The Missouri Mormon War spanned from August to November of 1838 culminating in Governor Lilburn Boggs’ extermination order, demanding that the Mormons leave Missouri or be killed. Forced to flee Missouri in the winter of 1838, the Saints sought refuge in Illinois and Iowa across the Mississippi River. Meanwhile, Joseph Smith and other church leaders had surrendered and languished in jail. The Saints were forced to leave Missouri, having to give up all of their possessions in Missouri once again and find a way to find a new home, led by Brigham Young and the councils Joseph Smith had set up.
They were obliged to leave Missouri but had not yet determined centralized gather spot, ending up scattered across the Missippi River in Iowa and Illinois, although the area around Quincy, Illinois would become a central gathering spot. By April of 1840, Joseph Smith and the other prisoners had escaped into Illinois to join the Saints. What was Commerce, Illinois that had been renamed Nauvoo had been purchased on favorable terms. Going into 1841, the Illinois government had shown sympathy to the Saints’ plight and had allowed them to settle in what would be a period of peace after so much turmoil, giving them the power to organize, create laws, build a university, and establish a militia.
The revelations in this week’s lesson occur during a moment of city-building, peace and hopefulness after a period of some of the most challenging times in the church’s young history.
Section 125 – March 1841
Nauvoo was the designated new headquarters for the church, but the Saints questioned whether the area could accommodate all of those who would be immigrating into this area. Settlements in Iowa across the river were established. This revelation deals with those settlements. Verse two lays out the central theme of this section.
Verily, thus saith the Lord, I say unto you, if those who acall themselves by my name and are essaying to be my saints, if they will do my will and keep my commandments concerning them, let them gather themselves together unto the places which I shall appoint unto them by my servant Joseph, and build up cities unto my name, that they may be prepared for that which is in store for a time to come.D&C 125:2
Gathering into cities has always been the central mission of this church. Joseph Smith wasn’t building simply a church, he was building a society, a gathering place, where both temporal and spiritual concerns dominated his thinking. Building up cities not churches in God’s name. Creating zion, a place for the pure in heart with no poor among them. That has always been central to Christianity, taken central shape in this revelation. Within modern times, have we stopped? Should we think more in terms of cities and not churches? I think so.
Section 126 – July 9, 1841
Amazingly, after the conclusion of the Missouri War, after Joseph Smith’s imprisonment, and after the expulsion of the Saints from Missouri, Brigham Young and others were called yet again to serve a mission, into England, leaving their wives and children to fend for themselves as refugees before they had yet created stability in Nauvoo.
Brigham Young’s wife Mary Ann devoted her life to the church and to Brigham. Church missions and service pulled Brigham from his home half of their first five years married together. Then on September 14, 1839, Brigham bare farewell once again to England with his family forced to find a way in severe poverty shortly after Mary Ann had given birth. During the two years Brigham Young served, his wife and children suffered, destitute, doing all they could to survive, find a plot of land and build shelter. This revelation comes upon Brigham Young return.
It’s amazing to me that the church required so much from so many. The ambition to grow the church, to gather, to build temples under constant threats from enemies, in the midst of horrifying poverty is amazing. Recognizing that at times immense sacrifice is required at other times, we need to shore up our circumstances. Here, through revelation, Brigham Young is told that his calling right now is to care for his family, I’m sure much to the relief of his wife who deserves all the credit here.
Section 127 – Sept 1, 1842
Joseph Smith’s legal concerns were never really resolved in Missouri. The trials never actually took place. They escaped in transit. Likely a fair trial was impossible and an unjust sentence was likely. They fled but the Missourians continued efforts to bring Joseph Smith back. Additionally, a failed plot on Governor Bogg’s life was attributed to Joseph Smith further exacerbating his legal troubles. As a result, Joseph Smith was forced into perpetual hiding, removing himself from direct access to the Saints in Nauvoo. The first part of this revelation deals with the perpetual suffering and difficulty that has followed Joseph Smith his entire life. Verse two is particularly poignant:
And as for the aperils which I am called to pass through, they seem but a small thing to me, as the benvy and wrath of man have been my common lot all the days of my life; and for what cause it seems mysterious, unless I was cordained from before the foundation of the world for some good end, or bad, as you may choose to call it. Judge ye for yourselves. God dknoweth all these things, whether it be good or bad. But nevertheless, deep water is what I am wont to swim in. It all has become a second nature to me; and I feel, like Paul, to glory in etribulation; for to this day has the God of my fathers delivered me out of them all, and will deliver me from henceforth; for behold, and lo, I shall triumph over all my enemies, for the Lord God hath spoken it.D&C 127:2
Life can sometimes feel like swimming in deep water – a constant struggle, without firm support. Not being a good swimmer myself, this sounds particularly fretful. There’s a contextual issue here. 1830’s and the 1840’s was a particularly fraught time in American history, with a bloody Civil War looming just around the corner. Americans had a firm history of treating populations not found worthy savagely – black Americans, the Native populations and in this case members of the church. We need to learn to keep struggling, “to glory in tribulation”. Hopefully, we can find tribulation within the difficulty of building and creating rather than enduring persecution. Joseph Smith and the early saints did both, often at the same time, as noted in verse 4.
