Essential Parley P. Pratt
Foreword by Peter L. Crawley
“The Fountain of Knowledge”
(from An Appeal to the Inhabitants of the State of New York, Letter to Queen Victoria, (Reprinted from the Tenth European Edition,) The Fountain of Knowledge; Immortality of the Body, and Intelligence and Affection [Nauvoo: John Taylor, Printer, 1840])
[p.97]Modern men have been traditionated to believe that a sacred book was the fountain of Divine knowledge; That the heights and depths, and lengths and breadths of heavenly intelligence is contained therein, and that the human mind must be limited and circumscribed thereby, so as never to receive one particle of knowledge except the small amount contained within its pages.
This cannot be correct, as we shall now proceed to demonstrate.
However sacred and true may be the principles contained in a book yet these principles were true before they were written; and each truth was revealed before it was written, consequently known before it was written; therefore it follows that all revealed knowledge was obtained without books and independent of them;—while on the other hand no sacred book could come into existence without the pre-existence of all the principles of revealed knowledge contained therein. It is therefore a self-evident fact, that sacred books are the productions of revealed knowledge, and revealed knowledge is not originally produced from books. Hence a book cannot be the fountain or source of knowledge; but is at best but a stream from the fountain.
Again all books written on perishable materials are liable to destruction; but the fountain of knowledge cannot be destroyed. And should all books be distroyed, all the knowledge contained in them would still exist, and man might derive the very same knowledge from the very same fountain from whence it emenated previous to its being written.
Again, all mankind have not had the use of letters, they have not been qualified to read books. Very many of them have lived in ages and in countries where a copy of the Bible could not be procured. The art of printing is a modern discovery; previous to this improvement every copy must needs be written in manuscript at a vast expense of time and labor, which placed them beyond the reach of the greater portion of community,not to mention the fact that even among the most enlightened portions of the earth the scriptures were prohibited by law from being [p.98]possessed and read by the common people. Where then was the source of divine knowledge to which these millions could come, and drink, and live; if not to the God of heaven who revealeth secrets? If the sacred books were the only source of divine knowledge, then salvation must have been very limited indeed.
Again, a sacred book could never be made to contain a millionth part of the knowledge which an intelligent being is capable of receiving and comprehending.
Let us contemplate for a moment the mind’s capacity, small indeed at first, but capable of infinite expansion, while a boundless field is extended on all sides, inviting enquiry and meditation.
O man! burst the chains of mortality which bind thee fast; unlock the prison of thy clay tenement which confines thee to this groveling, earthly sphere of action; and robed in immortality, wrapped in the visions of eternity, with organs of sight and thought and speech which cannot be impaired or weakened by time or use; soar with me amid unnumbered worlds which roll in majesty on high. Ascend the heights; descend the depths; explore the lengths and breadths of organized existence. Learn the present facts, the past history and future destiny, of things and beings: of God and his works; of the organizations of angels, of spirits, of men and animals: of worlds and their fullness; of thrones and dominions, principalities and powers. Learn what man was before this life and what he will be in worlds to come. Or seated high on a throne celestial, surrounded with the chaotic mass of unorganized existence; search out the origin of matter and of mind. Trace them through all the windings of their varied order, till purified and exalted all nature seeks a grand sublime repose and enters into rest, to change no more. Enter the sacred archives of the third heavens; hear with John the seven thunders speak, while forked lightnings flash around thy head; and trumps and voices loud proclaim the mysteries which are not lawful for man on earth to utter. And thus with knowledge stored, return to earth, and attempt to write all thou hast seen or heard or known of heaven and earth, of time and eternity, in a book.
You will then realize the truth of the language of the poet.
Could we with ink the ocean fill,
Was the whole earth of parchment made,
And every single stick a quill,
And every man a scribe by trade,
To write the love of God above,
Would drain the ocean dry,
Nor could the whole upon a scroll
[p.99]It is not then to a book, however true or sacred or useful it may be that we would point to as the fountain of knowledge; but rather to the great fountain of light and truth enthroned in the midst of the heavens; the revealer of secrets and the author of all the truths in existence, whether written or not.
Knowledge from this source can only be derived by means of direct revelation.
It is communicated unto man by means of the voice of Jehovah; by the ministry of angels; or by visions; and by dreams, as well as by the spirit of prophecy and revelation.
By these means the ancients received all their knowledge of things past, present, and to come, as well as all their knowledge of principles, doctrines and commandments, by which they pleased God, and by which they obtained promises and a hope of immortality and eternal life.
