Latter Days: An Insider's Guide to Mormonism, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Latter Days: An Insider's Guide to Mormonism, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

by Clayton Newell

Paperback(First Edition)

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This is the story of the Latter-day Saints, the story of when God came back to earth and started things over-in person. It may be the most confident message of God in centuries.

Free of proselytory pretense, yet written with the non-Latter-day Saint reader firmly in mind, Latter Days goes right to the mind and heart of this religion, exploring an utterly unique catalogue of Christian doctrine on the purpose of human existence and destiny. It presents the Mormon story of the creation of this world and lays out what Mormons believe is the divine plan for mankind, from Adam, Noah, and Christ to Joseph Smith and Brigham Young. It relates the astonishing story of the great Mormon Exodus, explaining how they were driven from the supposedly civilized United States to the wilderness of the Salt Lake-a truly remarkable story that few of us learned in our high school history classes.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780312280437
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication date: 05/04/2001
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 288
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.67(d)

About the Author

Coke Newell, a convert in his late teens to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the journalism program at Colorado State University. For most of a decade a media spokesman for the LDS Church in Salt Lake City, Utah, he has authored or contributed to a number of books and periodicals, and has been quoted extensively on Church policy, history, and doctrine.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

A Heavenly Start

"In the beginning" is a relative phrase. Latter-day Saint doctrine identifies no specific point on the cosmic ruler for the beginning of heaven, of earth, or of humanity. For the chronology of heaven—and of its God—we grant a very large ruler, one whose unit of measure is so vast as to render all calculations the nomenclature of eternity. As to the time of the creation of earth and its habitation by occupants we can begin a flirtation with numeracy, but the numbers are yet large, and unwieldy, and seemingly without inherent value.

    Not so in regard to the purpose of that creation. To that there remains no question.

    Far, far away—whether in physical distance or in metaphysical dimension, we make no claims—and long, long ago, you and I were born as spirit children of God and, naturally, a Goddess, actual beings of glorified human form and substance. Our home and theirs was a brilliant orb, a crystalline sphere, where the pure light of the greatest of all stars, Kolob, shone endlessly (and yet does and will forever). Time on that planet-star, our Kolob-blessed home, was unmeasured and largely irrelevant. Irrelevant but for our date with destiny.

    Thus, in our beginning, the great God and Goddess peopled their home in heaven with billions of spirit children, eternal intelligences clothed, through this spiritual birthing, with spiritual bodies; bodies complete of form: arms, legs, noses, ears, and so on. We were individual entities, male or female, like our parents, with personality and character. The children of the Gods looked liked the Gods: in the image of God created they us.

    There, as children of God, we lived and moved and had our being for untold millennia of time in "the regions of bliss." We were accompanied by the spiritually created animals of all varieties, as "all things were first created in the spirit existence in heaven before they were placed upon this earth."

    Unlike our Father and Mother, we (the God-children; distinct species from the other life-forms) were spirit only, unadorned with the perfected, glorious bodies they had achieved through a process we would yet learn about. We were potential heirs, not equals. Our eternal progression required that we, like they had done successfully before us, leave our heavenly home, take a physical body, and pass through the memory-veiled testing grounds of a mortal probation.

    Choice and accountability were the eternally paired principles upon which our progress would hinge: removed from their presence, how would we choose? Right and wrong were eternal verities and eternal opposites. Valiant obedience and willful rebellion were already apparent operatives in the premortal lives of each of us to varying degrees. Except for one.

    The firstborn spirit son we knew as Jehovah was like our Father in every respect but that of having gained a physical, then glorified, body. Valiant was his every thought, obedient his every action. Great would be his course through eternity.

    Thus after ages of time, in which our parents came to know us better than any mortal father or mother ever knows a child, a Grand Council was convened. There, with all of us present, the plan for our progression was presented: an earth, a mortal trial, and an evaluation.

    The event, reopened in vision to a mighty and faithful prophet ages later, would tell it like this:

Now the Lord had shown unto me, Abraham, the intelligences that were organized before the world was; and among all these there were many of the noble and great ones. And God saw these souls that they were good, and he stood in the midst of them, and he said: These I will make my rulers; for he stood among those that were spirits, and he saw that they were good; and he said unto me: Abraham, thou art one of them; thou wast chosen before thou wast born.

And there stood one among them that was like unto God [this being the Great Jehovah] and he said unto those who were with him: We will go down, for there is space there, and we will take of these materials, and we will make an earth whereon these may dwell; And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God [our common Father] shall command them.

