Abide #13: Doctrine and Covenants 109-110

  • 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.”

  • Welcome to Abide: A Maxwell Institute Podcast. In Mormonism: A Very Short Introduction, Richard Bushman says that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a New Testament church that embraces an Old Testament model. We see that over and over again. Notions of priesthood, kinship networks, chosenness, and dietary restrictions. But the introduction of temples is perhaps the clearest evidence. The Kirtland temple, whose dedicatory prayer is canonized as D&C 109, is the first temple dedicated in this dispensation. In section 110, we learn that Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon saw the Lord and were told that He had accepted the Saint’s temple as an offering. Later more messengers bestowed keys to Smith and Rigdon, keys that ensured the Latter-day Saints would be able to accomplish the necessary work to gather Israel, literally and spiritually, throughout this dispensation.


    One thing of note to remember is that even as Latter-day Saints rightly focus on the receipt of priesthood keys, some Latter-day Saints were more focused on the Millennium. As W.W. Phelps told his wife, Sally, “The big news from the visions and visitations of the day was that the great and terrible day of the Lord, as mentioned by Malachi, was near, even at the door.” The narratives that we focus on today are not the same that early Saints focused on. That does not make either perspective more valuable, but instead should change how we read the stories and think about them more deeply.


    My name is Joseph Stuart. I’m the public communications specialist at the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship at Brigham Young University. Janiece Johnson, who is a Willes Center Research Associate at the Institute, and I 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 Institute’s mission to inspire and fortify Latter-day Saints and their testimonies of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ and engage the world of religious ideas.


    Joseph Stuart: Now, we have covered quite a bit over the past few episodes and just want to orient us to where we are. Janiece, how do we get from Zion’s camp to the dedication of the Kirtland temple?


    Janiece Johnson: Yeah, we have some significant jumps here in the timeline. Zion’s camp, we left the 22nd of June 1834 and the Kirtland temple dedication is almost two years later. It occurs on the 27th of March 1836. So we’ve had a significant jump whereas early on as the Church is being organized, revelations are coming at really a break-neck speed. But as they start doing more, just focusing on building the temple, that trip of Zion’s camp, all these things have slowed down some of these revelations.


    Also I would note that not every revelation Joseph receives is actually canonized in the Doctrine and Covenants. So, we’re only working with some of those revelations. A majority of those revelations have been written down, but still it’s only a part. Now, the Kirtland temple was constructed between 1833-1836 and in their money it costs somewhere between $40,000-$60,000. Of course, that’s exponentially more in today’s money. But the winter of 1834-35, they made the most progress. The walls were two feet thick, it was 60 feet high. They plastered the exterior between November and January of 1835 and 1836. And then in February of 1836, they were putting the finishing touches on the temple and Brigham Young directed this. Brigham Young is doing a lot of wood work in the final product of the temple.


    Women made carpets and curtains to bring down and separate that space. But they’re preparing themselves for this temple dedication.


    Stuart: And they had been preparing for a long time, as early as section 38, the Lord had promised an endowment of power. To read verse 32, it says, “Wherefore, for this cause I gave unto the commandment that ye should go unto the Ohio and there I will give unto you my law and there you shall be endowed with power from on high.” (D&C 38:32). This is years in the making. Imagine something that you have been looking forward to for years and having it finally pay off.


    I want to stress that they aren’t totally sure what the endowment of power is, but because the Lord promised it, they know that they want it.


    Johnson: Yeah and I think today we often don’t think about how we use the word “endowment”. We sometimes use the language that we go to the temple to take out our endowments as if it’s something that is owed to us.


    Stuart: Some kind of bank account right?


    Johnson: Yeah! Exactly. But an endowment, if we think about a university or museum receiving an endowment, this is not $20 from grandma. This is not something that you are owed or even expect, but this is a grandiose gift. An endowment is something that a university or a museum just uses the interest off of. It is that large of a gift. They don’t actually touch the principle there.


    Stuart: And this is something to think about too is that because I’ve worked a little bit with academic fundraising, when endowments are given, strict requirements are given to the money that is given or whatever is being given to the university, so that it’s used exactly as the person who is donating it wants it to be used. I think we can think about it the same way with the Lord’s gift of the endowment.


