Till Morn’s Early Rays

A flicker I started, lost and eager I roamed.
Afar the vast distance, a place to call home.
A battle, a plan, I must muster a choice.
First step is too heavy till echoes a voice:

“Come to me, come to me. I’ll light the way.
Gaze onward and upward toward morn’s early rays.
Fear not, I am with you till morn’s early rays.”

I’m standing and able, when I face the light;
A sinking abyss when I turn to storms fright.
Through crossroads or darkness, whenever I fall,
A hand and a voice urges me to this call:

“Come to me, come to me. I’ll light the way.
The shadows are fleeing from morn’s early rays.
The night’s frost will have lost to morn’s early rays.”

And when comes the morning, I hope that I’ll hear
That voice which did beckon, “Go forth without fear.
You struggled. You faltered. But now you are free
By heeding my voice to go forth without fear.”

Sweet Spirit vs Spirit of Light

Many good-hearted people are sweet spirits; they gravitate towards the soft and immediately enjoyable and they’re content with the status quo. Few are spirits of light; they gravitate towards truth, no matter how hard or unpopular it is. The most outspoken modern prophet of unpopular truths, Ezra Taft Benson, pointed out that “As a people we love sweetness and light – especially sweetness.” Sweetness is comforting and popular. Light shines in dark places we’d rather avoid; places that in the back of our minds we know must be confronted.

After a first attempt to declare some hard truths was censored by a blind and hardened people, the ancient prophet Abinadi later returned to deliver the message he was commanded to give. Abinadi’s message was light, not sweetness. He warned that if the people didn’t repent that bondage, famine, disease and destruction would come to them. His message upset them. He was arrested and brought before King Noah and the government priests. In an attempt to disprove Abinadi’s message of light, the first thing the priests challenged him with was to interpret an isolated scripture of sweetness from Isiah:

“How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings; that publisheth peace; that bringeth good tidings of good”. 

The priests’ emphasis on the sweeter things was their way of trying to dim the lights Abinadi was using to shine on their darkness. In essence they were saying “If you were truly a prophet you’d be delivering good news, not bad news.” The temptation to focus on the sweet at the expense of the light is human nature. Light illuminates our faults and obligations. Sweetness, on the other hand, requires no responsibility.

Nehor taught a sweet message that subtly undermined light, repentance, agency, responsibility, justice and truth. He taught that the Nephites “​​​need​ not fear nor tremble, but that they might lift up their heads and rejoice” because God will save all people in the end. It’s relieving to hear messages like this that remove personal accountability. Like many today who believe that peoples’ negative emotions aren’t their “fault” but are the result of external factors (e.g. religious upbringing), sweet spirits are attracted to affirmations that lift the weight of responsibility from their shoulders. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland called out sweet-spiritedness when he said:

“Sadly enough, my young friends, it is a characteristic of our age that if people want any gods at all, they want them to be gods who do not demand much, comfortable gods, smooth gods who not only don’t rock the boat but don’t even row it, gods who pat us on the head, make us giggle, then tell us to run along and pick marigolds. Talk about man creating God in his own image! Sometimes—and this seems the greatest irony of all—these folks invoke the name of Jesus as one who was this kind of “comfortable” God.” 

It’s this same mentality that causes people past and present to be “offended because of the strictness of the word”; to say “We will not believe” when others point out that their on a destructive path; or get angry because someone ​​​spoke​ “plainly unto them concerning their secret works of darkness”; or when someone straightforwardly teaches hard truths​ “they tremble and anger against them”; or they “murmur because of the truth” and take “the truth to be hard”. As Samuel the Lamanite observed, we cancel spirits of light but:

“if a man shall come among you and shall say: Do this, and there is no iniquity; do that and ye shall not suffer; yea, he will say: ​​​Walk​ after the pride of your own hearts; yea, walk after the pride of your eyes, and do whatsoever your heart desireth—and if a man shall come among you and say this, ye will receive him, and say that he is a ​​​prophet​.”

Sweet spirits seek validation. They want others to “accept them for who they are” and that includes accepting their preferences. To sweet spirits, the concept of loving the sinner and not the sin is not only foreign but hurtful. Spirits of light, on the other hand, acknowledge that there is right and wrong, seek to align themselves with what is right and are not offended or easily provoked when correction is offered. 

The preference for sweetness over light isn’t just an issue for non-believers. Joseph Smith observed that even many good saints who have sacrificed everything for God’s kingdom “will fly to pieces like glass, as soon as anything comes that is contrary to their traditions”. Sweet spirits are spiritual snowflakes that evaporate the instant the sun shines.

