Come Follow Me with Casey Paul Griffiths (Doctrine and Covenants 51-57, May 17-23) – powered by Happy Scribe
One of the words that you’ll hear a lot of times spoken in the church is Zion. We talk about being a Zion people or building Zion or one day arriving in the city of Zion. And we don’t always spend a lot of time thinking about what Zion actually means. One of the earliest mentions of Zion was revealed to Joseph Smith when he was translating the Bible. He found out that anciently. There was a city built by a prophet named Enoch called Zion to a Jewish person.
Zion is the mountain where the temple is built, where Jerusalem was located, and the homeland that they eventually want to immigrate back to as time progresses through the restoration. Joseph Smith finds out that Zion is a city that’s going to be built on the American continent. Later on, he says, the Zion is North and South America, that the church is saying that the headquarters of the church is Zion. And then probably the broadest and most important definition.
The Lord tells Joseph Smith that Zion is the pure in heart now, whereas today we focus on passages in the Book of Mormon, the talk about Jesus Christ or penance or salvation. The early members of the church were really focused on passages in the Book of Mormon that talked about this city. Passages like Ether 13 that discussed a new Jerusalem that would be built on this continent in the latter days. And they were really, really concerned with finding and locating the City of Zion.
You might remember that Hiram Page and the controversy over his seer stone that’s in Section 28 of the Doctrine Covenants was focused around the location of the City of Zion. And we’re not the only ones that have been concerned or obsessed with this. At one point, Joseph Smith said the building up of Zion is a cause that has interested the people of God in every age. It’s a theme upon which prophets, priests and kings have dwelt with peculiar delight. Well, starting in Section 51 of the doctrine covenants, there started to be answers about what Zion was going to be and how it was going to be built.
As the Saints continue to emigrate to Ohio following that command to gather that was given in Section 37, the Lord gives more instructions about Zion and even issues the call to Joseph Smith to travel to Zion in Section 52 of the Doctrine Covenants, Joseph Smith receives a revelation at a conference of the Elders that he was commanded to bring together in February 1831. Joseph Smith was told that the elders of the church should be called together from the east and from the west and from the north and from the south.
And at this conference, a few really, really unique things happen. John Witmer, the historian of the church, recorded that at the conference. The spirit of the Lord fell upon Joseph in an unusual manner, and he prophesied that John the Revelator was then among the ten tribes of Israel who had been led away to prepare them for their return from their long dispersion to again possess the land of their fathers. And he prophesied many more things other people at the conference prophesied as well.
And even Satan put an appearance at the conference John Witmer recorded. While the Lord poured out his spirit upon his servants. The devil took occasion to make known his power, and he bound Harvey Whitlock and John Murdoch so that they could not speak and others were affected. But the Lord showed to Joseph, the Seer, the design of this thing, and he commanded the devil in the name of Christ, and he departed to our joy and comfort. A number of other significant milestones are reached in this conference.
For instance, the first distinctive ordinations to the office of High Priest were performed here. Twenty four elders were called to go on a mission to Missouri to identify the location of Zion. And Joseph Smith was told that the next conference of the church should be held in Missouri. So at this conference, there was this call to travel to Missouri. And when they got there, the location of the City of Zion would be identified. Now, in the sections that follow right up to section fifty seven, there’s a gathering of people that are being asked to travel to Missouri, for instance, and section 53 of the doctrine covenants.
Sidney Gilbert, this guy who owns a store with milk, Whitney in Kirtland, is asked to travel to Missouri and become an agent of the church in Missouri. Sidney Gilbert isn’t someone you hear a lot about in church history, but he is important for some of the people that he brought into the church. For instance, Sidney has a niece named Mary Elizabeth Rawlence lightener. Mary was a little girl who found a copy of The Book of Mormon from her uncle, took it and went home and read it.
She kept borrowing copies of the Book of Mormon back and forth from people until she finally ran into Joseph Smith. Mary later remembered he came and put his hands on my head and gave me a great blessing the first I ever received. He made me a prisoner in the book and said he would give Brother Morley another book. Mary later moved with her uncle and she becomes instrumental in saving the manuscript that becomes the doctrine covenants. There are other people that don’t choose to go to Zion but are forced to go to Zion.
You might remember the Knight family going all the way back to Colesville, that group that supported and helped Joseph’s. While he was translating The Book of Mormon and in the early difficulties that he had, they immigrate to Kirtland where they’re allowed to live through the law of consecration on the land of Lehman Copely, the guy who was associated with the shaker’s back in Section 49. Unfortunately, Leemon Copely starts to waffle on his commitment to the law of consecration, and he forcibly evicted the Colesville branch from living on his farm.
The Colesville branch is instead commanded to immigrate to Missouri and participate in the founding of the City of Zion. They didn’t see this as a bad thing, even though it was an incredible hardship for them. They saw it as a huge honor that they would be the first branch of the church planted in the Land of Zion. Nguni later reflected. This was the first branch of the church which had immigrated to the Land of Zion. And I found that it required all the wisdom I had to lead this company through so long a journey in the midst of enemies, yet so great, where the mercies and blessings of God that not one of us were harmed and we made our journey in safety inspection 55.
You’ll see another interesting person join into the mix. His name is William W. Phelps. William W. Phelps was a newspaper editor that heard tell of the Book of Mormon before he joined the church. He had a testimony of the Book of Mormon and started to defend it in print, even to the point where he was thrown in jail because he refused to give up his testimony of the Book of Mormon. He eventually traveled to Kirtland, met with Joseph Smith, received a blessing that became section fifty five of the doctrine evidence, and was commanded to also travel to Missouri alongside Joseph Smith to be there when the location of the city was identified.
You might remember that William Phelps W.W. Phelps is the author of some of the most beloved hymns of the restoration, including The Spirit of God Like a fire burning Redeemer of Israel. If you could hide a Kolob Ataman Diamond and a number of these other wonderful hymns. So in these sections, this company of elders and the Colesville branch are put together on the road to Missouri. They don’t know exactly what’s going to happen when they get there and they don’t know what to expect, but they know that the Lord has promised that when they arrive, they will receive the location of the City of Zion.
And that’s what happens in section fifty seven of the doctrine covenants. They arrive in this little frontier village called Independence, Missouri. And the Lord finally tells them that near independence is where the city of God will be built. Now, we know because of our position in the future what happens between now and then and the struggles that the Saints face in Missouri and the ups and downs that they experience. But at this point in time, all they know is that God has elected them to build the city of God, a place where all people of all backgrounds will gather together and worship.
But at this point, while they’re fixated on the land, they still haven’t received the most important lesson that comes along with the City of Zion, and that is that the City of Zion is not about the land as much as it is about the people. A later revelation will give us the best and purest definition of Zion. In Section ninety seven of the doctrine covenants, the Lord said. Therefore, verily, thus say at the Lord, let Zion rejoice, for this is Zion, the pure and heart.
Therefore, let Zion rejoice while all the wicked some Mormon. It’s not really about the land as much as it is about the people. The Lord will take care of the land when we’re ready and when we’re pure. But Zion fundamentally at its core consists of the pure in heart. And everybody that was drafted on the Road to Zion didn’t realize that even the journey to Missouri was part of the purifying process that they needed to go through so that they were worthy to not only build Zion, but that they were the type of people that could live there once it was built.