In these sections we’ve read this week, it’s clear that the Lord entrusts individuals with specific stewardships and it’s not always just land. It can be a mission to perform, books to write, places to go, people to teach, an assignment to fulfill—but these are all sacred stewardships, given by the Lord with the expectation that we will fulfill them faithfully and wholeheartedly.
I grew up on a beautiful spread of woods and meadows near Rolla, Missouri. We had about 230 acres with our house up on the south hill overlooking a beautiful valley. A small stream called Spring Creek ran through the bottomlands and a narrow gravel road led from our home to the access road of old Highway 66. The view was so peaceful and beautiful. One late afternoon I stood outside with my Dad in our front yard looking over all of this beauty. Dad was a noted professor at the University of Missouri and for many years the Dean of the School of Science. He was brilliant. I’ll never forget this moment together, because I asked Dad a question and the answer he gave me would change my life…
Welcome to Meridian Magazine’s Come Follow Me Podcast. We are Scot and Maurine Proctor and this week’s podcast covers Doctrine and Covenants, sections 51 through 57, and is entitled “A Faithful, a Just, and a Wise Servant.” We’ve had letters asking where you can find the written version of the podcasts—they are all located at latterdaysaintmag.com/podcast that’s latterdaysaintmag.com/podcast That’s a good way to check scripture references, quote sources and be sure that you got this or that story or quote just right. Please send your friends and family members to that same page to listen to the podcasts. We’d love to have them join us.
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Now, back to my Dad and me on the front lawn at our home in Missouri. It was a gorgeous late afternoon in spring. The dogwoods and the redbuds had been in full bloom and now all the spring leaves were bursting forth on the thousands of trees before us. The fields and meadows were green and Spring Creek was running from the May rains. The scene was so beautiful. It’s what I saw every day of my growing up years. I turned to my Dad and asked, “Dad did you ever dream you would be looking out on a beautiful scene like this and see that valley below and this beautiful forest and know that you owned everything as far as your eyes could see?” Dad didn’t hesitate even a second, “Oh Scot, I’m not the owner here, I’m just a steward. The Lord owns the whole earth and the planets and the moon and the stars and we are just stewards.” I didn’t fully understand the answer then, but I think I understand it better now.
And in these sections we’ve read this week, it’s clear that the Lord entrusts individuals with specific stewardships and it’s not always just land. It can be a mission to perform, books to write, places to go, people to teach, an assignment to fulfill—but these are all sacred stewardships, given by the Lord with the expectation that we will fulfill them faithfully and wholeheartedly.
In Section 52, verse 42 we read:
And thus, even as I have said, if ye are faithful ye shall assemble yourselves together to rejoice upon the land of Missouri…
I knew that Missouri was the promised land!
We will talk about that a little later, Scot.
Continuing in verse 42:
…ye shall assemble yourselves upon the land of Missouri, which if the land of your inheritance, which is now the land of your enemies.
But, behold, I, the Lord, will hasten the city in its time, and will crown the faithful with joy and with rejoicing.
That is quite a bit of doctrine and prophecy.
It certainly is. We learn that Missouri, specifically Western Missouri and more specifically Jackson County, is a sacred and holy land. And there is inference that a great city will be built there some day and the faithful will receive a gift or a crown of joy and rejoicing. That’s a lot to take in. We have to go way back in history in order to understand the context of these verses. But please note in the meantime that here in Section 52, twenty-nine individuals are called by name to make their journey to Independence, Missouri, to gather there for a special conference that will be held. We learn that this is a very specific place to gather. And in section 57 we learn more details, starting in verse 1:
1 Hearken, O ye elders of my church, saith the Lord your God, who have assembled yourselves together [these are those 29 who were named by name in section 52] according to my commandments, in this land, which is the land of Missouri, which is the land which I have appointed and consecrated for the gathering of the saints.
2 Wherefore, this is the land of promise, and the place for the city of Zion.
3 And thus saith the Lord your God, if you will receive wisdom here is wisdom. Behold, the place which is now called Independence is the center place; and a spot for the temple is lying westward, upon a lot which is not far from the courthouse.
This is a very specific revelation.
That’s right. The Lord says again that Missouri is the land he has appointed and consecrated for the gathering of the saints.
Remember, Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ are the owners of the Universe, and they can designate and consecrate land as they desire, and this specific land in western Missouri was appointed and consecrated for the gathering of the saints.
