The King Follett Sermon, Joseph Smith, Original Sin, Sanctification

The 4th article of faith:

“We believe that men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam’s transgression.”

No doubt an accurate reflection of Mormon belief as it stands, but what is the theological machinery behind it?

A look at Mormon scripture will show that some of it does buy into the idea of the guilt of Adam being shared by mankind. What it does not buy into is the idea that this guilt requires that man must engage in some work to be rid of it. Indeed, Mormonism posits that all are relieved of this guilt by Christ. There is apparently simultaneous guilt and redemption from that guilt at birth. Consider the following:

2 Nephi 2:26 And the Messiah cometh in the fulness of time, that he may redeem the children of men from the fall. And because that they are redeemed from the fall they have become free forever, knowing good from evil; to act for themselves and not to be acted upon, save it be by the punishment of the law at the great and last day, according to the commandments which God hath given.

Moses 6:53 And our father Adam spake unto the Lord, and said: Why is it that men must repent and be baptized in water? And the Lord said unto Adam: Behold I have forgiven thee thy transgression in the Garden of Eden.
6:54 Hence came the saying abroad among the people, that the Son of God hath atoned for original guilt, wherein the sins of the parents cannot be answered upon the heads of the children, for they are whole from the foundation of the world.

Jacob 1:19
And we did magnify our office unto the Lord, taking upon us the responsibility, answering the sins of the people upon our own heads if we did not teach them the word of God with all diligence; wherefore, by laboring with our might their blood might not come upon our garments; otherwise their blood would come upon our garments, and we would not be found spotless at the last day.

Mosiah 3:11
For behold, and also his blood atoneth for the sins of those who have fallen by the transgression of Adam, who have died not knowing the will of God concerning them, or who have ignorantly sinned.

Mosiah 3:16
And even if it were possible that little children could sin they could not be saved; but I say unto you they are blessed; for behold, as in Adam, or by nature, they fall, even so the blood of Christ atoneth for their sins.

Alma 12:22
Now Alma said unto him: This is the thing which I was about to explain, now we see that Adam did fall by the partaking of the forbidden fruit, according to the word of God; and thus we see, that by his fall, all mankind became a lost and fallen people.

Alma 22:13
And Aaron did expound unto him the scriptures from the creation of Adam, laying the fall of man before him, and their carnal state and also the plan of redemption, which was prepared from the foundation of the world, through Christ, for all whosoever would believe on his name.

Helaman 14:16
Yea, behold, this death bringeth to pass the resurrection, and redeemeth all mankind from the first death–that spiritual death; for all mankind, by the fall of Adam being cut off from the presence of the Lord, are considered as dead, both as to things temporal and to things spiritual.

Mormon 9:12-13
12 Behold he created Adam, and by Adam came the fall of man. And because of the fall of man came Jesus Christ, even the Father and the Son; and because of Jesus Christ came the redemption of man.
13 And because of the redemption of man, which came by Jesus Christ, they are brought back into the presence of the Lord; yea, this is wherein all men are redeemed, because the death of Christ bringeth to pass the resurrection, which bringeth to pass a redemption from an endless sleep, from which sleep all men shall be awakened by the power of God when the trump shall sound; and they shall come forth, both small and great, and all shall stand before his bar, being redeemed and loosed from this eternal band of death, which death is a temporal death.

These and other passages like them suggest that mankind does partake in the transgression of Adam. It is inaccurate to state that Mormonism does not include the concept of transferable guilt. It does. The mechanism for this guilt transfer is not explained, possibly because in Mormon theology, mankind is redeemed from original guilt, and so “in the end” are punishable only for their own sins, not for Adam’s. Taking theology apart requires some uncomfortable suppositions. Suppose that for reasons I won’t guess at, and in the context of Mormonism, there was no Christ. Does this mean that Adam’s guilt would be passed on to the kids? I find the idea problematic. But it seems to be part of the background to “fall” and “atonement.” One interesting interpretation here is that man shared in the punishment of the fall, by being doomed to die. This punishment is not permanent, but gets to hang around for awhile. The “rules” of this game are difficult to discern.

One of the frequent themes in Smith’s sermons was the subject of baptism. A remarkably controversial topic in Protestantism, the arguments’ venom came at least in part from the original desire to differentiate itself from the Roman Church. Sola Scriptura and salvation by faith alone eviscerated most of the reason for a core of authoritative ordained priests.[1] Well before the reformation however, the question of authority in administration of sacraments had become muddied by exceptional necessity. Joseph returned Mormonism to a position of the absolute necessity of an authoritative Priest, and then eventually resolved the question of exceptional necessity with the notion of proxy sacraments for the dead.

