Abide #11: Doctrine and Covenants Sections 102-106
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We will be discussing each week’s block of reading from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ “Come, Follow Me” curriculum. We aren’t here to present a lesson, but rather to hit on a few key themes from the scripture block that we believe will help fulfill the Maxwell Institute’s mission to inspire and fortify Latter-day Saints in their testimonies of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ and engage the world of religious ideas.”
Zion is a way of living, but for Latter-day Saints it’s also a specific place––Jackson County, Missouri. When members of the Church living in Missouri faced mob violence and intimidation from their neighbors in the 1830s, Joseph Smith received a revelation instructing him to, as it says in the revelation and elaborated upon by Matt Godfrey in a Revelations in Context Essay, “Recruit as many as five hundred of the strength of the Lord’s house, young and middle aged members of the Church, to go to Zion where they would reclaim the Lord’s vineyard.”
The military exhibition did not recover the Latter-day Saints land or property, however, the Camp of Israel, as it came to be known, marched from Ohio to Missouri and included a group of eighty-five men and boys and at least a dozen women and several children. They learned valuable lessons from their expedition. The trek became a time that some increased in their faith and loyalty, while others struggled and lost their faith. The thing about refiners fires, if conditions aren’t perfect, it can cause damage to the material that is being refined. Many more, though, had a positive experience. Brigham Young later recalled, “I have traveled with Joseph a thousand miles as he led the Camp of Israel. I have watched him and observed every thing he said or did. From the town of Kirtland I would not give the knowledge I got from Joseph from this journey. This was the starting point of my knowing how to lead Israel.”
The Saints never reclaimed Jackson County. Joseph Smith received the revelation now known as Doctrine and Covenants section 105 that told the Saints that they were no longer required to redeem Zion at that time. Emphasizing that God would fight Zion’s battles and that the elders of the Church needed to be endowed with power before Zion’s redemption could occur. The revelation also reassured participants that the Lord accepted their offering of time and money to Zion’s cause.
My name is Joseph Stuart. I’m a public communication specialist at the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship at BYU. Janiece Johnson is a Willes Center Research Associate at the Institute and we will be discussing each week’s block of reading from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Come, Follow Me curriculum. We aren’t here to present a lesson, but rather hit on a few key themes from the scripture block that we believe will help fulfill the Maxwell Institute’s mission to inspire and fortify Latter-day Saints in their testimonies of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ and engage the world of religious ideas.
Joseph Stuart: Now, there’s a lot going on, as you can tell from the introduction. Including the raising of an army, marching a thousand miles from Ohio to Missouri and it starts out as a revelation in section 103.
Janiece Johnson: I think that’s how we started out our last episode also. There is a lot going on here. I think that section 103 is interesting because the Lord says, “Okay, the goal is five hundred people.” And they send out missionaries to gather these five hundred men, but then the Lord says, “Okay, if not five hundred, then three hundred; and if not three hundred then one hundred.” They have two hundred and twenty seven or so, so I think that’s pretty middling fulfillment. They’re not completely stellar here in finding those volunteers but they get about two hundred and seven men. And this is a difficult ask.
I think that this section leads me to think a lot as I try to apply this to myself, what do I do when there are needs? How do I respond? The Church’s economic situation is not great. Wilford Woodruff writes in his journal that Joseph says, “I need money to help fit out Zion and I know we should have it.” And then the next day he receives a letter from Sister Vose of Boston which contained two hundred and fifty dollars. He took the money out of the letter and showed it to the brethren present and said, “Did I not tell you last night I should soon have some money and here it is.” This donation from Ruth D. Vose of Boston, Massachusetts was the single largest donation that the Church received to try and fund Zion’s Camp.
This moment also introduces us to Wilford Woodruff. Wilford Woodruff was from Connecticut. He grew up as a Congregationalist and then became a Seeker. Most Seekers are searching for New Testament truth––for the church that Christ established. Wilford met Robert Mason in his youth. Robert Mason had a local reputation as a prophet and Robert Mason had a vision that he would not find Christ’s church before his death, but that Wilford would find Christ’s church. Wilford was baptized in 1833 in Richland, New York with his brother Azmon. They were baptized in December and then in 1834 Parley Pratt came as a missionary to recruit people on Zion’s Camp. Wilford sold his farm and he went to Kirtland for the first time. He called it a ‘sacred adventure’.
