These two verses have reached into my heart and changed me.
“Verily I say unto you all: Arise and shine forth, that thy light may be a standard for the nations; And that the gathering together upon the land of Zion, and upon her stakes, may be for a defense, and for a refuge from the storm, and from wrath when it shall be poured out without mixture upon the whole earth” (Doctrine and Covenants 115:5 – 6).
Of course there were no wards when this revelation was given. The fundamental organizational unit of the church in 1838 was the stake. The Lord seems to be saying that if our lives are not closely invested in the programs of the stakes (and wards), that we will not be able to stand against the winds that will blow in the last days. Look at the world . . . at the millions who have no defense or refuge from the “evil that now saturates significant portions of every corner of the world” (Richard G. Scott, CR, April 2004). The Lord also knew that our commitment to principle and righteousness, which would come through our devotion to the Church programs organized in the wards and stakes, would cause us to shine in a world filled with darkness.
“Verily, verily, I say unto you, darkness covereth the earth, and gross darkness the minds of the people, and all flesh has become corrupt before my face” (Doctrine and Covenants 112:23).
In the gathering darkness, our light will become “a standard for the nations.” Anyone who grows weary of the darkness will be able to find a light. I guess it is that arising and shining that will ‘bring [the Church] of obscurity and out of darkness, the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth . . .’ (Doctrine and Covenants 1:30). Isaiah 2:1-4 tells us that many people will come to us for instruction and light. But why would they come if we look just like everybody else? We are invited and instructed to be different from the world.
In Section 116, the Lord speaks of Adam-ondi-Ahman. When we get around to having the meeting there, a meeting which Daniel says will involve 100,000,000 people (see Daniel 7:10), we will certainly be shining.
D&C 27:5-14 tells us something about that meeting and names a few of those who will attend. Then in verse 14 the Lord explains that he will partake of the Sacrament “with all those whom my Father hath given me out of the world” (Doctrine and Covenants 27:14, emphasis added). This should mean us. I cannot imagine 100,000,000 people in that valley, but perhaps the number is figurative, or perhaps those who come from other dispensations as spirits or resurrected beings will not need much room, or perhaps it will all be handled like the some recent temple dedications: on closed-circuit television, originating at that valley. Anyway, if I am around, I would hate to miss it.
Section 117 is a revelation given to two men who were called to come to Missouri, to the place of Zion, and to a third man who was sent to Kirtland for a time to do the work of Zion. The first two were William Marks and Newel K. Whitney. To them the Lord said:
“Verily thus saith the Lord unto my servant William Marks, and also unto my servant Newel K. Whitney, let them settle up their business speedily and journey from the land of Kirtland, before I, the Lord, send again the snows upon the earth. Let them awake, and arise, and come forth, and not tarry, for I, the Lord, command it. Therefore, if they tarry it shall not be well with them” (Doctrine and Covenants 117:1-3).
The verbs here are interesting. Settle up, awake, arise, come forth, don’t tarry, and, in case you missed the urgency, do it speedily! We may all need this kind of counsel. The Saints were evicted from Missouri until they learned obedience (see D&C 105:6). Have you noticed that we have not returned to Missouri yet? I wonder if we have been tarrying too much and moving too slowly. Anyway, the Lord told Newel and William to . . .
- Repent of all your sins (117:4).
That little adjective, all, suggests something about what is required to live in Zion and to be pure in heart. I remember that Lamoni’s father promised God that he would give away all his sins to know him. Most of us have a few sins that we want to hang on to.
- Repent of all your covetous desires (117:4).
Covetous people don’t do well in Zion, since in Zion every man seeks the interest of his neighbor (see D&C 82:19) rather than his own. President Hinckley called covetousness and “evil and gnawing disease.”
“When one family in the neighborhood gets a boat, others think they need one. To satisfy our desires, we go into debt, dissipate our resources in the payment of high interest, and become as slaves working to pay it off. Please do not misunderstand me. I repeat that I wish everyone might have some of the good things of life, but I hope our desire will not come of covetousness, which is an evil and gnawing disease. I think of many of our younger single and married members; I hope that you will be modest in your physical wants. You do not need everything that you might wish. And the very struggle of your younger years will bring a sweetness and security to your later life” (Gordon B. Hinckley, “Thou Shalt Not Covet,” Ensign, Mar. 1990, 4).
