22 April 2010

The Five Celestial Laws

This carefully conceived scene, executed in grisaille to decorate the top of a niche containing a portrait of Adam, is part of a set of large altarpiece panel paintings in the Joost Vijdt chapel in the Cathedral of St. Bavon at Ghent, Belgium. The portrayal of Abel lifting up the lamb “prefigures both the sacrifice of Christ and the Eucharist.” The contrasting choices of Cain and Abel with respect to their covenantal obligations typify the account of the parting of the ways of righteousness and wickedness that begins in Moses 5. Of those who follow the way of wickedness, Jude wrote: “Woe unto them! For they have gone in the way of Cain.”

Relating the themes of opposition and agency that are portrayed in the story of Cain and Abel, Hugh Nibley frequently wrote about “the inescapable choice between Two Ways.” This ancient doctrine “proclaims that there lie before every human...two roads between which a choice must be made. The one is the road of darkness, the way of evil; the other, the way of light. Every man must choose between the two every day of his life; that choosing is the most important thing he does... He will be judged by God in the proper time and place. Meantime he must be free, perfectly free, to choose his own way.

In this article, I will outline the five celestial laws of the New and Everlasting Covenant, first revealed in the days of Adam. During periods of darkness, the glorious ordinances
associated with these laws were generally withdrawn from the earth, however their shadows have persisted in religions and cultures the world over. Nowhere in scripture are these teachings better preserved than in the book of Moses. Not only do we find each law there in proper sequence, but also, in every case, we discover stories that illustrate their application, both positive and negative. Indeed, it almost seems as if the stories of Moses 5-8 were deliberately structured in order to highlight the contrast between those who accepted and those who rejected the laws of heaven...

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  1. I marvel that you have time to write these with so much documentation and foot notes. Thanks for your efforts. Since you didn’t throw me out with my first comment I guess I’ll try again.

    I have always loved Nibley’s thoughts on only being able to think of one thing at a time and used to have the quote you posted ”If every choice I make expresses a preference…” pasted above my TV.

    My thoughts on “The Gospel vs. Works of Darkness” are slightly different than yours although though they fall into your statement of ”instructions relating to Christlike behavior toward one’s fellow man.”
    I’m interested in D&C 104:18 “Therefore, if any man shall take of the abundance which I have made, and impart not his portion, according to the law of my gospel, unto the poor and the needy, he shall, with the wicked, lift up his eyes in hell, being in torment.”
    My father links this closely with Matt 25 with the sheep and the goats which I also believe is right. However for me it is summed up in the thought that Christ did something for us that we could not do for ourselves. In following this Law I believe that we must also do something for someone else that they cannot do for themselves. This is perfectly portrayed in the words from Luke 14:12-14
    “Then said he also to him that bade him, When thou makest a dinner or a supper, call not thy friends, nor thy brethren, neither thy kinsmen, nor thy rich neighbours; lest they also bid thee again, and a recompence be made thee. But when thou makest a feast, call the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind: And thou shalt be blessed; for they cannot recompense thee: for thou shalt be recompensed at the resurrection of the just. “

    If we asked what we can do for our fellow man that they cannot do for themselves I think of service as pointed out above, temple work for the dead and even missionary work. Maybe this would be summed up by the commandment to “Love thy neighbor”.

  2. These are wonderful thoughts, though I would say that this sort of sacrifice is so important and essential (and so difficult for most of us) that I would associate it with the law of consecration, representing the kinds of self-sacrifices we make out of charity, the pure love of Christ, in emulation of His own sacrifice (much smaller in degree of course). See my article, "Three Perspectives on the Atonement."

  3. I still see a difference between what I have outlined here and what the law of consecration is although I do believe they are interconnected. I can serve my neighbor, give to the poor, do work for the dead and still hold back. Let me use money as an example. Today I can pay a full tithing, and a generous fast offering but not be fully living the law of consecration. In fact as I understand the Law of Consecration none of us would save any money. All excess would go to the Bishop. There would be no saving for retirement because there would be no retirement. Each of us would work to the amount we were able. Just like we do in our church callings, there is no age in the church where you are exempt from a church calling, similarly there would be no age you would be exempt from working earn money.

  4. Thanks for your comment, Greg. I think we are thinking along the same lines, even though we might describe the concepts a bit differently. Although the terms are not always used consistently, what you describe I would put under the label of living the "United Order," something that, as you point out, we are not now asked to do. On the other hand, I like to think that when I am doing my all for the kingdom (which includes caring for my own family), it is possible for me to live the Law of Consecration outside of the United Order. After all, as Hugh Nibley has said: “I don’t have to wait for anyone’s permission to observe the law of consecration… Everything you consider surplus you can give to the bishop and he will gladly accept it right now. And he’ll give it to the poor where it is supposed to be. What’s better than that?” (Hugh Nibley, How Firm a Foundation Q & A, Michael James Transcript, pp. 1, 7). Elder Robert D. Hales has written:

    I have learned from Joseph Fielding Smith… about the law of consecration. It is not one particular event; it is a lifetime, day by day, in which we all strive to to do our best that we might live honorable lives, that we might live the best we can in the service of others… I will say this: It is not in death or in one event that we give our lives, but in every day as we are asked to do it.” (A question of free agency, Ensign, May 1975, p.44)