And again, verily thus saith the Lord: Let the work of my atemple, and all the works which I have appointed unto you, be continued on and not cease; and let your bdiligence, and your perseverance, and patience, and your works be redoubled, and you shall in nowise lose your reward, saith the Lord of Hosts. And if they cpersecute you, so persecuted they the prophets and righteous men that were before you. For all this there is a reward in heaven.D&C 127:4
Additionally, the doctrine of baptisms for the dead had recently been revealed, unfolding over time through multiple revelations. After years of suffering, having to see so many depart their earth at very young ages, mothers losing children, children losing mothers, many of the Nauvoo saints suffering from malaria in Nauvoo, many others dying in Missouri. Edward Partridge has died, Joseph Smith’s father had also passed away. Being able to participate through covenant and ordinances to connect the living to the dead must have been an amazingly comforting revelation.
This revelation pointed out that these ordinances had to be recorded.
9 And again, let all the arecords be had in order, that they may be put in the archives of my holy temple, to be held in remembrance from generation to generation, saith the Lord of Hosts.D&C 127:7,9
Section 128 – Sept 6 1842
This section is a continuation of the previous revelation. It begins with some hints that Joseph Smith, while in hiding, has been consumed with thoughts on baptisms for the dead.
I now resume the subject of the abaptism for the dead, as that subject seems to occupy my mind, and press itself upon my feelings the strongest, since I have been pursued by my enemies.D&C 128:1
In section 127, Joseph Smith taught the importance of recording the ordinances, in this revelation he works through the details, to appoint a recorder in every ward, taking careful minutes, citing three witnesses present, then transferring these records regularly to a general recorder, to keep a record of these ordinances in a centralized location. Calling providing this level of rigor and care that the record shall be “just as holy” (verse 4).
All of this care is comes from Joseph Smith’s study of the Bible, Revelations 20:12 cited in verse 6.
Revelation 20:12—And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged out of those things which were awritten in the books, according to their works.D&C 128:6
The act of recording, invokes the priesthood power.
Now, the nature of this ordinance consists in the apower of the priesthood, by the revelation of Jesus Christ, wherein it is granted that whatsoever you bbind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatsoever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Or, in other words, taking a different view of the translation, whatsoever you record on earth shall be recorded in heaven, and whatsoever you do not record on earth shall not be recorded in heaven; for out of the books shall your dead be judged, according to their own works, whether they themselves have attended to the cordinances in their own propria persona, or by the means of their own agents, according to the ordinance which God has prepared for their salvation from before the foundation of the world, according to the records which they have kept concerning their dead.D&C 128:8
In other words, to bind something done on earth in heaven, it must be done “in authority, in the name of the Lord”, “truly and faithfully”, keeping “a proper and faithful record of the same”. (verse 9).
This sealing power is referenced in Matthew 16:18, 19 in D&C 128:10.
Joseph Smith declares this the summom bonum, the highest good, the means to provide the salvation of the “children of men, both as well for the dead as for the living” (D&C 128:11).
According to v. 12 and 13, the ordinance was established relationally the baptismal font symbolized the grave, built underneath, and then the person living, immersed as if dying, into the water, to be reborn to a new life, binding the living person with the dead.
Fundamentally, baptisms of the dead is the ordinance to provide a “welding link” (verse 18) between fathers and children because we cannot find salvation without them, nor they without us. A welding together of dispensations.
Beginning in verse 19, Joseph Smith spills out in exclamation marks.
Now, what do we hear in the gospel which we have received? A voice of agladness! A voice of mercy from heaven; and a voice of btruth out of the earth; glad tidings for the dead; a voice of gladness for the living and the dead; glad tidings of great cjoy. How beautiful upon the mountains are the dfeet of those that bring glad tidings of good things, and that say unto Zion: Behold, thy God reigneth! As the edews of Carmel, so shall the knowledge of God descend upon them!D&C 128:19
Imagine now, Joseph Smith, in hiding, fresh from spending months of time in jail, watching his people suffer, seeing many of them die, worried about the salvation of all people, agonizing over doctrine, trying to understand God’s purpose. Fresh off of Missouri, Joseph Smith gets the doctrine of baptism for the dead revealed piecemeal, slowly and evolving, precept upon precept. Here, he looks back on his life and sees the connecting tissues, the priesthood restoration, the new scriptures, the angelic visits, the revelations, all of it culminating in this moment.
22 Brethren, shall we not go on in so great a cause? Go forward and not backward. aCourage, brethren; and on, on to the victory! Let your hearts rejoice, and be exceedingly glad. Let the earth break forth into bsinging. Let the cdead speak forth anthems of eternal praise to the dKing Immanuel, who hath ordained, before the world was, that which would enable us to eredeem them out of their fprison; for the prisoners shall go free.D&C 128:22
Joseph Smith cherished this revelation so much, he imagined the mountains shouting for joy, the valleys crying aloud, the seas and dry lands, the rivers and brooks flowing with gladness. The earth and all of its creations overwhelmed with joy as ordinances bind the living with the dead.
This weeks revelations were like a symphony. Fresh off the Missouri war, struggling to establish themselves in Nauvoo. I can imagine a bit of rest as they again begin to gather, finding settlements, building cities, dedicating them to God. Brigham Young is told to care for his family. Joseph Smith is forced into hiding, recognizing the deep waters he swims in and the need to endure through tribulation. All of this culminates in the revelation on temple ordinances for the dead that brings through Joseph Smith an obvious outpouring of joy and happiness. A final crescendo.