When you read Doctrine and Covenants Sections 49 and 50, it helps to have the rest of the story. Why should you care about Leman Copley or the Shakers and what’s this talk about false spirits? We will have some fun and give you the context today.
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When you read Doctrine and Covenants Sections 49 and 50, it helps to have the rest of the story. Why should you care about Leman Copley or the Shakers and what’s this talk about false spirits? We will have some fun and give you the context today.
Hello, we’re Scot and Maurine Proctor and welcome to Meridian Magazine’s Come Follow Me podcast where today we will study Doctrine and Covenants 49 and 50 in a lesson called “That Which is of God is Light”. Transcripts for these podcasts are at latterdaysaintmag.com/podcast, so you can read anything again that we mention. Do us a favor and please tell your friends about this podcast.
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Leman Copley joined the newly formed Church of Christ (as the Church was then called) in the spring of 1831. He was the prosperous owner of a 700-acre farm in Thomson, Ohio, a few miles northeast of Kirtland. He had previously been a member of the Shakers, so called because of their ecstatic dancing and behavior during worship service, and perhaps had been drawn to the restored gospel because of some similarities. Both groups believed in a general apostasy, modern revelation and communal living.
But their beliefs also differed broadly. The Shakers believed in a Second Coming which had already happened in the form of Mother Ann Lee, an early member of their church. Many were vegetarian, and in marriage and sexual relations, they espoused celibacy. Since Leman Copley was married, the Shaker leader Ashbell Kitchell chided Copley that he had “taken up with Mormonism as the easier plan.” This is not a recipe for growth of any religion, and, in fact, Wikipedia lists the number of Shakers left today as only three!
And certainly you’d be misinformed if you thought someone who joined the church in those early days of so much persecution had chosen the easier plan.
The Shakers first became aware of Latter-day Saints when Oliver Cowdery and Parley P. Pratt stopped briefly there for two nights on their way to Missouri for their mission. Before they left, Oliver gave Kitchell 7 copies of the Book of Mormon, who, in turn, allowed Oliver to address his congregation. Parley and Oliver were certain that if the Shaker community members would just read the Book of Mormon, its virtue would convince the members of the truth.
Matthew McBride wrote, “Like all early Mormon converts Copley brought with him traditions and attitudes shaped by his previous religious experience. Joseph Smith spoke to Copley shortly after his conversion and noted that he was ‘apparently honest hearted, but still retaining ideas that the Shakers were right in some particulars of their faith.’ John Whitmer further noted that Copley ‘was anxious that some of the elders should go to his former brethren and preach the gospel.’ He even ‘ teased to be ordained to preach himself.’” (Matthew McBride, “Leman Copley and the Shakers”, Revelations in Context” https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/manual/revelations-in-context/leman-copley-and-the-shakers?lang=eng
Probably hoping to clarify the difference between the two beliefs, Leman spoke to Joseph Smith, and, in turn, the prophet received Section 49 of the Doctrine and Covenants, which denounced several Shaker beliefs and said, I say unto you, that they desire to know the truth in part, but not all, for they are not right before me and must needs repent (vs. 1).
The Lord makes several things clear in this revelation. Jesus Christ has not already returned but “has taken his power on the right hand of his glory, and now reigneth in the heavens, and will reign till he descends on the earth to put all enemies under his feet, which time is nigh at hand—
“I, the Lord God, have spoken it; but the hour and the day no man knoweth, neither the angels in heaven, nor shall they know until he comes” (vs. 6,7).
So obviously, Mother Ann Lee, was definitely not the resurrected Christ no matter how fervently the Shakers believed it. A more interesting note here is the oft-repeated phrase that “no man knoweth” when He shall come, but that it is “nigh at hand.” This revelation was given in May of 1831, which is 190 years ago, and the Savior still hasn’t come. It is clear that when the Lord says “nigh at hand”, He has a very different sense of time than we do.
If you consider that a thousand years is a day unto the Lord, our life here on earth is not more than a long lunch break. “Nigh at hand” may seem like a long time to us.
Section 49 also addresses other Shaker beliefs.
