Review: First Principles and Ordinances

First Principles and Ordinances: The Fourth Article of Faith in Light of the Temple
Samuel M. Brown
Provo, Utah: Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, 2014.

Joseph Smith was born into the Second Great Awakening. Gravitating to Methodist preaching, he ranked it above his other experience. Visions and golden plates prompted a New Covenant, born in April 1830. At first the New Covenant looked for a place in the landscape of antebellum Protestant thought and doctrine but gradually that seeking turned to renewal and rethinking. Mormonism moved from the American individualism that played over the billions of pages of Protestant imprints and wrote a new way of seeing the ancient. It didn’t simply try to restore (unsuccessfully) the all things in common of Jerusalem’s Acts. It wrote a story of ritual and liturgy that made family of believers and eternal friends of family.

Sam Brown has taken the final impulse of a mortal Joseph Smith and has written that impulse into the familiar bare and brief recitation of Faith: We believe that the first principles and ordinances of the gospel are . . . . Every page lights up faith, repentance, baptism, and the gift of the Holy Ghost through (Brown’s vision of) the lens of the Temple. A lens that is carved by personal experience and burnished by the strong polish of others’ experience. And we get a few clear glimpses of that through the book.

The temple covenants allow us to see time, our lives, and other people as God sees them. Training that capacity to see through persistent practice is the work of salvation.

I have a collection of twenty excerpts from the book, excerpts I was going to use to persuade you to get it and read it. But brevity is the better part here I think. I can’t come to grips with the scope of the book in a review of reasonable length, and this represents a kind of capitulation I suppose. Here’s what you should do. Buy it. Buy it for every prospective missionary within reach. Buy it for every person in your family who is contemplating a temple marriage or who recently experienced one. Get it for your non LDS family members. Then, buy it for yourself and read it. Start by skimming through it rapidly. Then go at it again and do your highlighting and marginal noting. It’s a worthy journey. It’s not intended as the end of discussion. But it can be a great beginning. And after all, it is Christmas, and this book is all about Christ.

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