Saturday, August 10, 2013

Doctrine and Covenants Lesson 30. "The Prisoners Shall Go Free"

Doctrine and Covenants 2; 124:25-55; 127; 128; JSH 1:36-39

For this lesson I want to use Doctrine and Covenants 128 as the main text. We are going to go through this section sequentially to try and capture the spirit of the doctrine contained within and a measure of the pure joy and completeness it brings to the gospel plan. Note that this lesson is very similar in topic to lesson 39 of this year's gospel study. Today we are going to study more the general concept and joy of the doctrine of baptism for the dead while in lesson 39 we will study more the practice of the ordinance and it's effect.

Joseph Smith first shared the doctrine of baptism for the dead with the Saints at a funeral (Seymour Brunson's) in August 1840 and then had expounded on it in various revelations during 1841-42 due to some early procedural issues (recording of baptisms and not in temple font and women being baptized for men and vice versa). One of those revelations was written in a letter to the Saints on September 6 1842 and is now what we call Section 128 of the Doctrine and Covenants.

As you read through this section you will see he certainly clarifies specific points of procedure but more importantly, today, try to feel what Joseph Smith is feeling as he writes this letter, as he declares this doctrine and as he tries to impress upon the Saints how it completes everything in the gospel plan.

v.1 Joseph explains that the subject of baptism for the dead "seems to occupy my mind, and press itself upon my feelings the strongest,..." He is being prompted by the Spirit. Do we recognize and follow such promptings in our personal lives?
v.2-4 Joseph clarifies the necessity of recording the baptisms and the process of recording these baptisms in unison with the Law of Witnesses. In Section 124 he also clarifies the need for these baptisms to be done in the temple and in a font built specifically for these baptisms.
v.5-11 Joseph bears testimony of the principle of recording the baptisms and its part in the great Eternal Plan. He also bears testimony of the sealing power of the priesthood wherein what is bound on earth is bound in heaven.
v.12-14 Joseph explains the symbolism of the baptism and baptism font. Note: in verse 12, talking of the ordinance of baptism for the living, Joseph says "..hence this ordinance was instituted to form a relationship with the ordinance of baptism for the dead" In other words even baptism of the living by immersion itself points to the doctrine of baptism for the dead. For those that like to ponder the "deep" mysteries, this may invoke a study of chicken and egg proportions - which came first in the great Eternal Plan, baptism for the dead or baptism for the living?
15 "these are principles in relation to the dead and the living that cannot be lightly passed over, as pertaining to our salvation. For their salvation is necessary and essential to our salvation...they without us cannot be made perfect - neither can we without our dead be made perfect."                                                  
How important is this work? Teamwork; We are eternally linked to our ancestors, our family. We cannot be saved without saving others. Our salvation rests upon whether we become saviours to others.
Verse 17 "this most glorious of all subjects belonging to the everlasting gospel" and repeats a scripture that Moroni first spoke to Joseph 21st Sept 1823. Remember he visited Joseph with the same message and same scriptures, 3 times that night.

“It is tremendously significant to me that…this repetition of the wondrous words of Malachi concerning the work for the dead, was given to the boy Joseph four years before he was allowed to take the plates from the hill.  It was given before he received either the Aaronic or Melchizedek Priesthood, before he was baptized, and well before the Church was organized. It says much concerning the priority of this work in the plan of the Lord”  
                                                                  Gordon B Hinckley 
18 "for it is necessary in the ushering in of the dispensation of the fulness of times...that a whole and complete and perfect union, and welding together of dispensations and keys and powers and glories should take place and be revealed from the days of Adam even to the present time"

How important is this work? "welding together of dispensations and powers..." and people! This is not just about us and our generation. This gospel was not restored for just us. It was restored for everyone living and the dead. Hence Joseph Smith being quoted Malachi right from the very beginning.