Celibacy is not God’s way, but marriage. This is such a strong statement.
“Whoso forbiddeth to marry is not ordained of God, for marriage is ordained of God unto man.
“Wherefore, it is lawful that he should have one wife, and they twain shall be one flesh, and all this that the earth might answer the end of its creation;
“And that it might be filled with the measure of man, according to his creation before the world was made” (vs. 16, 17).
Consider how profound that statement is. God said, “Let there be light…Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place…Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed…Let the earth bring forth every living creature” (See Genesis 1), and all of this grand, light-filled, varied creation is leading to one thing, “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.” That is what the “therefore” means. It refers back to all of creation as being for the union of a man and woman in marriage. It is for the creation of families.
Elder D. Todd Christofferson said, “Neither we nor any other mortal can alter this divine order of matrimony.” (D. Todd Christofferson, “Why Marriage, Why Family?”, Ensign, May 2015, 52.)
This puts the importance of marriage in an entirely new light when you consider it is the end of creation. It tells us that unity in marriage, acting and being as “one flesh” is the well-spring of our lives. It means that caring and nurturing and loving our spouse is central to us, as if we are connected by an unseen network of nerves and blood, woven together because we chose to be one. You bleed and I bleed. You rejoice and I rejoice. You ache and I ache. You need a safe harbor and I am there for you, for we have broken through the isolation of being one person to being knit together, like two separate yarn strands that have been carefully woven to form a warm blanket around ourselves.
I love you Scot because you always talk of life in terms of “we” not I. Once you told a daughter, “We had a dream the other night,” and we all laughed. I said, “I wasn’t there, Scot. I didn’t have your dream with you.” But for me, it was a knowing laugh. I laughed because I know you so well and that you and I are so one, that you think of everything as a “we.”
When we say this, I think of that more than 50% of the church who are single, and those who struggle in unhappy marriages and hope that this is an inspiring idea rather than one that cuts to the bone. This is what the Lord wants for us.
Once we were in Nepal with the Singular Humanitarian group, and all were single, except for us. These were such great people and we loved each other dearly. Since Nepal is a place of arranged marriages, at the closing dinner when each was reflecting on the time we’d had together. I stood up and said, “What I want for all of you is to arrange your marriages.” A cheer went up. Hurrah. Yes, please.
What is true is that whatever our situation right this minute, God does have arrangements for us to fulfill our destiny as well as the earth’s creation. This I completely trust. Even when it doesn’t feel like it, you can trust that God knows you and sees you even now in the marriage you hope for. Our daughter, Mariah, was in that group that night, and unbeknownst to us, so was her future husband. Some invisible arranging was already at work.
Since marriage is ordained of God and happiness and wholeness is the goal, of course, the Lord will teach us and support us as we strive for this. I think of Nephi, “I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them” (1 Nephi 3:7).
He has ordained us to be married, and He will help us as we work to make our marriage the joy it can be.
Before Mariah, who we mentioned above, married that young man who she met in Nepal, I wrote her this piece of counsel about how to be happily married.
You said, “The altar in the temple at which you will kneel is profoundly significant. It is an altar that symbolizes the great, atoning sacrifice of our Savior. Why would the Lord have us sealed across this altar? This is the great secret.
You know that His atonement means at-one-ment, and it is through this stunning, unimaginable gift that we can again be reconciled to God, made at-one with him, our face turning home again, the veil rent.
Surprisingly, it is also through the Lord’s atonement that we become one with each other, that two who have lived their lives separately and singly can be joined for eternity, never to be entirely separated again.”
I told her, “Oneness in marriage is actually made possible through the atonement and the gradual change and expansion in us that is promised if we accept this gift. We are to leave behind our old, smaller selves.
“Satan’s work is to scatter and divide us. The Greek word for Satan is ‘diabolos’ meaning to divide or separate. This name means ‘He who places division.
“It was Satan’s work to scatter the Children of Israel, and the Lord’s to gather them in one again. Those who ultimately live in Zion will be of one heart. Satan sows division. The Lord invites us to oneness.
