Reading Talmage – Introduction to a new study series

Christ Jesus Mormon
Christ Jesus Mormon (Photo credit: More Good Foundation)

If there ever were a true and forthright apologist for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, James E. Talmage would be the individual that has provided much published work in defense of the Church, the doctrines, and the teachings of Mormonism:

James Edward Talmage was born on September 21, 1862 in Hungerford, Berkshire, England, to James Joyce Talmage and Susannah Preater. His father baptized him into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) on June 15, 1873. Of his conversion to the gospel he later remarked, “I set about investigating the claims of the Church and pursued the investigation by prayer, fasting, and research … After months of such inquiry, I found myself in possession of an assurance beyond all question that I was in solemn fact a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” James maintained his stalwart testimony of the truthfulness of the LDS Church throughout his life.

Talmage received his apostolic calling on December 8, 1911 and then served as President of the European Mission of the Church, headquartered in Liverpool, England:

Elder Talmage spent considerable time and energy combating negative articles about the Church that appeared in newspaper throughout the British Isles by writing rebuttals and meeting with paper editors to ensure fair treatment in the press of the ‘Mormons.’ He remarked that “the ‘yellow press’ is declaring that the object of our missionary work is to induce women to migrate to Utah to become polygamous wives. This scurrilous falsehood, though refuted again and again seems to be of undying interest to a depraved primatistic taste.” As to the success of this campaign, “within a few months, anti-Mormon attacks in the British press…had become the exception rather than the rule.”

As an Apostle of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Elder Talmage undertook several projects that have later become part of LDS Literary heritage and scholarly work. Three predominate works provide the level of academic, apologetic, and definitive style of establishing and providing contextual reasoning for many of the claims the Church is founded upon. These three specific works are: (1) The Articles of Faith (originally published in 1899), (2) The Great Apostasy (originally published in 1909), and (3) Jesus the Christ (originally published in 1915).

Today, many Latter-day Saints and those individuals investigating the Church will happen upon various criticisms of the Church and the Restoration of the Gospel. Because of this, members are being asked to stand firm in their faith, to build up and strengthen their testimonies, and to understand that one must build upon the foundation of Christ and what the Gospel means in their own lives. Therefore, Mormon Apologia will be engaging in a series of articles that provide insight and commentary on each of the mentioned works of Talmage. These articles are for educational purpose and provide insight into what the Church actually believes about Christ, where scriptures reveal to us who Jesus Christ is, and the importance of Christ and the efficacy of the Atonement in our own lives. The hope is for individuals (members and nonmembers alike) come to understand what Latter-day Saint Christians truly believe about Christ, His mortal ministry and mission, and the reality and importance of the Atonement in our lives. To this end, these articles serve to deepen one’s understanding and testimony of Jesus Christ in these last days.

From the Preface of the 1974 Edition of Jesus the Christ

As previously stated, the first series of articles in our study Reading Talmage, will focus on the person, nature, mission, and ministry of Jesus Christ and the Atonement provided through Christ. Here is what the Preface has to say:

The scope of the subject presented in this work is expressed on the title page[1]. It will be readily seen that the author has departed from the course usually followed by writers on the Life of Jesus Christ, which course, as a rule, begins with the birth of Mary’s Babe and ends with the ascension of the slain and risen Lord from Olivet. The treatment embodied in these pages, in addition to the narrative of the Lord’s life in the flesh comprises the antemortal existence and activities of the world’s Redeemer, the revelations and personal manifestations of the glorified and exalted Son of God during the apostolic period of old and in modern times, the assured nearness of the Lord’s second advent, and predicted events beyond – all so far as the Holy Scriptures make plain.

It is particularly congruous and appropriate that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints – the only Church that affirms authority based on specific revelation and commission to use the Lord’s Holy Name as a distinctive designation – should set forth her doctrines concerning the Messiah and His mission.

The author of this volume entered upon his welcome service under request and appointment from the presiding authorities of the Church; and the completed work has been read to and approved by the First Presidency[2] and the Council of the Twelve. It presents, however, the writer’s personal belief and profoundest conviction as to the truth of what he has written. The book published by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

A characteristic feature of the work is the guidance afforded by modern scriptures and the explication of the Holy Writ of olden times in the light of present day revelation, which, is a powerful and well directed beam, illumines many dark passages of ancient construction.

The spirit of the sacredness inherent in the subject has been a constant companion of the writer throughout his pleasing labor, and he reverently invokes the same as the minister to the readers of the volume.

Therefore, by embarking on our study of Talmage’s work – Jesus the Christ – we are embarking on the study of the Messiah and His mission as Latter-day Saints understand, through scripture and modern day revelations. It serves to answer the question – Do Mormons believe in the Biblical Christ? And to show forth to those who are struggling in their faith, or have a passing curiosity of Mormonism, that Jesus is the Christ, Son of the Living God. Elder Marion G. Romney writes:

 “One who gets the understanding, the vision, and the spirit of the resurrected Lord through a careful study of the text Jesus the Christ by Elder James E. Talmage will find that he has greatly increased his moving faith in our glorified Redeemer.”

As part of the description on Deseret Book’s website, we find this information:

Dr. Talmage first presented his study on the Savior as a series of lectures delivered under the auspices of the Deseret Sunday School Union Board at the LDS University in Salt Lake City from September 1904 to April 1906. He was subsequently asked by the First Presidency of the Church to publish the lectures in book form. Because of other commitments, he was unable to complete this assignment for several years.

On December 8, 1911, Dr. Talmage was ordained a member of the Council of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Less than three years later he was able at last to continue his work on the manuscript, writing in longhand,in a council room on the fourth floor of the Salt Lake Temple. As chapters were completed, he presented them to the First Presidency, members of the Twelve, and Sunday School board members.

In his journal under date of April 19, 1915, Elder Talmage wrote: “Finished the actual writing on the book Jesus the Christ, to which I have devoted every spare hour since settling down to the work of composition on September 14th last. Had it not been that I was privileged to do this work in the Temple it would be at present far from completion. I have felt the inspiration of the place and have appreciated the privacy and quietness incident thereto. I hope to proceed with the work of revision without delay.”

Published more than eight decades ago and translated into many languages, Jesus the Christ, has become a truly classic volume in Mormon literature.

Hence, the inspiration for these articles and commentary on this great piece of literature stems from the desire to illuminate the founding principle truths of the Church to modern society as to who Jesus Christ is and how we can develop a more meaningful understanding of His mission and the atonement provided through Christ. In addition, keep in mind that the information presented within these articles are the understanding and interpretations of the writer’s (Talmage’s and my own) and do not speak from an official capacity of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or the First Presidency and Quorum of Twelve Apostles.

[1] The Title Page: Jesus the Christ: A study of the Messiah and His Mission according to the Holy Scriptures, both Ancient and Modern

[2] At the time, the original publication of Jesus the Christ was in 1915 and the President of the Church was Joseph F. Smith.

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