It has been suggested that there have been anywhere from 70 to 110 billion people on the earth since Adam. We have just 7 billion on the earth today. What does that say about the importance of this doctrine to a loving Heavenly Father?

v19-21 What do we hear? Let those that have ears, let them hear? It's almost as if Joseph is asking the Saints if they get it? Do you get the significance of this doctrine? Do you get how important, in the grand scheme, this doctrine is?
i) voice of gladness (gospel plan in general), voice of mercy from heaven (atonement and baptism for dead), voice of truth out of the earth (Book of Mormon and missionary work for living), voice of gladness for living and dead (gospel is for all!)
see also other voices and what they revealed in bringing this plan together in the fulness of times.

v.22 ordained from the very beginning. Not just an afterthought but He "ordained, before the world was, that which would enable us to redeem them out of their prison;"
"...For the prisoners shall go free."
1. Who are these prisoners?
2. Why are they prisoners?
3. Who/What is holding them prisoner?
4. Who/What shall free them?

1. Who are these prisoners? They are those that have already died before us. In Spirit Prison
2. Why are they prisoners? "...those who had died in their sins, without a knowledge of the truth, or in transgression, having rejected the prophets." D&C 138:32 Two categories: those that had been sinful but not had a knowledge (ignorant in sin) and those had transgressed and rejected the prophets message. (honorable men but blinded by men) D&C 76:72-75
3. Who/What is holding them prisoner? In short, justice. Like any prisoner they are held captive due to a law being broken and justice demands its prisoner. Moses 7:38 The Lord prepared the prison to satisfy the temporary demands of justice but has prepared a plan that through the Law of Mercy will allow the prisoners to go free upon certain conditions.
4. Who/What shall free them? We shall. "that which would enable US to redeem them" In essence the Lord in giving us the priesthood, in giving us temples and in revealing the doctrine and ordinance of baptism for the dead has given us the key. Either we use it and let them out...or we explain why we did not let the prisoners go free.
“In our preexistent state, in the day of the great council, we made certain agreement with the Almighty.  The Lord proposed a plan, conceived by him.  We accepted it.  Since the plan is intended for all men, we become parties to the salvation of every person under that plan.  We agreed, right then and there, to be not only saviors for ourselves, but…saviors for the whole human family. We went into a partnership with the Lord.  The working out of the plan became then not merely the Father’s work, and the Savior’s work, but also our work.  The least of us, the humblest, is in partnership with the Almighty in achieving the purpose of the eternal plan of salvation”   
                                                                               Elder John A Widtsoe, 1934
What an incredible, amazing complete plan. How merciful is the Lord when you see this as it all fits together here in this final dispensation?
v.23 " glorious is the voice we hear from heaven..." This whole verse is like a song of praise. This is a little off topic but there is a great talk by Spencer W. Kimball entitled "What do we hear?" Click on it to listen or read it.
I don't know about you but this letter from Joseph and this talk by Spencer W Kimball seem to invoke a very similar spirit of praise and rejoicing. Tell me what you thought?

24 "Let us therefore, as a church and a people and as Latter Day Saints...present in his holy temple, when it is finished, a book containing the records of our dead, which shall be worthy of all acceptation"
Would it not be awful to be there and have empty pages where we should have had entries?

Finally, remember the funeral where Joseph Smith chose to first declare this restored doctrine? Seymour Brunson was a well-loved, and respected man among the Saints. Heber C Kimball wrote of Bro. Brunson's funeral later in a letter to John Taylor, that:
"the procession that went to his (Seymour Brunson's) grave was judged to be a mile long and a more joyful season Vitale Kimball (Hebers wife) says she never saw before on account of the glory that Joseph set forth.

Think of that - all these mourners turned from grief to joy because of the doctrine of salvation for the dead. Now consider all the prisoners who have filled the prison since the world began (an estimated 60 million at least) and how they each and all felt when they first heard this doctrine and then when they first saw a descendant be baptized and become temple worthy. And then consider how they felt as the temple and this ordinance became more easily accessible across the world as more and more temples have been built and continue to be announced.

This is a great work and it is only just beginning.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Doctrine and Covenants Lesson 29 "Building the Kingdom of God"

Doctrine and Covenants 124, 126

3 Questions for Discussion and Study

1. What can we learn from the Saints in those early days in Nauvoo about building the Kingdom of God
2. Why would the Lord send these men on missions, when they and their families are sick, scarcely provided for and some homes only half built?
3. What part did and does the organization of the Relief Society play in building the Kingdom of God?

