The bad news about a warning is that it usually isn’t pleasant to hear, and it generally means there is some amount of danger ahead. Typically it comes with the assumption that I should do something. The good news is that warnings are often timely. So for what is it worth, it’s worth considering warnings for what they are.
Occasionally I will stop to read the expiration date stamped on a package of food before I eat it, especially if the package contains perishable fruit or vegetables. I have learned from sad experience that a container of raspberries doesn’t last very long after I buy them (not that I have a lot of restraint from devouring them in one sitting anyway.) However I have noticed, after I have had my share of the raspberries, and another family member hasn’t yet eaten theirs, raspberries soon begin to grow mold and perish. If one starts to spoil, and I don’t notice in time, it doesn’t matter what the warning date on the package says, be it near or far. If I can find the part that is offensive and remove it, I have a chance. When I don’t, the mold spreads quickly and deeply. It devours the raspberries well before I can.
I have been pondering a short verse in the Doctrine & Covenants lately because of what it potentially means for me. The single verse doesn’t appear as a warning, but there are some facts that can be alarming for the careful listener. In a revelation to the prophet Joseph Smith about proclaiming the gospel, the Lord said, “And my vineyard has become corrupted every whit; and there is none which doeth good save it be a few; and they err in many instances because of priestcrafts, all having corrupt minds.” (Doctrine & Covenants 33:4)
The vineyard is the place where the Lord does his work, which is to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of His children. He hopes and desires that each vine will bear desirable fruit. It sounds devastating for the Lord of the vineyard to visit his place of work and find that it has become completely corrupted. Fortunately, the Lord is never surprised. He knows the end from the beginning, and He knows how to warn us. He knows how to do His work and save His children, as long as we choose to heed the warnings stamped in the scriptures.
It doesn’t take much for a container of my favorite fruit to be corrupted. A package of raspberries may look quite the same at a distance when mold has already begun to grow. Only a careful look will reveal the light, white, and fuzzy texture beginning to appear. This is usually the first indicator. Everything else will appear the same. The fruit may look whole. The color will be just as rich and deep, and the juices will still taste fresh. Only the miniscule presence of something so anonymous as the delicate ingredient of mold gives any kind of warning that corruption has already begun. Nothing has changed except the presence of early corruption.
When the Lord says that His vineyard has become corrupted, every whit, there isn’t much room for exception. This suggests that I especially am not an exception (which is my favorite way to read the scriptures.) The part about none doing good, save it be a few, suggests to me that among all those who are corrupted, the pure in heart are small in number. Yes, there is good everywhere, but self-justification to gratify our own pleasures is also widespread. The Lord said that even those few who are good err because of priestcrafts. Like the raspberries, everything else may still look good, even when corruption is present.
While the act of corrupting may mean destroying the integrity and morality of someone or something, corrupt can also simply mean alter, mar, or taint. It is when the initial corruption, or presence of some foreign defect, merely appears that corruption begins to take place. Then, when we accept and even ignore this presence, the more severe corruption begins to become permanent. That’s when the mold gets ugly and the flavor changes.
The prophet Moroni gave a similar warning to the Lord’s for those who would live in the last days before the second coming of the Savior. Near the end of his life, he said, “Behold, the Lord hath shown unto me great and marvelous things concerning that which must shortly come, at that day when these things shall come forth among you. Behold, I speak unto you as if ye were present, and yet ye are not. But behold, Jesus Christ hath shown you unto me, and I know your doing.” (Mormon 8:34-35) Moroni then states that we walk in the pride of our own hearts. There are none but a few who do not. He then says that we love our money, our possessions and the appearance of our churches more than we love the poor. Ouch. That one hurts.
Moroni also describes this as a time where there will be great pollutions on the earth. Important as it may be in considering our stewardships over the earth, I don’t think he is talking about air quality and carbon footprints. Instead he then lists pollutions such as murder, theft, dishonesty, immorality, and other abominations. He also describes the attitude that exclaims, “it mattereth not.” I think it does.
I have often reflected on this passage because Moroni seems to be speaking to “you” and I, rather than “other people” who may never read the book. There is often a tendency to think that because I have a firm belief that the book is true, Moroni must be talking about someone else, that is unless I don’t believe in making exceptions.
I may not be a liar, a murderer, or an adulterer, but I can ask myself some probing questions to see how these passages of scripture apply. If the vineyard is corrupted every whit, and there are great pollutions all around, is my inheritance the only thing that is in danger of being corrupted? What about my present decisions? Am I still at a critical point where my fruit is good but I am surrounded by light and fluffy mold that is becoming more and more pervasive? If I am, how do I know? To answer these questions, I need to take a closer look at my life and do some self-examining, regardless of how far away the expiration date may be.
