Articles of Faith: Four

17 Mar

In my first post of this series I went over the origin and history of the Articles of Faith. I have also discussed the first, second, and third Articles of Faith. Today I will discuss briefly the fourth of the Articles, as given below.

We believe that the first principles and ordinances of the Gospel are: first, Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; second, Repentance; third, Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; fourth, Laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.

In this article Joseph Smith gives us four things that he calls the first. It should be noted that when Joseph Smith wrote this article in the 1840’s he stated it as the first ordinances. The term principle was added in the early 1900’s because the First Presidency recognized that Faith and Repentance are not ordinances. So they made the addition to more fully reflect the intended meaning that Joseph Smith wished to convey.

So, what does it mean that these are the first principles and ordinances of the gospel? It means, very simply, that these are the first things that one must accept and do in order to gain salvation. The gospel of Jesus Christ is “our Heavenly Father’s plan of happiness” which is also referred to as the Plan of Salvation. So, this article could also be rendered “the first principles and ordinances of salvation…” This states clearly what the building blocks of our salvation are. Again, we note the order. These four things are not done in any order, but in the specific order given.

The first principle is Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Not just belief, and not faith in just anything. We must have faith in Jesus Christ before we have anything else or nothing else will matter. In lesson five of Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Fielding Smith, we read the following:

“Faith without works is dead” -in other words, it does not exist. I think James’ meaning clearly is, “You show me your faith without your works, and nothing will result; but I will show you my faith with my works, and something will be accomplished.” Faith means action. … Faith, therefore, is stronger than belief. …

Faith is a gift from God that we receive we strive to live by His laws. “Faith is the moving cause of all action.” [Lectures on Faith, lecture 1.]; so if we are to do anything else that the gospel requires we must first have faith.

The second principle is Repentance. Repentance is a deep sorrow for past sins and a desire to not engage in such in the future. Paul, in writing to the Saints at Corinth, told them “Now I rejoice, not that ye were made sorry, but that ye sorrowed to repentance: for ye were made sorry after a godly manner, that ye might receive damage by us in nothing. For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death.” (2 Corinthians 7: 9-10). Repentance must come after faith, because only those with faith will feel this godly sorrow; but it must come before anything else, for it is only through repentance that we are made worthy of the ordinances of salvation. Remember that when the Pharisees came to John the Baptist to be baptized he declared “Repent, therefore, and bring forth fruits meet for repentance” and refused to baptize them. (see JST Matt. 3). If we do not repent we are not found worthy of baptism.

The first ordinance of the gospel is baptism by immersion. As I stated in my discussion of article three, we must obey the proper ordinances, and in this article Joseph Smith tells us clearly that only by complete immersion can baptism have any effect. No other form can be counted as baptism. Paul told the Roman saints that “we are buried with [Christ] by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6: 4) If we are not buried, or immersed in water by baptism than it is not a type of the death of Christ and has no effect.

The second ordinance is the Laying on of the hand for the gift of the Holy Ghost. This is an important ordinance, due in no small part to the fact that most of the rest of Christianity deny not only the need for it, but its very existence. Many teach that baptism brings the gift of the holy ghost, or that this gift is simply given. They give such references as Peter preaching in Joppa when the spirit fell on many and the day of Pentecost. However, Christ taught that a man must be born of water (baptism) and the spirit (holy ghost) (John 3: 5). Paul, when he went to Ephesus found twelve that had been baptized and ask:

Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed? And they said unto him, We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost. And he said unto them, Unto what then were ye baptized? And they said, Unto John’s baptism. Then said Paul, John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus. When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them… (Acts 19: 2-6)

In the Book of Mormon Nephi teaches “For the gate by which ye should enter is repentance and baptism by water; and then cometh a remission of your sins by fire and by the Holy Ghost.” (2 Nephi 31: 17) In the Doctrine and Covenants it is also described as a baptism by fire. Having the spirit fall on one is different than this baptism of fire, which figuratively burns the old sins from us so that we are not only washed in the water but are purified as if by fire.

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