And He says that THIS is the land of promise—now, let’s stop there a second, because that is a covenant phrase or reminder. We’ve talked about the 6 P’s of the Abrahamic covenant in a former podcast. Here’s a quick reminder of those covenant promises:
One is Protection.
Two is Posterity.
Three is Priesthood Power.
Four is Prosperity.
Five is Presence (to be brought into His presence or have His presence as in the Divine Shekinah with ancient Israel).
And Six is Promised Land.
And here in Section 57 we see this Promised Land trigger phrase—a covenant phrase. The Lord is making a covenant with latter-day Israel. Remember, President Nelson just referred to this in a recent talk when he referred to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as “latter-day covenant Israel.” (see Nelson, Russell M. Let God Prevail, General Conference, October 2020).
We are “latter-day covenant Israel” and in these early days of the Church we see that the Lord was already establishing His covenant with His people. And let us recall some of the blessings that were promised to Abraham and to those who become Abraham’s seed by their obedience to God’s laws:
Initial Covenant Promises and Blessings of Abraham
- The Lord will bless those who bless us and curse those who curse us. (Gen 12:3)
- In Abraham and through his children (all of us who are of the covenant) shall all the families of the earth be blessed (That sounds like family history work!) (Gen 12:3)
- The Lord will multiply us exceedingly. This sounds like both here on earth but more importantly through all eternity. (Gen 17:2)
- God will multiply our seed (those of the covenant) as the stars of the heaven and as the sand which is upon the sea shore. (Gen 22:17) What is the estimate of the number of grains of sand and stars in the heavens? There are roughly seven quintillion, five-hundred quadrillion grains of sand (including all the deserts). And the estimate is that there are ten-times that number of stars. Astronomers have worked out that there are 70 thousand million million million – or seven followed by 22 zeros – stars visible from the Earth through telescopes. And that’s just the ones visible!
- If we will obey His voice (as His covenant family) then we will become a peculiar treasure (or Segullah!) unto Him above all people! (Exodus 19:5; also Deut 14:2)
- We of the covenant are to be a light to the Gentiles that we of the covenant are His salvation unto the end of the earth. (Isaiah 49:6)
- The Lord is married unto us (His covenant children) and He will bring us to Zion. (Jeremiah 3:14; see also Hosea 2:19)
- He will put His law in our inward parts, and write it in our hearts. He will be our God and we will be His people. We will all know the Lord from the least to the greatest. He will forgive us of our iniquity, and remember our sin no more. (Jeremiah 31:33-34)
And this is just the beginning of the covenant blessings to Abraham and his righteous posterity.
The Lord also designated by revelation to Joseph Smith a very specific piece of land for a temple:
Behold, the place which is now called Independence is the center place; and a spot for the temple is lying westward, upon a lot which is not far from the courthouse.
That temple lot was foreordained as are all the temple lots. As of this podcast we have 252 temples open, under construction, being remodeled or announced—and every one of them, no exceptions, could have a revelation exactly like this one where the specific lot, the very specific place where each was built or will be built is known of the Lord and designated by Him.
This specific lot in Independence, Missouri was originally 63.26 acres and was purchased by Edward Partridge for $130.
And when Joseph Smith laid out the original plat for the city of Zion in this very place—Independence, Missouri—the center of the city shows that not just one temple would be built here but a complex of 24 temples. The City of Zion will be unlike any city on earth.
In Enoch’s day, “he built a city that was called the City of Holiness, even Zion.” (Moses 7:19) This city, that will be built in the last days, will also be called the City of Holiness, even Zion, the New Jerusalem. There will be two capital cities when the Lord Jesus Christ returns to live and reign on the earth a thousand years: Jerusalem, which is located in the land of Israel, and The New Jerusalem, which will be located in Jackson County, Missouri.
And just as in olden times with the City of Enoch:
17 The fear of the Lord was upon all nations, so great was the glory of the Lord, which was upon his people. And the Lord blessed the land, and they were blessed upon the mountains, and upon the high places, and did flourish.
See, there is more covenant language there—the people had protection and the presence of the Lord and prosperity.
18 And the Lord called his people Zion, because they were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them.
19 And Enoch continued his preaching in righteousness unto the people of God. And it came to pass in his days, that he built a city that was called the City of Holiness, even Zion.