Thus far this has perhaps been unfairly harsh towards sweet spirits. Joseph Smith taught that “By proving contraries, truth is made manifest.” Like mercy and justice, sweetness and truth are contraries that can both be good in their proper contexts. After saying that he is sending his disciples out like sheep amongst wolves, Jesus counseled us to be “wise as serpents” (spirits of light) AND yet “harmless as doves” (sweet spirits). We can’t be wise unless we embrace and love truth, regardless of how inconvenient it is to us. Those who don’t want to hear or accept that there are people motivated by dark and sinister intentions will likely become prey to those wolves. And simultaneously, we must be harmless, seek peace and never give an offense

The tree of knowledge was of both good and evil. Those who only want to focus on the good and refuse to understand the evil are vulnerable. Being aware of the dark extents human nature is capable of will increase our ability to overcome that evil in ourselves and not be caught in others’ snares. Ignorance is not bliss; it’s mental slavery. 

Sweet spirits who are silent about eternal truth out of a desire to “keep the peace” allow mercy to rob justice. Similarly, spirits of light who aren’t balanced by sweetness can be unkind, abrasive and mentally sucked into the dark abyss. Sunshine gives life but without appropriate balance, it can destroy. 

Everyone is at various stages of spiritual development. Some individuals’ light is like a coal that requires strong winds to grow. Another individuals’ light is like a candle; a slight breeze can blow it out. Depending on the circumstances, we may need to be a sweet spirit or a spirit of truth. Being a sweet spirit is easy. We must be willing to be a spirit of light when circumstances require it.

Before The Light

Times appear to be darkening in this world. Many people’s mental, physical, financial, relationship, and spiritual health are strained and in jeopardy. People feel unhappy, fatigued, lonely, in pain, confused, angry, victimized and afraid. The near-term future doesn’t appear to offer a lot of hope for this country. Friendships and families are being divided by the sophisticated tactics of the devil. While chasing scepters, a particular faction of society is using lies, distortions and manipulations and destroying anyone in their way while pursuing their wicked ends. Good is called evil and evil good. The masses are buying it.

When we look at the history of the Book of Mormon, we see a pattern of multiple American nations who were once a righteous people become destroyed due to wickedness and clever schemers. This is a land of promise but the promises are a double-edged sword. As Moroni observed his people, the Nephites, ripening for extinction within his own lifetime, he was also abridging the Jaredite record and soaking in the story of that other American nation who also went from a prosperous and God-fearing nation to utter extinction due to wickedness. He wrote:

“And now, we can behold the decrees of God concerning this land, that it is a land of promise; and whatsoever nation shall possess it shall serve God, or they shall be swept off when the fulness of his wrath shall come upon them… And this cometh unto you, O ye Gentiles, that ye may know the decrees of God—that ye may repent, and not continue in your iniquities until the fulness come, that ye may not bring down the fulness of the wrath of God upon you as the inhabitants of the land have hitherto done.” (Ether 2: 9-11)

Referring to this Book of Mormon pattern, Gordon B Hinckley said:

“In its descriptions of the problems of today’s society, it is as current as the morning newspaper and much more definitive, inspired, and inspiring concerning the solutions to those problems. I know of no other writing that sets forth with such clarity the tragic consequences to societies that follow courses contrary to the commandments of God. Its pages trace the stories of two distinct civilizations that flourished on the Western Hemisphere. Each began as a small nation, its people walking in the fear of the Lord. Each prospered, but with prosperity came growing evils. The people succumbed to the wiles of ambitious and scheming leaders who oppressed them with burdensome taxes, who lulled them with hollow promises, who countenanced and even encouraged loose and lascivious living, who led them into terrible wars that resulted in the death of millions and the final extinction of two great civilizations in two different eras.” (The Power of the Book of Mormon)

Which of President Hinckley’s descriptions match today’s conditions in this country? Who can say we are a God fearing people? After describing the depravity of the Nephites in a letter to his son Moroni, Mormon wrote that he couldn’t “recommend them unto God” lest God should smite him. Can you recommend this people to God when lies and double-standards are told and accepted at all official levels of society? Can you recommend this people to God when lasciviousness is celebrated and morality is seen as either subjective or hateful? Can you recommend this people to God when millions of murders of innocents are committed and legally protected every decade? 

As the name of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints explicitly teaches, these are the latter days. We know that times will be dark. The ancients including Isaiah, Jeremiah, John, Nephi, Mormon, Moroni as well as our modern prophets have warned about the spiritual and temporal destruction that will precede the Savior’s second coming. The darkness will be unprecedented. To a relatively few who remain, the sentiment expressed by Joseph Smith while in Liberty Jail “O God, where art thou? And where is the pavilion that covereth thy hiding place?” is and will be increasingly asked by good, yet desperate and lonely-feeling people. When Jesus described what it will be like before his return, he compared our condition to a woman in labor and said “ye shall weep and lament, but the world shall rejoice: and ye shall be sorrowful…” There couldn’t be a better description of the times.