- Don’t hang on to the world too tightly. (117:5).
The Lord warned these two men,
“Let the properties of Kirtland be turned out for debts, saith the Lord. Let them go, saith the Lord . . .” (Doctrine and Covenants117:5).
Some of the stuff we love cannot go with us to Zion, and if we cling to it too tightly, we cannot go. When we discover such things about us, we must let them go. These two brethren must have been reluctant to part with their holdings in Ohio: farms, houses, wells, fields . . . “Let them go,” the Lord commanded. As he said in verse 4, “For what is property unto me?” and in verses 6 and 7:
“For have I not the fowls of heaven, and also the fish of the sea, and the beasts of the mountains? Have I not made the earth? Do I not hold the destinies of all the armies of the nations of the earth? Therefore, will I not make solitary places to bud and to blossom, and to bring forth in abundance? saith the Lord.”I am pretty sure that almost all of us have too much stuff, and that our desire to hang onto it will weigh us down and slow us down as we journey to Zion.
- Get your priorities straight (117:8).
This message is much like #3, but has a different twist:
“Is there not room enough on the mountains of Adam-ondi-Ahman, and on the plains of Olaha Shinehah, or the land where Adam dwelt, that you should covet that which is but the drop, and neglect the more weighty matters?” (Doctrine and Covenants 117:8).
Just where do these two want to live? Kirtland, or the plains of Olaha Shinehah? The land of Ohio or the land where Adam dwelt? Babylon, or Zion? Babylon is a magnet. People there live “deliciously” (see Rev. 18:7,9). But in Zion, people live beautifully and joyfully and gloriously, and it is certainly all delicious. What thirsty man would settle for a drop when surging streams from wells of living water are waiting in Adam-ondi-Ahman?
- Don’t try to live in Zion and Babylon at the same time (117:11).
The words that suggest this warning are: “Let my servant Newel K. Whitney be ashamed of the Nicolaitane band and of all their secret abominations” (Doctrine and Covenants 117:11).
Elder McConkie explained that the Nicolaitanes were
“Members of the Church who were trying to maintain their church standing while continuing to live after the manner of the world. They must have had some specific doctrinal teachings which they used to justify their course. In the counsel given to the Church in Pergamos, their doctrine is condemned as severely as that of Balaam who sought to lead Israel astray. (Rev. 2:14‑16; 2 Pet. 2:10‑22; Num. 22, 23, and 2 4.) Whatever their particular deeds and doctrines were, the designation has come to be used to identify those who want their names on the records of the Church, but do not want to devote themselves to the gospel cause with full purpose of heart. Thus, on July 8, 1838, the Lord said: “Let my servant Newel K. Whitney be ashamed of the Nicolaitane band and of all their secret abominations . . . and be a bishop unto my people, saith the Lord, not in name but in deed, saith the Lord.” (D. & C. 117:11), Bruce R. McConkie, Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, Vol.3, p.448).
Elder Asay described such people in this way: ”There is a lie, a vicious lie, circulating among the Latter‑day Saints and taking its toll among the young. And it is that a “balanced man” is one who deliberately guards against becoming too righteous. This lie would have you believe that it is possible to live successfully and happily as a “double‑minded man” with one foot in Babylon and one foot in Zion” (See James 1:8.; Carlos E. Asay, “Be Men!” Ensign, May 1992, 41).
- Don’t be little-souled (117:11).
I would not want the Lord to describe me in this way. We often talk about people with great souls. I have a feeling that little-souled people are self-centered while those with great souls embrace expanding virtues like those in D&C 4. Most of them seem to focus on their concern for others.
Robert J. Matthews said,
“Often [those with little souls] permit their feelings to be hurt, and then they rebel. Laman and Lemuel seem to illustrate this. They resented the leadership and the pointed instruction of their younger brother, Nephi. Their feelings were manifest in complaining and murmuring and refusing to work. Their father, Lehi, said to them:
“’. . . Ye have accused him [Nephi] that he sought power and authority over you . . .’