“So there you’ll be, kneeling across an altar symbolizing that opportunity for the oneness you seek—and it will come if you are both willing to accept the Lord’s gift of grace that this altar symbolizes.
“We come to each other in marriage incomplete and somewhat fragmented. We are still children about so many things. The Lord says, ‘I will take you on a journey to wholeness. The broken things in you I can mend. The incompletion, I can complete.’
“The promises for this journey are more than finite minds can comprehend, but the sacrifice is not just Christ’s–it will involve your sacrifice as well—the sacrifice of a broken heart and a contrite spirit. You must be willing to grow, discard the parts of you that are small and contracted. You must shed parts of yourself that are burdening the way—even your favorite, most habitual, and long justified weaknesses.
“Oh, that is hard! Happiness is built on repentance and changing–and expanding yourself is happily not your job alone. Christ has taken that on long ago.
“It may be tempting to think that you have come to this altar to change your new husband. If you don’t think it now, there may be times in the future you might be convinced that is your job.
“It is tempting to think you have a better plan for his way of being. But be very wary of having a plan for how anyone can change. When you are dealing with another person’s identity, you are on sacred ground. Take off your shoes where you stand.
“If you will both remember this temple altar and be devoted to the Lord who unites you, He will change both of you as you submit your heart to Him. You don’t need to do His work for your spouse.
“A repenting couple is a happy couple–repenting particularly in the sense that you are both humble and willing to enlarge your understanding and perspective, willing to change what is trivial and weak about yourself.
“Both of you can remember that you are coming to marriage to take a journey together back into the Lord’s presence. That means you are both committed to finding an expanded, better version of yourself and you trust that the Lord’s gift can work this in you. It is, in fact, only the Lord’s gift that can work this in you.” (Maurine Proctor, “To Our Daughter about to Marry: 7 Ways of Happiness.” https://latterdaysaintmag.com/to-our-daughter-about-to-marry-7-ways-of-happiness/)
So the Lord was very clear in Section 49, about what He told the Shakers, who did not accept it, and Leman Copley himself finally left the Church. Why? It was too hard for him to give up the preconceived ideas he already had. This decision had a far-reaching effect on many others. Because he had this large 700-acre farm, Joseph had asked him to allow the Colesville branch of the church, which centered around the Joseph and Polly Knight family, to live there when they gathered to Ohio, as they had been commanded to do. When he left the Church, he would no longer allow the people of the Colesville branch to live on his farm.
When they asked Joseph what they should do, he told them they should move on to Independence, Missouri to begin a second hub of gathering there—Kirtland in Ohio and Independence in Missouri. This was merely an additional 1,000 miles, and the journey would take Polly Knight’s life.
So now, let’s look at the background of Section 50. The Lord says, “Behold, verily I say unto you, that there are many spirits which are false spirits, which have gone forth in the earth, deceiving the world” (vs. 2).
What is happening in Kirtland that the Lord must give this revelation? Think about it. All these new converts are coming to Kirtland from a vast variety of backgrounds and wondering what the manifestations of the Holy Ghost are. They are young in the gospel. They are fledglings. They are new and unschooled, and they misunderstand the workings of the Spirit. What’s more Satan is actively working to deceive them.
In late March of 1831, Parley P. Pratt talked of the strange behaviors he saw among some Church members in Kirtland. He said, “As I went forth among the different branches, some very strange spiritual operations were manifested, which were disgusting, rather than edifying. Some persons would seem to swoon away, and make unseemly gestures, and be drawn or disfigured in their countenances. Others would fall into ecstasies, and be drawn into contortions, cramps, fits, etc. Others would seem to have visions and revelations, which were not edifying, and which were not congenial to the doctrine and spirit of the gospel. In short, a false and lying spirit seemed to be creeping into the Church” (Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt, ed. Parley P. Pratt Jr. , 61).
