See the author's "Story and Philosophy of 'Mormonism'," 136 pp., The Deseret News, Salt Lake City, Utah.
Growth produces big things, and not only things of this sort but men. Between bigness and greatness, however, there is a distinction of kind. Growth is a measure of bulk, of quantity; it is specified as "so many" or "so much"; development is a gradation of quality; its terms are "so good" or "so bad." Our nation boasts a constantly increasing host of big men; the great men of the country may be more easily counted. And as with men so with institutions.
Dead things may grow, as witness the tiny salt crystal in its mother-brine-at first a microscopic cube, then a huge hexahedron limited only by the size of the container or other external conditions. Development, however, is the characteristic of life, to which mere growth is essentially secondary and subordinate.
The vital character of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been evident from the first. "Mormonism" lives because it is healthy, normal and undeformed. In general, a healthy organism is assured of life, barring destruction from external violence or deprivation of physical necessities; whereas one that is abnormal and sickly is doomed to decline. Opposition to the Church, the pitiless maltreatment to which its people have been subjected, particularly in the earlier decades of its history, comprising mobbings, drivings, spoliation, scourgings, and assassination, have operated to strengthen the Church, body and soul. True, the heat of persecution has scorched and withered a few of the sickly plants, such as had little depth of sincerity; but the general effect has been to promote a fuller growth, and to make richer and more fertile the Garden of the Lord.
The Church has never experienced a distinctive period of reduced membership. Always the present has been the time of its highest achievement. In spite of persecution, some
of which sprang from misplaced sincerity and zeal while much was born of ignorance and fanaticism, the strength of the institution, measured in terms of loyalty, devotion and unswerving adherence to the principles of the restored Gospel, has steadily increased.
It is a notable fact that its members are imbued with the testimony of certitude as to the genuineness of the Gospel they have espoused and the perpetuity of the Church. This has been a distinguishing feature from the beginning.
Apostasy from the organization is so rare as to be negligible. Excommunicants, who are deprived of their membership through failure to live up to the high standard of morality and duty required by the revealed law of the Church, while not numerous exceed by many fold those who voluntarily withdraw and affiliate with other religious bodies.
"Mormonism" is definite and incisive in its claims. It speaks to the world in no uncertain tone. Its voice is virile; its activities are strong. It presents an unbroken front and is unafraid. Its attitude is not hostile, though strongly aggressive. Its methods are those of reason and persuasion, coupled with a fearless affirmation of testimony as to the surpassing importance of its message, which message it labors to convey to every nation, kindred, tongue and people.
It is not too much to affirm that the leaven of "Mormonism" is leavening the world and its theology. Every studious reader of recent commentaries on the Holy Scriptures, and of theological treatises in general, is aware of a surprising progressiveness in modern views of things spiritual, amounting in many instances to an abandonment of what were once regarded as the fundamentals of orthodoxy.
In the new theology "Mormonism" has pioneered the way. In its early days the Church received the word of the Lord avouching the perpetuity of the organization. While
no individual was promised that he should not fall away, and though the forfeiture of the Holy Spirit's companionship was specified as the sure and incalculable loss to all who wilfully persisted in sin, the blessed assurance was given that the Church of Jesus Christ was established for the last time, never to be destroyed, nor again driven from the earth through apostasy. Men may come and men may go, but the Church shall go on forever.
There has never been revision nor amendment in the fundamental law of the Church, and the only changes are those natural to development, expansion and adaptation to new conditions.
The world is full of sects and churches, and there is scarcely one that has not a counterpart in a revised or reformed or reorganized sect. But the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is no sect; it is an original creation, established upon the earth in this age as a restoration. There will never be a reformed or reorganized variant of this, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The faith of the people is no whit weakened because of their fewness. This very condition was foretold. Nearly six centuries before the Savior's birth, a Hebrew prophet on the Western Continent predicted the establishment of this Church in the last days, and testified of it, as he had seen in vision, that its members would be found in all parts of the earth, but that their numbers would be relatively small. See Book of Mormon, 1 Nephi 14.
"Strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it." (Matt. 7:14, also Book of Mormon, 3 Nephi 14:14.)
The doors of the Church are open to all, rich and poor, learned and unlearned; and the pleading invitation to enter and become partakers of the blessings that pertain both to