Agency — A God-given Right
"I . . . have given unto the children of men to be agents unto themselves."
— D&C 104:17.
"God would not exert any compulsory means, and the devil could not . . . all was voluntary."
— Joseph Smith
In this chapter we will take up the subject of free agency. As we start to peruse the topic, and the eternal aspects of the subject, it will be good to start at the beginning, and that beginning will take us back to the very creation of man. That is, his creation in the pre-earth life where he dwelt with God our Heavenly Father as His spiritual offspring. The purpose of doing so is to touch on the principle of free agency and how that agency relates to the subject of secret combinations.
But, before we do so it will be mentioned here that the term, "free agency," is not mentioned in the scriptural "standard works" of the Church. Agency is not free. There is a price to pay for all of us to retain it. A price was paid in the pre-earth life and a war in Heaven was fought over this sacred principle. A bloody revolution raged in the land of America for the establishment of a free environment where man’s agency could be exercised without restraint. Throughout history, many such wars and revolutions have been for the establishment and protection of this God-given principle. A relevant statement from Elder Ezra Taft Benson regarding our creation may be of interest here:
"Our governmental system, like the systems of ancient Israel and biblical Christianity, recognizes man as a special creation of God. He is not, as some theorists reason, a product of chance or merely an educated animal. His paternal origin is from God. Thus, man inherently possesses God-implanted attributes and potential: reason, free agency, judgment, compassion, initiative, and a personal striving for perfection." (TNSI, p. 84.)
Intelligence Is Agency
In the beginning, or pre-earth life, we were created by God and are known as His spirit children. He said to the prophet Enoch: "Behold these thy brethren; they are the workmanship of mine own hands, and I gave unto them their knowledge, in the day I created them. . . ." (Moses 7:32.)
Here we learn that "Intelligence" is "the light of truth," and cannot be "created or made." So when man was created he was given intelligence or, in other words, he was given truth, which is light. This intelligence, or the light of truth, has always existed and will always exist. It cannot be made or created but only organized. Now let’s go on and read a couple more verses from this section:
Here we find that "truth" and "intelligence" is "agency." We now find that all truth and intelligence, or light, are independent "to act" for themselves. We also find that without this light and truth, and intelligence, we could not exist. With this existence, man has "agency," with the capacity to act and be "independent."
This, then, is the beginning existence of man, when he was created and given the ability to be free and independent (D&C 104:17; 2 Ne. 2:26), having his agency to make choices relevant to the "light of truth" that is in him. The scripture goes on and says: "and here is the condemnation of man; because . . . they receive not the light." It could also be said, however: "Here is the glory of man, because he receives the light."
Glory Is Light and Truth
Skipping down to verse 36 it states: "The glory of God is intelligence, or, in other words, light and truth." Here we find that God’s glory consists of intelligence, which is light and truth. We have learned, also, that truth and intelligence is agency. Therefore, we come to understand that since glory is intelligence, light and truth, glory also consists of agency. That which is emitted from such perfected intelligence, truth, and agency is light. That light is so refined that it glows and becomes His glory and He is made glorious. He is honored, He is praised, He is exalted, and His splendid and radiant magnificence is due to perfected intelligence, truth, and agency.
Verse 39 says, "And that wicked one cometh and taketh away light and truth. . . ." Since light and truth is agency, as just discussed, then by taking away light and truth he also takes away our agency. We find that the "wicked one," Satan, can indeed take away light and truth by telling us lies and by deceptions. By believing in his lies we relinquish our freedom to exercise our agency, and we subject ourselves to his will and become slaves. Or, to put it another way: By believing in his treachery, we give power to him, or to his followers in this world, over our liberties.
By being deceived into believing and accepting Satan’s principles, or false doctrine, we indeed lose a portion of truth, or light. The process might be likened to a vacuum; when there is emptiness, something must fill it. The more darkness we accept, the more light we lose. The more we accept light, the less darkness is in us. It is either one or the other. Therefore, the more we allow ourselves to yield to his deceptions and his ways, the more we lose light and truth.
To become glorious as the Father and the Son are Glorious, we must do as they have done. We must learn truth, not falsehoods. We must be willing to live God’s laws, not Satan’s. We must make wise choices by the light that is in us. We must very carefully guard our God-given agency. Our future salvation and glory is dependent upon how we exercise our agency, use our intelligence in choosing truth and light and deciding whom we will follow.
The Heavenly Council
Sometime after the creation of man in the pre-earth life — we do not know how long after — there was a council held in heaven and God stood among "the intelligences that were organized before the world was" created. There was one of "them that was like unto God" who said, ". . . we will make an earth whereon these [intelligences] may dwell." What was the reason for an earth? One reason was for us to be proven or tested. As was stated: "And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them." (Abr. 3:22-25.) The earth, therefore, was to be a proving ground for God’s children. It was to be this way so that not only God, but we, could see how well we would use our agency and to see what type of choices we would make. The creation of the earth was so needed and important that "all the sons of God shouted for joy." (Job 38:7.)
