Literary BMGD #6: Man’s Free Agency

Opposition in All Things by Ben Crowder

Opposition in All Things by Ben Crowder, ©Ben Crowder. CC Share Alike license Some rights reserved

One of the fascinating things that happen in Lehi’s fatherly advice to Jacob in 2 Nephi 1 and 2 is that he tries to put together an overall philosophical basis for the gospel. Here the war in Heaven is related to our ability to choose, the fall is related to the atonement, and our choices are related to the very nature of existence, which, Lehi says, requires that there be an “opposition in all things.”

I think that Mormons have perhaps not explored what Lehi’s statements mean as thoroughly as we could–I find them leading to all sorts of philosophical questions, few of which I can even approach answering. [Julie’s post earlier today mentions the kinds of questions that arise.]

Still, the ideas here are core to most conceptions of Mormon theology, and his teachings therefore resonate with most Mormons. The many ideas have given rise to Mormon literary works, including parts of the best known works, such as Nephi Anderson’s Added Upon, Orson F. Whitney’s Elias and even Saturday’s Warrior, as well as many, many additional works that are much less well known.

But the poem I chose for today is one that tries to cover many of the issues Lehi brings up.

Man’s Free Agency

by James H. Wallis

Before the depths of chaos felt
The touch of gods divine,
Or mortal man on earth had dwelt,
Or at Eloheim’s throne had knelt
To worship at his shrine;


Ere planets in their courses ran,
Or moon gave forth her light,
Ere earth received the heat of sun,
Or vegetation had begun
To weave her mantle bright;


Ere corner stones of earth were laid,
Or stars together sang;
Ere trees, or herbs, or shrubs were made,
Or fountains of the deep were staid,
Or Nature’s music rang;


Before a mountain, hill or vale,
Had in its order stood;
Or earth had been kissed by the gale,
Or courted by the nightingale,
In moonlights solitude;


A council of the gods was held,
Jehovah, President-
One third of whom were hence expelled,
For Satan had, with them, rebelled
Against Omnipotent.


And there the laws for man were framed,
Each had his own free will,-
For all the gods at freedom aimed,
And each desired all men reclaimed,
From wickedness and ill.


They saw the future-for the vail
Was rent before their gaze-
They saw dark sin with men assail,
They saw the darkened powers prevail,
All earth with crime ablaze.


Therefore, when Jove proposed the plan,
And put it ‘fore the gods,
To give free agency to man,
A vote was called, and as it ran
It passed by mighty odds.


But Satan, with ambition filled,
Opposed the heaven-born law,
And held one third of heaven so drilled,
That ‘t mattered not what he had willed,
They did not dare withdraw.


Therefore they all rebelled ‘gainst God-
They fought against the right,
The gates were ope’d, and with the rod,
They were smote down to earth’s dark sod,
To dwell in endless night.


Their mission was to trouble men-
To help fulfill the law
They had opposed and fought at, when
They lost all hopes for aye to win
A glory as before.


True to that mission, they are now
Enticing men to deeds
That take away from manhood’s brow
All honor destined to endow
A noble spirit’s needs.


And, as at first, they still oppose
The agency of man,
And would-had they the power-impose
The tyrant’s chains, and discompose
Our noble spirit’s plan.


But God has given to every race
The freedom for to choose
A future, lasting dwelling place,
Either with glory or disgrace,-
A gift dare we abuse?


If we the path of glory tread,
All honor to our name;
But if by powers of darkness led,
Much better had we never sped
To earth to win deep shame.


And yet some men would dare make laws
To tell us what to do,
Would pinch us in their puny claws,-
To us not more than rotten straws,
Or filthy, watery glue.


They dare before the Priesthood’s power
To chain us to their whims,
They dare its links upon us shower,
And weld them ’round us, as a tower,
To strengthen their own limbs.


But oh! look through the vista’s gloom,
And see the victory!
Weep, weep, ye fiends! dark is your doom,
‘Twill sink you in oppression’s tomb,-
The grave dug out by thee!


But Saints immortal-gods-shall rise,
And scale the worlds on high;
They’ll fill the earth, and rend the skies,
With sweet hosannah’s, for their prize,
Shall every boon outvie.


Eternal ages shall roll ’round;
The night of time will pass;
And endless righteousness abound,
And shouts of glory shall resound
From ‘mongst the heavenly mass.

The Contributor 4 (1882-1883)

I found several things about this poem fascinating. Wallis’ conception of the war in Heaven is a bit different from my own—he seems to see those following Lucifer as bound to him as leader rather than any belief or idea, which is something I hadn’t considered. Lucifer is therefore more charismatic than I had assumed.

And I like that Wallis has connected the idea of choice and opposition to current political issues, suggesting that laws can take away our ability to choose. In a sense that is true, at least for those who wish to follow the law or not face whatever penalties may be given. What I think is interesting is connecting this idea so clearly to current politics—its not something we do very often in the Church because it can easily be used to support a particular political position. Likely, Wallis was referring to the U.S. anti-polygamy laws of the 1880s and before, which is when this poem was published.

In addition to this poem, one hymn, Know This, That Every Soul Is Free (#240), is enough on topic that it might be used in conjunction with this lesson.

FWIW, Wallis was the author of many more poems, and one hymn in our current hymnal. You can read a little about him here.

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