    Johnson: That’s fantastic. And as Joey said, the Lord continues to use this language of endowment. In June of 1833 in section 95 verse 8, the Lord said, “Yea verily I say unto you, I give unto you a commandment that you should build a house, in the which I design to endow those whom I have chosen with power from on high.”(D&C 95:8) Sidney Rigdon, Newel K. Whitney, Oliver Cowdery wrote a letter together to John Boyton in May of 1834 and they prophesied “Within that house God will pour out his spirit in great magestry and glory and encircle his people with power, more gloriously and marvelously than at Pentecost because the work to be performed in the last days is greater than it was in that day.” Joseph preached to the Saints, “Strive to be prepared in your hearts, be faithful in all things, that when we meet in solemn assembly it is such that God shall name out all the official members will meet and we must be clean every whit. Prepare, be faithful, and be clean.”


    Stuart: Now, there are three key topics that I see in section 109 as being something that we can pull all the way through. Now, it’s a long section and everyone is going to find something different, but these are just three that I saw. The first is praying for individuals in verse 21, talking about people being able to return. As Joseph Smith wrote this out, it’s important to say that Joseph Smith wrote this prayer out and then read it. “When thy people transgress, any of them, they may speedily repent and return unto thee and find favor in thy sight and be restored to the blessings which thou hast ordained to be poured out upon those who shall reverence thee in thy house.” So praying for all those who will have need of repentance, which is to say literally everyone.


    I’m also struck by how personal Joseph gets here. In verse 68-70 says, “Lord remember thy servant Joseph Smith Jr. and all his afflictions and persecutions. How he has covenanted with Jehovah and vowed to thee oh mighty God of Jacob and the commandments which thou hast given unto him that he hath sincerely striven to do thy will. Have mercy, O Lord upon his wife and children that they may be exalted in thy presence and preserved by thy fostering hand. Have mercy upon all their immediate connections, that their prejudices may be broken up and swept away as with a flood, that they may be converted and redeemed with Israel and know that thou art God.”


    Joseph Smith here is praying for his friends.


    Johnson: Pleading for his friends.


    Stuart: And since the Lord, as we’ve discussed in the past few episodes, is calling people his friends here, Joseph Smith is saying, “We’re not only friends in that we are neighbors or belong to the same church, but we are going to worship God together.” And this comes out in the community in which Joseph Smith is praying in verses 29-32 that “the community will be saved from violence, from slander, from shame and confusion.” And then towards the end of the prayer, thinking about a much larger community of Saints, future communities. In verse 67, “All the scattered remnants of Israel that have been driven to the ends of the earth come to a knowledge of the truth, believe in the Messiah and be redeemed from oppression and rejoice before thee.” And then again, “Remember all thy church, O Lord, with all their families and all their immediate connections. With all their sick and afflicted ones. With all the poor and meek of the earth. That thy church may come forth out of the wilderness of darkness and shine forth fair as the moon, clear as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners.” Joseph Smith is very focused on blessing individuals, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is always a community endeavor.


    Johnson: Verse 73 shows us just a little bit of the inner textuality that we get in this prayer, as Joseph is composing it and preparing for the dedication. We get a lot of those sections, particularly section 88, a temple section, and we see its influence here. Joseph is thinking about these revelations, thinking about what they mean to the Saints and their relationship with the temple.


    There’s other kinds of preparations going on. The first hymnal is published, the date on it is 1835, but we believe it’s either really late 1835 or early 1836 when it is finally finished. And there were many hymns specifically written for the dedication of the Kirtland temple. And the one that is best known, “The Spirit of God” is actually the very last hymn that is in that 1835 hymnal. If you go to the Joseph Smith Papers project website, you can actually see a copy of that hymnal and it might be interesting to note that that last hymn is in a smaller font than the rest of the hymn.


    Stuart: Why do you think that is?


    Johnson: I kind of wonder if they’re trying to cram it in in the end! Like, W.W. Phelps is still writing it and they only have so much room left, so they actually have to use a smaller font to fit it in.


    Stuart: Who among us hasn’t realized at the end of a project what you want to include at the end right before the deadline that you’re turning it in? So, I certainly identify with Brother Phelps there.


    Johnson: And if we look at those verses of the Spirit of God, this is a long hymn, but it was even longer initially. And we have some verses which perhaps we wouldn’t think about. The fourth verse begins, “We’ll wash and be washed and with oil anointed. With all not omitting the washing of feet.” Here we have a direct reference to what we call today as the Kirtland endowment. The temple endowment as we understand it today, was not revealed until 1842. But the Kirtland temple is a temple of preparatory ordinances. So we have washings, anointings, and washing of the feet. Joseph Smith taught that this was one of the purposes of the temple– to attend to this ordinance, the washing of the feet, aside from the world.


