Abide #20: Doctrine and Covenants 133-134

  • With the revelation recorded in Section 133, we travel in time from 1843 back to the beginning of November 1813. Though the dating is a bit cloudy, Joseph likely received this revelation just after the conclusion of the conference, when they originally decided to publish the revelations. Originally entitled The Appendix, not just an appendix, this was a coda to the revelations, a final message. This revelation continues the apocalyptic tone of the preface, Section 1. Speaking to the millennialist concerns of the Saints as well as offering motivation to heed the commandments, Joseph’s revelations published therein. It likewise plants an expansive vision of the gospel and the heads of these early Church leaders as historian Steven Harper commented, “to a fledgling group of valuable Latter-day Saints gathered in a private home it sets forth an audacious scope of covering the globe with the restored gospel. Section 135 was one of two other statements included at the end of the first edition of the Doctrine and Covenants and the 1835 statement on marriage, and this declaration on laws and governments focused on religious freedom.


    My name is Janiece Johnson, I’m a Willes Center Research Associate at the Maxwell Institute and I, along with Joseph Stuart, the public communications specialist 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 133 we’re going to discuss millennialism, the study of when Jesus Christ will return again to the earth in glory. And there are a number of Sections in the Doctrine and Covenants that talk about this. One may be Section 115 which gives the name of the Church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, not the early-day saints, but the Latter-day Saints, waiting for Jesus’ coming, but other revelations discuss this as well.


    Janiece Johnson:  We last talked about millennialism from the revelation that is now in Section 130 when Joseph prayed to know when the advent would be and the Lord said, “Trouble me no more on this matter.” Now, this revelation was actually received earlier as the introduction talked about. This was considered the appendix or maybe the epilogue. This was the final piece of that first collection of revelations as they considered it.


    Now, one of the central themes here is: go ye out from Babylon. It’s repeated three times within this revelation and I just want to read a few verses starting with verse 7, “Yeah, verily I say unto you, again, the time has come when the voice of the Lord is unto you. Go ye out of Babylon, gather ye out from among the nations from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. Send forth the others of my church unto the nations which are afar off unto the islands of the sea send forth unto foreign lands, call upon all nations, first upon the gentiles and then upon the Jews. And behold and lo this shall be their cry, and the voice of the Lord shall be unto all people. Go ye forth unto the land of Zion that the borders of my people may be enlarged and that her stakes may be strengthened and that Zion may go forth unto the regions round about.”


    Now, this idea that the gospel, that the elders of the Church, will be sent unto the islands of the sea, how long is that going to take? We’re in 1831 when this revelation is received.


    Joseph Stuart: So, if you count Great Britain as an island, it’s going to be taking six or seven years. If you’re thinking more pacific islands or in the Caribbean, it’s going to take more than a decade. The first missionaries don’t go to what was then called the “Sandwich Islands” or Hawaii until the mid-1840s and they don’t go to the Caribbean until 1852-1853. This revelation is something that takes a lot of time for the Saints to fulfill the commandment that they’re given.


    As with all revelations, we respond to them in different ways and speaking for myself, with things that we are the most excited about doing. There are some great ideas in religious studies about how and why people interpret text the way that they do, but it’s something that all human beings do. Janiece has studied a lot about scripturalization or the idea of incorporating scriptures into your life. She has also discussed intertextuality here on the podcast talking about moving between verses in the Book of Mormon and the Bible, the Pearl of Great Price, essentially making the scriptures personalized to an individual experience or world view. But there are certainly drawbacks to this if we don’t do it in the correct way.


    Janiece Johnson: In the19th century, the Saints are surrounded by these millennial ideas. Most Christians in America in the 19th century think that the Second Coming is right at their doorstep. You have individuals like William Miller. William Miller believed he unlocked a code in the Bible that told him when the Second Coming was going to be. And while the Saints don’t seem to get caught up in Millerism, and this extends, I mean, across many different denominations, you’ve got millions of people who buy into Miller’s ideas.


