Abide #5: Doctrine and Covenants 85-87

  • 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.”

  • Joseph Stuart: In Doctrine and Covenants 85 Joseph Smith writes to William Phelps about how to handle recent events in relation to the Law of Consecration. Some Latter-day Saints had moved to Missouri to live according to the Law of Consecration but without specific authorization to do so. It was not a decision that one could decide on one’s own.  One needed to be called to move to Missouri and live the law. Some who were already in Missouri weren’t living up to the Law of Consecration like William McClelon who refused to deed his land to the Bishop, Edward Partridge. The prophet laid out instructions for what to do according to, what he called, the “still small voice.”


    My name is Joseph Stuart. I am the public communication specialist for the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship at BYU. 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 things from the scripture block that we believe will help fulfill the Maxwell Institute’s mission to inspire and fortify Latter-day Saints and their testimonies of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ and to engage the world of religious ideas.


    Stuart: Hi Janiece, how are you?


    Janiece Johnson: I’m good, thanks.


    Stuart: Glad to hear it. So in verse three, Joseph Smith speaks about tithing. What do you think about that?


    Johnson: Well, I think that sometimes this is a test of how careful a reader we are. We may read it and say, “Oh I know what this is! I know what tithing is,” and not think twice about it. But, if we think about the date, and this is the date is 1832, November of 1832. Tithing as we know it, isn’t revealed until we get to section 119, which is in 1838. And so, I think that we actually have to think about this, what the Lord means. I suspect that this means a general donation, the offerings the Lord asks of each of us. Of course the word tithing itself reflects ten percent, but tithe, in the early church, was used as a very general sense prior to the revealing of the law of tithing as we know it today.


    Stuart: And that is crucial to remember that the Lord reveals things line upon line, precept upon precept and that as those who hold keys receive more information they will be able to pass on that information through revelation to us. Now, I love that Joseph Smith speaks about hearing the still small voice, but I confess I am not the type of person that has those sorts of spiritual experiences by the “still small voice” or a sort of “burning of the bosom” type of rhetoric. There are many, many ways of recognizing the promptings of the Holy Ghost. In Preach My Gospel there is an entire chapter that I would recommend on “how do I feel the spirit and how do I help others feel the spirit?” Let’s not limit ourselves to saying we have to hear the still small voice, while we can still be grateful that Joseph Smith heard a still small voice for himself.


    Johnson: I would say for myself, if I heard a voice in my head I might think I was having some mental health issues– that’s not the way the Lord speaks to me, but I have friends who hear something that is audible to them. For me, revelation often comes in phrases or words. But I think as we look at the Doctrine and Covenants we get a multiplicity of models of how revelation might be received. And I think the model that we get here perhaps gives us something to chew on.


    So verse six says, “Yea thus saith the still small voice…” Elder Packer used to say you feel it more than you hear it, and maybe feeling it works for more of us, “…which whispereth through and pierceth all things.” The piercing, in the Book of Mormon, when the Father speaks and introduces Christ in 3 Nephi 11, “It pierced them to their souls,” to their hearts. “And often at times it makes my bones to quake while it maketh manifest.” And even within this one verse we’ve got a range of different ways that someone might receive revelation and receive communication from the Lord. And I think that’s really important, particularly as each of us learn the process and learn the pattern of how God speaks to us individually.


    Stuart: President Julie B. Beck, former president of the General Relief Society, would agree with you, as would I. In a sermon called, “And Upon The Handmaids in Those Days Will I Pour Out my Spirit” she says, “The ability to qualify for, receive, and act on personal revelation is the single most important skill that can be acquired in this life.”


    Now, she doesn’t go on to say this is exactly how you receive revelation, but the ability to qualify for, receive, and act on revelation, being the single most important skill. She suggests to me that we need to figure out how we receive revelation as individuals. Some folks will go to the temple, some folks will go on a hike, some folks will be in their closet, some people will need to be in certain locations or talking to certain people, but whatever the process is like for you, I would encourage you, along with President Beck, to find out what it is that works best.


