Feast upon the Word Blog

A blog focused on LDS scriptures and teaching

Trust in the Lord

Posted by BrianJ on January 8, 2008

This is a guest post by NathanG

I’ve been thinking about putting trust in God and how that fits with following God. The first scripture to come to mind is Proverbs 3:5-6:

5 Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.
6 In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.

Is this at odds with D&C 58:26-28?

26 For behold, it is not meet that I should command in all things; for he that is compelled in all things, the same is a slothful and not a wise servant; wherefore he receiveth no reward.
27 Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness;
28 For the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves. And inasmuch as men do good they shall in nowise lose their reward.

These scriptures may not really be at odds with each other, but I think the casual interpretation often used is at odds. For the sake of this discussion, how much of what I do/know/understand should come from God, and how much should come from personal effort? Here’s a few areas of life that the balance might be viewed differently.

Sin and repentance: It seems that while there are requirements for us regarding repentance, we need to fully trust in Christ and the atonement to receive forgiveness of sins. He is the only way by which we can be forgiven. When we try to repent without complete trust in Christ, it becomes a frustrating endeavor.

Gospel knowledge: What does trusting in the Lord mean in relation to our approach to the scriptures? Is it trusting in the Lord to simply read the scriptures and whatever God wants you to understand, he’ll let you know? Is it trusting in the Lord to design a course of study to look for certain answers or patterns in the scriptures? Is it trusting in the Lord to depend on sources outside of the scriptures for our understanding of the scriptures?

With regard to our gospel knowledge I would not dare say that one way should be more esteemed than another, but I am curious about how people keep their study and knowledge in check so that they are not leaning too much on their own understanding, or the understanding of men.

Physical dangers/illness: Is it trusting in the Lord to ask in faith for God to deliver us from illness or dangers? Is it a lack of trust in the Lord if we devise a way for our deliverance or if we seek medical help for illness? For deliverance is there something inherently better about the way Alma and his people escaped the oppression of the Lamanites/priests of Noah as opposed to King Limhi’s people and Gideon’s plan? We could also rehash our debate on war in the context of trust in the Lord (although that is not my intent at all).

Decisions on life: Who should I marry? How many children should I have? When should I have children? What career should I choose? Where should I live? This topic seems to get a lot of attention in conference and devotional addresses. I mention this only because for me, this seems to reflect or possibly establish how I approach the other aspects I’ve mentioned.

Obedience to the commandments: When I thought of this I began thinking of the way that Nephi and his brothers attempted to obtain the brass plates. Should we read the first two attempts to obtain the brass plates as a failure to trust in the Lord (because they were unsuccessful in obtaining the plates)? Should they be condemned for trying to figure out how to get the plates on their own? Or do we assume each attempt was being made with a similar trust in the Lord? Were they doing well in trying to figure out how to obey this command to obtain the plates? Was it necessary for them to have their first two failed attempts (including Laban’s crimes against the brothers) for Nephi to be willing to do what God was going to command Nephi?

What are your thoughts? Particularly, how should we read the first attempts of Nephi and his brothers to obtain the brass plates? Is there a better way to look at the subject altogether? If so, I’m personally more interested in how to establish more trust in God than I am in how to become more of an agent unto myself.

(Thanks again to NathanG for contributing this guest post.)

18 Responses to “Trust in the Lord”

  1. Rick said

    Your post deserves more than I can devote to it tonight, but here is a link to Elder McConkie’s BYU talk about this topic: http://speeches.byu.edu/?act=viewitem&id=616. Also, for perspective, I would like to point out that in verse 25, the Lord says: “Wherefore, let them bring their families to this land, as they shall counsel between themselves and me.” I view these verses as creating a contrast between “counseling with the Lord” vs. “being compelled” or “being commanded.” My take is that the Lord wants to counsel with us about important decisions, but tires of compelling or commanding his children like a bunch of unruly deacons. I know that can wear me out.

  2. I think that most everything in the gospel is a shared or joint venture between God and man. When it comes to repentance God provides the ability to forgive sins, and we must choose to repent, and continue in obedience afterward. When it comes to gospel knowledge, God provides the scriptures, prophets, the spirit, etc., and we must seek to learn and understand what he has provided. It goes on and on like that.

    Seek and ye shall find, ask and it shall be given, knock and it shall be opened up to you. (Or something to that affect).

