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RS/MP Lesson 15: “Establishing the Cause of Zion” (Joseph Smith Manual)

Posted by joespencer on August 2, 2008

I’m not going to lie: this lesson disappointed me a bit. Or perhaps I should say that the title misled me a bit: whereas I expected a gathering of Joseph’s teachings about the relationship between Jackson County, Missouri and the law of consecration, the chapter is primarily a collection of teachings about (1) the unchanging geographical identity of Zion and (2) the threat of losing an inheritance in that geographically identified Zion.

These are, of course, incredibly important themes, and I’m quite happy to dedicate my notes to them. I suppose I just expected something different. As things are, then, I will work out my notes below according to the two themes I have already identified: (1) geographical identity and (2) self-disinheritance.

It should be noted that even the “From the Life of Joseph Smith” section of the lesson articulates these two themes in succession. The first paragraph (on p. 183) introduces the question of Zion by placing it into a historical string of revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants (one that deserves a good deal more attention), and the following two paragraphs (on pp. 183-184) describe Joseph’s travels to Missouri to discover, announce, and dedicate the center place in Independence. After a paragraph about the desires of the faithful at the time (on p. 184), the introductory section concludes with the persecution and Joseph’s reception of D&C 105, with its postponement of the redemption of Zion.

Of course, there is a good deal of history of massive importance here, but I don’t know that I want to bury myself in all of its details. I will suggest two directions for further study by presenting, first, a brief list of texts in the D&C that lead from the very beginnings of Joseph’s mission to the establishment of Zion (with an eye to the Book of Commandments) and, second, a question with a few guiding thoughts regarding the collapse of things in Missouri.

The List

D&C 2:1-3 – Moroni brings news of the gold plates and connects their reception to a rereading of Malachi 4, in which the resurrected ancients bring texts to the living moderns so as to restore covenants and promises made in earlier ages
D&C 8:1 – Oliver joins Joseph to do the work of translation and is given the possibility to do the work of translation himself
D&C 9:1-4 – Oliver fails to translate and so receives a rather different role in relation to Joseph than he apparently might have had
D&C 20:2-3, 63 – Oliver is thus inscribed as the second elder at the organization of the Church; in the same revelation, the first conference is projected for three months later
D&C 28:1-16 – Between the organization and the first conference, Oliver several times falters in understanding the relationship he sustains to Joseph, and so receives this rather solemn rebuke and commandment relative to the conference
D&C 30:5-8 – Oliver is, because of his misunderstandings, sent away on a mission, relieving him now even of his duties as Joseph’s scribe
D&C 32:1-5 – The mission is specified: the missionaries are to go to the Lamanite territories in Missouri, and Parley P. Pratt, a recent convert, is to go with them; because of Parley P. Pratt’s presence in the group, they will stop in Kirtland, Ohio, on the way and convert hundreds, including Edward Partridge and Sidney Rigdon
D&C 35:20 – Sidney Rigdon, having come to meet Joseph, is called to take Oliver’s place (since the latter is now in Missouri preaching) as Joseph’s scribe so that the New Translation of the Bible can take place
Moses 6-7 – Joseph and Sidney translate the prophecy of Enoch, with its explanation of Zion in ancient times and the prophecy of its return
D&C 37:1-4 – Joseph and Sidney are commanded to move the Church to Ohio “against the time that my servant Oliver Cowdery shall return unto them” from preaching in Missouri
D&C 38:1-42 – Clarifications concerning the move to Ohio are offered; mention is made of Enoch’s city of Zion; the elders of the Church are promised “my law” when they get to Ohio
D&C 42:1-93 – A revelation “in fulfillment of the Lord’s promise previously made that the ‘law’ would be given in Ohio; see Section 38:32”; the law of consecration is revealed and connected (in verse 35) to the “building up of the New Jerusalem which is hereafter to be revealed”; the Lord commands (in verse 62) “Thou shalt ask, and it shall be revealed unto you in mine own due time where the New Jerusalem shall be built”
D&C 44:1-3 – A conference is called to be had in Kirtland for an (obviously preliminary or even primitive) endowment to be given to the elders
D&C 52:1-2 – At the conclusion of the conference duly held, the next conference is appointed to take place in Missouri, “upon the land which I will consecrate to my people, which are a remnant of Jacob”; various elders are sent to Missouri for the conference
D&C 57:1-3 – Having arrived for the conference and having offered up a prayer concerning the matter, Joseph receives a revelation that Zion will be built up in Independence
D&C 58-64 – A string of revelations follow, all given in Zion and all geared toward the law of sacrifice, etc., that make up the last chapters of the Book of Commandments