By this means an Enoch was translated, a Noah saved from the flood; an Abraham honored and feared among the nations; a Jacob delivered; a Joseph exhalted to a throne.
By this means a Moses burst the chains of a tyrant and made a nation free.
By this means a Joshua conquered; and a David excelled all the wise men of the east.
By this means Jesus Christ conquered death and hell and ascended to the throne of his father. By this means his apostles spread his gospel among the nations with such unparalleled success. And in short, by this means a Joseph in modern times has restored the fullness of the gospel; raised the church out of the wilderness; restored to them the faith once delivered to the saints; and caused them to escape the edge of the sword, to break off the fetters of iron, to burst the gloomy vaults of Missouri’s dungeons, to put to flight the armies of the aliens, and to confound all the deep laid plots of wicked priests and rulers which have been laid for their destruction.
By this means the Latter Day Saints have risen from obscurity, and after wading through seas of oppression; have obtained their chartered rights; have organized their councils, have commenced to rear their cities, and temples, have marshaled their legions and hurled defiance at the enemies of law and order, and have unfurled far on high the ensign of freedom: while the wisdom of their legislation and the power and purity of their doctrine have attracted the attention and won the admiration of millions at home and abroad, who are rallying to the standard; and thus the nucleus is formed for the universal dominion of freedom, peace and truth; and for the restoration of all things spoken by the prophets.
The gift of revelation is the key of knowledge. Without it we know [p.100]comparatively nothing, and with it we may know all things, even the deep things of God.
From the foregoing observations some persons may be disposed to take advantage of the prejudice of the present age, by asserting that we are opposed to the scriptures, or that we wish to throw them out of use, and to turn the minds of men from them, or at least from a just estimation of their value: But such is not the case.
The scriptures are sacred and true, and useful in their place. Although they are not the fountain of knowledge, nor do they contain all knowledge, yet they point to the fountain, and are every way calculated to encourage men to come to the fountain and seek to obtain the knowledge and gifts of God. For instance, who can read of a Noah saved from a flood, of an Abraham delivered from famine and war, of a Lot saved from the flames of Sodom, of a Joseph delivered from prison and exalted to a throne, of a Moses emancipating a nation, of a Samuel exalting and dethroning kings, of a David rising from obscurity and contending with the legalized opposition of thrones and dominions, till seated on the throne of nations he reigns triumphantly glorious, and transmits to his son a kingdom, and riches, and wisdom, and glory, and honor, and power, far more excellent than had before been known among men? Who can read of a Daniel arrayed in robes of royal state, to preside over presidents of provinces, to teach senators wisdom, to instruct and reprove kings of the earth, to penetrate with prophetic eye the distant future, and to point out with nice precision the rise and fall of kingdoms, states, and empires! Who can read of Zachariah and Elizabeth, of Joseph and Mary, of Anne and Simeon, of the Shepherds of the plains of Judah, of the wise men of the east, of John the Baptist and Nathaniel, of Jesus Christ and his Apostles, of Paul and the disciples, of Cornelius and Annanias, of the churches of Rome, of Corinth, and of Ephesus, of John on the Isle of Patmus, and the seven churches of Asia, of Jew and Gentile; in short of all the people of God, under all dispensations and circumstances, whether patriarchal, Mosaic or Christian; who can read of all these, instructed, governed, and perfected by holding constant communion with heaven by revelations, by visions, by dreams, and by angels and the spirits of just men made perfect, and not feel a kindling desire in his bosom, to partake of the same blessings, and to hold intercourse with the same powers? Who, in view of all these would not feel a desire to hear the voice of Jehovah, to be wrapped in the visions of eternity; to gaze upon and hold converse with angels and spirits, to be instructed by visions and dreams of the night, and to partake of the testimony of Jesus, the spirit of prophecy?
Who with all these examples before him would not feel encour-[p.101]aged and emboldened to approach a throne of grace, and seek for things so reasonable, so useful, and so delightful?
But me thinks I hear the sighs and groans, and behold the tears of a broken hearted sinner whose bosom heaves with emotions of alternate hope and fear, of doubt and desire, while faith on the one hand invites him onward, and the strong bands of deep rooted tradition on the other holds him back, and the precepts of men whisper in his ears, that revelation has ceased for ever, that visions, angels, dreams, and the gift of prophecy are not for us; that we must be contented with the history of what others have enjoyed without expecting to enjoy the same ourselves.