The prophet Nephi gave an excellent definition of what priestcrafts are in his writings within the Book of Mormon. Speaking of the Lord’s teachings, he said, “He commandeth that there shall be no priestcrafts; for, behold, priestcrafts are that men preach and set themselves up for a light unto the world, that they may get gain and praise of the world; but they seek not the welfare of Zion.” (2 Nephi 26:29) When our own opinions become more important than the will of God, we are in danger. When the examples we set for others begin to lead them away from the truth rather than toward it, we set ourselves up as a light to the world. If we justify and rationalize our actions instead of acknowledging our errors, so that we can have pleasure and personal gain, we are at the heart of this warning. At that point we are no longer just surrounded by priestcraft, we are active practitioners.
One does not have to imitate the priesthood to practice priestcraft. Ceremony and ritual are not required. In order to qualify, one only has to provide an alternate plan to Father’s plan of happiness for His children. While I may not practice priestcraft, I think these passages of scripture still apply to me because of what the Lord himself said about those who are good, that “they err in many instances because of priestcrafts, all having corrupt minds.” Even if I am not rationalizing or justifying sin, I am curious to know how these pervasive influences are affecting my mind, causing me to err.
At the heart of the messages given to us by the Lord, Moroni, and Nephi is a clear dichotomy between pride and charity. If I wish to know where I stand before God, I should measure my pride. The scriptures provide adequate warnings against pride and the reoccurring pride cycle. If we examine them, and seek to apply them, we can see how we measure up to priestcrafts by first seeing how we measure up to the word of God. There is no clear standard for corruption unless we first understand what it is to be pure.
Nephi continues, “Behold, the Lord hath forbidden this thing; wherefore, the Lord God hath given a commandment that all men should have charity, which charity is love. And except they should have charity they were nothing. Wherefore, if they should have charity they would not suffer the laborer in Zion to perish.” (2 Nephi 26:30)
Similarly, Moroni recorded the teachings of his Father, Mormon, when he said, “Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love….” (Moroni 7:48)
Because there are some clear models and warnings in the scriptures, we can judge where we are in society. Pride is at the heart of the pollutions. Pride leads to vanity and vain ambition, which are the seeds of lust. Secret combinations seek to destroy society and pull it down. These things may not have entered into our hearts, but they may begin to appear lightly around us, just as mold appears softly and quietly, almost hard to discern.
So, the bad news is that we are living in the time foretold by Moroni where we are surrounded by pollutions. We live in a time, as told by the Lord, that the vineyard is entirely corrupt, and all of us have corrupted minds – we are surrounded by harmful things that will even taint the decisions made by good people, causing them to err. We are surrounded by priestcrafts and the philosophies of men that can lead us away from God if we don’t heed His counsel. Our proximity to pride and vanity is so close that we may not see it for what it is. If the growth of this mold is gradual, we may even accept it as the norm. The best way to prevent it is to look for it.
The good news is that there is an antidote. It is possible to resist the corruption that surrounds us. Prophesies have been foretold of the restoration of all things in the fullness of times. This is an expiration date worth looking forward to – a time when wickedness will expire and give way to millennial rest. Rather than being consumed with pride, the pure in heart will be filled with charity. They will pray earnestly for this gift. The love of Christ, and a love for Christ, will help us to be anxiously engaged in causes for good. There is no greater cause than the cause of Zion, which seeks not to tear down society, but to build it.
We can protect ourselves against selfishness and pride by seeking the gift which seeketh not her own, even the gift of charity. We can protect against pollutions and corruption by seeking the pure in heart and the cause of Zion. We can watch for subtle and anonymous mold by starting with our own hearts. As long as we are not complacent and ignorant that there are pollutions all around, we can find greater peace in protecting the fruits of our faith against corruption and error. All the Lord requires is an honest heart that is willing to give up and forsake the pollution.
“Verily I say unto you, all among them who know their hearts are honest, and are broken, and their spirits are contrite, and are willing to observe their covenants by sacrifice – yea, every sacrifice which I the Lord, shall command – they are accepted of me. For I, the Lord, will cause them to bring forth as a very fruitful tree which is planted in a goodly land, by a pure stream, that yieldeth much precious fruit.” (Doctrine & Covenants 97:8-9)
If all have corrupt minds, perhaps this indicates that we are being affected by unhealthy influences rather than being ruined or devastated. If we have desires to serve God and keep His commandments, then maybe the corruption refers to the slow growing ideas that seem pleasing at first, but will soon alter the flavor of our lives and cause them to deteriorate.
Rather than pretend that I am immune to mold, I can choose to look for the first signs of pride that attempt to taint my heart. I can watch for selfish motives that lead me away from the teachings of the Savior. I can pray for help to see the influences in my life that really aren’t healthy but have been there so long that I don’t notice them. When I discover parts that have spoiled, I may have to cut them out. If this is the cost of acceptance, I would rather have fruit that is worthy of eternal life than let all of my favorite fruit spoil. There are few things that compare with the untainted flavor of my favorite fruit. Nothing compares with the unspoiled taste of eternal life. The hope of maintaining this fruit is worth the effort to remove any corrupting influences that can taint my heart.