When we talk about those who were refined by this time in Zion’s Camp, Wilford Woodruff is the first one that I think of. When he begins his journal in 1834 he calls it, ‘The First Book of Wilford’. He is living out his own sacred narrative. This man who has read scripture and has now accepted new scripture is creating his own sacred narrative and he writes on the title page, “A Living sacrifice, holy and acceptable unto God.” quoting Romans 12:1. This means everything to Wilford and this changes his whole orientation of his life.
Joseph Stuart: I think this is something crucial to remember. I think about Parley Pratt and how he may have been disappointed with how few people ultimately joined the Camp of Israel, or Zion’s Camp, but it’s that one person that it made a difference for. And that one person went on to have an enormous impact on the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and its members.
Now every single time that we feel that we’re not succeeding in doing something, we don’t have to have helped introduce a prophet to something that’s going to help refine him to the point where he can be a prophet, but it’s important to keep in mind that as we’ll see in section 105, the Lord is pleased when we act, when we do the best that we can.
Now something sort of funny about the Doctrine and Covenants––it is not chronological. And sometimes there are sections that don’t necessarily fit the timeline as well. Section 102 doesn’t necessarily fit in with the rest of the narrative here. It talks about Church courts and the process of Church courts. And I just want to have a quick word to say that there are three types of Church courts. The first is a bishop’s court which is comprised of a bishop and his counselor, where the bishop presides. The jurisdiction for that, or those who could be called to attend one of those courts, are all board members with restricted discipline for Melchizedek priesthood holders. The appeal goes to the high council court at the stake level. Now this second court, the high council court, is presided over by the stake president and a stake presidency and high council, they oversee all stake members. Often when it’s referred to by a bishop’s court or appealed to from a bishop’s decision. So those who are American Latter-day Saints can think about this as appealing from a lower court to a higher court and moving forward. Now, you can still appeal to the third court which is the first presidency’s court, which today largely consists of appealing excommunication or other Church discipline matters. And it’s comprised of the first presidency, but they may also call upon twelve high priests to assist as counselors and there is no appeal after that. I think that it is important for Latter-day Saints to understand how Church courts work and would encourage you to look at an article entitled, “The Principles and Purposes of Church Courts” on churchofjesuschrist.org.
Janiece Johnson: I think that that helps us as we think about this trip on Zion’s Camp because church courts are actually going to come into relief after they get back from Zion’s Camp, because some of the contention that happens during Zion’s Camp spills over and continues even after they’ve made it back to Kirtland. We also get some of the continuing principles of the law of consecration. They are specific to the united firm and how the united firm is functioning. I think that there are some important principles for us to think about how consecration was built over time. Verse 13 talks about making everyone accountable as a steward over earthly blessings. Steve Harper has written extensively about the difference between being a steward and an owner and what that means. If we go through our time in mortality thinking about all of the wealth, all of the things that we’re amassing, all of those things that we own, what’s the difference between that and being a steward? What do you think Joey?
Joseph Stuart: The biggest thing that sticks out to me is first recognizing that as a steward, what you are overseeing is not your own but that you have a responsibility to do the best by the person who actually owns that. So thinking like a stockbroker as a steward, which may not be the best analogy, but I think it fits here, you have an ethical responsibility to do the best with the material that you have been given to improve and to return it to the person who does own it in a better shape than you found it.
Janiece Johnson: If everything that we have comes from the Lord then we, being a steward and being an accountable steward, should be our goal. “The earth is full and there is enough to spare, but yea I prepared all things and have given unto the children of men to be agents unto themselves.” (D&C 104:17). My dad said something at my mission farewell that the Lord gives us to be agents unto ourselves, anxiously engaged in a good cause, not just anxious. It was a little cutting at the time but it has stuck with me for a very long time.
The earliest extant manuscripts read, “with dives” rather than, “with the wicked.” Now, this is a puzzling thing, but Steve Harper has written about this in a great BYU Studies piece. And it points us to the parable of Lazarus and the rich man in Luke 16:19-31. The rich man is there and Lazarus is a beggar who lays by his gate. Both die and Lazarus goes to Abraham’s bosom and the rich man goes to hell. And then in verse 23 it says, “And in hell, he [the rich man] lifts up his eyes being in torment and seeth Abraham a far off and Lazarus in his bosom.”
