Cover image: Independence, Missouri, by Al Rounds.
“Hearken, o ye elders of my church, and give ear to my word, and learn of me what I will concerning you, and also concerning this land unto which I have sent you.”
So begins the great revelation now known as Section 58 of the Doctrine and Covenants. It was originally given to the Saints who were called to gather to the land of Zion in Missouri. That land had great symbolic value to the Saints. It was said to be the site of Eden, the paradise of God, and also the site of the New Jerusalem of the latter days. As the Saints gathered to the “land where Adam dwelt” (117:8), the story of God’s children would come full circle to where it all began.
This lesson is about how to take the journey on the covenant path toward the Savior’s kingdom of Zion.
For the early Saints, the invitation to come up to Zion was the culmination of all their hopes. Here they would meet the Savior and enter His kingdom. Here they would find rest in the paradise of God.
But there would be a pre-requisite to paradise: “Much tribulation.”
“Ye cannot behold with your natural eyes, for the present time, the design of your God concerning those things which shall come hereafter, and the glory which shall follow after much tribulation” (58:3).
Like Adam and Eve, the Saints would be cast out of their Eden before they could claim the blessings. Like Adam and Eve, they would be tried and tested in a world of thorns and thistles. Without reviewing the story of their banishment from Missouri, we need only to recall how much the early Saints suffered through that ordeal.
In Section 58, the Lord warns them that Zion would not be achieved “for many years” (58:44) and then not without great trial and effort. “For after much tribulation come the blessings” (58:4).
Why must we pay this price?
The word “tribulation” comes from the Latin “tribulum,” a device used anciently to separate grain from chaff. It took the form of a large board studded with spikes; when dragged across sheaves of wheat, it would cut up the stalks and leave the grain intact. No wonder the “tribulum” became a symbol of a refining trial. We should understand tribulation not as random, meaningless suffering but as the process that filters pride from our hearts and purifies us “to be crowned with much glory” (58:4).
Along the path we will experience tribulation that our “hearts may be prepared” (58:6). It is also a “covenant path,” and like Adam and Eve we take certain covenants that enable us to succeed on the path.
What are those covenants?
Adam and Eve first covenanted to obey the commandments of God. “Blessed is he that keepeth my commandments. . . . and he that is faithful in tribulation, the reward of the same is greater in the kingdom of heaven” (58:2). So, the path to the land of Zion begins with the law of obedience: “I say unto you, for this cause I have sent you—that you might be obedient” (58:6). Obedience to the law of God is required of everyone on that path. “My law shall be kept on this land” (58:19).
Of course, keeping the law of obedience with exactness is an immense challenge. So, what if we falter? the Atonement of Christ permits repentance and a return to the covenant path: “Behold, he who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I, the Lord, remember them no more” (58:42). This is perhaps the most comforting of all the blessings of the Atonement.
We also covenant to obey the law of sacrifice. Adam and Eve offered sacrifices, and so must we. “Thou shalt offer a sacrifice unto the Lord thy God in righteousness, even that of a broken heart and a contrite spirit” (59:8).
“What are a broken heart and a contrite spirit? And why are they considered a sacrifice?” asks Elder Bruce D. Porter, who then answers:
“When we sin and desire forgiveness, a broken heart and a contrite spirit mean to experience ‘godly sorrow [that] worketh repentance’ (2 Cor. 7:10). . . . Those who have a broken heart and a contrite spirit are willing to do anything and everything that God asks of them, without resistance or resentment. We cease doing things our way and learn to do them God’s way instead. In such a condition of submissiveness, the Atonement can take effect and true repentance can occur” (“A Broken Heart and a Contrite Spirit,” General Conference, Oct. 2007).
In other words, what we sacrifice is our own willful insistence on “doing things our way.”
We also keep the law of sacrifice through our offerings. “Thou shalt offer thine oblations and thy sacraments unto the Most High” (59:12). An oblation is a gift offered to God. Our tithes, fast offerings, and other donations are tokens of our love for the Savior.
Next, we covenant to obey the law of the gospel of Jesus Christ, which is summed up in D&C 59:5-6: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy might, mind, and strength; and in the name of Jesus Christ thou shalt serve him. Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. Thou shalt not steal; neither commit adultery, nor kill, nor do anything like unto it.”
But how can we obey a commandment to “love”? By serving God and others “in the name of Jesus Christ.”
He “gave unto [us] commandments that [we] should love and serve him, the only living and true God” (20:19). Service leads to love. “We come to love those we serve,” says Elder Henry B. Eyring (“As a Child,” General Conference, April 2006).
The law of the gospel is a higher covenant than mere obedience. It is the commandment to be “anxiously engaged” in serving. “It is not meet that I should command in all things; for he that is compelled in all things, the same is a slothful and not a wise servant” (58:26-27). “He that doeth not anything until he is commanded, and receiveth a commandment with a doubtful heart, and keepeth it with slothfulness, the same is damned” (58:29).
