Enrichment G The Nature and Purpose of Law

Doctrine and Covenants Student Manual, (2002), 393–397


(G-1) Introduction

A significant aspect of this earthly existence is that all things are governed by law. Law gives order and purpose to the universe. Law provides the way for the Saints to grow, progress, and obtain happiness. That being the case, they need to understand the nature of law; the source of law; the means by which they can know true laws; the results of the application of laws, or what one may obtain by following the laws of God; and how the Lord has counseled His children to act in relationship to laws so that they can obtain the greatest benefits.

The Doctrine and Covenants helps the Saints to understand the nature, purpose, and effects of law.

stars and planets

“All things are numbered unto me, for they are mine and I know them” (Moses 1:35).

(G-2) The Eternal Nature of Law

The Doctrine and Covenants teaches that “all kingdoms have a law given; and … there is no space in the which there is no kingdom” (D&C 88:36–37). Thus, it is clear that all things in the vast immensity of space are under the influence of law. All things are controlled, governed, and upheld by law—“nothing is exempt.” Nothing is arbitrary or left to chance. The “same invarying result always flows from the same cause.” The principles of eternal law “are immutable, eternal, everlasting.” (McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, p. 433.)

The truth of this teaching is substantiated both by the revelations of God and by the scientific observations of mortals. As mankind progresses in scientific knowledge, it becomes more and more apparent that there is order in the universe, and that all things are governed by consistent and harmonious laws. From the atomic realm to the vast immensity of space there is universal order and consistency.

President Brigham Young taught that “there is no being in all the eternities but what is governed by law” (Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 1). Elder Bruce R. McConkie stated, similarly, that Christ “governs and is governed by law” (Mormon Doctrine, p. 432.) God has said, for example, that He is bound when His children do what He says (see D&C 82:10). He is bound to fulfill His promises, for He is a being of complete integrity who conforms totally to the laws of righteousness. He is a celestial being and abides by celestial law, for any being “who is not able to abide the law of a celestial kingdom cannot abide a celestial glory” (D&C 88:22).

President John Taylor said: “God is unchangeable, so are also his laws, in all their forms, and in all their applications, and being Himself the essence of law, the giver of law, the sustainer of law, all of those laws are eternal in all their operations, in all bodies and matter, and throughout all space. It would be impossible for Him to violate law, because in so doing He would strike at His own dignity, power, principles, glory, exaltation and existence.” (Mediation and Atonement, p. 168.)

D&C 88:36–39. What is the extent and the influence of God’s laws? What do you have to do to be justified?

D&C 88:34. God has all power because He is in perfect harmony with all law. What, then, is the need for us to develop the ability to conform totally to His laws? What would be the benefit of doing so?

D&C 59:4. The Lord promises that He will bless those who stand in Zion with “commandments not a few.” Do you think of the commandments of God as blessings or as restrictions?

How do these scriptures help you understand that laws and commandments are blessings?

(G-3) Christ Is the Lawgiver

Christ, as the Firstborn, was preeminent among the members of the Father’s family. He created this earth under the direction of the Father (see Moses 1:27–32) and was given authority to be God over it. Acting through the power and authority given Him by His Father, the Savior controls, directs, and governs the affairs of this earth. As God over this earth, Christ ordained laws, according to the will of the Father, for the benefit and progression of the whole human family. He is our lawgiver (see D&C 38:22; 64:13). Christ taught the Nephites, saying, “I am the law” (3 Nephi 15:9), meaning that He is the embodiment and the source of all law to mankind. He is not only the source of law and commandments given to mankind, but He provides the law, or organizing power, for the whole universe. This doctrine is taught more clearly in the Doctrine and Covenants than in any of the other standard works. He declared to His disciples that He was “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). The Doctrine and Covenants teaches that the Resurrection is only part of what this title means. Jesus is “the life” in a much more profound and all-inclusive way. A careful study of Doctrine and Covenants 88:6–13 yields the following insights about Christ as the source of law and light and life:

Christ is the source of an infinite, radiant stream of energy called “the light of Christ” (v. 7) which comes “from the presence of God to fill the immensity of space” (v. 12).

Christ is the light and power that fills the sun, moon, stars, and earth (see vv. 7–10).

This light of Christ is not only in all things but is the source of life for all things (see v. 13).

Somehow, this energy source which emanates from God and is named after Jesus Christ is also “the law by which all things are governed” (v. 13).

In other words, if somehow the light of Christ were to be extinguished, there would be no law, no order, no organization, and no life in the universe. Everything would collapse into universal chaos. According to the book of Hebrews, Christ “uphold[s] all things by the word of his power” (1:3). For this reason we look to Him for guidance: He is not only the source of law, He is the law.

The Prophet Joseph Smith taught the same thing when he said, “God himself, finding he was in the midst of spirits and glory, because he was more intelligent, saw proper to institute laws whereby the rest could have a privilege to advance like himself” (Teachings, p. 354).

Christ in America

“I am the law” (3 Nephi 15:9).