The Plan of Salvation
Because all, except Jesus, would make choices that would keep them from God’s eternal presence, someone had to provide a plan of salvation, to give opportunity for His children to enter back into His presence when this trial on earth was finished. "And the Lord said: Whom shall I send? And one answered like unto the Son of Man: Here Am I, send me." At this time another also wanted to have that privilege. "And another answered and said: Here am I, send me."(Abr. 3:27.) We do not know how many others might have offered their services, but we do know of two offers and the resulting conflict that followed that of the second.
This second intelligence was Satan, who "was from the beginning" (Moses 4:1), and was "an angel of God who was in authority in the presence of God." (D&C 76:25.) Lucifer was "a son of the morning" (D&C 76:26; Isa. 14:12), which leaves us to assume that there was more than one son of the morning. We also find that "the devil was before Adam" (D&C 29:36), or as it may sound: Lucifer was spiritually created before Adam was spiritually created. Whatever the case may be, it seems that he had influence, and he said, "Behold, here am I, send me, I will be thy son, and I will redeem all mankind, that one soul shall not be lost, and surely I will do it." (Moses 4:1.)
By his design, he "sought to destroy the agency of man, which I, the Lord God, had given him." (Moses 4:3.) He planned to accomplish this by not giving man a chance to exercise his agency and to make choices. Man would be forced into submission, whether he wanted to submit or not. This is not God’s way. The Prophet Joseph Smith stated:
"We deem it a just principle, and it is one the force of which we believe ought to be duly considered by every individual, that all men are created equal, and that all have the privilege of thinking for themselves upon all matters relative to conscience. Consequently, then, we are not disposed, had we the power, to deprive any one of exercising that free independence of mind which heaven has so graciously bestowed upon the human family as one of its choicest gifts. . . ." (TPJS, p. 49.)
That Which Was Evil
Not only did Lucifer want total power and control over the spirit children of God, but he wanted God’s honor, His power and His glory.
Nephi tells us that Satan "sought that which was evil before God." (2 Ne. 2:17.) What was that evil thing? The scriptures tell us what it was: Lucifer wanted to be the "Son," and he wanted God’s "honor" which is God’s "power." (Moses 4:1-3; D&C 29:36.) By so doing, Satan "sought to take the kingdom of our God and his Christ." (D&C 76:28.) The devil also said in his heart: ". . . I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north: I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High." (Isa. 14:13-14.)
Satan’s Plan Rejected
However, his plan was not accepted because of his pride and his disrespect for the agency of man. God said, "But, behold, my Beloved Son, which was my Beloved and Chosen from the beginning, said unto me, — Father, thy will be done." (Moses 4:2.) The Beloved Son wanted His Father’s will to prevail which included respect for the agency of man. The Son also displayed a respect for the Father’s position and meekly submitted Himself to the Father’s will, and said, "the glory be thine forever." (Ibid.) This was in sharp contrast to Satan’s plan, to take the power and honor of God, and disenfranchise man of his agency. So God said, "I will send the first." (Abr. 3:27.) Because of this decision, we are told that "Satan, that old serpent, even the devil" rebelled against God, and the Only Begotten Son.(D&C 76:25, 28; Moses 4:3.)
The spirit children of our Heavenly Father were told that if they remained faithful in their pre-earth existence they would receive glory and be "added upon." Abraham records this account in the following manner: "And they who keep their first estate shall be added upon; and they who keep not their first estate shall not have glory in the same kingdom with those who keep their first estate. . . ." (Abr. 3:26.)
War in Heaven
The second intelligence, Satan, "was angry, and kept not his first estate; and, at that day, many followed after him." (Abr. 3:28.) This "angel in authority" and "son of the morning" must have had great influence, because, as the scriptures say, "a third part of the hosts of heaven turned he away from" God; and "his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to the earth." (D&C 29:36; Rev. 12:4.) Because of his rebellion and influence there was a war in heaven: "Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, And prevailed not." Rev. 12:7-8)
Elder Bruce R. McConkie helps explain what type of war that was that raged in the heavens. In his excellent work, The Millennial Messiah, he illustrates:
"That war was a war of words; it was a conflict of ideologies; it was a rebellion against God and His laws. Lucifer sought to dethrone God, to sit himself on the divine throne, and to save all men without reference to their works. He sought to deny men their agency so they could not sin. He offered a mortal life of carnality and sensuality, of evil and crime and murder, following which all men would be saved.
"And so, in the courts of heaven, the war of wars was waged. Christ and Michael and a mighty host of noble and great spirits preached the gospel of God and exhorted their brethren to follow the Father. Lucifer and his lieutenants preached another gospel, a gospel of fear and hate and lasciviousness and compulsion. They sought salvation without keeping the commandments, without overcoming the world, without choosing between opposites." (The Millennial Messiah, pp. 666-67.)