    Johnson: I think very rarely can we speak in such inclusive terms and actually be right, but here the single most important skill we can learn in mortality is how God speaks to us. And it is a skill, and one that needs to be honed. President Faust used to talk about revelation as an old school crystal radio where you had to get the wire in just the right place so the transmission would be clear. Revelation is like that, and us figuring out where that wire is or how that transmission comes is an essential part of mortality.


    Stuart: Now in verse eight, it talks about steadying the ark. Well I think about steadying the ark as referring to Indiana Jones, it actually refers to an Old Testament story where Uzzah, an Israelite, seeks to steady the ark of the covenant as it’s being transported and is immediately struck dead. While that seems like a really dramatic example of what it means to steady the ark, I think that there are a multitude of applications for each of us to consider.


    Johnson: I also think it’s worth thinking about the Indiana Jones version and the flesh melting off one’s face when you steady the ark. But, I think that the principle here Uzzah and also those involved with the law of consecration, Joseph and Edward Partridge, are having some differences in terms of how the Law of Consecration is applied. And sometimes well meaning individuals think that they have a better solution than the Lord does. Now we hope that the flesh doesn’t melt off their face or a shaft of lightning doesn’t hit them, but we’ve got to think ourselves about making sure that we are not trying to steady the ark.


    Stuart: Definitely. What person can presume to steady the ark, meaning to take it upon ourselves to decide what should be done? As President David O. McKay once said, “Let us look around us and see how quickly men and women who attempt unauthoritatively to steady the ark, die spiritually.”


    Now there is a warning in here that we should respect the spiritual impressions of those who lead us, that have been asked to do so, but it does not say that Uzzah should not have told one of the people carrying the ark that they could be doing a little bit better of a job in holding it steady. While we ultimately respect the priesthood keys that govern the Church, and our individual wards and stakes, I would also argue that we have a responsibility to help those who have been given that great responsibility by doing what we can to assist them in their efforts.


    Johnson: And I actually think that leads us well to 86, because section 86, I know you’re going to give us some context Joey, but we see Joseph refining a revelation and I would argue that revelation is helped by better information. And perhaps, if we see that an ark or something needs to be steadied, if we have better information that can help we can offer that help.


    Stuart: Now, when I was a Latter-day Saint missionary, there was a fellow that I served around that wrote to one of my friends’ sisters using my name and harassed her. And I did not know this until several weeks later, when my friend said why are you writing weird things to my sister? To which I replied, “I have no idea what youre talking about.” That ended awkwardly, but then four months later, my mission president called me and said, Elder Stuart, we need you to have an emergency transfer with this particular missionary. And I said to my mission president, I trust your judgement and revelation but I just want you to know this is part of the background that I’ve had with this missionary. My mission president said, “I will call back soon.” He called about three minutes later and said, “Elder Stuart, I have received refined revelation.”


    And I love thinking about this as revelation as something that can be improved upon with more information, because in section 86, Joseph Smith has prayed to learn more about the parable of the wheat and the tares. And it’s one of those stories that we often take for granted that we understand, but that there is always more information for us to benefit from if we will further seek revelation by topic.


    Johnson: In May of 1831, Joseph Smith began with his translation of the Bible to go over the parables. And here, we’ve got a year later, and this revelation is again revising his own revision of the parable of  the wheat and the tares. We have revelation building on revelation. As we look at the manuscript copies of these revelations, we can see edits, we can see that process of revelation being refined.


    Stuart: It is also something that is encouraging to me that if I’m doing what I’m supposed to, if I’m going forward on the revelation that I have, that the Lord will give more to me where it is needed and necessary, that it is up to me to live worthy of the Spirit to act with the best intention and to act according to the revelation that I have received, but that I should always leave room for God to direct me to something else entirely.