(G-4) God’s Purpose in Giving Laws to Mankind

This earth is a place where people are given the opportunity to learn, to prove themselves, and to develop the characteristics of Heavenly Father. In the premortal life, the children of Father in Heaven saw His greatness, His perfection, and His joy in an exalted status, and desired to be like Him. He also wanted His children to become as He is.

Although God’s laws are exact and immovable, they are revealed and given to mankind for one purpose—to bring to pass their ultimate joy. The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that “the Great Parent of the universe looks upon the whole of the human family with a fatherly care and paternal regard” (Teachings, p. 218), and that He “never will institute an ordinance or give a commandment to His people that is not calculated in its nature to promote that happiness which He has designed, and which will not end in the greatest amount of good and glory to those who become the recipients of his law and ordinances” (Teachings, pp. 256–57). The Prophet also said, “Whatever God requires is right, no matter what it is, although we may not see the reason thereof till long after the events transpire” (Teachings, p. 256).

God gives laws and commandments to His children to provide the only possible means whereby they may become like Him. The Prophet Joseph Smith taught:

“God condescended to speak from the heavens and declare His will concerning the human family, to give them just and holy laws, to regulate their conduct, and guide them in a direct way, that in due time He might take them to Himself, and make them joint heirs with His Son. …

“… God has given certain laws to the human family, which, if observed, are sufficient to prepare them to inherit this rest. This, then, we conclude, was the purpose of God in giving His laws to us.” (Teachings, pp. 53–54.)

(G-5) Certainty of the Promises and Consequences of Law

The Doctrine and Covenants teaches that all blessings are predicated upon laws and that if we desire a particular blessing, we must abide by the law that guarantees the blessing. If we do not conform to the bounds and conditions of a law, we are not justified in receiving the blessings associated with it. This theme is repeated again and again in the Doctrine and Covenants (see D&C 82:10; 88:38–39; 130:20–21; 132:5).

God has said that no one can come unto Him except by His laws. If we receive and obey His laws, then we will come to know God and become like Him, thus having eternal life. (See D&C 132:11–12, 21–25, 32; John 17:3). It is only by obedience to law that one can become sanctified. Those who, by their agency, submit to law and are governed by God’s laws are preserved, protected, and sanctified through the operation of those laws. Those who do not live the laws of God cannot be sanctified by the Savior through those laws; therefore, they must inherit a kingdom other than the celestial. Each of us must be able to abide by the law of the kingdom we inherit (see D&C 88:21–24; 34–35).

President Wilford Woodruff said: “The God of heaven, who created this earth and placed His children upon it, gave unto them a law whereby they might be exalted and saved in a kingdom of glory. For there is a law given unto all kingdoms, and all things are governed by law throughout the whole universe. Whatever law anyone keeps he is preserved by that law, and he receives whatever reward that law guarantees unto him. It is the will of God that all His children should obey the highest law, that they may receive the highest glory that is ordained for all immortal beings. But God has given all His children an agency, to choose what law they will keep.” (Millennial Star, 20 Dec. 1886, p. 801.)

The following diagram illustrates the consequences of our choice to obey or to reject the laws given to us by God:

Consider the following:

D&C 130:20; 132:5. What is the condition for receiving any blessing from God?

D&C 132:11–12, 21–25. What is the only means by which we can attain the glory of God?

D&C 88:21–24. What will determine the glory we inherit in the hereafter?

D&C 88:34–35. By what means can we be sanctified? What may keep us from being sanctified?

(G-6) How Should One Respond to Law?

The Lord has often instructed His people to learn His laws and teach them to others so that all may be edified and obtain the blessings that obedience to His laws generates (see D&C 42:12–13; 93:53; 107:99–100). Those who are His disciples will receive His laws and obey them (see D&C 41:5; 42:2). They will also obey the laws of the land in which they live (see D&C 58:21–22; 98:4–7; 134:5–6).

The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that “happiness is the object and design of our existence; and will be the end thereof, if we pursue the path that leads to it; and this path is virtue, uprightness, faithfulness, holiness, and keeping all the commandments of God” (Teachings, pp. 255–56). President Brigham Young reaffirmed this teaching when he said, “Great peace have they who love the law of the Lord and abide in his commandments” (Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 223).

The Doctrine and Covenants teaches that the Latter-day Saints have a particular responsibility to live their lives according to the principles of righteousness, for they live in the dispensation of the fulness of times in which God has restored and brought together the keys, power, and knowledge of all dispensations (see D&C 27:12–13; 128:18). “Every key, power, and authority ever dispensed from heaven to men on earth, which is necessary for their eternal salvation, has already been restored in this dispensation” (McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, p. 200). The Latter-day Saints are the recipients of those great blessings, and the Lord has said that where “much is given much is required” (D&C 82:3).

