Abide #18: Doctrine and Covenants 125-128

  • Following the Latter-day Saints’ expulsion from Missouri and while they worked to make a new home in Nauvoo, IL, Joseph Smith received several revelations that brought divine insight into earthly problems. For instance, what to do for those who could not afford to live in Nauvoo, or who desired to live in small cities surrounding the “City of Joseph?” How long could a person work before they needed a break? How do you ensure your life doesn’t fall apart when circumstances beyond your control take over your life? And how are you supposed to keep track of the many important things that you’ve been asked to do in your limited time?

    In my mind, these revelations answer those questions by pointing to the importance of focusing on two audiences: God and our community. 

  • Following the Latter-day Saints’ expulsion from Missouri and while they worked to make a new home in Nauvoo, Illinois, Joseph Smith received several revelations that brought divine insight into earthly problems. For instance, what do you do for those who cannot afford to live in Nauvoo or who desire to live in small cities surrounding the city of Joseph? How long could a person work before they needed a break? How do you ensure your life doesn’t fall apart when circumstances beyond your control take over your life? And how are you supposed to keep track of the many important things that you’ve been asked to do in your limited time? In my mind, the revelations that we examine here, sections 125 to 128, answer these questions by pointing to the importance of focusing on two audiences: God and the communities around us.


    My name is Joseph Stuart. I am the Public Communications Specialist at the Neal A. Maxwell Institute of Religious Scholarship at Brigham Young University. And, along with Janiece Johnson, a Willis Center Research Associate at the institute, 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 to engage the world of religious ideas.


    Joseph Stuart: Section 125 is a really short section; it’s only four verses long. What stuck out to you from it, Janiece?


    Janiece Johnson:  Well, I think that the saints are wondering like, is there room for all of us in Nauvoo? Is it okay? People are choosing farms outside, some of them are in Iowa, across the water from Nauvoo, across the Mississippi from Nauvoo. And so, they want to know some direction and so here we’ve got a record of Joseph’s specific question: what’s the will of the Lord concerning the saints in the territory of Iowa? And the Lord says, gather together and specifically, “build a city … opposite the city of Nauvoo and let the name of Zarahemla be named upon it” (D&C 125:3). Now this is the first city, or the first latter-day saint settlement, that will have a Book of Mormon name. This is something that will be a continued practice when we get to Utah. Latter-day saints will use both Bible and Book of Mormon names. We’ve already seen it, beginning in the Kirtland period, the saints named their children after individuals in the Book of Mormon. In Nauvoo we see a proliferation of Book of Mormon names. This is one of the markers of practice of how the saints are thinking about the Book of Mormon, how the content is important. And it comes out in how they name things, specifically this name coming from the Lord in terms of Zarahemla, but also in a whole lot of Book of Mormon names. Parley Pratt is going to name all of his sons Book of Mormon names after 1844. His adopted daughter will also get a Book of Mormon name. This is going to be a continued practice.


    Joseph Stuart: Yeah, the Book of Mormon, as much as it is a sign of Joseph Smith’s prophetic authority, also deeply matters to latter-day saints. It’s something that is involved in every aspect of their lives. And in naming Zarahemla as a place where saints can settle I believe that it’s also the Lord saying, you don’t have to be 5 feet from the prophet in order to be with the body of saints. There are complications with having lots of people in one area and this is just speculation, but I wonder if the Lord and Joseph are also aware that when the saints congregated in large numbers in Jackson County that it attracted trouble. So I wonder if having people in different places was something on the forefront of Joseph’s mind as he’s praying about this.


    Janiece Johnson: Well, even in northern Missouri, they have multiple, different settlements, not everyone is in Far West. We have some smaller settlements in Haun’s Mill and in Adam-ondi-Ahman but it still caused trouble. Here we are at least dividing it by a river and dividing it by two different states.