  3. Joe Spencer said

    I think a great deal more attention ought to be given to the story of 1 Nephi 3-4 (which I’ve just reread with my daughter these past two days). I deal with it in my book in a little detail, but I don’t think it is quite appropriate just to read the first two attempts as somehow “salvation by works” over against the third attempt as somehow “salvation by grace.” It seems to me that there is a great deal more going on there than just that, something that must begin to be riddled out with reference to the overarching theme of “commandments” running through those two chapters (and chapters 2 and 5 as well).

    But to get more directly at the apparent tension between some kind of deterministic gospel masochism and some kind of capitalistic gospel entrepreneurship (my apologies for that way of summing things up, Nathan: I don’t mean it as a criticism of you, but as a clarification of what is at stake :) ): it is primarily because this tension can all too easily be made into a kind of opposition of caricatured extremes (usually passing under the names of “grace” and “works”) that I find the work of Jean-Luc Marion helpful, especially his concept of the icon. For Marion, the icon is “the visible mirror of the invisible,” the physical manifestation of the spiritual, and hence it is an intertwining or even a chiasm of sorts: it is neither masochism nor entrepreneurship, but the grace that sets us to work, the work that fills us with grace, etc. And I’m sure I said that in a way no one will follow… Robert?

  4. NathanG said

    Your post made sense…the second time through. I have no problem with how you summarized the post. I actually want to hear how people get past the tension caused from a casual glance at the scriptures that I used, but want to abandon for something more satisfying. Since grace and works has been discussed extensively before, can you describe how “trust in the Lord” and “agents unto themselves” should be read in relation to each other. I think each passage has a great lesson with more careful thought.

    I’m really interested to hear some thoughts on 1 Nephi 3-4, particularly about what we should make of the first two attempts to get the plates.

  5. Joe Spencer said

    Just a few brief words tonight before the kids are out of the bath and I’m on reading duty.

    I think the key to thinking this tension as a tension rather than some kind of absolute opposition is partially in rethinking the nature of agency. To be an agent, if we stop thinking about Mormon theology for a second, is not to be some kind of absolute self, but to be a commissioned subject. That is, the agent (a real estate agent, for example) is someone who is commissioned to do a particular task and is thus bound to a particular commissioner, but who is at the same time free to go about accomplishing that task in whatever way seems appropriate within the set boundaries. The agency of the agent is precisely the freedom the latter can employ in accomplishing the assigned task (a real estate agent is relatively free to go about selling whatever houses in whatever way seems most appropriate to the situation, but the agent always has the task of selling houses).

    This kind of agency is, it seems to me, being described in the passage from D&C 58: they are “agents unto themselves” precisely because “the power”—which, I would assume, does not issue from them but from God to them—“is in them.” That is, they are made agents precisely by the power that is in them: by grace. Hence, their agency—even as it makes them responsible to themselves—is a consequence or effect of grace. This is evident in D&C 29 as well, where we are told that agency is a gift, that God gives unto man to be an agent unto himself.

    In light of all of this, I would say that agency is, first and foremost, a function of trust in the Lord. Paul especially is clear that the natural man, the person who lives without or outside of grace, is a kind of automaton, someone without power or ability, even to decide. Without the enabling grace of God, one becomes, strictly speaking, a kind of robot, entirely given to the mercy (a mercy far less merciful than the grace of Christ!) of one’s neurotic position (“natural” in “natural man” is a translation of the Greek psychikos, literally, “psychical” or “of or pertaining to the psyche”… could it be that Freud was on to something?). Where the Spirit does not give us agency, does not make us agents to God, we are swept up into the unrelenting flow of a deterministic universe, are left as quasi-primate intelligences on a pale blue dot.

    And on and on…

    Now, about 1 Nephi 3-4… I do really have quite a bit to say, but I’ll be brief. The story begins in 1 Nephi 2:19-24, the revelation to Nephi in his second prayer, this one concerning Laman and Lemuel. The revelation amounts to the instantiation of a uniquely Lehite covenant, what I call in my book the “Lehitic” covenant. Two elements of it are unmistakable in this first revelation but completely foreign to Nephi’s understanding: “commandments” (which was ambiguous at best) and “seed” (without wives and without word that they might ever go back for wives, this would have sounded strange at the very least). Each of the two trips to Jerusalem is given to one of these two undefined terms, the first to “commandments” and the second to “seed.”