    He said, “It is calculated to unite our hearts that we may be strong in feeling and sentiment. That our faith may be strong so that Satan cannot overthrow us, nor have any power over us.” Now, when some of these ordinances were being performed in the Kirtland temple, they were only performed for men in the temple. George A. Smith actually writes in his journal that “the women were in a right huffy about it.” That they were excluded from the temple and I would say, as they should have been. This would be corrected when we get to the Nauvoo temple.


    Stuart: Something that my students have brought up though is that during the washing of feet and ritual washing of bodies, Latter-day Saints used whiskey and cinnamon to do so as if it’s this scandalous thing. They weren’t drinking the whiskey. This isn’t an animal house situation, it’s an antiseptic and it’s something that will keep people clean. And also alcohol, think about rubbing alcohol, that’s not something that people have as the scents for their candles or their Glade plug-ins or whatever. The cinnamon is there to help people to smell better. I will say this as a historian who has often wished that I could go back and witness historical events, I have never wanted to smell the past.


    Johnson: My nose does not want to return to the 19th-century.


    Stuart: Now something that I would like to see from the 19th-century are the preparations for the Kirtland temple dedication. There’s an outstanding article that we’ll include in the show notes that you will receive if you sign up for our newsletter at mi.byu.edu, from our friend Kristine Wright. And she wrote in a 2011 article, later republished in 2015, about the preparation of the sacrament bread for the dedication of the Kirtland temple. She writes, “For most of its history, bread has been made at home. Perhaps early Mormon women like Nancy, Naomi, Alexander, Tracy in Kirtland transformed their kitchens into sacred space. Nancy recalled, ‘Blessings were poured out. Solemn assemblies were called. Endowments given.’ The Elders went from house to house, blessing the Saints and administering the sacrament. Feasts were given. Three families joined together and held one at our house. We baked a lot of bread.”


    When I think of the temple dedication, I think about the Day of Pentecost. I think about people’s reported seeing angels. I think of the gorgeous prayer that Joseph Smith offers and what happens next in section 110. But few things give me as much pause as that very simple phrase, “We baked a lot of bread.” We discount what women are doing to contribute to religious life in general far too often, and especially in events like the Kirtland temple dedication. As we acknowledge women’s stories as Dr. Laurel Thatcher-Ulrich has taught us, it troubles those old stories. It adjusts them. We can never see the same thing again, we have to acknowledge that there was texture and experience that women’s history adds to a male-dominated LDS historical narrative.


    Johnson: There have been plenty of people who have told us the narrative of the Kirtland temple, relying primarily on the men who spoke and the men who left documents of the event. But we want to, like Nancy Tracy’s account of baking a lot of bread, which I too am obsessed with. I love Chris’ article and that phrase. But we want to bring a few women’s voices to help us to think about their experience.


    Stuart: And before we share some of these experiences, it’s important to remember that female rituals or the rituals that women participate in are often not seen as official or as “impressive” as male-led rituals are. And again, there’s a reason why many church curriculum manuals and even popular history focus on what the men are doing. There are more records of what men are doing and also they’re the ones presiding at the meeting. But again, we have to think about the earthly, the social, the stuff that’s going on that makes a religion work.


    So, for instance, does a ward work without women? The answer is no. We have to think about the Kirtland Pentecost and the dedication of the Kirtland temple in the same way.


    Johnson: Yeah, Eliza R. Snow said “The ceremonies of that dedication may be rehearsed, but no mortal language can describe the heavenly manifestations of that memorable day. Angels appeared to some while a sense of divine presence was realized by all present and each heart was filled with joy inexpressible and full of glory.” Several years ago, I attended a Mormon History Association conference in Kirtland and on a sunday morning we filed into the Kirtland temple and sang the hymns of the dedication. It was a remarkable morning, but something within me reminded me that the phrase in Spanish “I want to go to” is “Nada que ver,” like, it has nothing to do with…my Sunday more replication was not the same thing as what the Saints had experienced because I had not sacrificed. I got on a plane to get there. I hadn’t sacrificed to build that place. And as we look at these different accounts from people who were there, I think that it’s interesting to me that different people, different individuals experience it differently. They point out, they pull out different pieces in their memory. One account that I love is from Sylvia Cutler Webb. She was nine at the Kirtland temple dedication and she writes this many years later, but a view of children– this is not something that we always get! She says, “I can look back through the lapse of years and see as I saw Joseph the Prophet, standing with his hands raised towards heaven. His face ashy-pale; the tears running down his cheeks as he spoke on that memorable day. Almost all seemed to be in tears.” And, can you think about that? Children going, “What’s going on, everyone is crying?” I can totally see that! “The house was so crowded that the children were mostly sitting on older children’s laps. My sister sat on my father’s, I on my mother’s lap. I even remember the dresses that we wore.” I love this material memory that she has. The fabric of her dress is intertwined with this spiritual memory! “My mind was too young to grasp the full significance of it all, but as time passed, it dawned more and more upon me and I am very grateful that I was privileged to be there.”


