Martin and Lucy Harris had one of the finest farms in Palmyra, New York.
It had taken them years to acquire, had enabled them to raise a family, and had given them good standing in the community. But in 1829 it became clear that the Book of Mormon could be published only if Martin mortgaged his farm to pay the printer.
Martin had a testimony of the Book of Mormon, but Lucy did not. If Martin went forward with the mortgage and the Book of Mormon did not sell well, he would lose his farm and jeopardize his marriage.
At some time or another, we all face questions similar to those that Martin may have been facing: What is the gospel of Jesus Christ worth to me? What am I willing to sacrifice to help build God’s kingdom?
It may help us to remember that no one has ever paid a higher price to bless God’s children than Jesus Christ, “the greatest of all” (Doctrine and Covenants 19:18).
Martin made the decision to mortgage his farm. His sacrifice paid for the printing of the first 5,000 copies of the Book of Mormon. And now, more than 190 million copies later, millions of souls around the world have been blessed.
D&C 19 is intense. Martin Harris is apprehensive about financing the printing of the Book of Mormon. First, Mr. Grandin, the printer, is charging $3000 for 5000 copies–a steep price in those days. Second, he requires Martin to put up 151 acres of his land as collateral in case the books don’t sell. Martin may lose everything; the stakes are high. Third, Martin’s wife not only objects to this plan, but is actively hostile to his whole involvement with Joseph Smith; and she’s not quiet in her opposition. As I learned this backstory and more about Martin Harris, and then read this revelation, I was troubled. It seemed a little severe, even stern, to me. I’ve had to reread and reconsider by initial reaction. (I’ve found that my initial, often judgmental, reactions to many things tend to be inaccurate, if not completely misguided) An example. I used to think Nephi (1) was arrogant and I’d find myself taking the side of Laman and Lemuel—with a little hostility towards Nephi. Now my feelings towards Nephi have softened considerably, are nuanced, and I’m filled with admiration for his courage, strength, and, yes, humility.
Back to Martin Harris. Why was my first reaction so visceral? I identify with Martin Harris. My husband and I earn a sufficient living, own our comfortable home. We have spent a lifetime getting to this point, working hard. My whole family is blessed. Not one family member lost their job during this pandemic–that’s five children and their spouses. I hope this doesn’t seem like boasting. I’m making a point (trying to, anyway!). What would be my response to Section 19 if it was directed at me? You already know that my first reaction would probably be problematic.
Let’s dive in. I reacted to the following verses in particular. D&C 19:15 “Therefore I command you to repent—repent, lest I smite you by the rod of my mouth, and by my wrath, and by my anger, and your sufferings be sore—how sore you know not, how exquisite you know not, yea, how hard to bear you know not…20 Wherefore, I command you again to repent, lest I humble you with my almighty power; and that you confess your sins, lest you suffer these punishments of which I have spoken, of which in the smallest, yea, even in the least degree you have tasted at the time I withdrew my Spirit.” Repent of what? 26 “…I command thee that thou shalt not covet thine own property, but impart it freely to the printing of the Book of Mormon, which contains the truth and the word of God.” Yikes! That seemed to me to be a lot to ask. And I wondered why Jesus Christ would offer the advice couched in such seemingly hard words. I know myself well enough that I wasn’t seeing His words correctly. That’s when I began to review these and other verses.
Repentance. The Savior really wants Martin to repent—in the worst way. At times I’ve looked at this principle of the Gospel negatively–as punishment. These verses seemed to back that up. But, looking more deeply, they really don’t. Jesus Christ is pleading with Martin to repent; the Savior is emphasizing what will happen if he doesn’t repent or change or turn towards Him. He wants Martin to understand frankly, completely, and truthfully the consequences of an unrepentant life.
Within, around, and through these consequences, Jesus tells Martin, in love, what repentance really means. It’s not punishment. He loves Martin (and you and me) so very much that He wants to take the burden from our shoulders. D&C 19: “16 For behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent.” He loves us with such a breathtaking magnitude that He went through Gethsemane and the cross that we “might not suffer”. And then, in Christ’s only autobiographical description of the Atonement, He continues: 17 “But if they would not repent they must suffer even as I; 18 Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit—and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink—19 Nevertheless, glory be to the Father, and I partook and finished my preparations unto the children of men.” He suffered so that if Martin would utilize the Atonement and grace in his life, he wouldn’t have to suffer as Jesus Christ did. Martin Harris wouldn’t need to bear the burden alone or, at times, at all. Jesus Christ, Redeemer, promises to lift Martin and strengthen him. Please, Martin, Repent! Please, Mary, Repent!
Section 19 is not focused on fire and brimstone, even though that’s all I saw initially. It’s part of the reality of God’s plan for those who won’t repent. The focus here is on what happens to our lives when we turn to Him, submit our wills to His will, offer our pain for His joy, and choose His love over our fears. He stands ready to transform our weakness into His strength.
Where Can I Turn for Peace
Where, when my aching grows,
Where, when I languish,
Where, in my need to know, where can I run?
Where is the quiet hand to calm my anguish?
Who, who can understand?
He, only One.
He answers privately,
Reaches my reaching
In my Gethsemane, Savior and Friend.
Gentle the peace he finds for my beseeching.
Constant he is and kind,
Love without end.
D&C 20:Revelation on Church organization and government, given through Joseph Smith the Prophet, at or near Fayette, New York. Portions of this revelation may have been given as early as summer 1829. The complete revelation, known at the time as the Articles and Covenants, was likely recorded soon after April 6, 1830 (the day the Church was organized). The Prophet wrote, “We obtained of Him [Jesus Christ] the following, by the spirit of prophecy and revelation; which not only gave us much information, but also pointed out to us the precise day upon which, according to His will and commandment, we should proceed to organize His Church once more here upon the earth.”
D&C 21:Revelation given to Joseph Smith the Prophet, at Fayette, New York, April 6, 1830. This revelation was given at the organization of the Church, on the date named, in the home of Peter Whitmer Sr. Six men, who had previously been baptized, participated. By unanimous vote these persons expressed their desire and determination to organize, according to the commandment of God (see section 20). They also voted to accept and sustain Joseph Smith Jr. and Oliver Cowdery as the presiding officers of the Church. With the laying on of hands, Joseph then ordained Oliver an elder of the Church, and Oliver similarly ordained Joseph. After administration of the sacrament, Joseph and Oliver laid hands upon the participants individually for the bestowal of the Holy Ghost and for the confirmation of each as a member of the Church.
D&C 22:Revelation given through Joseph Smith the Prophet, at Manchester, New York, April 16, 1830. This revelation was given to the Church in consequence of some who had previously been baptized desiring to unite with the Church without rebaptism.