The Old Testament prophet, Daniel, interpreted a dream that prophesied of the last days. “And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever” (Daniel 2:44). This latter day kingdom is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and the authority of this church “shall never be taken again from the earth” (Doctrine and Covenants 13:1).
Throughout the history of the earth, the Lord has been communicating with and directing His children through revelation to His prophets. Each period of time when this occurs is called a dispensation. “The Bible suggests at least one dispensation identified with Adam, another with Enoch, another with Noah, and so on with Abraham, Moses, and Jesus with His Apostles in the meridian of time. Paul writes of ‘the dispensation of the fulness of times’ in which the Lord will ‘gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth’ (Eph. 1:10). The fulness of times is the final dispensation and began with the revelation of the gospel to Joseph Smith” (Bible Dictionary, 56). Each of the previous gospel dispensations ended in an apostasy. Our dispensation will not.
Notwithstanding this prophesied reality concerning the Kingdom of God standing forever, there is no promise that individual members of the Kingdom will likewise never fall away. In fact, the sad reality is that no one is exempt from this possibility (see Doctrine and Covenants 20:32 ). Even the prophet Joseph Smith was warned “For although a man may have many revelations, and have power to do many mighty works, yet if he boasts in his own strength, and sets at naught the counsels of God, and follows after the dictates of his own will and carnal desires, he must fall and incur the vengeance of a just God upon him” (Doctrine and Covenants 3:4 emphasis added). Also this warning, “there is none other appointed unto you to receive commandments and revelations until he be taken, if he abide in me…if it be taken from him he shall not have power except to appoint another in his stead” (Doctrine and Covenants 43:3-4, emphasis added). The Prophet was made well aware that his standing before the Lord was not guaranteed and there was another who could be called to replace him. I would propose that if Joseph Smith isn’t safe from falling, then no one is safe to assume they will never fall away.
Some of the sad history of this church is that many did (and still do) fall away, even some of the great ones in our early history. Men who experienced spiritual gifts, served missions, and sacrificed reputation, wealth and health fell away. Men who saw visions, the gold plates, angels, and even the Father and the Son fell away.
At the same time, many stayed true to the faith in the face of so much persecution, opposition, and doubt. Why does this happen? Are their patterns we can observe in those who remained faithful as well as in those who fell away? My goal is to write several more posts highlighting some of these patterns in the early saints, with the hope of giving insight for how we can stay faithful today.
As we approach the Second Coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, we will see “an entire separation of the righteous and the wicked;” (Doctrine and Covenants 63:54). This is a time where there “shall also arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders, insomuch, that, if possible, they shall deceive the very elect” (Joseph Smith-Matthew 1:22). Our ability to guard ourselves against the threat of personal apostasy should be one of our great priorities in these last days.