We “live the gospel” not just by keeping commandments but by offering loving service to God. It’s one thing to obey God, but quite another to love God. When we find ourselves fulfilling our callings because we love the Savior, we have advanced beyond mere obedience and progressed to the level of keeping the law of the gospel.
I regret to say I have been “slothful” in some of my Church callings. I have not lived up to the law of the gospel. However, I’ve had some contrasting experiences as well. I once received a calling but had no idea how to carry it out. This time, I went to the Lord and asked for help. I asked for counsel from my priesthood leaders. I studied the scriptures about my calling. I researched what others had done with it. I set a measurable goal and made the effort to achieve it.
The blessings that came from that simple process astounded me. The goal was met and exceeded. Many people were blessed, but I was the most blessed. The Lord’s promise to those who are “anxiously engaged” was fulfilled in my life: “They shall be crowned with blessings from above . . . they that are faithful and diligent before me” (59:4).
Ultimately, we are asked like Adam and Eve to make a covenant to accept the law of consecration. To “consecrate” is to dedicate a thing to a holy purpose. Essentially, we commit to follow divine direction through authorized servants of the Lord in determining how to so dedicate our lives.
How do we carry out that commitment to consecrate our lives to building up the kingdom of God?
Many of us don’t realize that consecration means following inspired counsel. For example, to the early Saints in Zion the Lord said this: “It is a law unto every man that cometh into this land [that] he shall do with his money according as the law directs” (58:36). The important word here is “direct.” “Let all things be done in order,” the Lord says, as “made known from time to time by the bishop.” “Let the work of the gathering . . . be done as it shall be counseled by the elders of the church at the conferences, according to the knowledge which they receive from time to time” (58:55-56).
Our priesthood leaders receive direction from the Spirit, and they in turn direct how we shall consecrate what we have to give. We break the law of consecration by rejecting their counsel. The Lord is “not well pleased” with those who “seek to excel” or who “seek the praise of the world” (58:39, 41); these are the typical motives of church members who interpret the law of consecration for themselves.
The reward for keeping our covenants is “peace in this world, and eternal life in the world to come” (59:23). “Wherefore, the day cometh that ye shall be crowned with much glory” (58:4). Jesus says the faithful “shall receive a crown in the mansions of my Father” (59:2), the kingdom of which the Sabbath day is the type.
The Sabbath symbolizes the return to Eden, the paradise of God. Adam and Eve yearned for it. The early Saints yearned for it, and so do we. “In Hebrew, the word Sabbath means ‘rest,’” says President Russell M. Nelson. “The purpose of the Sabbath dates back to the Creation of the world, when after six days of labor the Lord rested from the work of creation” (“The Sabbath Is a Delight,” General Conference, April 2015). Likewise, through six days we labor, but the seventh “is a day appointed unto you to rest from your labors, and to pay thy devotions unto the Most High” (59:10).
To “enter into the rest of the Lord” is to receive eternal life (see Heb. 4:1-10). Therefore, each Sabbath day gives us a foretaste of that great reward when the days of tribulation are over. It can be a day of “perfect joy,” “rejoicing,” “glad hearts,” and “cheerful countenances” (59:13-15).
How do we “enter into” this rest?
“Thou shalt go up to the house of prayer and offer up thy sacraments upon my holy day. . . . And on this day thou shalt do none other thing, only let thy food be prepared with singleness of heart, that thy fasting may be perfect, or in other words, that thy joy may be full” (59:9, 13).
President Nelson asks, “How can you ensure that your behavior on the Sabbath will lead to joy and rejoicing? In addition to your going to church, partaking of the sacrament, and being diligent in your specific call to serve, what other activities would help to make the Sabbath a delight for you? What sign will you give to the Lord to show your love for Him?” (“The Sabbath Is a Delight,” General Conference, April 2015.)
We each answer these questions for ourselves, but let’s remember that by honoring the Sabbath we prepare ourselves for a fulness of joy in eternity.
For me, the Sabbath is a peaceful day—not just because of the absence of the tumult of the workaday world, but because of peace of the Spirit. It fills our home on the Sabbath. It’s a day of reverence, a day of quiet, sacred music, prayers, worship, scripture study, ministering, and family. Like Isaiah, in our family we “call the Sabbath a delight” (Isa. 58:13). It’s the tangible sign in our lives that “after much tribulation come the blessings.”
This lesson has been about the covenant path, the way of Adam and Eve, marked out for us to “enter into the Lord’s rest,” to return to the Edenic paradise of God and enjoy “a crown in the mansions of my Father.” With the Lord’s help, we can keep to this path: we have the capacity. The great revelatory insight this week is to remember that “the power is in [us], whereby [we] are agents unto [ourselves]. And inasmuch as [we]do good [we] shall in nowise lose [our] reward” (58:28).