In the church, we are accustomed to dividing the laws of God into two categories: higher and lower. For example, inevitably, whenever the topic of tithing comes up, and it is compared to the law of consecration, tithing will be considered a lower law, while consecration will be termed a higher law. Another example is when the law of Moses is compared to the law of Christ. We call the law of Moses a lower law, while the law of Christ is called the higher law.
I have always taken this customary practice at face value, without questioning it, although there was one thing that always bugged me: Abraham paid tithes to Melchizedek. We are taught that Abraham lived the law of Christ, which came before the law of Moses, so, why wasn’t he living the “higher” law of consecration? Why was he living the “lower” law of tithing? Although I had these questions, I never took the time to investigate the matter. It had made sense to me to divide the laws of God into two levels, like every other LDS did, and I never gave it another thought.
That is, until recently. As I was reading another Mormon blog, I noticed that the article contained an inordinate number of the phrases “higher law” and “lower law” when referring to the laws of God. My mind was not so much drawn to the subject the author was addressing, as it was to the very idea of whether there was such thing as a higher and lower law of God. So I decided to investigate that matter. This post is the result of that research.
No scriptural uses of “higher law” or “lower law”
Here are some online searches in the Standard Works and what they bring up:
- “higher law“ There are no occurrences of the term “HIGHER LAW” found in the Text of the Scriptures.
- “high law“ There are no occurrences of the term “HIGH LAW” found in the Text of the Scriptures.
- “lower law“ There are no occurrences of the term “LOWER LAW” found in the Text of the Scriptures.
- “low law“ There are no occurrences of the term “LOW LAW” found in the Text of the Scriptures.
- “greater law“ There are no occurrences of the term “GREATER LAW” found in the Text of the Scriptures.
- “lesser law“ There are no occurrences of the term “LESSER LAW” found in the Text of the Scriptures.
All laws of God come from God
The law of Christ (the gospel) came from Christ. And so did the law of Moses:
And it came to pass that when Jesus had said these words he perceived that there were some among them who marveled, and wondered what he would concerning the law of Moses; for they understood not the saying that old things had passed away, and that all things had become new. And he said unto them: Marvel not that I said unto you that old things had passed away, and that all things had become new. Behold, I say unto you that the law is fulfilled that was given unto Moses. Behold, I am he that gave the law, and I am he who covenanted with my people Israel; therefore, the law in me is fulfilled, for I have come to fulfil the law; therefore it hath an end. (3 Ne. 15: 2-5)
Thus, it is appropriate to call the law of Moses one of the laws of Christ. If you have a problem with the law of Moses, all of it or any part of it, you have a problem with Christ who gave the law. Said Paul of the law of Moses:
Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good. Was then that which is good made death unto me? God forbid. But sin, that it might appear sin, working death in me by that which is good; that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful. For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin. (Rom. 7: 12-14)
Where the “higher/lower law” interpretation might come from
The scriptures do speak of each of the three glories having a law, though we are left in the dark concerning what those laws may be. We know that the laws of the gospel pertain to the Celestial Kingdom. That much we know.
And they who are not sanctified through the law which I have given unto you, even the law of Christ, must inherit another kingdom, even that of a terrestrial kingdom, or that of a telestial kingdom. For he who is not able to abide the law of a celestial kingdom cannot abide a celestial glory. And he who cannot abide the law of a terrestrial kingdom cannot abide a terrestrial glory. And he who cannot abide the law of a telestial kingdom cannot abide a telestial glory; therefore he is not meet for a kingdom of glory. Therefore he must abide a kingdom which is not a kingdom of glory. And again, verily I say unto you, the earth abideth the law of a celestial kingdom, for it filleth the measure of its creation, and transgresseth not the law—
All kingdoms have a law given; and there are many kingdoms; for there is no space in the which there is no kingdom; and there is no kingdom in which there is no space, either a greater or a lesser kingdom. And unto every kingdom is given a law; and unto every law there are certain bounds also and conditions. (D&C 88: 21-25, 36-38)
It may be that the statement, “either a greater or a lesser kingdom” has spawned the thought that a greater kingdom means a “higher kingdom,” and therefore it must have a “higher” law, whereas a lesser kingdom means a “lower kingdom,” which requires a “lower” law. If, in fact, this is where the error starts, then it is pretty easy to correct. Greater and lesser in this scripture do not mean higher and lower, but bigger and smaller. In other words, greater means “larger in bulk or dimensions; a term of comparison, denoting more magnitude or extension than something else,” while lesser means “smaller in bulk or dimensions; a term of comparison, denoting less magnitude or extension than something else.” For example, molecules and atoms are lesser kingdoms, whereas moons are greater kingdoms. Larger planets and stars are even greater kingdoms, etc.