    The first journey back, then, turns on the use of this word “commandment.” I highly recommend a re-reading of chapters 3-5, marking every instance of the word “command” in any form. It is clearly the entire thematic. What especially unfolds over the course of the three chapters is a process of redefinition or at least clarification. This begins with Nephi’s obviously unthinking assumption that “commandments” just means whatever immediate instruction might come from the Lord (evidently at play in the discussion with his father at the opening of chapter 3: notice how Lehi’s three mentions of the word are matched by Nephi’s rejoining three mentions of the same… this is a textual marker of their mutual understanding about this point… also note how this is connected with the covenant as given in chapter 2: Nephi would have understood the “commandment” to return as a sort of prerequisite for being able to be led to the promised land, etc., etc., etc.). When the first attempt fails, notice how Nephi’s little speech turns on the word “commandment,” even when it is clear that his mentioning it would not at all mean anything to his brothers. Though these passages are often read as the nagging voice of a self-righteous younger brother, it seems more important to me to recognize the rambling ruminations of someone wondering at the covenant and its meaning. The first attempt is thus a sign of Nephi’s first understanding: uncritical and assuming, it runs aground.

    The little discourse of Nephi in response to the failure of the first attempt, then, is Nephi’s first attempt to rearticulate or rethink the “commandments” referenced in the covenant. He seems still to understand it uncritically, but his relation to it changes drastically: he now binds himself to the uncritically regarded commandment with an oath (a rather serious one, as Hugh Nibley discusses here and there). The seriousness of the oath cannot be separated from Nephi’s plan to retrieve Lehi’s wealth: Nephi not only asserts that the riches were left behind precisely because Lehi was obedient to the commandments, but he also establishes the possibility of undertaking such a rash plan (the rashness of the plan underscores the uncritical approach he has to the commandments).

    The response to the second failure is again of signal importance: Laman and Lemuel’s violence is probably best understood in relation to the oath (the unknown death of Sam and Nephi would, at least as far as the law would be concerned, free them from the oath), which summons the angel who never mentions commandments; but Nephi goes on immediately to call on his favorite word. Nephi’s relation to “commandments” again changes though his interpretation remains fundamentally uncritical. The constant raising of the stakes (calling for a higher bid each time) is thus doubly generated, in my opinion: (1) it is the consequence of Nephi’s shifting relation to the “commandments” he uncritically assumes as referenced; (2) it is the consequence of the Lord’s guiding events in such a way that Nephi will finally come to a crisis, to a point where he will finally regard the “commandments” critically enough that he will come to understand the reference.

    Nephi thus finds himself heading into Jerusalem alone, propelled by the same uncritical definition of the commandments but with the most radical fidelity yet to their accomplishment (notice how the three attempts match up with the three “commandments” of Lehi/Nephi in the first part of chapter 3). It is as he wrestles with the Spirit over the body of Laban that Nephi finally comes to his crisis: he comes there and only there to recognize what is meant by “commandments.” The shift comes precisely when he remembers the words spoken to him in chapter 2, that is, when he remembers the words of the covenant, which he cites with their emphasis on the commandments that must be kept. Finally, he works all the way through the “logic” and comes to see the meaning of commandments. And so he kills Laban.

    The word then appears in a series of confirmations: with Zoram, with Sariah and Lehi, and finally with a matching up again (in a perfect echo of the opening sequence of chapter 3) of Lehi and Nephi: “And it came to pass that thus far I and my father had kept the commandments wherewith the Lord had commanded us” (1 Nephi 5:20). That brings the first journey to its completion and opens onto the second journey, which clarifies the place and meaning of “seed.”

    There is far more to say about both of these subjects, but I’ve got kids dancing around me with books in their hands!

  6. Joe Spencer said

    Did I say “a few brief words”? :)

  7. brianj said

    Joe – a lot to think about.

    “Where the Spirit does not give us agency, does not make us agents to God, we are swept up into the unrelenting flow of a deterministic universe”

    But D&C says “agents unto themselves,” not “agents to God.” Please explain.