    The proposal then was this: from the elements of the universe and in space then existing, worlds were to be organized, then peopled by the spirit children of God. These noble and great ones, assisted, perhaps, by other valiant children who would people each planet, would help in the effort, designing and creating, through natural processes of time and function and according to natural-eternal law, the earth and other inhabitable globes. From those elements, human beings would be formed, gods in embryo, our immortal spirits to be clothed with the dust of the earth, and all memories of our former existence in the presence of God to be shut out. We would be left to face the trials of mortality and prove our mettle as gods-in-process. Choice, the eternal principle, would precede the effects of accountability, its essential companion.

    It was made clear that none would pass through the trial unscathed, that none would remain clean. It was not so determined, it was simply known. Our tarnishment would come as the result not of another's transgression, but simply because the test would exceed the capacity of mortals.

    How, then, asked our Father, knowing but seeking wisdom and initiative among his children, would any of us return? For no unclean thing would ever return to his presence following the mortal sojourn.

    Quite simply, no one of us would measure up.

    At that, another son of God arose, this one also a "son of the morning" (one of the eldest, among the firstborn in that premortal sphere). Forever rebellious, and outrageous in his arrogance, this brother we called Lucifer proposed to save us all, to bring home every mortal sojourner, regardless of merit or effort. He would merely and simply abrogate the law and open the gates of eternity.

    Such a proposal was immediately recognized by most for its ignorance, for the immutable nature of agency and accountability—eternal laws of existence—had long been known and experienced by all of us. The only question remaining to most was how, following the surely less-than-spotless mortal trial of our moral agency, would any return to the presence of God without blemish? Force was clearly not an option, nor was the suspension of law, for such, even if possible, would make of heaven a hell.

    The Great Jehovah arose and continued. Of course, these humans would be granted agency, the right and the power to choose. Certainly, some would choose poorly. Two things would strengthen our chances. First, an enlightening voice, a whisper in our minds, would speak to us as the voice of conscience; obedient response to it would earn us the right to an even greater enlightenment, the directing presence or power of another Son of God, the Holy Ghost, who would lead the progressively obedient back to a full knowledge, even a lifting of the veil of memory. Second, Jehovah himself would come to earth, clothed in a mortal frame, and live a sinless life in our behalf. As all broken laws—the natural and immutable laws of heaven—bore a just and natural and immutable penalty, he would suffer himself to bear all things, even death, to work out the recompense, to make up the difference between our efforts and the requirements of heaven, in behalf of each of us.

    If the Father would accept such an expiation, such atonement, both justice and mercy could be satisfied—in fact, perfected.

    A shout of joy for this magnanimity coursed in waves through the heaven (see Job 38:7).

    But Lucifer bellowed once again, protesting this acquiescent offer. "I will bring them all," he bragged to the Father, bring them all back regardless of their personal effort or any shade of personal valiance developed. (Perhaps he wanted peers.) But then, "Here am I, send me, I will be thy son, and I will redeem all mankind, that one soul shall not be lost. And surely I will do it; wherefore give me thine honor".

    He wanted to reign.

    Such bald-faced presumption had yet to be uttered in our heavenly home, and the stir it caused was ferocious. Some of our brothers and sisters yelled it was the only way, the only guarantee that this earth existence would not become instead a sure road to their ruination.

    In the midst of commotion, the Great Jehovah stood once again. He waited. The heavens stilled. The law of heaven, of the universe, he reminded us, required such a course as he had endorsed, a course that allowed agency and demanded accountability. It was the course of gods, the very path our parents had trod in a similar way ages before. And he would do all we couldn't, within the demands of justice. He would build that bridge back to eternity, if only we would let him.

    At that, the rancor resumed, and the heavens shook with an unknown murmur. Quietly, Jehovah turned to the Father, acknowledging his right to decide:

    "Father, thy will be done," he said, "and the glory be thine forever."

    And the Father said: "'I will send the first.' And the second was angry, and kept not his first estate; and, at that day, many followed after him."

    And all hell broke loose in heaven. The Book of Revelation calls it very plainly "war" (Rev. 12: 9-12). Lucifer and a full one-third of the children in heaven fought the valiant, led by one known as Michael, who both Jude and Paul would ages later refer to as the "Archangel."