    Joseph Stuart: Now, in section 126, this is a revelation through Joseph Smith for Brigham Young. And again, a really short section, but something that stuck out to me are two phrases. The phrase that the Lord says to Brigham, “I have seen your labors” and then, “take special care of your family as in times past your offering is acceptable to me”. I think about the phrase from the Gospel of Matthew in chapter 25, “Well done thou good and faithful servant, thou hast been faithful over a few things.” It’s crucial to remember that the Lord sees us and it’s something that, I think as latter-day saints, we can see as very commonplace to think I am a child of God, that God is involved in all of our lives. But it’s something that is extremely powerful when we stop and think about how involved our creator is in our lives. When I was at the University of Virginia, a wise professor named Kathleen Flake who was teaching an undergraduate class on new religious movements in the United States, of which Mormons or latter-day saints were one of them along with the nation of Islam and along with Scientology and at the end of the semester she assigned her students to write on the subject of holy envy: something that they admired about the religions they had learned. And these are religions that, if you aren’t a member of them, may seem scary or you may have a certain amount of fear or not knowing what they are going to do or what they are going to say. You may not know a member of those religions, but one of the essays that stuck out to me from that semester was a student who said, “I’ve been listening to the Mormon hymn, I am a Child of God and I cannot stop crying.” And it stuck out to me that this song that I sing with my kids on the way to church that I’ve been singing since I knew how to sing was something that could have such a power. And in thinking about how Brigham must have felt in that moment when he has given so much of his life to missionary service, when he has given everything he has to building the kingdom to be seen by the Lord. I have seen your labor… take especial care of your family from this time henceforth and forever… your offering is acceptable to me” (D&C 126:1-3).


    Janiece Johnson: I want to look at this from the perspective of Maryanne Angel Young, who is Brigham Young’s wife. Maryanne joined the church actually before Brigham did. She was baptized in 1832, she moved to Kirtland in early 1833 and married Brigham, who was a widower, the following year in 1834. When Maryanne first learned of the Book of Mormon she was in Providence, Rhode Island and Thomas Marsh shared a Book of Mormon with her. She said the spirit bore witness of the truth of its origin so strongly that she could not afterwards doubt it. She became a huge scriptorian of the Book of Mormon but she also shared her Book of Mormon and she supports Brigham in mission after mission. But shortly after the Young family arrived in Far West, Joseph received a revelation that said Brigham wasn’t to leave his family again until they were amply provided for. Now, that time is only going to last for 9 months. It’s not going to last for very long before he leaves on a mission for Great Britain. And so again, by the time that they were safe in Illinois, Maryanne remembered that she had kept house in 11 different places within three months. She’s also pregnant. I think that this is for Maryanne, just as much, if not more, than it is for Brigham. Your offering is acceptable unto me. She has done all this virtually by herself.


    Joseph Stuart: And I agree wholeheartedly. In section 127 we find Joseph Smith in hiding. And this is something that we will see for the rest of Joseph Smith’s life that he is often in hiding because people from Missouri are trying to extradite him to have him tried for crimes there. Both while he was in Missouri and eventually for crimes even after he had left the state. And I think about Joseph Smith and the weight on his shoulders here and in the revelation he says, “I have thought it expedient and wisdom in me to leave the place for a short season for my own safety and for the safety of this people. I would say to all those with whom I have business that I have left my affairs with agents and clerks who will transact all business in a prompt and proper manner and will see that all my debts are canceled in due time by turning out property or otherwise as the case may require, or as the circumstances may admit of, when I learn that the storm has fully blown over then I will return to you again” (D&C 127:1). And he goes on to express his confidence that he will return, that everything is going to be okay, but I just really like that Joseph Smith is reassuring the saints, I am not gone for forever. Things are going to be taken care of, even for those who are outside the church, those who have civic or economic dealings with the prophet or with the church, that he’s not leaving them alone.


    Janiece Johnson: I think a lot about this phrase from verse 2, “deep water is what I am wont to swim in.” I think there comes a point where Joseph just realized that this is what mortality is like. There are joyous moments and with section 128, we are going to see so much joy. But there is also a lot of deep water, and for Joseph it doesn’t end in mortality, it’s consistent. But he says it has all become a second nature to me and I feel like Paul to glory in tribulation. Sorry, I’m not there yet. It’s not something that just comes instantaneously but he has come to a point where he can glory in it.