    Joseph Stuart: But also, across the Atlantic world. So, this is something that’s taking place in England and Ireland and Scotland. This is something that people really want Jesus to return. This is a world that’s modernizing, that’s becoming really unfamiliar. The world that Joseph Smith inhabited would have been a completely foreign place to his grandparents.


    We have to think about the enormous ideas that took hold over the previous forty years like the American Revolution is the first revolution to succeed– to break free from monarchy. Then we have Hatti, then we have several other European revolutions. Even that in and of itself, there were major upheavals and in a general sense when the world is in upheaval people look for a sense of stability and they look for an end to things and I wonder if the Second Coming is one of those things that we look forward to when we don’t know what we’re supposed to do in a situation.


    Janiece Johnson: Today we have upheaval and we also have people who are predicting the Second Coming, that we are again at the doorstep. I want to quote a few words from President Herald B. Lee in 1972, his tenure as prophet of the Church was very short, he was only in for about nine months.


    In October of 1972, he gave this talk in a priesthood session of general conference and I think that it mirrors some of that upheaval that perhaps we sense today. He says, “There are among us, many loose writings predicting the calamities which are about to overtake us. Some of this has been publicized as though they were necessary to wake up the world to the horrors about to overtake us. Many of these are from sources upon which there cannot be unquestioned reliance. Are you priesthood bearers aware of the fact that we need no such publications to be forewarned if we were only conversant with what the scriptures have already spoken to us in plainness? Let me give you the sure word of prophecy on which you should rely on your guide instead of these strange sources which may have great political implications.”


    Today, there’s still lots of loose writings out there, lots of sources which we cannot rely upon unquestionably, but he then continues to talk about teachings of the Restoration. Joseph Smith’s translation of Matthew 25, which we find in Joseph Smith–Matthew in the Pearl of Great Price and some specific Sections from the Doctrine and Covenants– Section 38, Section 45, Section 101, and this Section, 133. And he says, “These are some of the writings with which you should concern yourself rather than the commentaries that may come from those whose information may not be the most reliable and whose motives may be subject to question. And may I say parenthetically, most of such writers are not handicapped by having authentic information on their writing.” But this is something that continues to be with us. And how do we be someone who is prepared, but not obsessed?


    Joseph Stuart: Prepared, but not paranoid is one way that I think about it too. I always return to this, but texts do not interpret themselves. Scholars of conspiracy theories actually argue that the reason why such theories survive is because there’s often something that you can trace an idea to. That there’s some bread crumb from which people are forming intellectual trails to discover what they’re going to.


    So, I won’t give specific examples of conspiracy theories, but if we’re only relying on immediate evidence and then reading our world view into a very small set of evidence, it’s not going to go very well for us. This is something that Janiece and I, as historians, abide by a code of professional ethics– that we rely on evidence to make arguments for things and then we have other people review those findings who don’t have an investment in the subject, so that we can publish the information that is the most correct, the most up to date, the most reliable information that we can produce.


    So, I think what President Lee is saying in some ways, is that we should rely on the scriptures and the words of prophets rather than our own estimations, or memes, or Facebook posts– if you were living today– thinking about how these very simple messages can often bring great problems with it. We are given keys to interpret. And, of course, we should also seek for ourselves what revelation we should receive to do, we should also seek for ourselves to receive revelation for what we should do with spiritual material that we’re given. And again, we want to be prepared, but we don’t want to be paranoid. We want to be ready for the Second Coming whether Jesus comes to us or we die and go to Him. It’s not something that we need to be concerned about in the way that can be taken to an extreme.


    Janiece Johnson: And I think that Section 45 actually gives a couple different parables that I think are really useful to us. One, it talks about that the Second Coming comes as a thief in the night– that you never know when a thief in the night is going to show up. So, you may not be prepared for that thief in the night to show up.