    Stuart: Now, several things stick out to me from Sylvia Webb’s account and one of them was that Joseph Smith’s face was ashy-pale, that speaks to me of someone who has been up all night, who has been trying to prepare for this moment in which, I am sure he felt he had been building towards his entire life: the dedication of a temple to God. I also love that she’s remembering her dress, that she’s remembering everyone crying, because as soon as you said that, I remember when I was set apart for my mission and I remember exactly what tie I was wearing. I still have that tie; I never wear that tie for whatever reason. It’s become special to me. And it’s just important for us to think about what the religion we practice demands that we remember. And these are the sorts of things that we can try to remember– the smell of baking bread or how a dress felt or remembering, “Hey that guy doesn’t look like he slept last night.” There’s so many things that we can reflect on and notice and that a child’s perspective is often what brings us into the earthy, the stuff of religion that we can pull together.


    Johnson: I think about, and this is a different account a little bit later, but Bathsheba Smith talks about– years after the fact– talks about when Eliza R. Snow told her about Mother in Heaven. And she can remember the room and what it looked like and I have those memories also that are linked to– I know what clothing I was wearing or I know what a room looked like or the space or the colors or the look on a person’s face. And the Spirit can do that to us, the Spirit can bring those things back to us as Elder Maxwell would say, “The Spirit can preach to us from the pulpit of memory.” And those material reminders are just as important as the more spiritual, less metaphysical ones.


    Stuart: There certainly was a remarkable spirit poured out. I refer to a Kirtland Pentecost before and should go into that a little bit more. Pentecost happened after Jesus had ascended in the book of Acts and the Spirit descended upon his disciples afterwards. This is in Acts chapter 2.


    Johnson: And everyone thinks they’re drunk before 9am because the Spirit has fallen upon them and they’re having miraculous experiences.


    Stuart: And they feel a little bit different. They don’t feel like their normal selves. They take it for drunkenness, but most Latter-day Saints probably wouldn’t describe it that way today.


    Johnson: I love how Lorenzo Snow describes this season and about 9 months around the Kirtland temple dedication became known as this season of Pentecost. So they said, like that promise that came from Sidney Rigdon early on, these gifts will be greater because this is greater. So they saw it not just as the day of the dedication, but this whole season of Pentecost around the time. I love– Lorenzo Snow says– “the Spirit was poured out in copious effusion” and I’m obsessed with that description– “copious effusion.” I wonder if there are times in my life where I would likewise use that descriptor. But we have lots of different experiences of the Spirit and sometimes they are these charismatic gifts or experiences, visions, speaking in tongues. Elizabeth Anne Whitney sang in tongues for the first time in the Kirtland temple and she felt this inspired message coming through her and coming out in song. You can actually find Parley P. Pratt transcribed at the pulpit. Presendia Huntington, we can find it in At the Pulpit, which you can all find on your smartphones in the “Restoration and Church History” section under “Women’s Voices,” we have that whole book, along with The First Fifty Years of Relief Society is right there. There’s another account from Presendia Huntington and she talks about being in the temple with her sister Zina. She said, “the whole of the congregation were on their knees praying vocally, for such was the custom at the close of the meetings when Father Smith presided. Yet there was no confusion. The voices of the congregation mingled softly together. While the congregation was thus praying, we both heard from one corner of the room, above our heads, a choir of angels singing most beautifully. They were invisible to us, but myriads of angelic voices seemed to be united in singing some song of Zion and their sweet harmony filled the temple of God.”


    Stuart: That just brought to mind one of Joseph Smith’s accounts of the first vision of concourses of angels being present. And of course connecting that to the Angels’ Enunciation to the Shepherds as well. That angels are there. In the first vision they don’t talk about singing but certainly do in the Enunciation of the shepherds. And thinking about the songs of the righteous being a prayer to the Lord.


    Johnson: A week later, we have a meeting again in the Kirtland temple and after they perform the ordinance of the sacrament, the ritual of the sacrament. We have an event which is recorded in section 110.