“’And ye have murmured because he hath been plain unto you. Ye say that he hath used sharpness; ye say that he hath been angry with you; but behold, his sharpness was the sharpness of the power of the word of God . . . and that which ye call anger was the truth, according to that which is in God . . .’” (2 Ne. 1:25B26.)
“King Ahab demonstrated the same littleness of soul in being more concerned with his pride than with the truth. Therefore, of Micaiah the prophet he said: ‘. . . but I hate him: for he doth not prophesy good concerning me, but evil’” (1 Kings. 22:8). [Robert J. Matthews, ASearching the Scriptures: What to Do about Hurt Feelings,@ Ensign, Apr. 1973, 43].
We see this trait again in Ahab in another matter. The King was unhappy because Naboth would not sell him a vineyard, Ahab therefore
“came into his house heavy and displeased . . . And he laid him down upon his bed, and turned away his face, and would eat no bread” (1 Kings. 21:4).
Zion is no place for people with little souls.
We now come to the third man mentioned in D&C 117: Oliver Granger.
- Contend earnestly for the First Presidency (117:13).
President Hunter observed:
“Oliver Granger was eleven years older than Joseph Smith and, like the Prophet, was from upstate New York. Because of severe cold and exposure when he was thirty‑three years old, Oliver lost much of his eyesight. Notwithstanding his limited vision, he served three full‑time missions. He also worked on the Kirtland Temple and served on the Kirtland high council. “When most of the Saints were driven from Kirtland, Ohio, the Church left some debts unsatisfied. Oliver was appointed to represent Joseph Smith and the First Presidency by returning to Kirtland to settle the Church’s business. Of this task, the Doctrine and Covenants records: ‘Therefore, let him contend earnestly for the redemption of the First Presidency of my Church, saith the Lord.’ (D&C 117:13.)
“He performed this assignment with such satisfaction to the creditors involved that one of them wrote: “Oliver Granger’s management in the arrangement of the unfinished business of people that have moved to the Far West, in redeeming their pledges and thereby sustaining their integrity, has been truly praiseworthy, and has entitled him to my highest esteem, and every grateful recollection@
“During Oliver’s time in Kirtland, some people, including disaffected members of the Church, were endeavoring to discredit the First Presidency and bring their integrity into question by spreading false accusations. Oliver Granger, in very deed, ’redeemed the First Presidency’ through his faithful service”[Howard W. Hunter, And Less Serviceable,” Ensign, Apr. 1992, 65B66].
Our willingness to contend for the Prophets probably won’t have anything to do with debt, but may have much to do with standing as witnesses at all times, and in all things, and in all places (see Mosiah 18:9). The direction to contend is strong, but the addition of the adverb earnestly makes the charge more dramatic. We live in a world where the concept of inspired men is not popular. Seers will often be derided and mocked. But we who mean to move to Zion have a charge to contend earnestly for them.
- Don’t worry too much about results (117:13).
The Lord said of Oliver Granger, “his sacrifice shall be more sacred unto me than his increase . . .” If our job is to plant seeds, we cannot evaluate our effectiveness by the bushels of corn gathered at the harvest. If our duty is to build houses, we cannot evaluate our success by the happiness of those who live in those houses. The effectiveness of a Sunday School teacher is determined by preparation and spirit, not by the number of students who read the material before the lesson. God has said on other occasions that he will judge us by our desires, not just by our successes.
Each of the warnings and all of the counsel in D&C 117 describe are an invitation to us to shine. Like you, my life has been blessed and my journey to Zion has been clarified by the light that shines from the lives of good people who have crossed my path. And when those good people are gathered together in wards and stakes, the brilliance of their light will be a great defence for them, and will change the world.
In a ward council meeting, I shared the story of a magnifying glass several feet in diameter that concentrated a collection of the sun’s rays and created enough heat to melt almost anything. Each of us can concentrate the Son’s rays through our own efforts, and when a group of us gathers together and focuses that light on a single problem, a single challenge, a single family in need of help, we can melt almost anything, including hard hearts and steel-coated spirits.