General Conference Prep, Day 1: Chosen Vessels and The Residue

If we teach by the Spirit and you listen by the Spirit, some one of us will touch on your circumstance, sending a personal prophetic epistle just to you.
— Jeffrey R. Holland, An Ensign to the Nations, April 2011

I have a goal this week of studying each day specifically in preparation for General Conference.  I  decided to begin by reviewing the doctrine of prophets and revelation. The doctrine of prophets and revelation are taught throughout the scriptures; indeed all scripture are a lesson on these two fundamentals. But my favorite description of God’s pattern of revealing truth through prophets is found in Moroni 7.

Moroni 7 is packed with doctrine and they’re all interrelated. If I can successfully slice a wedge of truth from the middle of the chapter: In verses 31, while talking about the ministry of angels, Moroni explains that to fulfill his covenants with us, God reveals the word of Christ to “Chosen vessels,” “That they may bear testimony of him.” Then in verse 32, we learn that through the testimony of the chosen vessels “the residue” are able to are able to exercise faith in Christ.

God’s prophets are the “chosen vessels.” The rest of us are "the residue.” We don’t need to take offense to being called residue. Webster’s 1828 Dictionary defines residue as: That which remains after a part is taken, separated, removed or designated. It just means that God calls prophets, to whom he reveals truth through various means, and the rest of us learn about God and his plan through their testimonies. I believe that each of us can be chosen vessels and residue depending on circumstance, and I understand the importance of personal revelation along with prophetic revelation, but those are a discussion for another day (although you might study Elder Oaks' talk Two Lines Of Communication if you want to head in that direction). 

Moroni gives names and a process to the problem described by Jacob earlier in the Book of Mormon: 

Behold, great and marvelous are the works of the Lord. How unsearchable are the depths of the mysteries of him; and it is impossible that man should find out all his ways. And no man knoweth of his ways save it be revealed unto him; wherefore, brethren, despise not the revelations of God.
— Jacob 4:8

In the beginning, this was Adam’s situation shortly after entering mortality when he obeyed the command to make sacrifices but didn’t know why. God resolved his ignorance by sending an angel to reveal truth about Christ to Adam. Suddenly, Adam became a chosen vessel. A prophet. He and Eve taught their children (the residue) the things they had learned. (see Moses 5:4-12 for the details). In latter times, this was Joseph’s situation when he was visited by the Father and the Son to learn that God’s church was not on the earth at the time. Again, a chosen vessel. There are other examples throughout the scriptures and the history of the church. here are a few:

Thus, two important truths:

  1. No man knoweth of God's ways save it be revealed unto him.” 
  2. God reveals gospel truth to chosen vessels, who pass the truth on to the residue

I’ve wondered why this is God’s pattern. Why can’t I learn the things of God some other way? It is especially common in in our day, when we have learned so much through scientific observation, to wonder why God can’t be found some other same way. I’ve thought a lot about this and I think there are good answers to that questions. To avoid getting too far off track, here’s a path you can wander in that direction:

I suspect God’s pattern of revealing truth is related to the first principle of the gospel, faith. Circling back to Moroni 7, Moroni adds to the long list of short phrases describing the purpose of life by asking in verse 20, "How is it possible that you can lay hold upon every good thing?” (By the way, I think laying hold upon every good thing is a beautiful way to describe the purpose of life). The answer, given in verses 21-25, is that through revelation we gain knowledge of Christ, with that knowledge we can begin to exercise faith in him, and through that faith we are able to "lay hold upon every good thing." 

What does all this have to do with General Conference? Simply:

  1. Listen to the chosen vessels
  2. Gain spiritual knowledge
  3. Exercise greater faith in Christ
  4. Lay hold upon every good thing

As usual, this is all on the fly as I read and ponder the scriptures. At one point I had so many thoughts and insights going in so many directions that I couldn’t keep up. There are some powerful doctrines, themes, and patterns to explore here. Please feel free to share what I may have missed or point out when I may be mistaken.