    “without wives and without word that they might ever go back for wives, this would have sounded strange at the very least”

    Maybe, but let’s assume that Lehi’s sons were relatively young-ish — meaning, in their 20s at most, not a bunch of 50-yr old bachelors. To talk about “wives” and “seed” in future terms wouldn’t have seemed strange at all, but sound like something every boy assumes he will have someday. I would expect Lehi and sons to think to themselves, “We’ll certainly not marry any girl from Jerusalem, but there are plenty of girls in cities near the wilderness, beduins, maybe even an Egyptian girl.” In other words, they went out into the wilderness, not to some distant planet.

    And I’m thinking about your “commandments” exposition. Not sure if I understand you yet.

  8. Robert C. said

    Sorry I don’t have time to try and give a precis or summary of my understanding of what Joe is trying to say, but I will say that these are issues I’ve been thinking about quite a bit lately. A couple further thoughts to add:

    1. I’ve been studying up on the similarities and differences in the two covenants given in Genesis 15 and 17, and some scholars match this up with the two promises concerning land and seed, respectively. So Joe’s taking up the dual theme of commandments and seed seems quite interesting in that light—not that “commandments” and “land” are obviously related, but the commandments Nephi is talking about seem to involve spatial movement (following the exodus pattern in scripture) which might then be taken as being contrasted (or at least juxtaposed) with the seed motif. Hmmm….

    2. John Milbank tries to articulate a notion of gift exchange that is situated between a notion of unilateral gift, where there is absolutely nothing expected in return (a view that Milbank attributes to Marion), and a notion of contract which reduces all covenants, interactions, relations, etc. to a purely economic, immediately-reciprocal type of relation. I think Milbank’s idea might provide a very fruitful way of thinking about this tension that Nathan is articulating. Milbank draws a lot on Aquinas’s notion of participation (the neoPlatonic notion that Iamblichus and Proclus advocate, not Plotinus’s version…), which seems quite similar to Joe’s discussion of agency—that is, it is God’s spirit acting in/through us that is our agency, not some autonomous, independent will of our own that can be conceived us as being separate from God’s Spirit (or the light of Christ a la D&C 88)….

  9. Joe Spencer said

    Brian: First, I’m not sure whether I meant “agents to God” or “agents unto themselves,” but a major point of what I’m saying is that the distinction between these may not be scriptural. Second, I think your interpretation of the boys’ reaction to talk of seed is as legitimate as mine; we simply know very little about the situation. Nonetheless, I think it holds that “seed” was as yet undefined in at least the sense that Nephi had no idea how it was going to come about, and the second journey to Jerusalem functions to sort out that problem for him.

    Robert: First, take a look at the wording in 1 Nephi 2 and you’ll find how closely connected the “commandments” business is with “land”: keeping commandments leads to prospering in the land, as it will throughout the remainder of the text. Second, I think this is a helpful way of articulating these issues, and it makes me want to get more seriously into some of what you’ve provided me by Milbank.

  10. brianj said

    Joe – I’m being nit-picky here, but…. To say that Nephi “had no idea” how he would have seed is a bit extreme. My point was that he may well have had lots of “ideas”—much the same way as the boys you teach in seminary have lots of ideas about how they will each find a wife.

    There is a reason I think it might actually matter (a tiny bit): Nephi is not having an “Abrahamic moment” here. No, I’m not referring to the test of Abraham with Isaac, but rather to that first major test of Abraham’s faith that brought about the Abrahamic covenant: when the Lord made the completely absurd promise that Abraham and Sarah would have a child. Such a promise required an enormous leap of faith on Abraham’s part, and we could more confidently state that Abraham had “no idea” how this could possibly take place, whereas in Nephi’s case it only required a rethinking about how he might find a wife. That the second trip clarified the promise (as you point out) I agree with.

    As to the distinction between “agents to God” or “agents unto themselves,” I think this is worth more discussion, even a separate post. I may try to get something up on that topic in the next week. I’m just not ready to give up a distinction between the two terms, which means that D&C’s use of the latter seems quite conspicuous to me.

  11. NathanG said

    Enjoying the ongoing discussion.

    I liked Joe’s comment #5 “I would say that agency is, first and foremost, a function of trust in the Lord.”

    Here’s a bit of what some of my thoughts are. First, in Proverbs I have often thought about the trust in the Lord portion, but why does it follow to “lean not unto thine own understanding”. The counsel to lean not unto my understanding seems to imply that my understanding is contrary to God’s understanding. (Lean could be suggesting using something as a support, or a direction that I’m pointing) Isaiah 55:8-9 supports this idea that God’s thoughts are not my thoughts and his ways are higher than my ways. However, in the prior verse (7) he is calling the wicked to repentance, so maybe this is passage is not meant to imply that his thoughts will always be different than my thoughts. I have the obligation to trust in the Lord with all my heart that my thoughts and ways will become the same as his thoughts and ways.