The restored Nauvoo Temple
Locating the Kingdom of God

  • Around 8000 Saints needed a home
  • Most Saints fled from Missouri to Illinois to escape Governor Bogg's extermination order
  • When Joseph Smith was allowed to escape from Liberty in April 1839, the Saints still had no place to call home
  • Within 2 weeks Joseph had travelled to Illinois, identified and purchased the land around about Commerce, Illinois
Question 1. What can we learn from the Saints in those early days in Nauvoo about building the Kingdom of God?

The following excerpts give us a very real idea exactly what the Saints were encountering:
“When I made the purchase…The land was mostly covered with trees and bushes, and much of it so wet that it was with the utmost difficulty a footman could get through, and totally impossible for teams. Commerce was so unhealthful, very few people could live there; but believing that it might become a healthful place by the blessing of heaven to the Saints, and no more eligible place presenting itself, I considered it wisdom to make an attempt to build up a city”                                                Joseph Smith 
"I toiled and assisted in opening some of the first streets in that part of the city, with my own hands by cutting down the timber and underbrush which was so interwoven with grapevines that it was difficult to get one tree to fall till several were cut off."                          Jesse Wentworth Crosby, 1839
“Attempts had been made to build a city at this spot, previous to the entrance of the Saints, but all the inhabitants, with the exception of three or four families, had died,…It was a common saying among the inhabitants of the surrounding country that, if the Mormons could live there, they could live anywhere”                               Benjamin Brown, 1839
Joseph Smith's reasons for settling here are a great indicator as to how we should make important decisions in our lives. Firstly it is important to indicate logic and sound reasoning played it's part. As Joseph states that with "no more eligible place presenting itself,..." it made sense. The logic says everywhere else that they have tried to settle they have been turned from and persecuted. So maybe here in the swamp that no one else wants to settle would be a great place where the Saints will be left unmolested. But along with the logic was great spiritual reasoning: "believing that it might become a healthful place by the blessing of heaven".
When we follow this process of using the sound mind the Lord has given us along with spiritual reasoning and prayer we can be safely guided in the decisions we make.

What everyone else sees as uninhabitable swampland the Lord and His servants saw as a choice spot. They even called it Nauvoo which in Hebrew is meant to be interpreted as "beautiful". I wonder if we see the same potential in ourselves, in those around us and in the towns and cities where we live.

I believe one of the great lessons these early Saints teach us about building the Kingdom of God is that the building starts from within each of us. To the less spiritually discerning, choice lands or choice spirits may first appear to us as the swamps of Commerce, Illinois.

Growing the Kingdom of God (or Proclaiming the Gospel)

  • 8th August 1839 Wilford Woodruff and John Taylor leave for the England Mission
  • 18th September 1839 Brigham Young and Heber C Kimball leave for the England Mission
  • George A. Smith joined them en route

Ask yourselves if you have served a mission or if you have sent children on a mission, how was your last day with them? What did you do that day? Did you have a nice meal with them? Maybe you made last minute checks that luggage and passports are all in order? It was probably a day filled with anxious feelings. The young missionary wondering how they will do? Will they be successful? How will I cope away from home for 2 years? The parents are likely struggling to let go, feeling well-pleased but yet sadly recognizing that their "little ones" are no longer little and are growing up and leaving the protection of home to make their own choices.

Now consider the circumstances of these early missionaries as they left their families in Nauvoo in 1839. Wilford Woodruff was deathly sick when he departed from his family as was his wife he was leaving behind. John Taylor became deathly sick before they reached New York. Both Brigham Young and Heber C Kimball were sick when they left on their missions as were their families and Brigham Young's wife Mary Anne had just given birth 4 days previous to their departure. 3 days after giving birth, Mary Anne crossed the river to care for her husband in his sickness. George A Smith for his part departed on his mission without an overcoat and had to depend on the charity of members in New York to make him an overcoat.

