“I Have a Question,” Ensign, Mar. 1990, 53–54
David A. Burton, a sealer in the Salt Lake Temple and first counselor in the Salt Lake Holladay South stake presidency. In his final address to his people, King Benjamin makes this observation concerning the “natural man”:
“For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.” (Mosiah 3:19.)
Many members erroneously gather from these teachings that man is naturally inclined to do and love evil. However, Brigham Young says just the opposite:
“The natural man is of God. We are the natural sons and daughters of our natural parents, and spiritually we are the natural children of the Father of light and natural heirs to his kingdom; and when we do an evil, we do it in opposition to the promptings of the Spirit of Truth that is within us. It was never designed that [man] should naturally do and love evil.” (Journal of Discourses, 9:305.)
To help us understand what King Benjamin and Brigham Young are teaching, I would like to suggest that there are really two “natural men” in each of us. One is our spirit. The other is our physical body. With this perspective, there is no inconsistency between King Benjamin’s statement and Brigham Young’s.
Let me explain. Before we were born into mortality, we lived as spirit children of our heavenly parents. In this premortal life, God had created for each of us a spirit body so that we might progress to be like him. Our spirit bodies are made of matter, though it is more fine or pure than the matter of which our physical bodies are made. (See D&C 131:7.)
The premortal existence may have been much longer than many of us suppose. During our first estate, we gained knowledge and intelligence through our diligence and obedience. It was revealed to President Heber J. Grant that some of us showed greater “diligence” and “fidelity” than others in this premortal period. This principle is consistent with the teachings of the Prophet Joseph concerning our experience in mortality and its effect on our station in the hereafter. (See Improvement Era, Feb. 1943, p. 75; D&C 130:18–19.)
But when we left God’s presence, we lost constant contact with and our immediate memory of our heavenly parents. A major part of the testing process of mortality is to see how much of the truth we will follow when walking by faith rather than by sight.
As part of God’s plan for us in mortality, there is a constant guide available to every one of His spirit children to prompt them to do right, regardless of where they were born or their race or religion. Sometimes we call this guide our conscience. It is more precisely called the Light of Christ. Through the Prophet Joseph Smith, the Lord revealed, “And the Spirit giveth light to every man that cometh into the world; and the Spirit enlighteneth every man through the world, that hearkeneth to the voice of the Spirit.” (D&C 84:46; see also Moro. 7:16–17.)
Thus, we enter mortality with our Heavenly Father’s assurance that he will strengthen our spirit and prompt us through the Light of Christ as long as we continue on the path of righteousness.
The earth was created that we might become living souls. A soul is made up of a spirit and a body. (See D&C 88:15.) When Adam partook of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, God cursed the earth; that is, it fell from its paradisiacal state to a telestial state. Here in mortality our spirit body struggles to subdue and control the desires, appetites, and passions of our physical body.
Of this struggle for the soul, Elder Melvin J. Ballard, formerly of the Quorum of the Twelve, once observed:
“All the assaults that the enemy of our souls will make to capture us will be through the flesh, because it is made up of the unredeemed earth, and he has power over the elements of the earth. The approach he makes to us will be through the lusts, the appetites, the ambitions of the flesh. All the help that comes to us from the Lord to aid us in this struggle will come to us through the spirit that dwells within this mortal body. So these two mighty forces are operating upon us through these two channels.”
Elder Ballard then suggested that we think “of spirit and body as ‘me’ and ‘it.’ ‘Me’ is the individual who dwells in this body, who lived before I had such a body, and who will live when I step out of the body. ‘It’ is the house I live in, the tabernacle of flesh and the great conflict is between ‘me’ and ‘it’. …
“Our weak [point] is in the flesh … and when [the devil] undertakes to capture a soul he will strike at the weak point. …
“It is not bodies, it is immortal spirits that the devil wants. And he tries to capture them through the body, for the body can enslave the spirit, but the spirit can keep the body a servant and be its master.” (“The Struggle for the Soul,” Address delivered in the Salt Lake Tabernacle, 5 May 1928, in Melvin J. Ballard—Crusader for Righteousness, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1966, pp. 178–79, 181.)
To aid us in our struggle for our souls, God provides that we may receive the help of a more powerful guide than the Light of Christ. This guide is called the Holy Ghost. Turning again to Doctrine and Covenants 84, verses 47–48, [D&C 84:47–48] we read:
“And every one that hearkeneth to the voice of the Spirit cometh unto God, even the Father.
“And the Father teacheth him of the covenant.”
The influence of the Light of Christ is preparatory to one’s receiving the Holy Ghost. The Light of Christ will lead the honest soul who “hearkeneth to the voice of the Spirit” to find the true gospel and the true Church and thereby receive the Holy Ghost. The Holy Ghost then acts as a cleansing agent to purify and sanctify a person from sin. (See Bible Dictionary, s.v. “Holy Ghost” and “Light of Christ.”) By continuing to respond to the promptings of this member of the Godhead, the person will strengthen the “inner man” (see Eph. 3:16), conquer the weaknesses of the flesh, and grow into perfection.
This “inner man” is the “natural man” of which President Brigham Young was speaking in the excerpt quoted at the beginning of the article. In another address, President Young summarized this concept in these words:
“Many think that the devil has rule and power over both body and spirit. Now, I want to tell you that he does not hold any power over man, only so far as the body overcomes the spirit that is in a man, through yielding to the spirit of evil. The spirit that the Lord puts into a tabernacle of flesh, is under the dictation of the Lord Almighty; but the spirit and body are united in order that the spirit may have a tabernacle, and be exalted; and the spirit is influenced by the body and the body by the spirit.
“In the first place the spirit is pure, and under the special control and influence of the Lord, but the body is of the earth, and is subject to the power of the devil, and is under the mighty influence of that fallen nature that is of the earth. If the spirit yields to the body, the devil then has power to overcome both the body and the spirit of that man, and he loses both.” (Journal of Discourses, 2:255–56.)
When we understand this perspective, the following qualifying phrase of King Benjamin’s statement becomes much more meaningful: “… unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man [the physical natural man] and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord.” (Mosiah 3:19.)
Our quest in this life is to overcome the temptations of the devil and subdue the natural man of the flesh. To do this we should “stand in holy places” (D&C 45:32) and avoid even the “appearance of evil” (1 Thes. 5:22). When temptation unavoidably comes, we should do as Joseph did in Egypt and get ourselves out of the situation. (See Gen. 39:7–12.)
God will not permit the devil to tempt us beyond our capacity or power to resist. In every case, our Heavenly Father will make a way for us to escape—that is, he will help us overcome the devil. (See 1 Cor. 10:13.) We should seek to emulate Christ, who “was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.” (Heb. 4:15.)
Instead of setting our hearts on the things of this world which strengthen the lusts of the flesh, we should devote our time to those activities which will strengthen the natural man of the spirit. Prayer, fasting, scripture study, partaking of the sacrament, temple worship, and receiving a patriarchal blessing are all examples of activities which strengthen our spirit.
If we respond to our natural spiritual man, we will succeed in keeping our second estate; that is, we will “overcome the world”—following the Savior’s example (D&C 50:41)—and we will “have glory added upon [our] heads for ever and ever” (Abr. 3:26).