That "war of words," and that "conflict of ideologies," raged in heaven and is still raging in the socialistic philosophies of the world today. It is raging for the purpose to destroy man’s agency. As President David O. McKay said in conference in April of 1942: "An attempt to rob man of his free agency caused dissension even in heaven. . . . To deprive an intelligent human being of his free agency is to commit the crime of the ages." He then went on to say,
"So fundamental in man’s eternal progress is his inherent right to choose, that the Lord would defend it even at the price of war. Without freedom of thought, freedom of choice, freedom of action within lawful bounds, man cannot progress. The Lord recognized this. . . . Men have sought for it, fought for it, have died for it. Ancient freemen prized it, slaves longed for it, the Magna Charta demanded it, the Constitution of the United States declared it." (PPNS, p. 476, from CR, April 1942, pp. 72-73.)
Lucifer Cast Out
The scriptures tell us that Lucifer, "having sought that which was evil before God," became "the great dragon," and "as lightning," had "fallen from heaven" and was "cast out into the earth."(2 Ne. 2:17; Rev. 12:9; Luke 10:18; Isa. 14:12.) This angel, who rebelled, therefore, "was thrust down from the presence of God and the Son" by the power of the "Only Begotten." (D&C 76:25; Moses 4:3.) "He became Satan, yea, even the devil, the father of all lies" (Moses 4:4; 2 Ne. 2:17), "and was called Perdition . . . he was Lucifer" (D&C 76:26.), "that old serpent." (Rev. 12:9; D&C 76:28.)
As the story continues we find that, "at that day, many followed after him" (Abr. 3:28.), and that "also a third part of the hosts of heaven turned he away from" God "because of their agency" (D&C 29:36.), "and his angels were cast out with him" (Rev. 12:9), "and they were thrust down, and thus came the devil and his angels." (D&C 29:37.) Why were they turned away and cast out? "Because of their agency." They were free to make a choice, and their choice was to be on the side of that which was good or that which was evil. There was no other choice to make. Elder Alvin R. Dyer, in his book, The Meaning of Truth, tells us that there were no neutrals in that conflict. He writes:
Because of their defiance and revolt, and because of their stance due to the conflict in ideologies, there was no "place found any more in heaven" for Satan and his followers. (Rev. 12:8; Jude 1:6.)
Even in the pre-earth life of Heaven, we had our agency to make choices and receive the rewards of those choices. One third of the hosts of Heaven exercised their agency in full view of reality and knew the consequences if they failed. And fail they did.
Agency Given on Earth
It is recorded that God said, ". . . in the Garden of Eden, gave I unto man his agency." (Moses 7:32.) This does not mean that this was the first time man received his agency because we just discussed the fact that the rebellious spirits in Heaven had their agency and that agency was from the beginning. God is just reiterating the fact that from the beginning of mortality we also had our agency.
The principle of agency was so important to God that after He placed Adam in the Garden of Eden, the first thing that He did was to give Adam the "breath of life," and then a choice to make, even before Eve is introduced onto the scene and the commandment to "multiply, and replenish the earth" was given to them.
Now the book of Genesis is not as clear and as complete in the story of the creation as the book of Abraham, which is found in the Pearl of Great Price. So it will be that latter work we will concern ourselves with at this time.
In the fourth chapter of Abraham we find a creation, just as we do in Genesis chapter one. But in chapterf five of Abraham we find another creation; the first was a spiritual creation (Abr. 5:4-5; Gen. 2:4-5) while the second was the temporal one. We find in verse seven (also Genesis 2:7) that ". . . the Gods formed man." In verses 12-13 (see Genesis 2:16-17) God commanded Adam, "Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat, But of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it." It wasn’t until the verses 14-16 (verses 21-22 of Genesis) that Eve was created. So we see from this that the first thing that God did was to give life to Adam and then gave him a commandment so he could exercise his agency. This was done even before he was told to "multiply, and replenish the earth." That is how important agency is to our Heavenly Father.
In the council in Heaven we were told, "They who keep their second estate (faithfulness in mortal earth life) shall have glory added upon their heads for ever and ever." (Abr. 3:26.) So God gave man commandments to see if he would keep his second estate and to see if man "will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them."(Abr. 3:25.) He gave them the first and second greatest commandments, to Love God and their neighbor. As Moses records it: "And unto thy brethren have I said, and also given commandment, that they should love one another, and that they should choose me, their Father. . . ." (Moses 7:33.)
But then Moses goes on in the same verse and says, . . . "they are without affection, and they hate their own blood." This happened because Satan was "to deceive and to blind men, and to lead them captive at his will, even as many as would not hearken unto" the voice of the Lord.(Moses 4:4.) Indeed, that great dragon "deceiveth the whole world" (Rev. 12:9) even from the beginning unto this very day.