Several funeral sermons mention the idea of baptism and one of these was the April 7, 1844 sermon (the King Follett funeral address). In this sermon, Joseph hammers on the idea that the baptism of the Holy Ghost is both a separate baptism from water baptism, and one that must take place or the baptism of water is to no purpose. The Bullock transcript reads

The Bap of Water with[ou]t. the B[aptism] of Fire & the H[oly] G[host]. attg. it are necy he must be born of W[ater]. & Sp[irit] in order to get into the K[ingdom] of God & in the German text bears me out same as the revns. which I have given for the 14 years–I have the test[imony] to put in their teeth that my test has been true all the time You will find it in the declar of John the Bap (reads from the German) John says I bap you with Water but when J comes who has the power he shall adm the baptism of F[ire] & the H. G. Gt. God now where is all the Sect. world. & if this is true they are all d–d as clearly as any Anathema ever was–I know the text is true– I call upon all to say I–(shouts of I) Alex Campbell–how are you going to save them with water–for John sd. his bap[tis]m. was nothing witht. the test baptism of J. C. One God, Far., Jesus, hope of, our calling, one baptism–all three bap make one. I have the truth & I am at the defiance of the world to contradict.[2]

Naturally, Joseph directs his remarks to Campbell. One of the rather shocking and distinctive messages of early Mormonism was the notion of extraction of the experiences in Acts, modeling the laying on of hands for the baptism of the Holy Spirit. The issue of course has it’s fine points, but just the fact of such a sacrament in Mormonism was enough to make people ponder the message. With it, came a stated commitment to the doctrine of Christian Perfection (sanctification), also a controversial subject of the time.[3]

But baptism, of whatever variety, has nothing to do with original guilt, sin, etc. in Mormonism. The linkage of original sin to the innocent/ignorant in Mormonism is in some ways more complex than what is found in most of the rest of Christian tradition. Even the earliest Mormon texts remove original guilt, an apparently real burden, relieved by Christ, without sacramental formalism. And when “accountability” is assumed by maturity, original guilt does not come back. It’s “permanent” effect is gone forever apparently. Baptism(s) are for personal transgressions of the Divine law, not for “inherited” sin. [4]

The question of repentance and its relation to baptism is a complex one in Mormon scripture. Some day I want to write something about that. But this is it for now.

[1] It is true however that most of Protestantism effectively preserved the form if not the content. Congregations, for the most part, had/have ministers, who mostly, were ordained. The authoritative source became (partly) education/training seminaries rather than the line of Peter. The drift from Catholic forms was not instant and not complete. For example, the issue of religious iconography in American Protestantism.

[2] Thomas Bullock minutes. General Church Minutes file, Church History Library, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

[3] Sanctification is the most formalized/sacralized doctrine of Mormonism.

[4] The depravity of man found in much of Christian tradition, may or may not exist in Mormonism. The question is a subtle one and requires a careful definition of terms. For example, 2 Nephi 9 suggests a kind of depravity, or more gently, a (by nature) fatal weakness. The linkage to original sin however, seems to be severed (or is it?). Options like Traducianism are not available in Mormonism for other reasons. Of course if one discards the idea of Adam and Eve and the garden of Eden, depravity becomes a kind of euphemism for the savagery of competition.

6 Responses to The King Follett Sermon, Joseph Smith, Original Sin, Sanctification

  1. J. Stapley says:

    The debates abut baptism among Campbellites are really interesting reading. And as a side note, the 18th-century Welsh baptists had variously implemented the post-baptismal laying on of hands in America, but by JS’s day had long abandoned the practice.

    As per your footnote 3, I’m not sure that Sanctification is the correct concept that was being sacralized/formalized. Perhaps assurance?

    • W. V. Smith says:

      Well, I meant it in the early 19th century Charles Finney sense, which I think is the sense of D&C 20. Christian Perfection was the idea/notion of continued progression in Christian virtue. It was a hotly debated issue as you know. I think, at least in part, one could place Mormonism’s sequence of ordinances beyond baptism as a kind of sacralized version of this. An important reference I think is Timothy Merrit, The Christian’s Manual; A Treatise on Christian Perfection, with Direction for Achieving that State. (Boston: Methodist Epis. Church, 1825).

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