The Question

If the above sequence of texts and revelations points to the effective establishment of Zion in Missouri by late Summer, 1831, why did Joseph then return to Kirtland? Might this have something to do with Joseph’s rather constant desire to be done with his prophetic calling and to leave the work on the shoulders of the saints (something Bushman brings out very well in Rough Stone Rolling)? Or did Joseph see wisdom in keeping a number of the saints gathered together in a secondary place, in case things did not go well in Missouri? Or did Joseph perhaps understand Kirtland to be a kind of terrestrial (as opposed to Zion’s celestial) place, a place for the gathering of the saints unwilling as yet to live the law of consecration? Or did Joseph hope to rectify the difficulties of the failed first version of the endowment (see the historical records on the June 1831 endowment) by ensuring that a temple be built in Kirtland? Or what?

The unchanging geographical identity of Zion

Having dealt with the introductory material, I want to turn to what I see as the two overarching themes in this chapter. First, the unchanging geographical identity of Zion.

The first teaching on page 185 contains a kind of historical summary of how the geographical location of Zion was uncovered. Joseph then describes something like the “purpose” of Zion in a couple of different ways. First, it is “an ‘holy city,'” “a place of righteousness.” Second, it is only to be built by those who “worship the true and living God” and who “all believe in one doctrine, even the doctrine of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” Third, Joseph sums all of this up by quoting Isaiah 52:8, also quoted by Abinadi (as well as—first—by the priests who questioned Abinadi) in his discussion of the “doctrine of Christ.” Taking these three brief descriptions together, it might be possible to come to a rather interesting interpretation of what Zion really amounts to.

Let me focus first and the second description: one can only build in Zion if one believes, along with everyone else building there, the “one doctrine . . . of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” This language is roughly Nephite, or rather, roughly Christic, as Christ appears among the Nephites: Jesus speaks in Third Nephi of his doctrine, just as Nephi speaks in 2 Nephi 31-33 of the “doctrine of Christ.” As Christ lays it out (especially in 3 Nephi 11, which can very fruitfully be compared to 2 Nephi 31), this doctrine is a question of the relationship between the Father and the Son: THE doctrine of Christ—what Nephi calls “the only and true doctrine of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost”—is a teaching concerning the nature of the “trinity.” This obviously bears as well, then, on the third point raised in the teaching as mentioned above: the quotation of Isaiah 52, to which Abinadi addresses himself.

Without turning to 3 Nephi 11 (or 2 Nephi 31) to work out a commentary on the text there, let me summarize this doctrine as follows: the Father bears record of the Son, the Son bears record of the Father, and the Holy Ghost bears record of the Father and Son. Notice that there is a reciprocal relationship of witnessing between the Father and the Son, but that the Holy Ghost is never testified of—the Holy Ghost only bears record of the Father and Son, of these two in their reciprocal testimonies. Notice that this pattern is familiar from the temple: the Father and the Son are bound or sealed together by the Holy Ghost, by the Holy Spirit of Promise. I would posit that the one doctrine that grounds Zion as such is this familial doctrine of God: God is a sealed family.

This makes some sense of the mention of the “new covenant” in the second paragraph on page 185: Zion is a question of the new covenant, a phrase attached in scripture both to the Book of Mormon, with its doctrine of ancient fathers/mothers seeking out modern sons/daughters in order to restore covenants, and to the celestial order of marriage or sealing.

If this approach is right, then the first full paragraph on page 186 becomes intelligible: “The building up of Zion is a cause that has interested the people of God in every age; it is a theme upon which prophets, priests, and kings have dwelt with peculiar delight; they have looked forward with joyful anticipation to the day in which we live.” Notice that Joseph here portrays the ancients—the fathers and mothers who received the covenants, the prophets, priests, and kings (kings and queens, priests and priestesses?)—as looking to the moderns to fulfill the work of the covenants they had received. So they have been “fired with heavenly and joyful anticipations” and “have sund and written and prophesied of this our day.” Moreover, as the relatively short paragraph that follows emphasizes, Zion is a place that “every righteous man will build up for a place of safety for his children.” And the next paragraph as well: “There your children shall be blessed.” Zion is first and foremost a question of celestial family.