Now, we have vague imaginations of how this ancient city of Enoch must have been. The people were of one heart, there were no poor among them and because of the righteousness of the people, the Lord Himself came and dwelt with the people there for three-hundred and sixty-five years! (see Moses 7: 67-69). In our day, the Lord will come and dwell with His people and reign on the earth for a thousand years.
These things are hard to imagine, but they are true. It’s like living through the 60’s and 70’s and trying to imagine that the Berlin Wall or the Iron Curtain would ever come down. It’s like wondering how the gospel will go forth into all nations and be preached to every kindred, tongue and people.
We spend a lot of time in the Middle East and have many dear friends in Arab nations and it’s very hard for us to imagine how the gospel of Jesus Christ will sweep through that part of the world as a flood.
One thing we are sure of: The Lord knows how to do His work and just as He said at the beginning of the Doctrine and Covenants:
What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken, and I excuse not myself; and though the heavens and the earth pass away, my word shall not pass away, but shall all be fulfilled, whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same. (D&C 1:38)
You can count on His words coming to pass.
So, here we see a small gathering of a few dozen people from the Church of Jesus Christ that has less than a thousand members, and the Lord is revealing to Joseph Smith that the New Jerusalem will be built here and a temple or complex of temples will be built here and that this land is sacred and holy. Remember, the Kirtland Temple had not even been revealed yet and so the people were unfamiliar even with what a temple was.
Whenever the Lord consecrates a land or an area for the gathering of His people, He does so for the purpose of building a temple. And we are to build a temple so that we can come back into His presence or experience that covenantal divine presence. He wants us to come back into His presence and in the temple, He teaches us how that is to be done. His plan is brilliant and we see here in Missouri the laying of the foundation stones of this doctrine and this knowledge.
Now, we have to talk a little about geography for a moment. At this date of July 1831, there were only 24 states in the Union and Missouri was the newest one. It had been admitted to the Union through the Missouri Compromise, an effort to retain a balance of free and slave states. Maine was admitted to the Union as a free state and Missouri as a slave state. Missouri became part of the Union on August 10, 1821 and was the western-most state of the Union. It was the only state at that time west of the Mississippi River. If you look at a map of the United States at the time, Missouri stuck out like a sore thumb on the western side of the Mississippi.
So, for the Saints to be called to journey to Missouri was asking them to go into the wilderness, the western-most region of the United States. The state was less than ten years old and was settled by a pretty rough bunch of people a that time.
Joseph Smith recorded his impressions of the people in western Missouri:
“Our reflections were many, coming as we had from a highly cultivated state of society in the east, and standing now upon the …western limits of the United States…how natural it was to observe the degradation, leanness of intellect, ferocity, and jealousy of a people that were nearly a century behind the times, and to feel for those who roamed about without the benefit of civilization, refinement, or religion.” (History of the Church 1:189)
In the midst of these kind of observations the Lord reveals that this is sacred and holy and consecrated ground.
And why was that so?
When we take groups on the Church History Tour every year we always say when we get to this area that “Missouri is the place where you can see less and feel more than any other place in Church History.”
And people get a bit confused about the earliest history of our Father in Heaven’s children. The Garden of Eden was located in what we now call Jackson County. This is why this land is holy ground.
When Adam and Eve were driven from the Garden, they settled about 70 miles to the north and a bit east in a place called Adam-ondi-Ahman. And, of course, all those early times, pre-flood, were here in this area—all those early stories in the first six chapters of Genesis are here in this area of Missouri.
Now how far and wide the people spread out from there in that first thousand years of history, we do not know. We know that Adam and Eve built an altar whereon they offered sacrifice unto the Lord and that was located in Adam-ondi-Ahman. We know that three years previous to Adam’s death, and he lived to be just a few days shy of 1,000 years old (see JST Manuscript, OT1, page 11, lines 22–23), he gathered his righteous posterity for a large meeting (see D&C 107: 53-57) to bless them and give many prophecies about his posterity. This took place in Missouri in the valley of Adam-ondi-Ahman. These places are holy and consecrated ground from the beginning of time.
Now, you remember those five intrepid missionaries sent from New York, Parley P. Pratt, Oliver Cowdery, Ziba Peterson, Peter Whitmer, Jr. and then Frederick G. Williams who joined them in Ohio? They had already made their way the fifteen hundred miles to western Missouri. They were the first of the Latter-day Saints to arrive. Parley was then selected to go back east to report on their mission to Missouri.
