The Character of God
1 In the second lecture it was shown, how it was that the knowledge of the existence of God, came into the world, and by what means the first thoughts were suggested to the minds of men, that such a being did actually exist: and that it was by reason of the knowledge of his existence, that there was a foundation laid for the exercise of faith in him, as the only being in whom faith could center for life and salvation. For faith could not center in a being of whose existence we had no idea; because the idea of his existence in the first instance is essential to the exercise of faith in him. Romans 10:14: "How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?" (or one sent to tell them?) So then faith comes by hearing the word of God. [New Translation]
2 Let us here observe, that three things are necessary, in order that any rational and intelligent being may exercise faith in God unto life and salvation.
3 First, The idea that he actually exists.
4 Secondly, A correct idea of his character, perfections and attributes.
5 Thirdly, An actual knowledge that the course of life which he is pursuing, is according to his will.—For without an acquaintance with these three important facts, the faith of every rational being must be imperfect and unproductive; but with this understanding, it can become perfect and fruitful, abounding in righteousness unto the praise and glory of God the Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.
6 Having previously been made acquainted with the way the idea of his existence came into the world, as well as the fact of his existence, we shall proceed to examine his character, perfections and attributes, in order that this class may see, not only the just grounds which they have for the exercise of faith in him, for life and salvation, but the reasons that all the world, also, as far as the idea of his existence extends, may have to exercise faith in him the Father of all living.
7 As we have been indebted to a revelation which God made of himself to his creatures in the first instance, for the idea of his existence, so in like manner we are indebted to the revelations which he has given to us, for a correct understanding of his character, perfections and attributes; because without the revelations which he has given to us, no man by searching could find out God (Job 11:7-9). 1 Cor. 2:9-11: "But as it is written, eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God has prepared for them that love him; but God has revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searches all things, yea, the deep things of God. For what man knows the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? Even so, the things of God no man knows but by the Spirit of God."
8 Having said so much, we proceed to examine the character which the revelations have given of God.
9 Moses gives us the following account in Exodus, 34:6: "And the Lord passed by before him, and proclaimed, The Lord God, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, long suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth." Psalms 103:6-8: "The Lord executes righteousness and judgment for all that are oppressed. He made known his ways unto Moses, his acts unto the children of Israel. The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and plenteous in mercy:" Psalms 103:17-18: "But the mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear him, and his righteousness unto children's children, to such as keep his covenant, and to those that remember his commandments to do them." Psalms 90:2: "Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, you are God." Hebrews 1:10-12: "And you, Lord, in the beginning have laid the foundation of the earth; and the heavens are the works of your hands: they shall perish, but you shall remain; and they shall wax old as a garment; and as a vesture shall you fold them up, and they shall be changed: but you are the same, and your years shall not fail." James 1:17: "Every good gift, and every perfect gift, is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights; with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning." Malachi 3:6: "For I am the Lord, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed."
10 [Doctrine and Covenants, section 3], commencing in the [second verse]: "For God does not walk in crooked paths, neither does he turn to the right hand or the left, or vary from that which he has said, therefore his paths are strait, and his course is one eternal round:" [Doctrine and Covenants, section] 35:1: "Listen to the voice of the Lord your God, even Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, whose course is one eternal round, the same yesterday to-day and forever."
11 Numbers 23:19: "God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man that he should repent." 1 John 4:8: "He that loves not, knows not God; for God is love." Acts 10:34: "Then Peter opened his mouth and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons, but in every nation he that fears God and works righteousness is accepted with him."
12 From the foregoing testimonies, we learn the following things respecting the character of God.
13 First, That he was God before the world was created, and the same God that he was, after it was created.
14 Secondly, That he is merciful, and gracious, slow to anger, abundant in goodness, and that he was so from everlasting, and will be to everlasting.
15 Thirdly, That he changes not, neither is there variableness with him; but that he is the same from everlasting to everlasting, being the same yesterday to-day and forever; and that his course is one eternal round, without variation.
16 Fourthly, That he is a God of truth and cannot lie.
17 Fifthly, That he is no respecter of persons; but in every nation he that fears God and works righteousness is accepted of him.
18 Sixthly, That he is love.
19 An acquaintance with these attributes in the divine character, is essentially necessary, in order that the faith of any rational being can center in him for life and salvation. For if he did not, in the first instance, believe him to be God, that is, the creator and upholder of all things, he could not center his faith in him for life and salvation, for fear there should be a greater than he, who would thwart all his plans, and he, like the gods of the heathen, would be unable to fulfill his promises; but seeing he is God over all, from everlasting to everlasting, the creator and upholder of all things, no such fear can exist in the minds of those who put their trust in him, so that in this respect their faith can be without wavering.
20 But secondly: Unless he was merciful, and gracious, slow to anger, long suffering, and full of goodness, such is the weakness of human nature, and so great the frailties and imperfections of men, that unless they believed that these excellencies existed in the divine character, the faith necessary to salvation could not exist; for doubt would take the place of faith, and those who know their weakness and liability to sin, would be in constant doubt of salvation, if it were not for the idea which they have of the excellency of the character of God, that he is slow to anger, and long suffering, and of a forgiving disposition, and does forgive iniquity, transgression and sin. An idea of these facts does away doubt, and makes faith exceedingly strong.
21 But it is equally as necessary that men should have the idea that he is a God who changes not, in order to have faith in him, as it is to have the idea that he is gracious and long suffering. For without the idea of unchangeableness in the character of the Deity, doubt would take the place of faith. But with the idea that he changes not, faith lays hold upon the excellencies in his character with unshaken confidence, believing he is the same yesterday, to-day and forever, and that his course is one eternal round.