The principle to understand is that all of these kingdoms’ laws come from God. All three glories, then, are governed by laws of Christ. For example, speaking of those who would inherit the Telestial kingdom, the Lord said, “and they shall be servants of the Most High” (D&C 76: 112.) How does one serve the Most High? Through the laws of Christ.
Quantity of commandments does not determine “highness” or “lowness” of law
A common interpretation is that the “lower” laws, such as the law of Moses, contain carnal commandments and performances, whereas the “higher” law of the gospel, is a spiritual law, meaning that it doesn’t have a whole lot written down as to rites and performances, each one merely being guided by the Spirit to follow Christ according to the circumstances.
Scriptural support for this interpretation is available:
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. 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; 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. But he that doeth not anything until he is commanded, and receiveth a commandment with doubtful heart, and keepeth it with slothfulness, the same is damned. (D&C 58: 26-29)
But such an interpretation taken to the extreme can discount the many temple ordinances, statutes and performances and the many other rites and “outward ordinances” found within the church that are not mentioned in the New Testament. As these things have an Old Testament feel to them, they appear to be of a “lower” law, such as that of Moses.
Unfortunately for those who believe this, there is the following pesky scripture concerning the reward of those who obey the Lord’s gospel:
Yea, blessed are they whose feet stand upon the land of Zion, who have obeyed my gospel; for they shall receive for their reward the good things of the earth, and it shall bring forth in its strength. And they shall also be crowned with blessings from above, yea, and with commandments not a few, and with revelations in their time—they that are faithful and diligent before me. (D&C 59: 3-4)
So, those who obey the gospel are rewarded with lots of commandments? That sounds like “lower” law talk, yet the Lord here is referring to the gospel law. The conclusion, then, we should take from this is that just because a law given by God has lots of commandments or performances, rites, statutes, etc., does not automatically make it a “lower” law.
Do not pit one law against another
A mistake LDS often make is pitting one law of God against another law of God. As God is the author of all these laws, you in essence are pitting God against Himself. This is why the Jesus said to the Nephites:
Think not that I am come to destroy the law or the prophets. I am not come to destroy but to fulfil; for verily I say unto you, one jot nor one tittle hath not passed away from the law, but in me it hath all been fulfilled. (3 Ne. 12: 17-18)
If it was never the purpose of Jesus to destroy his law given to Moses, neither should it be our purpose. We should not pit the law of the gospel of Jesus Christ given to the apostles in Jerusalem against the law given to Moses. We should not pit the law of plurality of wives given to Joseph against the law of monogamy given to Lehi. We should not pit the law of consecration given to the saints of this dispensation against the law of tithing also given to the saints of this dispensation. They are all laws of Christ and are all just, holy, good and spiritual.
When we attack or belittle any of the laws of God, even with good intentions, we are attacking and belittling the Author of those laws. Not a single one of those laws is higher or lower than any of the others.
Why the differences in laws?
If there are no higher or lower laws of God, why are there so many different laws of God given to various people at various times? Why does the Lord command one group of His people to do one thing, while commanding another group of His people to do the exact opposite? This should not be a mystery to us. The Lord has already revealed how He works among the children of men:
And again, to some it is given by the Holy Ghost to know the differences of administration, as it will be pleasing unto the same Lord, according as the Lord will, suiting his mercies according to the conditions of the children of men. (D&C 46: 15)
Differences in the administration of the laws of God exist because mankind exists under different conditions (circumstances) and because all the laws of God are tailored to fit those conditions.
It all comes down to the principle known as expediency. The word expedient literally means “hastening; urging forward. Hence,” expedient means “tending to promote the object proposed; fit or suitable for the purpose; proper under the circumstances.” It has a secondary shade which means “useful; profitable.” (Definitions were taken from the 1828 Webster’s Dictionary.)
All of the laws of God are expedient, meaning that they are proper under the circumstances (conditions). The scriptures are replete with uses of the word expedient. If you were to do a word search, you’d find expedient used 113 times in the Standard Works. I will list a few to of those instances to demonstrate the principle.