And it was this report, Scot, from Parley that prompted the Prophet Joseph to receive section 52 which indicated the next conference of the Church would be held in western Missouri.
Back to stewardships, in this month of June, 1831, the Lord began to give instructions to the Saints about Missouri in a vast, grand plan. Algernon Sidney Gilbert was called to be a land agent in western Missouri by setting up a store to sell goods and then use those funds to purchase lands “for the good of the saints.” And he was given specific instructions in the revelation to establish a store “that he may sell goods without fraud…” (D&C 57:8) That’s such an indication of what was happening at this western frontier of America.
Edward Partridge was called as the first bishop in the Church to divide the properties in Missouri among the Saints as they arrived. The Colesville Branch of the Church from New York, led by Newel Knight, desired to move as a group to Missouri to claim their inheritance. They would be the first to arrive as a group in this new and untamed land. This, too, was a 1,500-mile journey.
William W. Phelps, who, by the middle of June, was not even a baptized member of the Church, was called and chosen to be baptized and then ordained by the Prophet Joseph to be an elder in the Church. He was specifically called to work with Oliver Cowdery in Missouri “to do the work of printing, and of selecting and writing books for schools in [the] church, that little children also may receive instruction before [the Lord].” (See D&C 55:4)
Of course, in order to print books, you have to have a printing press. The saints obtained a printing press, had it carried by steamer on the Missouri River to Independence and began various printing projects, including the Church’s first periodical, The Evening and Morning Star which began in June 1832. This was the first printing press on the far western border of the United States.
All of us know William W. Phelps. He would become the most prolific lyricist for sacred hymns of the Church. Fifteen of his original hymns can still be found in our current, 1985, edition of the Hymnbook, including favorites: The Spirit of God, Redeemer of Israel, Now Let Us Rejoice, Praise to the Man, Gently Raise the Sacred Strain, and my personal favorite, If You Could Hie to Kolob.
Scot, I remember with such deep, tender feelings when we went and visited our two kids in the BYU Jerusalem Center. On one particular Shabbat, you asked the Branch President if you could do a special musical number. The number you chose was If You Could Hie to Kolob. I was sitting in the audience of that stunning auditorium overlooking the beautiful old city of Jerusalem. You and Mariah and Andy sang that hymn in an unforgettable, celestial arrangement and setting. It moved me more than any other time you have sung that hymn.
Well, and I remember so well, Maurine, being at the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo, this amazing national celebration of Scottish heritage and music in the stadium at the Edinburgh Castle—when 300 bagpipers came out on the field with pipes blazing in perfect unison “Scotland the Brave” which is the tune that we all recognize as Praise to the Man.
William Wines Phelps wrote the hymn, The Spirit of God Like a Fire is Burning just in time to be printed as hymn number 90, the last hymn, in Emma’s first hymnbook, and the little hymnbook was printed the first quarter of 1836, just in time for the dedication of the Kirtland Temple. It had to be printed with a smaller type font than all the other hymns in order to fit it on those last two pages of the hymnbook. He wrote it with six verses, two of which we do not sing any more. He was known for exploring doctrine and scriptural depth in his hymns. Here is the original verse 4:
We’ll wash, and be wash’d, and with oil be anointed
Withal not omitting the washing of feet:
For he that receiveth his penny appointed,
Must surely be clean at the harvest of wheat.
We have all been blessed by William W. Phelps and his using his talents to bless and inspire the Latter-day Saints.
Now, there are two more things we want to talk about from this week’s studies. One is found in Section 51, verses 16 and 17. The Lord is talking about Ohio here:
16 And I consecrate unto them this land for a little season, until I, the Lord, shall provide for them otherwise, and command them to go hence;
17 And the hour and the day is not given unto them, wherefore let them act upon this land as for years, and this shall turn unto them for their good.”
There’s a lesson in this for all of us. We sometimes make a move because of a job or a school change or some other specific situation, but in our hearts we think, “this is very temporary and when we finally get enough money, or when so and so graduates, THEN we can get that perfect house with the perfect lawn in the perfect setting surrounded by perfect neighbors and that will be the perfect stage of life.” That’s not how the Lord wants us to think.