Though of course that means that we will have to understand the nature of the celestial family, which is obviously quite different from the romantic notion of an earthly family eternalized that we too often talk about.

But all of these clarifications about what Zion is might seem to distract us from where Zion is. I do not think this “where” is without importance. The last full paragraph on page 186 explains, “In regard to the building up of Zion, it has to be done by the counsel of Jehovah, by the revelations of heaven.” We must not be seduced by the idea that Zion is a kind of automatic effect of our more or less doing what we’ve been asked to do. To build Zion is a question of the revelations and counsel of God—and so we will have to attend to the revelations concerning Zion.

On that note, then, we turn to page 188, where one finds the tenth Article of Faith: “We believe in the literal gathering of Israel and in the restoration of the Ten Tribes; that Zion (the New Jerusalem) will be built upon the American continent.” If this is not straightforward enough, the fourth full paragraph on page 188 finds Joseph quoting from Moses 7, the prophecy of Enoch, where the meaning of the New Jerusalem is clarified: it is a place of meeting, and it cannot be disconnected from ancient scenes that happened in the same location. That is, the location is itself a question of the connection between fathers and children, between ancients and moderns, as the last paragraph beginning on page 188 and its sequel make clear: “Men and angels are to be co-workers in bringing to pass this great work, and Zion is to be prepared”; “‘Behold this people will I establish in this land, unto the fulfilling of the covenant which I made with your father Jacob, and it shall be a New Jerusalem.'”

A specific location is called for, not because of the arbitrary will of God, but because certain things happened in that place anciently that call for the fulfillment of all things in the very same place. As Joseph says in the last paragraph beginning on page 185: “I cannot learn from any communication by the Spirit to me, that Zion has forfeited her claim to a celestial crown,” though, Joseph goes on to explain, many of the saints certainly had.

Indeed, the continuity of Zion in her established place nicely paves the way to the not so nice second theme of the lesson: the threat of losing an inheritance in Zion.

The threat of losing an inheritance in that geographically identified Zion

It is now worth quoting what I just quoted in greater length: “I cannot learn from any communication by the Spirit to me, that Zion has forgeited her claim to a celestial crown, notwithstanding the Lord has caused her to be thus afflicted, except it may be some individuals, who have walked in disobedience, and forsaken the new covenant.” Note that it is not Zion that is removed from its specific location, but we who refuse to build up Zion, who refuse to receive an inheritance. As Joseph says on page 186, “I know that Zion, in due time of the Lord, will be redeemed”; but how many of us will be redeemed, it is far less sure.

The last teaching beginning on page 186 is especially emphatic on this point: “If Zion will not purify herself, so as to be approved of in all things, in His sight, He will seek another people.” Notice here that it is not a question of God seeking another place, but another people: we can subtract ourselves from the gathering (and we perhaps have more or less done so as a whole people for now…). Joseph goes on: “for His work will go on until Israel is gathered, and they who will not hear His voice, must expect to feel His wrath.”

Further along in the same paragraph, now on page 187, Joseph explains why it is that we reject Zion, why it is that we refuse to receive an inheritance: “Repent, repent, is the voice of God to Zion; and strange as it may appear, yet it is true, mankind will persist in self-justification until all their iniquity is exposed, and their character past being redeemed, and that which is treasured up in their hearts be exposed to the gaze of mankind.” I wish I could explain how true that is, how I have seen it myself in the past week in some personal experiences! It is self-justification, our desire to be right or smart or good or liked or powerful or independent or whatever that keeps us out of Zion. We are so wrapped up in us, in being what we think we are, that we ignore the words that scream to us from the dust, the words of the dead, that tell us to repent and to depend on the angelic help those who wrote these texts would send us. If it is the “new covenant” that we ignore—and if the whole Church is therefore under condemnation, a condemnation that rests upon the children of Zion, even all—then it is specifically the scriptures that we refuse to countenance.

Hence (from page 187): “I say to you (and what I say to you I say to all,) hear the warning voice of God, lest Zion fall, adn the Lord swear in His wrath that the inhabitants of Zion shall not enter into His rest.” Or again, “So long as unrighteous acts are suffered in the Church, it cannot be sanctified, neither can Zion be redeemed.”

We have got to get over ourselves so that the work can get on. We have got to be so much less interested in getting our own, in getting what we deserve, in securing our images and reputations and attitudes, so that we can finally—finally—get on to the work of building the Kingdom. The covenant itself hangs in the balance—or our part in it does, at least.