    But the second parable is that of the fig trees and those of you who are horticulturists who know something about fig trees– fig trees, their leaves come out much later than most other trees. Most trees, the new leaves begin to bud and we get all this fantastic greenery in early spring. Fig trees, on the other hand, don’t begin to produce new leaves until early summer and so the scripture says, when the fig leaves produce then we know summer is nigh at hand. When we begin to see the fig leaves then we know it is coming. The faithful will be watching and won’t get caught up in conspiracy theories or unreliable information but will watch for those signs and will be prepared for those signs to come.


    I really appreciate Elmira Covey . I believe I have quoted her mother before; we’ve talked about her mother before on the podcast, but she also is writing to her sister, Harriet, who lives in Michigan, and has not joined the Church yet, and she is one of these people– she is kind of, she’s a millenialist. She is waiting for the advent. And she says, “Perhaps some may think me diluted and feel to pity me but will soon know the truth of these things. For great things await this generation and it is for this reason that I feel so anxious for you and the rest of my friends for behold, the coming of our Savior is nigh at hand. And this generation will not pass away until He will appear in His glory and we ought to be prepared for that day.”


    So, she believes it’s right at the doorstep, but then she adds on this important continuation, “Although, we may not, either of us, live to see the day, yet if we wish to be happy, we must be prepared for it whether in life or in death we may abide the day.” And I, kind of, love her just kind of rationality here. Like, okay I think it’s coming, I think it’s right at the doorstep, but I could be wrong and however it comes I, or wherever I am, I want to be prepared. I want to be in the right spiritual place and the right frame of mind.


    Joseph Stuart: Yeah it reminds me of Pascal’s wager, right? The idea that whether or not there is a God, I’m going to live as if there is one because if there is a God, I will have lived according to his commandments, and if there’s not, I will have lived a good and ethical life that allowed me to help others and to become a better person myself. But I think one of the ultimate reasons for preparedness in sharing the gospel is so that we can share the light that we have as Latter-day Saints with others. That the authority has been restored to perform sacred ordinances, that we are all bound together by the power of the priesthood in sacred covenants made in temples and that through the atonement of Jesus Christ we can become individually clean and we can be communally saved together.


    I wonder if this is one of those times that we underthink the revelations and think how does this apply to me and how does this apply to the community. I think that this points to one of the ultimate reasons that we are aware of the last days is because those who have been warned are commanded to warn their neighbors. We’re commanded to do missionary work to share our light, to share our testimonies, that through the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints the authority has been restored to form sacred covenants that we can be saved as individuals and that we can be exalted as families, as President Nelson has said. In sharing this message, as I’m sure anyone who has been a missionary or has ever tried to introduce someone to the Church or explain a doctrine of the Church to someone else, it’s not always an easy road and sometimes we’re going to be rejected.


    Janiece Johnson: Here we have this prophecy of the Second Coming and what happens when Christ comes again and how He will present himself, “The Lord shall be red in his apparel and his garments like him that treadeth in the wine vat.” (D&C 133:48). And part of that prophecy is that Christ’s voice will be heard. “I have trodden the wine press alone and have brought judgement upon all people and none were with me.” Ultimately we want to be those people who are with Him, but this witness that He has, “I have trodden the winepress alone.” which leads me to think about Elder Maxwell’s words, “In certain times and circumstances discipleship requires us to be willing to stand alone. Our willingness to do so here and now is consistent with Christ’s kneeling alone there and then in Gethsemane.” Even if we are the only ones there with Him, we want to be there.


    Joseph Stuart: Thank you for sharing that, Janiece. Yes, I agree with you wholeheartedly Janiece and just to put a bow on our discussion of millennialism, I want to think about something that President Packer said in 2011, “Sometimes you might be tempted to think as I did from time to time in my youth, the way things are going the world’s going to be over with. The end of the world is going to come before I get to where I should be. Not so. You can look forward to doing it right– getting married, having a family, seeing your children and grandchildren, maybe even great-grandchildren.” And I find that reassuring and I think that it’s important to think about, the Second Coming has been at the door as the scriptures have told us, for a very long time. We have to remember that God’s timeline is different than ours.