To such I would say, be not deceived, God is the same yesterday to day and forever. His arm is not shortened that it cannot save; his ears are not heavy that he cannot hear; neither is he dumb that he cannot speak. His angels are ministering spirits to the heirs of salvation; and his spirit, is the same spirit of prophecy and revelation that it was in days of old.
The scriptures command you to covet earnestly the best gifts; but more especially the spirit of prophecy. Paul prays that you may be enriched with the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of God. James says, “If any man lack wisdom let him ask of God who giveth to all men liberally and upbraideth not, and it shall be given him.” Again, Jesus Christ declairs, that no man knows either him or his father, except it be revealed to him. He also declares that “to know God and Jesus Christ whom he hath sent, is life eternal.” Consequently all who enjoy eternal life must know God by revelation to themselves.
“Come ye weary heavy laden,” ye humble seekers after truth, take courage from all these glorious examples and precious promises: lay hold of the blessings which are calculated to exalt the mind, to enlarge the heart, and to enlighten the understanding, and thus prepare and qualify poor worms of the dust to shine with the wise as the brightness of the firmament and as the stars forever and ever.
The scriptures are given for the very purpose of inviting and encouraging men to come unto the great fountain of light and truth where they may enjoy all the blessings which are recorded in them, as having been enjoyed by the Ancients. And those who are contented to enjoy the history of blessings instead of the blessings themselves, may be compared to a man on a desolate island who has nothing to eat or to drink. But while he is famishing, and ready to perish with hunger and thirst he pulls a book from his pocket which contains the history of a feast of things once enjoyed by his forefathers. He reads with rapture of delight of the delicious meets, the rich viands, the sweet fruits and sparkling wines which were spread upon the plentious board, and of the joys of [p.102]those who feasted freely there. But these recollections only serve to whet his apetite, and to increase his cravings after food. In the anguish of hopeless despair, he exclaims: O that I were at my father’s house, O that I too might partake of the feast. At this moment a messenger appears before him in the attitude of an instructor, and kindly offers to relieve him. With a sudden ray of hope springing in his bosom and with an emploring look of confidence he enquires; what must I do to be saved from hunger and thirst and to feast as did my fathers? O friend, save or I perish.
But judge his feelings of disappointment and anguish when he is gravely told by his instructor that he does not need food as his fathers did. That it was only given to them because they had no sacred record, no history of the past to feast their souls upon, but now the cannon of feasting is complete, the record is full, he need not eat as they did, nor drink as they did; but to read the history of their feasting and to believe it and rejoice in it would answer the same purpose, and that it was wicked and even presumptious to desire or ask any food other than that which the reading of their record afforded him. In short, that they had the feast and he had the history of it, which amounted to the same thing; and he must therefore be content.
With these instructions he strives to restrain his apetite, he condemns himself a hundred times for feeling hungry and a thirst; the keener his desires for food and drink, the closer he pursues his study of the history of the feasting. He reads it over and over again, he commits it to memory, he presses it with fervor to his heart, he kisses it with reverence, he lays it for a pillow when he sleeps, and awakes but to read a new. But still finds no relief; in spite of himself his soul hungers and thirsts for food, such as his parents enjoyed and he pines out a wretched existence. But reading still the history of the past he discovers at last that he had overlooked an important sentence; a sentence which informs him that he must partake of the food for himself as they did for themselves or starve to death; and at the same time a messenger arrives with food, and wine in plenty, and kindly invites him to eat and drink; nay, says he, my instructor told me that this history was all the food I need, that it was enough for me to read and believe that my fathers ate that it was all the same as to eat myself. But says the kind instructor, that man was a deceiver, he has imposed upon you. Does not common sense teach you; does not experience teach you, and does not the history itself teach you that you must feast as well as they, or perish forever. The poor starving man is at last brought to his senses and is prevailed on to eat and drink and live. His spirits are then renewed, his soul is satisfied, and he looks with astonishment and wonder upon his former absurdity and [p.103]that of his teacher and is surprised to think that such foolish ideas should have ever entered the human mind.
So is the man, who, led by the vain traditions and precepts of men is made to believe that the gifts of revelation, vision, the ministry of angels, and prophecy, and all the keys of knowledge which the ancients did enjoy, are not now needed, or to be enjoyed; but that the Bible which contains the history of them is all that is necessary.
O ye hungry, famishing souls who have thus been deceived, rouse from your slumbers, break off the shackles of your minds, burst through the thick darkness and gloom of ages with which you are surrounded, and emerge forth into the light and liberty of the gospel, that you may enjoy those great and glorious privileges which have been hid from ages and generations; but which are again made manifest in these last days, for the restoration of all things spoken by the prophets.