Chapter 14 in the Teachings of Lorenzo Snow, ‘With God All Things Are Possible’, is one of the shorter chapters we shall be investigating but it does contain some interesting topics that grab the attention of its readers. As is similar with the other chapters we have reviewed, there is a lot of theological material that does appear similar to standard Christian teaching, but as is the same with the other chapters, there are glaring issues that need addressing within Snow’s thoughts. These issues are centered on the idea of past experience as being key to salvation. This raises many issues from the lesser issue of predestination (something that is denied by the LDS) and the much greater issue if works being involved with salvation, in this case works before salvation.
They key quotation for this chapter is as follows:
‘It is a glorious work that we are engaged in. It is the work of the Almighty; and He has selected the men and women whom He knows from past experience will carry out his purposes’.
This raises the first and lesser issue of election and predestination. Mormonism doesn’t conform to the Calvinistic approach to election. The Bible Dictionary on the LDS website states that ‘the concept held by many that God unconditionally elected some to be saved and some to be damned without any effort, action, or choice on their part is not correct, for the scriptures teach that it is only by faith and obedience that one’s calling and election is made sure (2 Pet. 1:10-11; D&C 131:5 – relevant quotes below)’.
Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall: For so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 2:10-11)
The more sure word of prophecy means a man’s knowing that he is sealed up unto eternal life, by revelation and the spirit of prophecy, through the power of the Holy Priesthood. (D&C 131:5)
This point is further explained in the section on the Covenant of Abraham as being ‘an heir to the Abrahamic covenant’ does not make one a ‘chosen person’. The election that Mormonism subscribes to is the ‘election of grace’ as described in Doctrines and Covenants 84:99 which allows for humanity to respond through free will, something much more akin to Arminianism (see quote below).
The Lord hath brought again Zion;
The Lord hath redeemed his people, Israel,
According to the election of grace,
Which was brought to pass by the faith
And covenant of their fathers. (D&C 84:99)
This may seem entirely peripheral when we read this chapter but it does add some key background information for the understanding of this chapter. If Mormonism, including Lorenzo Snow, denies Calvinistic election then any account of ‘past experience’ proves problematic. Past experience, as understood within Calvinism, could be considered as a proof that somebody was elected before they knew they were elected. Conventional Arminianism wouldn’t argue that ‘past experience’ would contribute to salvation, as it is the decision to follow Christ with your free will that is crucial. To argue that God selects men and women based upon their experience before the salvation implies that works based salvation, something that we have already discussed in previous chapters, is also important and necessary before the salvific proclamation of Christ.
This is an important claim so it is important to link in the context of the paragraph that our focus quote comes from. In the concluding section of this chapter, Lorenzo Snow is arguing that when doing God’s work, we need the help of God, in and of itself an inoffensive remark. Snow opines on the great problem of those who proclaim to follow Jesus and do his work, a comment that is not untrue for Christianity, which states that those who claim to be doing the work of Christ so often forget to look to Christ and seek his help to do this work. In making the call to stay closer to God in doing his work, Snow argues that those selected to his work are based on ‘past experience’, in essence, one’s prior ‘holiness’ is key to whether one can be an ‘heir of the Abrahamic covenant’ which is necessary for salvation.
This is something that is not in line with the biblical understanding of grace especially when we consider two of the key New Testamental figures, Paul and Peter. Paul openly says that he was a great persecutor of the Church and this is acknowledged by independent sources such as Luke, the author of Acts. (Acts 9:4; Acts 22:3-5; Galatians 1:13). Peter’s actions prior to being given the responsibility of ‘feeding Jesus’ lambs’ are not exactly glowing. He panics and loses faith when he is walking on water and he denies Jesus three times in one evening (Matthew 14:30; Luke 22:60). Even though Jesus predicts this, a potential defence for Snow, it does go against what Snow argues for in this paragraph. Peter’s prior actions do not encourage us that he would willingly carry out God’s purposes or ‘have the bottle’ to carry out God’s purposes. Paul was an open persecutor of the Church, his prior actions do not lend themselves to the idea that these actions were signs pointing to salvation. Snow seems to have forgotten these crucial examples in his arguments for ‘past experience’ as being a key part of the salvific working of Jesus.
The influence of work-based salvation can also be seen on pages 178-179. Snow states that the Mormon religion has a ‘certain course of conduct that no other religion requires of its adherents’. Snow argues that these commandments are impossible to adhere to without the power of God. This is, in theory, something that Christianity could agree with but the undertones are that it is perfectly possible to adhere to the law exactly once we have the assistance of the Holy Spirit. The implication is that it possible to completely overcome sin in Mormon thinking. This is something that is not denied by the LDS in their theology of progressing to the celestial kingdom and to godhood. This is an idea that, as explained in previous articles, Christianity cannot accept as Christianity professes salvation is by the grace of Jesus Christ alone and not by works.
What can we say in conclusion? We can see as we follow through Snow’s work and thoughts that each chapter contains a lot of material that is orthodox within Christianity. It is perfectly true and correct to proclaim that with God all things are possible. It is perfectly true and correct to say that to do the work of God and these ‘miraculous things’ that we need the Holy Spirit living and working within us. What is not perfectly true and correct to say is that one’s actions and holiness affects whether one will be given the Holy Spirit, as seen with the examples of Paul and Peter. It is also possible to see that this approach of Snow perhaps contradicts the official LDS doctrine as God using past experience to establish who shall receive salvation on earth seems like a very Calvinistic idea, a theology that the LDS church rejects absolutely. What is clear however is that Snow’s thoughts are still rooted in the salvation by works foundation, something that is against Christian teachings and is not compatible with the Christian faith.