The Prophet Joseph Smith the same thing: “Soon after the Gospel was established in Kirtland, and during the absence of the authorities of the Church, many false spirits were introduced, many strange visions were seen, and wild enthusiastic notions were entertained; men [ran] out of doors under the influence of this Spirit, and some of them got upon the stumps of trees and shouted, and all kinds of extravagancies were entered into by them: one man pursued a ball that he said he saw flying in the air, until he came to a precipice when he jumped into the top of a tree which saved his life, and many ridiculous things were entered into, calculated to bring disgrace upon the church of God; to cause the Spirit of God to be withdrawn; and to uproot and destroy those glorious principles which had been developed for the salvation of the human family” (in Manuscript History of the Church, vol. C-1, page 1311, josephsmithpapers.org).
Parley P. Pratt and others went to Joseph Smith for clarification concerning these manifestations and thus Section 50 was given. Two points strike us here. First, Joseph Smith has specific questions, and he goes to the Lord for answers. Of course, he is humble. Of course, they are all learning. Of course, all these new converts are infants still in gospel understanding, and even Joseph has much yet to understand through revelation that will continue for him. The Lord will give specific answers to our specific questions.
Think compared to the majesty and intelligence of the one who created the entire universe how puny we are. If an adult saw a little child who could not yet recite the alphabet, would he be slow to help? Would he say, why don’t you just repeat that same mistake again and again? Would he allow that little child to gather a few others around her to teach them the same flawed alphabet? Not if that little child were sincerely asking to learn the alphabet. The Lord gives answers to those who ask. The more specific we are in our questions, the more specific He can be in His answers, because it is our question that opens the door in our mind for learning. The Lord does not impose learning upon us that we do not want and do not seek.
We learn something here that can change our prayers. As a child, we learn the steps of a prayer that include both our expressions of gratitude and our asking for blessings. That is sufficient for a little child to learn, but it is not complete. The Lord tells us in Section 50 something more about how to change our prayers.
“Come, saith the Lord, by the Spirit, unto the elders of his church, and let us reason together, that ye may understand;
“Let us reason even as a man reasoneth one with another face to face.
“Now, when a man reasoneth he is understood of man, because he reasoneth as a man; even so will I, the Lord, reason with you that you may understand” (vs. 10-12)
That means that rather than just listing my needs every day; instead of asking for things like I would put dollars in a vending machine and hoping for candy, I really talk to Him. Can you imagine receiving an invitation from the one “who is more intelligent than they all” to be taught and have your questions answered about how to chart your life with its myriad options each day? Can you imagine all you wonder about being answered by the one who knows all things?
So we talk to him, humbly and reverently, but also intimately as we would speak to the wisest Father who knew all of our concerns and the challenges we face. We share our day and our thoughts. As we talk, new ideas come to us. We ask about those ideas. We ask to see more and be expanded more. We open our ancient spirit to be touched.
We say, “Today, I’ve been thinking about this. Can we just talk about it?” This is how we can begin to “Pray always” because the Lord becomes the friend with you in all your thoughts.
You can see this intimate talking in the prayers of the brother of Jared. Look how he is reasoning with the Lord, and then in turn, the Lord profoundly teaches him.
The brother of Jared explains that he has prepared the vessels as he has been commanded and asks, “Behold, O Lord, wilt thou suffer that we shall cross this great water in darkness?”
“And the Lord said unto the brother of Jared: What will ye that I should do that ye may have light in your vessels? For behold, ye cannot have windows, for they will be dashed in pieces; neither shall ye take fire with you, for ye shall not go by the light of fire” (Ether 2: 23, 24).
This is a reasoning together, a talking things through with the Lord. It is a pattern, not just for prophets, but for all of us. We can talk and then listen. We can write down our questions and concerns, and write what we hear in return.
The Lord said in Section 38, “I am in your midst and ye cannot see me.” Since the Lord cannot lie, we know that this is true. He is Immanuel, God with us. When we pray, we aren’t trying to communicate with someone on a distant planet, hoping the communication doesn’t get somehow lost or garbled over the far reaches of space. Instead, we can think of the Lord as standing near us, or sitting in a chair by us, able to hear and answer. Prayer is a reasoning together and our best chance to learn.
Now, in Section 50, where these new converts are falling prey to false spirits, we have to remember how young they are in the gospel and that they brought with them own traditions and sometimes false ideas. Just as Leman Copley held on to some ideas from the Shakers, so everyone brings their own culture when they are new to the kingdom of God.