"Early upon the morning of the 8th of August, I arose from my bed of sickness, laid my hands upon the head of my sick wife, Phoebe, and blessed her. I then departed from the embrace of my companion, and left her almost without food or the necessaries of life. She suffered my departure with the fortitude that becomes a saint, realizing the responsibilities of her companion"                                                   Wilford Woodruff
"Heber said he felt that “my very inmost parts would melt within me at leaving my family in such a condition, as it were almost in the arms of death. I felt as though I could not endure it. I asked the teamster to stop, and said to Brother Brigham, ‘This is pretty tough, isn’t it; let’s rise up and give them a cheer.’ We arose, and swinging our hats three times over our heads, shouted: ‘Hurrah, hurrah for Israel.’ Vilate, hearing the noise, arose from her bed and came to the door. She had a smile on her face. Vilate and Mary Anne Young cried out to us: ‘Goodbye, God bless you.”               Heber C. Kimball
Question 2. Why would the Lord send these men on missions when they and their families are sick and scarcely provided for and some houses only half built?

When I read those events I cant help but consider how different my journal entries would have been in the same circumstances. Mine may have read more like "I asked the teamster to stop, and TURN AROUND!"

We often compare the Saints back then to ourselves and say we could not handle what they endured and maybe they could not handle what we endured. In reading these diary entries I wonder if we use that as an excuse. How many times have we canceled a home or visit teach because we were sick or because we were just tired after work etc? How many times have we just not gone out to teach with missionaries for the same reason. Or maybe we are too tired to read the scriptures or pray? I don't know about you but when I read these accounts it makes you realize what great faith these Saints had. And it was not just the great priesthood leaders but also their wives and families that we don't often hear so much about.

Is it any wonder then when we see such faith, that the Saints of the early Latter Days experienced visions and angelic visitations and the great miracles of the early church. Just read about the work in Chatburn and Downham or at Benbow Farm in UK. This was a great work that was vital to growing the Kingdom of God. The missionary work in England is comparable to the great missionary stories in Alma. Much of the Latter Day church was built on the foundation of the missionary work that these faithful families sacrificed so much for.

Nurturing the Kingdom of God (or Perfecting the Saints)

Question 3. What part did and does the organization of the Relief Society play in building the Kingdom of God?

In 1842, as the construction of the Nauvoo temple was in full swing Margaret Cooke and Sarah Kimball joined their resources together to provide shirts for the temple workers. Sarah Kimball was financially secure and purchased the material, while Margaret Cooke was a seamstress and used her skills to turn the material into wearable shirts for those working on the construction of the temple. As the needs increased other sisters joined the effort. Eventually they decided to formally organize and they created a constitution for this organization and took it to the brethren for approval. Joseph Smith loved what he saw and envisaged taking it even further and gave the sisters permission to organize under the authority of the priesthood.
On 17th March 1842 they were officially organized as The Female Relief Society of Nauvoo. Joseph Smith addressed the 20 sisters that formed the original organization that day with these words:

"The object of the Society [is] that the Society of Sisters might provoke the brethren to good works in looking to the wants of the poor - searching after objects of charity, and in administering to their wants—to assist by correcting the morals and strengthening the virtues of the community, and save the Elders the trouble of rebuking..."      Joseph Smith
I don't know if you noticed that but I really liked that line that the Society was there to help "provoke the brethren to good works". What do you think of that? I think it is a fascinating line and seems to suggest what many Latter-Day Saints have often said, that the sisters are more naturally caring and nurturing and we brethren need them to help us to think more of these things and provoke us more to action. I think this is a fascinating way to view the Relief Society, especially from a priesthood perspective. Tell me what you think.

We have all read Moses 7:18 that speaks of Zion being a place where everyone "dwelt together in righteousness and there were no poor among them" As I consider this more and what triggered the organization of the Relief Society it seems very apparent that the Lord's hand was involved in guiding his Latter Day Saints toward building His Kingdom through this great organization we now call Relief Society. This was part of His great plan.  The Relief Society is not just a wonderful program for the Sisters it was a very important part of making Zion actually happen.

It is astonishing to me what the Nauvoo Saints accomplished when you consider what they had to start with. But their accomplishments are the results of their faith and commitment, their sacrifice and the power that comes from the covenants they were finally able to make as the temple was introduced into this temporary Zion.

To conclude, please follow this link to a talk by Elder L Tom Perry in the 1987 Conference. The link will allow you to either read or watch his address on video.

"United in Building the Kingdom of God" Elder L Tom Perry, 1987

It is a fantastic insight into building the Kingdom of God in Nauvoo and how it relates to us today. It will make you feel that maybe we can do more. Maybe we too can produce something beautiful out of the swamps of our lives.