Christ and the prophets don’t harrow up our souls with these seemingly bleak messages of the last days if it were not for our good. As the most outspoken modern prophet of unpopular truths, Ezra Taft Benson, pointed out – the saints tend to prefer sweetness over light. Sweetness is comforting and popular. Light can shine in dark places we’d rather avoid. But it’s important for us to have the knowledge of what is coming so that we can, through God, muster the courage and strength to stand, be aware of common pitfalls, and know what it is we’re standing for. If all we speak of is the sweetness of the gospel and ignore important truths, even the unpopular ones, the adversary can easily take us off guard.

The darkness, although an essential part of the latter-day story, is incomplete and hopeless without the triumph of the light that will shine after the darkness ends. As Thomas Fuller wrote, “The darkest hour is just before the dawn”, the Lord also taught:

“Ye cannot behold with your natural eyes, for the present time, the design of your God concerning those things which shall come hereafter, and the glory which shall follow after much tribulation. For after much tribulation come the blessings. Wherefore the day cometh that ye shall be crowned with much glory; the hour is not yet, but is nigh at hand.” (D&C 58:3-4)

The tribulations may appear hopeless but our situation is as hopeless as:

  • A group of freed slaves, wandering in a desolate desert for 40 years. 
  • The experience of a man on Mt Sinai who was put in a state of fear by a dark force which pretended to be a morally superior being, yelled and violently demanded that he be subjugated to it. 
  • The vision of a concerned father, who traveled a long time through a large, dark and dreary waste. 
  • A group of people experiencing mass destruction and death, first through a secret band of murderers and then through earthquakes, tornadoes, fires, a period of silence and a vapor of darkness so thick that no man-made light could illuminate it.  
  • The despair and confusion accompanying a small group of people who were promised saving but who instead witnessed the legal murder of their Savior. 
  • The dark powers that seized and silenced a 14 year old boy in prayer to the point that he was ready to “sink into despair” and abandon himself to destruction. 

The long, dark, repeating hardships we are encountering can seem unbearable while in the middle of them but the glory of light that is shortly coming will be so great and our joy so full that it will make the pains of these hardships become forgettable. After Christ described the labor-like tribulations preceding his coming he added:

“…but your sorrow shall be turned into joy. A woman when she is in travail hath sorrow, because her hour is come: but as soon as she is delivered of the child, she remembereth no more the anguish, for joy that a man is born into the world. And ye now therefore have sorrow: but I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you.” (John 16:20-22)

We must live worthy of this glory and be willing to endure our crosses well. We can’t give up the light because the darkness is temporarily winning. We shouldn’t succumb to wicked schemes out of worldly pressures or out of fear that we will lose a job or a relationship. Christ’s disciples aren’t cowards. We might need to hold our tongue or speak up; flee, lay down our lives or fight. Death doesn’t need to be scary and dark times don’t have to feel permanent. The only way to know what is needed in our particular circumstances is to be close to God so that he can instruct us and strengthen us. During the coming days, whether increasingly severe travail pains are active or in-between, we will need to follow Elder Henry B Eyring’s council:

“As the challenges around us increase, we must commit to do more to qualify for the companionship of the Holy Ghost. Casual prayer won’t be enough. Reading a few verses of the scripture won’t be enough. Doing the minimum of what the Lord asks of us won’t be enough. Hoping that we will have the Atonement work in our lives and that we will perhaps sometimes feel the influence of the Holy Ghost won’t be enough. And one great burst of effort won’t be enough. Only a steady, ever-increasing effort will allow the Lord to take us to higher ground.” (Raise the Bar)

If Only

Life can be full of unbearable pain and hardships
IF ONLY there was a source of healing, comfort and strength

Life can be full of doubt and fear
IF ONLY hope and assurance was possible

Life can seem permanently stained by some of our choices
IF ONLY there was a way to become clean

Life is full of noise and distractions
IF ONLY we had regular reminders to renew our focus on what matters most

Life can be hectic and draining
IF ONLY there were routine ways to recharge and find strength

Life can feel empty and lonely
IF ONLY we had a constant companion who filled us with light and joy

Life can feel clouded and confusing
IF ONLY there were reliable directions and guides to help us navigate through the darkness

Life can feel incomplete and inadequate
IF ONLY we had someone who knew us completely and loved us despite our flaws

Life can seem so pointless and temporary
IF ONLY the light never faded with time

Don’t Resist. Radiate.

Temptations lose their appeal, not when we resist them, but when we allow virtue to occupy their place. Light doesn’t overpower darkness by resisting it. Prejudice won’t be defeated by anger. Terrorism by violence. Immorality by shame. Vices by force. Evil vanishes when the void of darkness is filled with love, truth and light.

Don’t Resist. Radiate.