    After our thoughts are in harmony with God’s thoughts, we can then begin bringing about many works of righteousness without needing to be commanded, because we will understand what is righteous.

    I thought of a paraphrase of a well-known verse to sum up my thought. But before ye seek to be an agent unto yourself, seek ye first to trust in the Lord with all thine heart, and then after ye have obtained the will of God (or maybe the grace of God) then ye shal be an agent unto yourself, for ye will do so in order to bring about great works of righteousness.

  12. NathanG said

    Rick’s comment #1 led me to read more of D&C 58.

    D&C 58 was given just after people had arrived in Independence and they were eager to know the will of the Lord concerning them. There is a variety of counsel given in this section. Interestingly, the verses just previous to this dealt with Edward Partridge and his calling as a judge in Israel. In this situation the counsel is to let God rule the judge and let the judge make judgement according to God’s will. No man is to suppose that he is called to be a ruler over others. A few verses later we get the counsel about the families coming together and that they should counsel amongst themselves and be anxiously engaged, etc. So it seems that while God doesn’t want us to be commanded in all things, there are situations where we should not be acting without command, particularly in judging others.

    I reread Moroni 7 the other morning and got stuck thinking about the counsel on how to judge in the first 20 verses. Mormon suggests that an evil man can’t do that which is good, but then says if an evil man gives a gift (which seems like a good action) or if he prays (also seems like a good action) it is not counted to him for righteousness (think of righteousness in D&C 58 as well) because he will not do it with real intent. It seems the action itself is not sufficient to decide if it is righteous or evil, but rather the intent of our hearts and whether it leads to Christ or towards the devil. He then says the way to judge is as clear as night and day, through the light of Christ, but concludes suggesting we must be diligent in the light of Christ in order to judge (because it might just be hard to remember to continually live by the light of Christ).

    Here we have a description of how to judge, but since the intent of our hearts seems to key (at least in certain actions, you couldn’t suggest a willful breaking of the commandments is good because my heart was good), it should be easy to judge our own actions because we should understand our own desires, particularly if we try to understand our desires in relation to Christ. (And we had better not judge our evil actions to be good and our good actions to be evil.) On the other hand, it becomes near impossible to judge another person because we don’t understand the intent of their heart. We may suppose we do, but without the information given from God, the judgement will probably be off the mark. Thus, the person called to be a judge in Israel needs to depend completely upon Gods judgement and not lean to his own understanding.

    Finally, back to bringing about many works of righteousness and being an agent unto our own selves, it seems to only work properly when the intent of our hearts is proper. In order to have a proper intent we need to obtain the will of God, beginning with trust in him, and not our own understanding.

    I think a model of this principe is Nephi (of Helaman fame) as he obtained the sealing power. He was given the power to do whatever he wanted, because God knew he would only do according to God’s will.

  13. NathanG said

    Last post for now. I’m enjoying the discussion of Nephi and the early commandments given him. Don’t have much to add right now, but I hope it keeps going.

    I wonder if anyone has thoughts the question I asked under the heading of Gospel Knowledge. What do people do as they seek knowledge to ensure they are not getting far off the beaten path of what is true. It seems there is a lot of “revealed” doctrine and a lot of “doctrinal commentary” that even the general authorities don’t put forth as doctrine of the church. As we try to put our own conceptual frameworks of the gosepl together, what do we have to protect us from similar “doctrinal commentary” that is actually going to lead us to apostasy rather than keep us firm in the faith? Do we rely on the “doctrinal commentary” that the general authorities make when they freely acknowledge that they are not making a doctrinal statement for the church. And then we add in all the additional commentary from those other than the general authorities…

  14. Joe Spencer said

    Brian, I now see where you were headed with your comments on Nephi’s future marriage, and I wholeheartedly agree (I did not intend to make my “no idea” sound so radical as the Abrahamic experience with seed!). I anticipate a future post on the question of agency.