5 Responses to “RS/MP Lesson 15: “Establishing the Cause of Zion” (Joseph Smith Manual)”

  1. Confutus said

    Consider some of these verses:

    D&C 58:6-7 Those who were sent to Missouri were sent there at least in part to lay the foundation and bear record of the land.

    D&C 58:44-56 Except for those specifically appointed to stay in Missouri, the time had not come “for many years” for them to receive their inheritances. The remainder were to preach in the area, and then return to their homes.

    In D&C 60:6, and 61:30. Joseph, Oliver, and Sidney were instructed to go to Cincinnati to preach.

    In D&C 64:21, Kirtland was appointed as a strong hold for the Church for the space of five years.

  2. joespencer said

    Thanks, Confutus, especially for the reference to D&C 64:21: Kirtland’s appointment is vital because it falls in the (non-intentionally) concluding revelation in the Book of Commandments. Fascinating to think about.

  3. BrianJ said

    Joe, thanks for keeping this series of posts going. Could you clarify this: “…a condemnation that rests upon the children of Zion, even all—then it is specifically the scriptures that we refuse to countenance.” I don’t see how the scriptures should necessarily be the focus here. Why not, for sake of argument, say “it is specifically charity that we refuse to countenance” or “it is specifically Christ as King that we refuse to countenance”?

    I taught this lesson today and it didn’t really go how I’d hoped. I wanted to draw some focus on the point that we see Zion as an actual place and yet we always talk about it as a though it springs from our heart (“Zion is the pure in heart” and all that). I wanted to talk about why it matters that we think of Zion as a specific, yet-to-be-built place, but the class just wasn’t seeing things the way I was.

    By the way, I think there are interesting parallels to the current state of Zion and the story of Israel’s selection, rejection outside of Canaan (for doubting), wandering in the desert, etc. Aren’t we currently a church in the desert, circling but not yet settling in Zion?

  4. joespencer said

    I was quoting from (or at least alluding to) D&C 84, where this language is used to describe the “new covenant, even the Book of Mormon.” Hence, scripture. But I think other interpretations remain quite possible.

  5. Host Trampled Underfoot said

    Future Zion is not a geographical location. “…the resurrected ancients bring texts to the living moderns so as to restore covenants and promises made in earlier ages”……this is accurate.

    The promises decreed as written in God’s Word concerning future events has begun. Read prophetic texts …. The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of God has been given to those who will see and understand. Those, through seeing, may not see and through hearing may not understand. God Almighty has ordered this to be so because these are evil times. Do not ponder on what you cannot understand for God Himself will show you if He so chooses. God Himself will instruct His people and reveal His plans to those He has chosen because He is the Almighty God and can do as He pleases. God Himself will open doors and you will know. Commit yourselves to Him fully and you will not be disappointed. Humbly turn from sinful ways and reverence the Lord with trembling, obeying His commands because He is God and He is worthy. He is the Almighty God and He does as He pleases and He WILL DO as He pleases. Have no predeterminations. God will soon unleash His wrath upon the world and all will see His Glory and His plans will be known to all…..plans that will unfold and turn the beliefs [doctrine] of man upside down and the truth will be thrown to the ground and trampled. He alone is the Almighty God and He does as He pleases – make no predeterminations. His thoughts are and always have been His, not to be questioned or predetermined by man. His plans are and always have been His, not to be questioned or predetermined by man. Commit to the Lord sacrifices of righteousness. Strengthen the hand of the needy and oppressed. Now show others the love of the Holy God that reigns in Heaven and on the earth, so that they might come to know Him. His plans of righteousness are soon to be revealed. The wicked will not understand, but God’s Saints will understand the things that are upon us, because they are wise. Turn and rely on the Almighty Counselor for doctrine of truth. Let Him strengthen and deepen your roots to see that you do not wither and faint at the things that are ordained to happen very soon, at the appointed time. Hear these words from the Host trampled underfoot. Fear God, you who do not listen. Those that hear, clothe yourselves in sackcloth and roll in ashes for these are EVIL times. Evil you cannot see and do not know that will rear up very soon and show itself. Prepare now. God Himself is about to bring on us a time like none we have ever seen. And we will stand in awe and KNOW that He is God, for you will see Him and you will know that it is He and no other. You will see Him among us. Hear these words from the Host trampled underfoot for they are true and will soon be. Hear these words and know.

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