We were able to have an interview with then Elder Dallin H. Oaks when he was presiding in the Philippines. He taught us an interesting lesson. He said that the Lord had directed him, while he served in the Philippines to ask each prospective missionary to pay for his or her own mission. They could have help from their family or ward, of course, but not the general Church. This was a big change, because the general missionary fund of the Church had largely been supporting the Filipino missionaries. If they couldn’t pay, they would have to go home.
At first, the mission presidents registered deep worry. They felt they would have to send all of the missionaries home without any more support from the general Church. But a miracle happened. No one went home. Wards and families and the individual missionaries stepped up to the challenge and found a way to support themselves on their missions. In this way, they all became more invested in missionary work, and the work skyrocketed.
Elder Oaks told us that the Filipinos were being invited to leave behind dependance and to enter the kingdom of God. The only way to do that was to transcend your own culture, leaving behind the remnants of ideas or habits or outlooks that divide you from this higher kingdom. He said every people and every nation—including Americans, including Utahns– have to leave behind their culture and understandings to adopt instead the greater culture of the kingdom of God.
Of course, those new in the Church and all of us will have to graduate to a new way of thinking. Ghana’s foremost Latter-day Saint pioneer, William Billy Johnson, had 1000 people in 10 congregations ready for baptism in 1978 when the missionaries finally came. They met in buildings with hand-painted signs on the door that read “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” They made up what a worship service would look like, the best they could and they sang a lot of “Come, Come ye Saints” for as William Billy Johnson said, “We were hoping our brothers from the West would soon come for us.”
One leader in a South American country told us he attended a branch in a very isolated rural region, and found they were using candlesticks on the sacrament table.
So we all learn, and thus we cannot be hard on these early members of the Church. What is most remarkable is how quickly they did learn the gospel, transcend their old ways and were willing to hang on through all the trials, persecution and disdain that would come their way.
Of course, with the false spirits manifesting themselves in the early Kirtland days, something more was afoot than just inexperience. The Lord says in Section 50 that “Satan, hath sought to deceive you, that he might overthrow you.” The adversary was seeking to exploit their vulnerability and who would be a better target than those first members of the Church. If he could make the Church falter in its beginnings, he could wreak the havoc he hoped.
Deception is Satan’s fundamental tool. He is a liar, and often that deception takes the same form that it did when he visited Moses. Remember how the Lord had visited Moses and shown him all the workmanship of His hands. Then when he departed, Satan came to him, obviously in disguise, and said, “Son of man, worship me.” But Moses could not be fooled, saying, “Where is thy glory, that I should worship thee?…I could not look upon God, except his glory should come upon me, and I were transfigured before him. But I can look upon thee in the natural man.” (See Moses 1: 12-19).
To that Satan “cried with a loud voice, and ranted upon the earth, and commanded, saying: I am the Only Begotten, worship me.” This, of course, is a complete lie, and Moses knows it because he has had his own experience with God and he cannot be fooled.
The pattern, again, is clear. Satan will lie and the nature of his lies to most of us is that he and his ideas represent what is good, what is virtuous, and true. We are widely fooled by this. He says, follow this ideology, and it will bless the poor, while he divides us from each other. He says, you can’t help but be angry. Anger shows you really care and will let your opponent know how wrong and stupid they are. It’s a score for your side, which is obviously based in truth.
He says, there is no need for Christ, because there is no sin and you can do anything that feels good to you. His lies are customized, as many as there are people, designed to hit them at their weakest point. What he rarely says is “I am evil, follow me.” Because, we are children of God, that last argument rarely works with us.
In Lehi’s family’s wilderness journey, Laman and Lemuel assert that if they had stayed in Jerusalem and had the use of their possessions, they might have been happy, for “we know that the people who were in the land of Jerusalem were a righteous people; for they kept the statutes and judgments of God” (1 Nephi 17:22). Do you believe that? God allowed Jerusalem to be destroyed because these people were so wicked, including sacrificing children to the god Molech, but Satan convinced Laman and Lemuel they were a righteous people.