When my parents took us as a family from Utah to Missouri, I was only 1 year old and they said to each other, “We’re only going to be here for 2 – 5 years max, and then we will move back to Utah.” Well, they started changing their thinking and just acting like they would stay there forever. They did stay for 27 years and we loved every minute of it.
We also moved to Ankara, Turkey two different times for a one-year sabbatical each time. Now, you know that is very temporary. And most of the people who were in Ankara were American military who were stationed there for 2 or 3 years so there was generally a temporary attitude that radiated from everyone. Not from my Mom and Dad. They acted like each person they met was going to be an eternal friend and some of those people truly did become our eternal friends. And our time there was priceless—we acted upon the land “as for years” and this really did turn unto us for our good.
The Lord gives the Latter-day Saints, as they are getting ready to move to Missouri, a great pattern that is applicable to us today. In section 52, starting in verse 14 we read:
14 And again, I will give unto you a pattern in all things, that ye may not be deceived; for Satan is abroad in the land, and he goeth forth deceiving the nations—
So, we learn from this that Satan is the great deceiver. He purposely goes forth throughout the land deceiving whole nations. That means that an entire country could be deceived into a false practice, a wicked tradition, false ideas, be caught in snares of lies—and therefore the entire nation can go astray from correct and true principles. Satan does this on an individual basis, but here, the Lord reveals that he deceives entire nations.
And in verse 15 we read:
15 Wherefore he that prayeth, whose spirit is contrite, the same is accepted of me if he obey mine ordinances.
So, here are some of the ways we can avoid being deceived:
We must pray with a contrite spirit. The word contrite is from the Latan and it means ground to powder that is as fine as the dust of the earth. Now, why would we want to allow our spirits to become ground to powder? Because as we become like unto the dust of the earth, we become perfectly obedient and submissive to the Lord.
16 He that speaketh, whose spirit is contrite, whose language is meek and edifieth, the same is of God if he obey mine ordinances.
In Joseph Smith’s time there were spiritualists and some seekers who would contort their bodies and use their voices to yell or hit high pitched noises and sounds as if this would help them obtain the Spirit of the Lord. A key is that the person obeys the Lord’s ordinances, in other words, that someone submits herself or himself, with humility to be baptized by one who has the proper authority and then who will receive the Holy Ghost.
In these early days of the Church the Lord is giving revelation upon revelation, knowledge upon knowledge, light upon light to give guidance and direction to his covenant people.
We only have 138 sections of the Doctrine and Covenants, the vast majority of which were given through the Prophet Joseph Smith. Is that all the revelations that have been given in this dispensation? Of course not! I have in my files at least 86 other revelations that were given to the Prophet Joseph in this early part of the Restoration that were never canonized. These can all be found today in the Joseph Smith Papers.
When a temple is contemplated to be built, revelation is given.
When a new stake president is to be called, revelation is given.
When any major decision is made in the Church at the general level, revelation is given.
When a missionary, be it elder or sister, is called on a mission, revelation is given.
When a bishop or a relief society president or young women’s president or ward mission leader is called, revelation is given.
When contemplations are being made to open a nation to the preaching of the gospel, revelation is given.
When a general authority or officer of the Church or apostle is called, revelation is given.
President Nelson said: “You and I get to participate in the ongoing Restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is wondrous! It is not man-made! It comes from the Lord, who said, “I will hasten my work in its time.” (D&C 88:73)….
“Remember that the fulness of Christ’s ministry lies in the future. The prophecies of His Second Coming have yet to be fulfilled. We are just building up to the climax of this last dispensation—when the Savior’s Second Coming becomes a reality.” (Nelson, Russell M., The Future of the Church: Preparing the World for the Savior’s Second Coming. Ensign, April 2020)
And from that little band of Saints in Western Missouri in 1831 has come 190 years of growth and maturity of the Kingdom of God. The Lord will indeed hasten his work in his time, and it appears that the hastening has begun.
That’s all for today. We have truly loved being with you again. Next week’s lesson is entitled: “Anxiously Engaged in a Good Cause,” and will cover Sections 58 and 59 of the Doctrine and Covenants. Please don’t forget to drop us an email with your name and where you are from to [email protected] that’s scot with one t @latterdaysaintmag.com
Thanks for Paul Cardall for the beautiful music and to Mariah Proctor for producing this show. Have a wonderful week and see you next time!