Now its relationship to verse 18 here, three manuscript versions clearly read, “he shall, with dives, lift up his eyes being in torment.” The King James translates the Greek “There was a certain rich man.” The Latin vulgate bible translates this clause verbatim. It’s “homo quidam erat dives,”––I know my Latin is rubbish, my pronunciation is rubbish. I’m sorry for all of you who had to hear that. But “dives,” that last word, means rich. And as early as the 14th century with the Canterbury Tales, “dives” became the name of the certain rich man and it continued on its way, weaving its way all the way down to the 19th century. It shows up in Thackeray’s Vanity Fair. ”Dives,” again, is the rich man.
So when verse 18 points to the wicked, it actually reminds us that riches are not implicitly evil, but those who ignore the petitions of the beggar at their own gates are those who are the wicked in this verse.
Joseph Stuart: In section 105, I am glad that the Latter-day Saints don’t enter into armed battle with the Missourians, that there is no extensive loss of life through violent bloodshed here––although, it should be noted that many people did die of cholera––but it made me think in rereading this revelation, “how do I feel when I’m released from something that I’m not really succeeding at, or that may not bear fruit in the way that I wanted it to?” For someone to take away an experience so that you’re not going to end up having a bad experience.
Janiece Johnson: But I think that success is always going to be a subjective term, right?
Joseph Stuart: So, yes, success is always going to be subjective, and I think this is a crucial point, that militarily they may not have been successful. But I think of it as a sort of crucible where men like Wilford Woodruff, and Brigham Young, and the women and children who attended, it becomes a refiners fire, by which they are made strong through it, and I think that’s a much smarter way of looking at it. In doing research for this, seeing how very close the Camp of Israel was to arriving at a place where they could have been in military combat really sheds a light on, what is success and what we are supposed to do with this.
Janiece Johnson: Thinking about what the goal is––initially their goal was to fight. I am not sure that that was the Lord’s goal. And Joseph dictates this revelation on the twenty-second of June 1834 from––they’re camping on the property of John Cooper who was a Church member who lived about four miles north of the fishing river in Clay County, Missouri. The fishing river is the border of Jackson County. That’s how close they were. They’re four miles away from crossing into Jackson County. Their path had been reported in newspapers. People knew they were coming; people were preparing. There is a huge hail storm that stops some of those who were preparing to go out and perhaps attack them. But they get to this point and then the Lord says, “Go home, wait for a little season.” What do we do with that?
Joseph Stuart: I think that that takes a lot of courage to be willing to do something and then have the Lord tell you, “This thing that you’ve invested yourself in, this thing that people are expecting you to do, I don’t want you to do it. Stop.” And trusting the Lord enough to turn back around, even if it is not something that you would prefer to do yourself, having a confirmation from the spirit that it is not my will be done, it is thy will be done.
Janiece Johnson: I moved to Nashville to go to divinity school at Vanderbilt and I remember moving into my apartment and thinking, “Okay, I’m not leaving until I have a PhD in hand.” A year later the Lord said, “Nope, you’re just going to go to divinity school, and then you’re going to go home.” That was hard. I wonder if this is not the hardest thing that they’ve done in this whole 1800 miles of walking that they did at Jackson County. But today I can look back and I can see all of the good things that I learned and how important that experience in divinity school was for both my academic development and for my spiritual development, but it was not the end that I anticipated. It would take me another decade before I would finish my doctorate. And I think that oft times, the Lord’s ways are not our ways, the Lord’s timeline is not our timeline. And sometimes that is the most difficult thing that the Lord asks of us, is to lay our will on the altar and follow through with what he asks us to do.
Joseph Stuart: What a perfect place to end. We’re going to leave you with the words of Elder Jeffery R. Holland and hope you have a blessed week, ya’ll.
Jeffery R. Holland: “Prepare, plan, work, sacrifice, rework. Spend cheerfully time, as well as money, on things that matter and things of worth. Carry the calm and wear the assurance of having done all you could do with what you had. If you work hard and prepare earnestly, it will be very difficult for you to wear down or give in or give up. If you labor with faith in God and in yourself and in your future, you will have built upon a rock which when the winds blow and the rains come, and surely they will, you shall not fall. Of course some things are not under your control. Some disappointments come regardless of your effort and your preparation for I believe God wishes us to be strong as well as good. There too I say love your life poor as it is. Drive even these experiences into the corner, painful though they may be, and learn from them. In this too, you have friends through the ages in whom you can take comfort and with whom you can form timeless bonds.”
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The views expressed here and in Maxwell Institute publications are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the Maxwell Institute, Brigham Young University, or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“Seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith.” (D&C 88:118)