So what chases darkness from you? The light does, which means knowing the truth, acting in the truth, living the truth. The Lord gives us a standard.
“And that which doth not edify is not of God, and is darkness.
“That which is of God is light; and he that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day.
“And again, verily I say unto you, and I say it that you may know the truth, that you may chase darkness from among you” (Doctrine and Covenants Section 50: 23-25).
How impowering is that—that you can chase darkness from among you by embracing light.
Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf said, “Whatever causes our spiritual ailments, they all have one thing in common: the absence of divine light.
“Darkness reduces our ability to see clearly. It dims our vision of that which was at one time plain and clear. When we are in darkness, we are more likely to make poor choices because we cannot see dangers in our path. When we are in darkness, we are more likely to lose hope because we cannot see the peace and joy that await us if we just keep pressing forward.”
Elder Uchtdorf continues: “Light, on the other hand, allows us to see things as they really are. It allows us to discern between truth and error, between the vital and the trivial. When we are in the light, we can make righteous choices based on true principles. When we are in the light, we have ‘a perfect brightness of hope’ because we can see our mortal trials from an eternal perspective.
“We will find spiritual healing as we step away from the shadows of the world and into the everlasting Light of Christ.
“The more we understand and apply the doctrinal concept of light, the more we can guard against spiritual sicknesses that afflict or trouble us on every side and hand.”
He said, “As we all know, within every 24 hours night turns to day and day turns to night.
“So, then, what is night?
“Night is nothing more than a shadow.
“Even in the darkest of nights, the sun does not cease to radiate its light. It continues to shine as bright as ever. But half of the earth is in darkness.
“The absence of light causes darkness.
“When the darkness of night falls, we do not despair and worry that the sun is extinguished. We do not postulate that the sun is not there or is dead. We understand that we are in a shadow, that the earth will continue to rotate, and that eventually the rays of the sun will reach us once again.
Darkness is not an indication that there is no light. Most often, it simply means we’re not in the right place to receive the light. During the recent solar eclipse, many made great efforts to get into the narrow band of a shadow created by the moon in the middle of a bright sunny day.”
Elder Uchtdorf continued,”
“In a very similar way, spiritual light continually shines upon all of God’s creation. Satan will make every effort to create a shadow or get us into a shadow of our own making. He will coerce us to create our own eclipse; he will push us into the darkness of his cavern.
“Spiritual darkness can draw a veil of forgetfulness around even those who once walked in the light and rejoiced in the Lord. Nevertheless, even in moments of greatest darkness, God hears our humble petitions, as we pray, ‘Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.’”
He said, “
“The Light of Christ fills the universe.
“It fills the earth.
“And it can fill every heart.
He said,“If you open your mind and heart to receive the Light of Christ and humbly follow the Savior, you will receive more light. Line upon line, here a little and there a little, you will gather more light and truth into your souls until darkness has been banished from your life.8
“God will open your eyes.
“God will give you a new heart.
“God’s love, light, and truth will cause dormant things to spring to life, and you will be reborn into a newness of life in Christ Jesus.
“The Lord has promised, “If your eye be single to my glory, your whole bodies shall be filled with light, and there shall be no darkness in you; and that body which is filled with light comprehendeth all things.”
“This is the ultimate remedy for spiritual sickness. Darkness vanishes in the presence of light.” (Dieter F.Uchtdorf, “Bearers of Heavenly Light” https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/2017/10/bearers-of-heavenly-light?lang=eng
That’s all for today. We’re Scot and Maurine Proctor and this has been Meridian Magazine’s Come Follow Me podcast. Find the transcripts at latterdaysaintmag.com/podcast and don’t forget to sign up for our new app and get the free e-book Eleven Things You Probably Didn’t Know about the Book of Mormon. You can sign up at latterdaysaintmag.com/app. That’s latterdaysaintmag.com/app. Next week we’ll study Doctrine and Covenants 51-57 called “A Faithful, a Just, and a Wise Steward”. Thanks to Paul Cardall for the music and Michaela Proctor Hutchins who produces this show.
See you next week.