    Joseph Stuart: One of the things that I think he finds glory in as well is the introduction of baptisms for the dead. Now we discussed this in the prior episode because we get some hints of it in section 124. But in section 128, we learn much more about how baptisms for the dead are to be taken out, how they are to be recorded, and their place in what historian Sam Brown calls, the great chain of belonging. The step in that process that leads to that chain being forged. Janiece, can you tell us about the doctrinal development of baptisms for the dead?


    Janiece Johnson: Yeah. So baptism for the dead, like many doctrines, is not going to be all revealed in an instant. It is going to be built upon line upon line, precept upon precept. The vision that Joseph has in 1836, it’s a vision of Alvin in the celestial kingdom. It’s recorded in section 137 in the first edition of the Doctrine & Covenants. In 1835, it’s included in an appendix. But Joseph has this vision in 1836 and it sticks with him. How is it that his brother Alvin who is so dear to him can make it to the celestial kingdom if he was unable to receive those ordinances that Joseph believed were necessary? In July of 1838 Joseph publishes in the elder’s journal, “All those who have not had the opportunity of hearing the gospel and being ministered to by an inspired man in the flesh, must have hereafter before they can be finally judged.” So this idea of proxy work is something that is working on him in 1840 when he preaches at Semor Brunson’s funeral, when section 124 is received in 1841 we get more specifics– this is one of the purposes of the temple, that there can be a font, a baptismal font for baptisms for the dead. And here, we get more specifics about recording practices, that we actually should keep track of such things. That we need recorders, we need witnesses. We are going to get more of this in section 128 and then later, Brigham Young will give us additional instruction that men should be baptized for men and women should be baptized for women. This was not something that was part of their earliest practice, but this is continued to be revealed over time.


    Joseph Stuart: Yeah. It’s something that, again, is reassuring to me– that something as big and as important as baptism for the dead, Joseph Smith is working on this for a long time, but something that seems as basic to modern latter-day saints as women should be baptised for women and men for men isn’t revealed until after Joseph Smith is dead. And again, it just points out to me that the restoration is continually being unfolded both in minute detail but also in the big things that affect the trajectory of the church.


    Janiece Johnson: And these recording practices are important. The day the church is organized the Lord says, “Behold, a record shall be kept among you” (D&C 21:1). And we don’t do that particularly well all the time. Latter-day saints have an amazing amount of records but it takes time for these practices to be enshrined as a part of our regular practice. The Lord said, keep a record but Joseph doesn’t actually keep a record until 1832 when he gets another revelation that says, hey, remember that? You’re not keeping a record. Keep a record. He goes and buys a notebook and starts writing down his history for the first time when that second revelation comes. And these continued revelations will again remind the saints: keep a record. This is important to keep a record of these rituals and these rites and these ordinances that are being performed.


    Joseph Stuart: Yeah, and again, I guess I’m always relating myself to Joseph Smith in this way but Joseph Smith has this big idea and he’s not totally sure how to do it and so he avoids doing it until he knows how to do it perfectly and the Lord just keeps coming back and saying, buddy, ya gotta do what I tell you first. And then Joseph says, well how can I do it? And then the Lord gives more and more specific instructions to him. So it starts big and then more and more is revealed until this revelation is refined into something that Joseph can do by himself. Now, I really love the phrase “welding links” that are used in section 128. The idea of connecting the fathers to the children and the children to the fathers. The idea of connecting families together for eternity, because welding links– to weld something is not a casual endeavor. It’s not like using velcro. It’s something that you have to heat up metal to a tremendous temperature, and then manipulate it as an expert, and then cool it in the exact proper order and timing for it to stay as links in the chain. It’s also very difficult to break links in the chain, although they can be broken. But this idea of welding links, connecting the past to the present and the future in a way that is strong and can only be done well by following prescribed methods.


    Janiece Johnson: I think most of us have seen welding links that aren’t done particularly well because they are very obvious when something has been damaged and then it has been repaired. But good welding, we don’t see those links. And it creates something new, a new alloy of these two metals and creates– it becomes stronger so that it cannot be broken. This is, Joseph says, now you may think this order of things to be very particular. That these links don’t just happen, that we have to actually perform them. But this is a very bold doctrine. This is something that we are trying to connect heaven and earth. The great and the grand secret of the whole matter. This is going to take work, but this idea that this is a welding link.