22 And again, the idea that he is a God of truth and cannot lie, is equally as necessary to the exercise of faith in him, as the idea of his unchangeableness. For without the idea that he was a God of truth and could not lie, the confidence necessary to be placed in his word in order to the exercise of faith in him, could not exist. But having the idea that he is not man that he can lie, it gives power to the minds of men to exercise faith in him.
23 But it is also necessary that men should have an idea that he is no respecter of persons; for with the idea of all the other excellencies in his character, and this one wanting, men could not exercise faith in him, because if he were a respecter of persons, they could not tell what their privileges were, nor how far they were authorized to exercise faith in him, or whether they were authorized to do it at all, but all must be confusion; but no sooner are the minds of men made acquainted with the truth on this point, that he is no respecter of persons, than they see that they have authority by faith to lay hold on eternal life the richest boon of heaven, because God is no respecter of persons, and that every man in every nation has an equal privilege.
24 And lastly, but not less important to the exercise of faith in God, is the idea that he is love; for with all the other excellencies in his character, without this one to influence them, they could not have such powerful dominion over the minds of men; but when the idea is planted in the mind that he is love, who cannot see the just ground that men of every nation, kindred and tongue, have to exercise faith in God so as to obtain eternal life?
25 From the above description of the character of the Deity which is given him in the revelations, to men, there is a sure foundation for the exercise of faith in him among every people, nation and kindred, from age to age, and from generation to generation.
26 Let us here observe that the foregoing is the character which is given of God in his revelations to the Former Day Saints, and it is also the character which is given of him in his revelations to the Latter Day Saints, so that the saints of former days, and those of latter days, are both alike in this respect; the "Latter Day Saints" having as good grounds to exercise faith in God, as the former day saints had; because the same character is given of him to both.
Questions and Answers on the Foregoing Principles
Question 6: What are they?
First, that God does actually exist: Secondly, correct ideas of his character, his perfections and attributes; and Thirdly, that the course which we pursue is according to his mind and will. (3:3-5)
Question 7: Would the idea of any one or two of the above mentioned things, enable a person to exercise faith in God?
It would not, for without the idea of them all, faith would be imperfect and unproductive. (3:15)
Question 8: Would an idea of these three things lay a sure foundation for the exercise of faith in God, so as to obtain life and salvation?
It would; for by the idea of these three things, faith could become perfect, and fruitful, abounding in righteousness unto the praise and glory of God. (3:5)
Question 10: Could these things be found out by any other means than by revelation?
They could not.
Question 12: What things do we learn in the revelations of God respecting his character?
We learn the six following things. First, that he was God before the world was created, and the same God that he was after it was created. Secondly, that he is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, abundant in goodness, and that he was so from everlasting, and will be so to everlasting. Thirdly, that he changes not, neither is there variableness with him, and that his course is one eternal round. Fourthly, that he is a God of truth and cannot lie. Fifthly, that he is no respecter of persons; and Sixthly, that he is love. (3:12-18)
Question 14: What effect would it have on any rational being not to have an idea that the Lord was God, the creator and upholder of all things?
It would prevent him from exercising faith in him unto life and salvation.
Question 15: Why would it prevent him from exercising faith in God?
Because he would be as the heathen not knowing but there might be a being greater and more powerful than he, and thereby he be prevented from fulfilling his promises. (3:19)
Question 18: Why is it necessary?
Because of the weakness and imperfections of human nature, and the great frailties of man; for such is the weakness of man, and such his frailties, that he is liable to sin continually, and if God were not long suffering, and full of compassion, gracious and merciful and of a forgiving disposition, man would be cut off from before him in consequence of which he would be in continual doubt and could not exercise faith: for where doubt is, there faith has no power, but by man's believing that God is full of compassion and forgiveness, long suffering and slow to anger, he can exercise faith in him and overcome doubt, so as to be exceedingly strong. (3:20)
Question 19: Is it not equally as necessary that man should have an idea that God changes not, neither is there variableness with him, in order to exercise faith in him unto life and salvation ?
It is; because without this, he would not know how soon the mercy of God might change into cruelty, his long suffering into rashness, his love into hatred, and in consequence of which doubt, man would be incapable of exercising faith in him, but having the idea that he is unchangeable, man can have faith in him continually, believing that what he was yesterday he is to day, and will be forever. (3:21)
Question 20: Is it not necessary also, for men to have an idea that God is a being of truth, before they can have perfect faith in him?
It is; for unless men have this idea they cannot place confidence in his word, and not being able to place confidence in his word, they could not have faith in him; but believing that he is a God of truth, and that his word cannot fail, their faith can rest in him without doubt. (3:22)
Question 21: Could man exercise faith in God so as to obtain eternal life unless he believed that God was no respecter of persons?
He could not; because without this idea he could not certainly know that it was his privilege so to do, and in consequence of this doubt his faith could not be sufficiently strong to save him. (3:23)
Question 22: Would it be possible for a man to exercise faith in God, so as to be saved, unless he had an idea that God was love?
He could not; because man could not love God, unless he had an idea that God was love, and if he did not love God, he could not have faith in him. (3:24)
Question 23: What is the description which the sacred writers give of the character of the Deity calculated to do?
It is calculated to lay a foundation for the exercise of faith in him, as far as the knowledge extends among all people, tongues, languages, kindreds, and nations and that from age to age, and from generation to generation. (3:25)
Question 24: Is the character which God has given of himself uniform?
It is, in all his revelations whether to the Former Day Saints, or to the Latter day saints, so that they all have the authority to exercise faith in him, and to expect by the exercise of their faith, to enjoy the same blessings. (3:26)