War Against the Saints
Now the scriptures are clear that "power was given him over all kindreds, and tongues, and nations" (Rev. 13:7; Isa. 14:12), and that "it was given unto him to make war with the saints, and to overcome them." (Rev. 13:7) "Wherefore, he maketh war with the saints of God, and encompasseth them round about." (D&C 76:29.) President Harold B. Lee, writing in his, Stand Ye in Holy Places, gives some interesting thoughts on this continuing conflict:
"Have you ever tried to think through that suggested analogy of life likened to a ‘battle’? To have a battle as we understand it, there must first have been an issue or principle over which opposing forces contend. . . .
"To be successful, each such army must train its soldiers in the science of war, in rigid discipline. . . . As a prelude to the actual clash of arms, spies and fifth columnists have been at work behind the lines of the enemy forces to . . . spread propaganda among the enemy in an attempt to demoralize and to spread confusion.
"That there is a force of evil in the world is as certain as that there is being directed a work of righteousness, and that between these two forces there is an eternal conflict with the price of the human soul as the stake.
"Satan commands a mighty force comprising one-third of all God’s spirit children who were cast out with him — tangible and real although not always discernible by sight, and under whose masterful direction there goes forward constantly propaganda of lying and deceit." (Stand Ye in Holy Places, pp. 327-29.)
Why is it necessary for such conflicts or war to occur? The Lord explains it, although it is hard for many to comprehend. To really grasp the full importance of it, one needs to have the Holy Spirit as his or her guide. The Lord has said to us: "And it must needs be that the devil should tempt the children of men, or they could not be agents unto themselves; for if they never should have bitter they could not know the sweet. . . ." (D&C 29:39.)
The Constitution Protects Rights
The expressed purpose behind the inspiration of our Constitution was to provide an environment whereby God’s children could be free to exercise their agency and be account-able for that agency. As we read in the Doctrine and Covenants, we find:
". . . the laws and constitution of the people, which I have suffered to be established, and should be maintained for the rights and protection of all flesh, according to just and holy principles; . . . That every man may act . . . according to the moral agency which I have given unto him, that every man may be accountable for his own sins in the day of judgment. Therefore, it is not right that any man should be in bondage one to another. And for this purpose have I established the Constitution of this land. . . ." (D&C 101:77-80.)
Do we put government before moral and righteous value, or do we put God and His will first? As one anonymous person said, "If you don’t put God first, it doesn’t matter what you put first."
Do we seek for government intervention and economic handouts for person and state and let some other entity choose our life style for us? or do we exercise our own agency and work out our own temporal salvation?
Do we give up our liberty and God-given rights with the rationalization that, by so doing, it’s for the good of all? or do we jealously guard those liberties with our "Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor"? (The last words from The Declaration of Independence.)
Do we choose to stay ignorant of God’s laws and His ways, believing government when they tell us that all is well? or do we seek alternative information for learning truth rather than the traditional news media?
Are we so comfortable in our situated complacency that we become blind to the evil nature of things around us? or are we willing to venture out of our comfort zone to live a lifestyle which is pleasing to the Lord instead of pleasing to those around us?
There are many more questions that could be asked concerning the many conflicting ideologies that plague mankind. Every man is given his "moral agency" and is to "be accountable for his own sins in the day of judgment." How can this be done when we want to shift blame and responsibility, for our uncomfortable choices, to something or to someone else? "We the People" have exercised our agency, and many of the choices made have put us in bondage. The purpose of this book is to help the many honest-in-heart to "awaken" to the reality of their "awful situation." (Ether 8:24; Mosiah 2:40.)
Agency, the Free Gift
Free agency does not automatically mean "the right." We might have the freedom to take a life but we do not have the right to do so. Life is a gift of God and no one has the right to take it from another person, nor for a person to take it from himself. Likewise, freedom is a gift of God and no one has a right to take it from us, nor do we have a right to put that freedom in jeopardy through debts, contracts, agreements or any other means. Our responsibility and obligation is to honor and cherish our God-given agency and freedom as we would our lives, respecting and protecting them at all costs. President David O. McKay warned us about the possible loss of our agency in a conference address in 1966 when he said, "Efforts are being made to deprive man of his free agency, to steal from the individual his liberty; and we must never forget that next to life itself, free agency is the greatest gift of God to man." (CR, October 1966, p. 5.)
While speaking in general conference, of the impending judgments of God and the duties of the saints, President John Taylor had the following to say about agency:
Eternal progression is based upon the principle of agency and the freedom to choose and exercise that agency in a free environment. That was the entire purpose of the creation of the Constitution: to provide a free environment where man would be free, to exercise his own agency, and be "accountable for his own sins in the day of judgment."