The following quotes are from Hugh Nibley’s Approaching Zion volume, and were compiled by Chad Merrill. I am grateful that he shared them with me, and gave me permission to share them with you. They are great quotes from that singular book, one of my favorites of all time, and one which I am currently re-reading for the nth time.
In these quotes, Nibley is highly critical of his fellow Latter-day Saints, in our love of wealth and covetousness, lack of living the law of consecration (and our apparent confusion of it), our quibbling over free lunch, lack of faith in the Almighty, and our misunderstanding the purposes of life. “Zion cannot be built up unless it is by the principles of the law of the celestial kingdom; otherwise I cannot receive her unto myself” (D&C 105:5). Do we truly believe the Lord? What’s our progress report? Please share your thoughts in the comments.
- They should entertain no preoccupations with acquiring the goods of this world. Rather they should attend to their prayers, ask for forgiveness before the Lord, and seek the Lord’s protection from temptation; Guide your steps aright that you may do something. Don’t you try to fill your own dish; to attempt to do so is to partake of the spirit of Babylon. If the Lord wishes an individual to have more than a sufficiency for the basic needs, he will so provide “And having food and raiment let us be therewith content”; the sole justification for “seeking” any surplus is to bless the poor, whose presence among us is, as it were, a test of our commitment.
- Nibley’s comments are not to be misconstrued as a call to reinstate formally the law of consecration. Nibley explains that it does remain the privilege of individuals to live the law in their personal lives, as they so covenant regularly in the temple- to seek first the kingdom of God, and to share freely one’s various resources with those who may have less.
- When many of his audience and readers for years pressed him to explain what kind of “work” he was talking about (they had difficulty conceiving of work that did not produce material benefit), he simply rehearsed what Brigham Young had so often exhorted: repent, forgive, say your prayers, study the word of God, and in general do the work of the kingdom.
- It is possible for a powerful mind to have joy amidst vile surroundings, but it can have greater joy in pleasant surroundings. There are degrees of joy, and God wants our joy to be full, that is, with every possible factor contributing.
- If we all labor a few hours a day, we could then spend the remainder of our time in rest and the improvement of our minds. That is the real work we are called to do and the real wealth we are to accumulate individually. Work less, wear less, eat less, and we shall be a great deal wiser, healthier, and wealthier people than by taking the course we do now.
- If we lust for the riches of the world, and spare no pains [hard work] to obtain and retain them, and feel ‘these are mine,’ then the spirit of the anti-Christ comes upon us. This is the danger we are in. Admirable and indispensable in themselves, hard work, ingenuity, and enterprise become an evil when they are misdirected, meaning directed to personal aggrandizement.
- There are men in this community who, through the force of the education they have received from their parents and friends [i.e., this is an established ethic among us], would cheat a poor widow out of her last cow, and then go down upon their knees and thank God for the good fortune he had sent them and for his kind providences that enabled them to obtain a cow without becoming amenable to any law of the land, though the poor widow has been actually cheated. Here, please note, the defense of immorality is legality; if it is legal, all is well, even though the law has been contrived under pressure of interest groups.
- Elders of Israel are greedy after the things of this world. If you ask them if they are ready to build up the kingdom of God, their answer is prompt—“Why, to be sure we are, with our whole souls; but we want first to get so much gold, speculate and get rich, and then we can help the church considerably. We will go to California and get gold, go and buy goods and get rich, trade with emigrants, build a mill, make a farm, get a large herd of cattle, and then we can do a great deal for Israel.” I have heard this many times from friends and relatives, but it is hokum. What they are saying is, “If God will give me a million dollars, I will let him have a generous cut of it.” And so they pray and speculate and expect the Lord to come through for them. He won’t do it: “And again, I command thee that thou shalt not covet thine own property” (D&C 19:26). “Let them repent of all their sins, and of all their covetous desires, before me, saith the Lord; for what is property unto me? Saith the Lord” (D&C 117:4). He does not need our property or our help.
- Our search for knowledge should be ceaseless, which means that it is open-ended, never resting on laurels, degrees, or past achievements. If we get puffed up by thinking that we have much knowledge, we are apt to get a contentious spirit.
- The Lord won’t let you starve. Satan puts that fear into us, which is the opposite of Faith.
- The point is that we cannot choose both ways. They go in opposite directions – man simply cannot serve both God and mammon, the Lord said, and mammon is simply the Hebrew word (both ancient and modern) for dealing in money. So the first commandment given to the Church was “Seek not for riches but for wisdom” (D&C 6:7) – making it perfectly clear that they are mutually exclusive.
- Another question we should never ask is “Should I seek after riches?” For if there is any point on which the Book of Mormon is fiercely emphatic, it is that no one should ever set his heart upon riches.
- What good is all the wealth in the world if one must live in a sewer to get and keep it?
- Tithing is merely a substitute – a very different thing; once we start making concessions and explanations, the whole thing becomes a farce. If business expenses and necessities are deducted from tithable income, nothing is left. God takes a serious view of any attempt to cut corners: he struck Ananias and his wife dead not for failure to pay anything, but for “holding back” part of what they should have paid (Acts 5:2, 5, 10).
- From all of this it would appear that the one thing God will not tolerate in his children is that meanness of spirit which would take advantage of his other children and even of him. “Thou shalt not sacrifice unto the Lord any bullock, or sheep with any blemish of fault whatever or any evil-favoredness: for that is an abomination unto the Lord thy God” (Deuteronomy 17:1). Why? Because it is cheap, it is mean, the equivalent of shaving one’s tithing or underestimating one’s fast offering. As Isaiah reminds Israel, God does not need your offering, it is you he is testing. He does not ask us to get rich so that we can help him; as Brigham Young said so often, God has put these things into our hands so that we can show him and all the world and ourselves how we will handle them and what we will do with them. It is meanness of spirit that will disqualify us before everything else for a celestial assignment.
- On the subject of dress and appearance the same rule holds as for lunch – sufficient covering is necessary, but don’t go beyond that. If you cannot add a cubit to your stature, don’t try to add other splendors to your person that it does not possess: forget the obsession with an impressive appearance that goes with aspiring to the executive lunch (“dressing for success”); simply appear as what you are, and don’t fuss so much about it (Matthew 6:27–30). “Therefore,” he says again, “take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? Or, what shall we drink? Or Wherewithal shall we be clothed?” (Matthew6:31). The Gentiles spend their time going after these things – but you are not Gentiles.
- “Having food and raiment,” says Paul to Timothy, “let us be therewith content” (1 Timothy 6:8). We must have sufficient for our needs in life’s journey, but to go after more is forbidden, though you have your God-given free agency to do so. “Our real wants are very limited,” says Brigham; “When you have what you wish to eat and sufficient clothing to make you comfortable you have all that you need; I have all that I need.” How many people need to eat two lunches a day? We all eat too much, wear too much, and work too much. Brigham says if we all “work less, wear less, eat less, we shall be a great deal wiser, healthier, and wealthier people than by taking the course we now do.
- The thing to note here especially is that no one can evade the law of consecration on the grounds that it is not clear; still less are we free to give it our own “clarification,” identifying consecration with tithing, gifts to the Church, and so on.