    Johnson: That’s great. Now let’s talk about this parable itself. In Joseph’s parable, in the revelation that Joseph receives, it’s the apostles that sow the wheat and Satan sows the tares, so that’s a little more specificity than what we get from the New Testament version. And then in verse 7, “Let the wheat and the tares grow together until the harvest is fully ripe.” Now why would we do that? Why would we let the tares grow?


    Stuart: The only thing that I can think of is that tares and wheat essentially grow next to each other and around each other so there is no way that you can extract the tares without also taking out wheat. Is that correct?


    Johnson: Of course. All of my farming knowledge is based on other people. I grew up in California and I’m not a farmer. But my dad grew up in southeastern Idaho and he is the font of all of my farming knowledge. But, when wheat and tares are young they look really similar and it is impossible to just pull up the tares. If you try to pull up the tares when they are young, you are going to pull up wheat also. We have to wait, and as the wheat and the tares mature, it becomes very clear which is which. I suspect that this is a lesson to us, about those of us who would judge and try to root out those who we don’t think they belong.


    Stuart: We can all do more to think about how we can help the wheat rather than trying to identify the tares.


    Now in section 87, Joseph Smith receives a revelation about an inquiry he has about what historians in the United States call the nullification crisis about states’ rights and federal authority, as well as other major terrifying events taking place across the world. And section 87 constitutes what Joseph Smith calls a revelation on prophecy of war. Now the thing that sticks out most to me about this section is the commandment to “stand ye in holy places and be not moved.” After the last year, year and a half, that we have all had where we have been in the same place and have not been able to see loved ones and family and be able to explore the beautiful world that God created for us, how do we ensure that its not just stand ye in the same place, but stand in holy places and be not moved from it? What does that mean to you, Janiece?


    Johnson: When I think about holy places, I think about my home, but I also– I believe that places become holy because of what happens in those places. There are some mundane places that become holy because of experiences we’ve had in those places and I have had experiences that have made an imprint on my soul in places all over the world, but also in my own home.


    So what some religious studies scholars will say is that the idea of the sacred is something that is constructed. And what I fear is that many believers, including Latter-day saints, will say if something is constructed it cannot be real. Let me emphasize that that is not true. We have already spoken at length about the need to learn to receive revelation for one’s self that we construct different patterns to have opportunities to receive revelation. Now standing in holy places, as you said Janiece, is about what takes place in a specific location.


    Johnson: So I think about a room upstairs in the Harold B. Lee library at BYU. I could not find this room, I assume it still exists. It’s a classroom in the library and years ago, David Whittacre, who was over Latter-day Saint manuscripts and special collections in the library, was speaking to this class. I was TA-ing and during the class, apart from what was going on in the class, I had a revelation. A question that I had brought before the Lord, and had been waiting patiently to receive an answer and that answer came. I can’t tell you what Dr. Whittacre taught us that day but that ground is holy for me because of the truth God taught me in that place.


    Stuart: Thank you so much for sharing that Janiece.


    We are going to close with a thought by President Sharon G. Larsen. “It was thursday night, mom and dad’s regular night to work at the temple. I was in my teens like you young women. My grandmother, who was living with us, was away from the home at the time, so I would be alone. As they left Dad, hugged me and said, “Sharon be in good company.” I thought, “What’s he thinking? Doesn’t he know I’ll be here by myself?” And then I realized that’s exactly what he was thinking. Standing in holy places is all about being in good company. Whether you’re alone or with others, it’s where the Holy Ghost is our companion– alone or in a crowd. When we determine within ourselves that we will control our thoughts and our actions and be the best we can possibly be the best of life will come to us. A holy place is where we feel safe, secure, loved, and comforted. tHats how it was in our heavenly home. Standing in holy places and being in good company bring back feelings and memories of that home we left behind. The home that seems so far away at times.”


    Thank you for listening to this episode of Abide, 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 our 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 @mi.byu.edu Please also follow us on facebook, twitter, instagram, and youtube for more content from the Neal A. Maxwell Institute of Religious Scholarship. THank you, and have a blessed week.