    And one way in which the Saints, in another area, have thought about, the Second Coming must be coming, or how it must be imminent is evident in Section 134 of the Doctrine and Covenants.


    Janiece Johnson: Section 134, there were two statements at the end, one on marriage and one on governments, specifically. Now, think about the context of this, so 1835, this statement is given prior to the expulsion of the Saints from Missouri. They will try and appeal to government but they are already feeling that tension of will they be able to practice their religion freely? We will have more that will continue to propel the Saints to the West. More persecution that will continue.


    But this idea that governments should be preserving religious freedom, that they were instituted by God for the benefit of us, is going to be consistent. When the Saints were accepted in Quincy, and part of that is the people of Quincy saying, this people should be able to worship however they want to. As Nauvoo is established, they create, as part of the city charter, a statement on religious freedom. “Be it ordained by the city council of the city of Nauvoo that the Catholics, Presbyterians, Methodists, Baptists, Latter-day Saints, Quakers, Episcopalians, Universalists, Unitarians, and Mohammadians, or Muslims, and all other religious sects and denominations whatever shall have free toleration and equal privileges in this city.”


    Those Latter-day Saints in Nauvoo understood that when freedom of religion is impinged for one, it ultimately affects all of us.


    Joseph Stuart: And that’s something that President Oaks has spoken about repeatedly. You can look at his sermons for that. But I think that actually the place to end this episode today is thinking about the sermon that he delivered in the April 2021 general conference. And reading Section 134, this declaration of principles on government and especially on religious freedom, and then reading President Oaks’ sermon, recognizing that neither of them is given from a partisan point of view, but rather a set of principles that we should look to in how we are organizing our individual lives and our community efforts to make the world a better place. I will also say that when reading it, try and think about how someone who might disagree with you politically might read it. I think that that’s a productive way of thinking about religious freedom, of thinking about the Church and politics in general is, how am I going to create Zion with someone who doesn’t agree with me and how can I come together to work that out with them?


    Janiece Johnson: If we’re only concerned about providing religious freedom or freedom of expression for ourselves, it’s never going to work.


    Joseph Stuart: Have a blessed week y’all.


    President Oaks: The United States Constitution is unique because God revealed that He established it for the rights and protection of all flesh. That is why this constitution is of special concern for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints throughout the world. Whether or how its principles should be applied in other nations of the world is for them to decide. What was God’s purpose in establishing the United States Constitution? We see it in the doctrine of moral agency. In the first decade of the restored Church, its members on the western frontier were suffering private and public persecution. Partly, this was because of their opposition to the human slavery then existing in the United States. In these unfortunate circumstances, God revealed through the prophet Joseph Smith eternal truths about his doctrine.


    God has given his children moral agency– the power to decide and to act. The most desirable condition for the exercise of that agency is maximum freedom for men and women to act according to their individual choices. Then, the revelation explains, every man may be accountable for his own sins in the day of judgement. Therefore, the Lord revealed, it is not right that any man should be in bondage one to another. This obviously means that human slavery is wrong and according to the same principle, it is wrong for citizens to have no voice in the selection of their rulers or the making of their laws.


    Our belief that the United States Constitution was divinely inspired does not mean that divine revelation dictated every word and phrase, such as the provisions allocating the number of representatives from each state or the minimum age of each. “The Constitution was not a fully grown document,” said President J. Ruben Clark, “on the contrary,” he explained, “we believe it must grow and develop to meet the changing needs of an advancing world.” For example, inspired amendments abolished slavery and gave women the right to vote. However, we do not see inspiration in every supreme court decision interpreting the constitution.”


    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.