Elder George Albert Smith explained the nature of the responsibility that falls on the Latter-day Saints as a result of what they have been given: “We will not be judged as our brothers and sisters of the world are judged, but according to the greater opportunities placed in our keeping. We will be among those who have received the word of the Lord, who have heard His sayings, and if we do them it will be to us eternal life, but if we fail condemnation will result.” (In Conference Report, Oct. 1906, p. 47.)

The psalmist wrote, “O how love I thy law!” (Psalm 119:97). Is that a feeling you share, or do you sometimes feel resentful toward the laws of God? One of Satan’s most successful lies is that the commandments of God are restrictive and limiting. “If you would really be free,” he urges, “cut yourself loose from such restraints. Be free! Be independent!” The deception lies in denying the eternal principle that only obedience to law secures the blessings guaranteed by law (see D&C 130:20–21). Disobedience to law necessitates penalties, which are ordained by a loving Father to purge the souls of His children of what hinders their progression. When individuals are so purged, they can obtain as much happiness as they are willing to live for, according to the law they become capable of living (see D&C 88:21–24).

God’s word is law, and, like the rod of iron in Lehi’s dream (1 Nephi 8:4–35; 11:25), it is an anchor in a world of darkness. By clinging to it we are saved from misery and woe and can obtain all good things, the greatest of which is eternal life. Jesus taught, “If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:31–32).

Of the freedom that comes from obedience, Elder Boyd K. Packer said: “Obedience—that which God will never take by force—he will accept when freely given. And he will then return to you freedom that you can hardly dream of—the freedom to feel and to know, the freedom to do, and the freedom to be, at least a thousandfold more than we offer him. …

“… Obedience is a key to agency, … obedience is the doorway to freedom.” (Obedience, Brigham Young University Speeches of the Year [Provo, 7 Dec. 1971], pp. 4, 6.)

The Savior taught the relationship between obedience and true freedom (see John 8:31–32). That process could be diagrammed as follows:

If we continue in His word (obedience)

we become disciples

who are given the truth

which makes us free

Truth is the key to freedom, discipleship is the key to truth, and obedience is the key to discipleship.

Elder Spencer W. Kimball said of those who scoff at this truth:

“To obey! To hearken! What a difficult requirement! Often we hear: ‘Nobody can tell me what clothes to wear, what I shall eat or drink. No one can outline my Sabbaths, appropriate my earnings, nor in any way limit my personal freedoms! I do as I please! I give no blind obedience!

“Blind obedience! How little they understand! …

“When men speak of all faith and all obedience as blind, are they not covering their own weaknesses? Are they not seeking an alibi to justify their own failure to hearken?

“A man obeys strictly the income tax law and pays fully and before due date his property taxes but justifies himself in disregarding the law of the Sabbath or the payment of tithes on time, if at all. In the one case he may suffer only deprivation of freedom or resources or lose his home or personal property, but in the other he opens doors to the loss of a soul. The spiritual as truly brings penalties as the temporal, the principal difference is the swiftness of punishment, the Lord being so long-suffering.

“One would hardly call the first blind obedience, yet he sometimes regards the spiritual commands as such.

“Is it blind obedience when the student pays his tuition, reads his text assignments, attends classes, and thus qualifies for his eventual degrees? Perhaps he himself might set different and easier standards for graduation, but he obeys every requirement of the catalog whether or not he understands its total implication.

“Is it blind obedience when one regards the sign ‘High Voltage—Keep Away’ or is it the obedience of faith in the judgment of experts who know the hazard?

“Is it blind obedience when the air traveler fastens his seat belt as that sign flashes or is it confidence in the experience and wisdom of those who know more of hazards and dangers?

“Is it blind obedience when the little child gleefully jumps from the table into the strong arms of its smiling father, or is this implicit trust in a loving parent who feels sure of his catch and who loves the child better than life itself?

“Is it blind obedience when an afflicted one takes vile-tasting medicine prescribed by his physician or yields his own precious body to the scalpel of the surgeon or is this the obedience of faith in one in whom confidence may safely be imposed? …

“Is it then blind obedience when we, with our limited vision, elementary knowledge, selfish desires, ulterior motives, and carnal urges, accept and follow the guidance and obey the commands of our loving Father who begot us, created a world for us, loves us, and has planned a constructive program for us, wholly without ulterior motive, whose greatest joy and glory is to ‘bring to pass the immortality and eternal life’ of all his children?” (In Conference Report, Oct. 1954, pp. 51–53.)

(G-7) Summary

All scriptures teach the value of law and the blessings that derive from obedience to it, but especially in the Doctrine and Covenants are the Saints taught the nature, purpose, and source of law. Knowing that in the last days law would come under attack from the world, the Lord revealed the benefits of law. He taught that through obedience to His laws His children are freed from sin, weakness, darkness, and despair; they obtain power over all their enemies and gain power to lay hold of every righteous desire of their hearts. They become free of every encumbrance that holds them back or binds them down. Thus, having become free and independent, and having the ability to live in accordance to all of God’s laws, the obedient children of God have the powers of the universe at their disposal to use in obtaining a fulness of joy, which will endure forever and ever.