    Joseph Stuart: And then Joseph, in his typical matter of fact speech, and then in verse 18 Joseph writes,

    For we without them cannot be made perfect, neither can they without us be made perfect. Neither can they nor we be made perfect without those who have died in the gospel also. For it is necessary in the ushering in of the dispensation of the fulness of times, which dispensation is now beginning to usher in, that a whole and complete and perfect union and welding together of dispensations and keys and powers and glories should take place and be revealed from the days of Adam even to the present time. And not only this but those things which never have been revealed from the foundation of the world, have been kept hid from the wise and prudent, shall be revealed unto babes and sucklings in this the dispensation of the fulness of times. (D&C 128:18)

    So this is not, again, some casual endeavor. Joseph Smith sees the introduction of baptisms for the dead and proxy temple work as one of the hallmarks of the final dispensation before the second coming of Christ. This is not something to be taken lightly. I love that he immediately follows up with how important and how big this is and how absolutely crucial it is with this infectious optimism. There are so many exclamation points in the next few verses. And in verse 20, what do we hear? “Glad tidings from Cumorah! Moroni an angel from heaven declaring the fulfillment of the prophets– the book to be revealed,” and going on and on talking about and following it up with many, many visitations from angeling beings passing on keys, restoring doctrines and practices that had not been known. In verse 22,

    Shall we not go on in such great a cause? Go forward and not backward. Courage brethren [and sisters]; and on, on to the victory. Let your hearts rejoice and be exceedingly glad. Let the earth break forth into singing. Let the dead speak forth anthems of eternal praise to the Kind Emmanuel. . . Let the mountains shout for joy and all ye valleys cry aloud and all ye seas and dry lands tell the wonders of your eternal king! . . . Behold the great day of the Lord is at hand; and who can abide the day of his coming and who can stand when he appeareth? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fuller’s soap; and he shall sit a refiner and purifier of silver, and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the Lord and offering in righteousness. . . Brethren [and sisters] I have many things to say to you on the subject; but shall now close for the present, and continue this subject another time. I am, as ever, your humble servant and never deviating friend, Joseph Smith. (D&C 128:22-25).

    Joseph Smith is absolutely jazzed by the prospect of baptisms for the dead because it seems to me as he’s writing this, even in facing the enormity of the project of baptisms for the dead and proxy temple work for billions of people, that so many great and wonderful things have taken place already and that there are even more great and wonderful things in store for latter-day saints as they do what the Lord has asked them to.


    Janiece Johnson: Joseph uses up his quota of exclamation points for an entire lifetime in this section. But that should only highlight for us. Exclamation points only work when they are not always used– when they are not the standard– and here we see Joseph’s excitement through these exclamation points, confirming our hope. And we see how both the New Testament and the Old Testament come together in these teachings, come together for Joseph in this revelation about the sealing power. The voice of God in the chamber of old father Whitmer. We see Joseph’s absolute joy at the possibility of this welding power which can unite all of us in this great chain of being.


    Joseph Stuart: I think that’s a great place to end. We are going to leave you with the words of Elder Quentin L. Cook, from a conference talk entitled, Roots and Branches as he discusses the importance of being a Savior on mount zion.


    Quentin L. Cook: “Family commitments and expectations should be at the top of our priorities to protect our divine destiny. For those who are looking for a more fruitful use of the Sabbath day for the family as a whole, the hasten of this work is fertile ground. One mother glowingly tells how her 17-year-old son gets on the computer after church on Sunday to do family history work and her 10 year old son loves to hear the stories and see pictures of his ancestors. This has blessed their entire family to experience the spirit of Elijah. Our precious roots and branches must be nourished. Jesus Christ gave his life as a vicarious Atonement. He resolved the ultimate question raised by Joel. He overcame death for all mankind which we could not do for ourselves. We can, however, perform vicarious ordinances and truly become saviors on mount zion for our own families in order that we, with them, might be exalted as well as saved.”


    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.