    Stuart: And in this section, Oliver Cowdery and Joseph Smith have a vision where the Lord appears to them and he says he has accepted the Saints offering of the Kirtland temple from them. Other angelic messengers appear: Moses and Elias and commit their keys. And these keys acting as authority to unlock everything from previous dispensations and Elijah returns and commits the keys of his dispensation as promised by Malachi. And in this moment, I am just thinking about Joseph and Oliver and everything that’s happened with Zion’s camp and how hard it has been from the First Vision to translating the plates to building a city in Kirtland, to trying to establish Zion in Missouri and always hitting this wall of circumstances beyond our control preventing them from doing what they want to do to worship the Lord and thinking about this enormous spiritual payoff this must have been.


    Now, maybe it’s an understatement to say that seeing the Lord is a “spiritual payoff,” but I think we can still empathize with the idea that they have been looking forward to something for a long time and the Lord said to them, “Well done, thou good and faithful servants.”


    Johnson: And in this vision or this series of visions, people have argued both ways that we’ve got four visions or we’ve got a single vision with different parts, but when we have Elijah coming and restoring those keys, this pulls Joseph back to that night when Moroni shows up in his room and Moroni quotes Malachi and Joseph says, “He quoted it a bit differently than the King James Version that I’m used to,” but he quoted the fifth verse thus, this is from Joseph Smith History, “Behold, I will reveal unto you the Priesthood, by the hand of Elijah the prophet, before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. And he shall plant in the hearts of the children the promises made to the fathers, and the hearts of the children shall turn to their fathers. If it were not so, the whole earth would be utterly wasted at his coming.” (D&C 2:1-3)


    Now, I’m gonna let you check out what the differences are between the King James Version from Malachi and the way that Moroni quoted it. But these promises that were made to the fathers, patriarchal fathers– Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob– would turn us to our own fathers and connect us together. Moroni hints at this. Joseph doesn’t have any idea what this means when Moroni comes initially and here we have the fulfillment of that promise and Elijah bringing the sealing keys and turning over the sealing keys to Joseph.


    Stuart: I can’t think of a better place to stop than right there. We’re going to leave you with the words of President Boyd K. Packer discussing the meaning of keys as he took a trip and saw the statue of the apostle Peter holding keys when he was with President Kimball.


    Packer: In 1976, an area general conference was held in Copenhagen, Denmark. Following the closing session, President Spencer W. Kimball desired to visit the Vor Frue church, where the Thorvaldsen  statues of the Christus and the twelve stand. He’d visit there some years earlier and wanted all of us to see it, to go there. To the front of the church, behind the altar, stands the familiar statue of the Christus, his arms turned forward and somewhat outstretched. The hands showing the imprint of the nails and the wound in his side very clearly visible. Along each side stand the statues of the apostles. Peter at the front, to the right, and the other apostles in order. Most of our group was near the rear of the chapel with the custodian. I stood up front with President Spencer W. Kimball before the statue of Peter with Elder Rex. D. Pinegar and Johan Helge Benthin, president of the Copenhagen stake. In Peter’s hand depicted in marble is a set of heavy keys. President Kimball pointed to those keys and explained what they symbolized. Then, in an act I shall never forget, he turned to President Benthine with unaccustomed firmness, pointed his finger at him and said, “I want you to tell everyone in Denmark that I hold the keys. We hold the real keys and we use them everyday.” I will never forget that declaration, that testimony from the prophet. The influence was power, the impression was physical in its impact. We walked to the back of the chapel where the rest of the group was standing, pointing to the statute, President Kimball said to the kind custodian, “These are the dead apostles.” Pointing to me he said, “Here we have living apostles. Elder Packer is an apostle. Elder Monson and Elder Perry are apostles. And I am an apostle. We are the living apostles. You read about the seventies in the New Testament,” he said, “and here are two fo the living seventies, Elder Pinegar and Elder Hale.” The custodian, who up to that time, had shown no emotion, suddenly was in tears. I felt I’d had an experience of a lifetime. We believe in the same organization that existed in the primitive church, namely apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers, evangelists, and so forth.”


    Stuart: Thank you for listening to this episode of Abide: A Maxwell Institute Podcast. Head on over to iTunes or your preferred podcast provider to subscribe, rate, and leave a review, each of which are worth their weight in podcast gold. You can receive show notes, including references to the sermons and articles referenced in this episode by signing up for the Maxwell Institute newsletter at mi.byu.edu. Please also follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube for more content from the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship. Thank you and have a blessed week.