    Nathan, much to think about here. Most especially do I think you are right to begin mining D&C 58 for a clearer sense of the context (though I think far more work remains to be done, no?). So far as Moroni 7 is concerned, isn’t the judging under discussion there not a judging of actions (in the perhaps negative sense of judgment) but a judging of messages or messengers (in the perhaps positive sense of judgment)? That is, it seems to me that Mormon is teaching his people how to critically evaluate whether something or someone is a true message/messenger. That, I think, is at some distance from the meaning of judgment in D&C 58.

    In fact, a further word on the bishop as judge: there are three different meanings of this equation between the bishop and the judge in the D&C, only one of which we tend to speak of as Latter-day Saints. First, the bishop is a judge in the sense of the Book of Judges: his task is to divide up inheritances in the promised land and to arbitrate any differences that arise among the elect. Second, the bishop is to discern which gifts of the Spirit are had by the various saints so as to keep imposters or false messengers from causing problems. Third, the bishop, as presiding high priest, has the task of dealing with sinners and the repentant. It should be noted that Edward Partridge—perhaps the bishop in Zion in all senses—never played/plays this third role, only the first two.

    As to your final question here… I’ll have to do some thinking…

  15. Robert C. said

    Nathan, great thoughts—esp. in #12.

    BrianJ, your comments in #10 have got me thinking about this in a new way (new to me, at least). As I’ve mentioned before, I was reading some essays on the so-called radical orthodoxy movement, esp. John Milbank’s writing on the difference between contractual, economic ways that we engage in exchange vs. the way we give gifts, or even tips and gratuities. What seems to be important for understanding being “agents unto [ourselves]” in D&C 58:28 is that we are not in a merely contractual relation with God, but there is a certain kind of excess or generosity (“liberality” is another term Milbank uses) or “gap” between what God asks or expects of us and what we are to do. It’s not like we simply obey exact instructions that God gives us, as though obedience were analogous to the way in which we pay the grocer the named price for a loaf of bread.

    Or, as this is put elsewhere in scripture, we are not called to be merely slaves to God, but to be adopted sons (and daughters). And one of the ways in which a son differed (historically) from a slave is in this ability to act in the name of the father without being given specific orders from the father (I’m thinking of the rather specific instructions that Abraham gave his servant in Genesis 24 for finding Isaac’s future wife…). So, it seems that one of the important distinctions between a son and a slave is this ability to act with a certain degree of creativity (or “agency” we might say). What’s more, I think it’s interesting that the very first thing we read about in Genesis is God creating the world. To be sons, then, suggests that we too will have the kind of divine power to create that we see God having. All of this seems to suggest a very interesting way to think about the relationship between Priesthood power—acting with a certain degree of creativity in the Father’s name—with this notion of being “agents unto [ourselves]”….

  16. brianj said

    Robert, 15 – well, there goes the need to create a separate post on the topic! Seriously, your comments are very interesting and helpful. If everyone can wait, I’ll pretty much copy those and a few other thoughts into a separate post next week. (Sorry to make you wait, but Matthew has been beating me with a rod all week to get my lesson notes up!)

  17. NathanG said

    I’m not seeing Mormon as teaching about messages or messengers. Any part of the text you see as pointing to that? After verse 20 he begins mentioning that angels had brought a message, but I can’t quite see the conclusion you made. At any rate, he illustrates his point on judgement with two specific actions (which are positive actions) giving gifts, and prayer.

    Never really knew or considered with Bishop Partridge sat in judgment of actions. Thanks for that point.

    Still curious about the answer to the other question.

  18. Joe Spencer said

    I’m taking the gifts/prayer business as illustrating the fruits-betray-source concept, not as illustrating the how to judge comment, which is related to but not to be identified with the former. That is, it is necessary to understand that the fruits you see someone/something bearing can apparently be taken as signs of whether that someone/something is good, and judgment is the process of recognizes true messengers/things. When Mormon gets to the angel theme of verse 20ff., this point becomes really, really clear, but it seems to me that this is the theme all the way through. In a sense, I think the discourse can be read as a kind of sermon on the temple: here is how to know whether a messenger is a true messenger or whether you are being tricked by the devil. As a discourse on faith (at this point: he gets to hope and charity later), this nicely follows in the tradition of, say, Alma 32, where faith is trust in messengers (try an experiment on my words, on me as a messenger, says Alma) that leads to a knowledge about the message (if the message bears fruit, the messenger ought to be trusted/followed; if not, elsewhere we go).

    Does that help?

    More soon on question number 2.

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