    Having defied the laws of the universe, the rebellious clearly and effectively lost the contest, and "neither was their place found any more in heaven." They were cast out, disinherited. Their "father" (ruler) from then on would be Lucifer, and their dominion outer darkness. Thus did Lucifer become Satan, the devil, the tempter. Having rejected the eternal plan of heaven, these objectors selected the alternative: never would they take upon themselves a mortal body or complete the course toward Godhood. By their rebellion they had, in fact, rejected the opportunity for eternal progression before even having attempted it. Their role would yet play out on the earth, but it would be a role of darkness and eternal misery. Precisely, they would become agents of adversity for others: the spirits whispering of greed, lust, ire, and hatred. They had exercised their agency and borne the effect.

    "Wherefore, because that Satan rebelled against me, and sought to destroy the agency of man, which I, the Lord God, had given him, and also, that I should give unto him mine own power; by the power of mine Only Begotten, I caused that he should he cast down; and he became Satan, yea, even the devil, the father of all lies, to deceive and to blind men, and to lead them captive at his will, even as many as would not hearken unto my voice."

    And what of those who remained in heaven? Many wept over their fallen kin, their unfaithful brothers and sisters.


Excerpted from Latter Days by Coke Newell. Copyright © 2000 by Clayton Corey Newell. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Table of Contents