The Holy Ghost manifests things which are expedient
Ask the Father in my name, in faith believing that you shall receive, and you shall have the Holy Ghost, which manifesteth all things which are expedient unto the children of men. (D&C 18: 18)
Expediency varies according to time
Be patient, my son, for it is wisdom in me, and it is not expedient that you should translate at this present time. • • • Now, if you had known this you could have translated; nevertheless, it is not expedient that you should translate now. Behold, it was expedient when you commenced; but you feared, and the time is past, and it is not expedient now; (D&C 9: 3, 10-11)
Yahweh did all things for Israelites (past) that were expedient for them to receive
And notwithstanding they being led, the Lord their God, their Redeemer, going before them, leading them by day and giving light unto them by night, and doing all things for them which were expedient for man to receive, they hardened their hearts and blinded their minds, and reviled against Moses and against the true and living God. (1 Ne. 17: 30)
All things are given to man (present) which are expedient for them
Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself. (2 Ne. 2: 27)
The law of Moses was expedient
And now I say unto you that it was expedient that there should be a law given to the children of Israel, yea, even a very strict law; for they were a stiffnecked people, quick to do iniquity, and slow to remember the Lord their God; (Mosiah 13: 29)
There was a time it was expedient to keep the law of Moses, and a time it was not expedient
And now ye have said that salvation cometh by the law of Moses. I say unto you that it is expedient that ye should keep the law of Moses as yet; but I say unto you, that the time shall come when it shall no more be expedient to keep the law of Moses. (Mosiah 13: 27)
Concerning the above, it should be noted that although the Nephite prophets preached the gospel of Jesus Christ among the people, they still kept the law of Moses. Why would they live a “lower” law when they were aware of the “higher” law? Because there are no higher or lower laws, only expedient laws. Had they gone against the law of expediency, it would have turned to their condemnation.
Ask for only things which are expedient, otherwise condemnation results
Whatsoever ye ask the Father in my name it shall be given unto you, that is expedient for you; and if ye ask anything that is not expedient for you, it shall turn unto your condemnation. (D&C 88: 64-65)
The law of expediency is the law of the Lord
Because of this, if the Lord deems something expedient, whether it be the law of Moses, the law of plurality of wives, the law of tithing, or any other law, if we fight against it it will turn to our condemnation. And if the Lord deems something not expedient, whether it be the law of consecration, the redemption of Zion, the law of plurality of wives, or any other law, if we attempt to force the law upon the people or condemn the people for not living a law that is not expedient, we bring condemnation upon ourselves.
Church leadership must follow the law of expediency, or be condemned
Many of those who cry apostasy among the saints do so because they misunderstand the law of expediency. When church practices and policies change, there is a tendency to think, among these individuals, that the church has gone astray. They hold up some doctrines as “higher laws” and others as “lower laws” and use this false assumption to “prove” the apostasy of the church by demonstrating that the church is not living the “higher laws.”
It is not the design of the Lord that the church live higher or lower laws, only that they do what He tells them to do, whatever that may be, according to the law of expediency. Were the church leadership to hold tightly to a revealed concept and not budge, no matter what happens in the world, come hell or high water, they would not be following the promptings of the Holy Ghost, for the Holy Ghost works according to the law of expediency. (See above.) This would, in effect, be denying the Holy Ghost’s promptings, for the Holy Ghost always tailors all things to the conditions found among men.
This brings up quite the problem, for how do we know if church leadership is leading the church astray if the laws of God are not designed to be set in stone, but malleable according to the circumstances men find themselves in? (And we can plainly see that the laws of God can be changed by Him in the example of the modification of the law of Moses for the Nephites, which change was given to Lehi, substituting a law of monogamy for the revealed law of polygamy given to Moses.) For all we know, the leadership is not leading the people astray, but acting according to the principle of expediency. So, then, how does one know? Each man must take the Spirit for his guide and answer this question for himself.
We should discard the terms “higher” and “lower” laws
I recommend that LDS do away with this practice of separating the laws of God into higher and lower divisions. There is no scriptural basis for it and it gives added weight to arguments that are scripturally weak. Let us stress what the Lord stresses about His laws, namely that they are expedient, and be willing to live all His laws, no matter what they are, when it becomes expedient to live them.