Prologue: A Boy's Prayer1
In 1820 an obscure American farm boy went into the woods
to pray and came out with a message and mission that would
challenge the foundations of contemporary religion
But this new view of God, man, and salvation proclaimed
by Joseph Smith wasn't really new at all It was the plan
from the very beginning
Part 1 A New Heaven and a New Earth5
Chapter 1: A Heavenly Start7
Long before Eden, or T Rex or even the Big Bang, billions
of spirit entities lived and learned in a premortal world,
literal children of a physical God Individual intelligences
imbued with motive and motion, we exercised choice,
initiative, and preference But under our Father's eye, and
within his presence, we could only go so far The Great Plan
of Happiness—the genetics within us—required that we leave our
heavenly home, take a physical body, and live by our spiritual
wits in a new world far away, a blue planetcalled Earth
Chapter 2: The Choice13
Set upon the earth as immortal beings, the first man and
the first woman soon understood that their eternal
progress, or even happiness, required that they pass through
a mortal experience. But to get there, they would have to die
Chapter 3: The Place Where Adam Dwelt18
In contrast to the doctrine of most other Christian churches,
Latter-day Saints teach without reservation that the entire
gospel plan—the Christian gospel—was known to and practiced by
Adam and Eve, as were other advanced concepts of human learning
and culture
Chapter 4: Oh, Israel24
The Old Testament-era dispersion of the tribes of Israel
sprinkled the blood of the covenant people throughout the
lands of the earth A fundamental focus of the Latter-day
Saints is to find and gather those children of the covenant—
with whom they share a literal heritage
Part 2 The First Coming and a Falling Away31
Chapter 5: The Fulcrum of Time33
From his premortal stature as the most valiant of all spirit
children of God, and following four millenia as the mighty God
of the Old Testament, the Great Jehovah begins his turn on earth
as the humblest of children, delivered in straw and diapered in
rags As Jesus of Nazareth he comes to full and early realization
of his mission as the Savior of the world, a mission that will
only be accomplished with the sacrifice of his life
Chapter 6: Christ in America48
The Book of Mormon, like the Bible, is a compilation of the
writings—historic and prophetic—of heaven-inspired men Central
to the book is an eyewitness account of the visit of the
resurrected Savior to a group of people in ancient America
Chapter 7: Of Peter, Popes, and Prophets57
With the Savior's return to heaven, the apostle Peter and his
colleagues in the Judean ministry continue the work of Christ
But the seeds of rebellion are almost instantaneous
One by one, the apostles are killed, the converts hunted and
driven, the pure truths changed Centuries intervene,
creeds rise, reformers rebel. Spiritual darkness covers the earth
Part 3 Beyond the First Vision63
Chapter 8: Angels on the Earth65
Following his vision of heaven in 1820, Joseph Smith faced the
bitter scorn of neighbors and former friends for his continuing
tales of heavenly visitors, Official and Exclusive Sanction,
and new scripture The creedal faiths of seventeen centuries,
whatever else their differences, unitedly found such claims
ludicrous at best, and blasphemous most likely They determined
to wipe Mormonism from the face of the earth
Chapter 9: The Untold Story82
From 1831 to 1844, the Latter-day Saints were driven from town
to town, and state to state: New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio
In late 1838, thousands housed their children under tarps and
trees, or in muddy caves carved into riverbanks spread out
across far western Missouri Then, Missouri's governor-elect
Lilburn Boggs issued his famous decree: "exterminate
the winter of 1838-39, and across three hundred miles of
frozen mid-western back country, ten thousand Latter-day Saints
dragged all that hadn't been burned, abandoned, or killed three
hundred miles to refuge in Illinois
Chapter 10: Road to Carthage98
In Illinois, the Latter-day Saints founded a vibrant community
that was the envy of the day Named Nauvoo, it swelled toward
twenty thousand residents by 1844 But if any among them were
entertaining visions of taking their rightful and respected place
in the mainstream of American society anytime soon, it wasn't
Joseph Smith In fact, his vision dictated exactly to the
contrary: the Saints would suffer mightily and be driven once
again. But this time, Joseph would not go with them
Chapter 11: Aftermath129
Following the assassination of Joseph Smith and his brother,
Hyrum, the world thought Mormonism had come to its end Even
the Latter-day Saints were in despondent disarray But all
they would need to carry on in strength had been well prepared
for the people, including doctrine, policy—and Brigham Young
Chapter 12: Prelude to a Finale134
Under Brigham Young's able leadership, the Latter-day Saints
hung on in Nauvoo through the remainder of 1844 and much of
1845, continuing to build their city But by the fall of 1845,
their farms burning, mobs harassing them, and the leadership of
both Illinois and the nation refusing to aid them, it was clear
that their time in Illinois was coming to a close But it was also
clear that no place in America would take them next
Chapter 13: The American Exodus144
In the cold blue heart of winter, long before grass was growing
or streams flowing to sustain their draft animals, twelve to
fifteen thousand Latter-day Saints began their journey into the
western wilderness, their eyes set on a remote basin in Mexican
territory thirteen hundred miles away It would be the largest forced
migration in the history of America Later scholars would see the
experience as the single most important influence in molding the
Latter-day Saints into a distinctive people
Chapter 14: The Camp of Israel162
What formed and cohered in the earliest days of the Mormon Trail
to the west was a people apart: separate, unique, and alone,
calling themselves the "Camp of Israel" Even journalists of the
day were soon making comparisons to the ancient travels of Moses
and his people: here was modern Israel, with its Prophet, its
Exodus from bondage, and its sojourn toward the Promised Land
Chapter 15: Road to Zion170
Converging from three directions and a dozen lands, the Mormon
pioneers moved toward their envisioned land of refuge—isolated,
arid, un-peopled, and unwanted by the rest of humanity
The Valley of the Great Salt Lake would be just the right place
Chapter 16: Transition184
Having established themselves in safety in the remote valley
of the Salt Lake basin, the Latter-day Saints began a new era
of settlement and expansion under the leadership of Brigham
Young Thousands of converts would flow into the valley from
all over the world, and the next three decades would see the
colonization of nearly four hundred communities across the
American West
Chapter 17: Give and Take198
Refuge from the long arm of intolerance and misunderstanding
would grace the home base of the Latter-day Saints for only a
few years. The U.S Army would march on Utah, and a prairie
court would condemn their limited practice of polygamy
Though they would argue the latter issue all the way to the
Supreme Court, thousands of fathers and husbands would be
hunted and imprisoned Seeing the future of the church on the
verge of forfeit, the Mormon prophet would end the practice
in 1890, paving the way for U.S. statehood
Part 4 Steaming Toward Kolob209
Chapter 18: From Zero to Sixty in 2.2211
More and more through the decades of the twentieth century,
Latter-day Saint history would begin playing out in places
like Adelaide and Johannesburg and Medelln And it would play
out prominently, setting a pace of international growth that
would stun observers In the words of one prominent
sociologist, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
would enter the twenty-first century as "the first world
religion since Islam"
Chapter 19: The Biggest Heaven and the Littlest Hell225
Mormon doctrine corresponds with many concepts common to
the larger body of Christian belief and practice: the world
will end, Christ will return in glory, people will be judged
But from there the Latter-day Saints embrace an entirely
divergent set of specifics regarding heaven, its purposes,
and its eventual occupants
How do you get a religion so precise, so comprehensive, and
so radical to work—-smoothly—in 165 nations of the world,
attracting converts from all walks of life and faith?
You speak to that engraved code, the DNA of deity And then
you explain it in an entirely new light, a light that goes
all the way back. All the way to the beginning
Appendix: Important Doctrines and Policies of The Church of
Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints249
Selected Bibliography261

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