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In Our Ward: Lesson 27: “They Must Needs Be Chastened and Tried, Even as Abraham”

By: Ardis E. Parshall - July 21, 2013

Lesson 27: “They Must Needs Be Chastened and Tried, Even as Abraham”

Doctrine and Covenants 101, 103, 105

Purpose: To learn about the early Saints’ efforts to establish the city of Zion in Missouri and to encourage class members to help build Zion today.

Discussion and Application:

1. The Saints settle in Jackson County, Missouri, and are later driven out.
2. The Lord instructs the Saints who were driven from Jackson County.
3. Zion’s Camp is organized and marches to Missouri.
4. The Lord reveals that His people must “wait for a little season for the redemption of Zion.”

[While sketching a rough map on the board, remind the class of the geography and timing of events in the 1830s: Kirtland was established first, but Mormon settlements in Missouri were founded only a few months later so important events of these days were occurring simultaneously in both places. The Saints lived in Jackson County for two years, then were forced out of that county and settled in nearby places, where they lived for another five years before finally being drive out of Missouri and going to Nauvoo. Today’s discussion focuses on what happened in Jackson County during the first period, 1831-1833.]

July 20 – yesterday – is a significant double anniversary in Church history.

In 1831, responding to the Lord’s commandment that he go to Missouri, where some Saints (including Oliver Cowdery and Peter Whitmer, Jr. had already moved), Joseph Smith with a small group of companions traveled from Kirtland, Ohio, to the Missouri River on the western border of Missouri. This place was at the extreme edge of the United States – although the country claimed millions of acres of land to the west, none of it had been organized into states or territories, and almost no one but Indian tribes living as they had lived for centuries lived west of the river. Missouri had become a state ten years earlier (1821), and Jackson County had been organized five years earlier (1826). Independence was its county seat, and although it eventually would become an important city (it was the launching point for the Oregon, California, and Santa Fe Trails), in 1831 it was a tiny place, consisting of a log courthouse, three stores, and about 20 log houses clustered near a fresh-water spring. That was what Joseph Smith found when he arrived in western Missouri in July, 1831.

But the Lord saw that unpromising little western frontier land as more. On July 20, he spoke to Joseph Smith, saying:

Doctrine & Covenants 57:1-3:

1 Hearken, O ye elders of my church, saith the Lord your God, who have assembled yourselves together, according to my commandments, in this land, which is the land of Missouri, which is the land which I have appointed and consecrated for the gathering of the saints.

2 Wherefore, this is the land of promise, and the place for the city of Zion.

3 And thus saith the Lord your God, if you will receive wisdom here is wisdom. Behold, the place which is now called Independence is the center place; and a spot for the temple is lying westward, upon a lot which is not far from the courthouse.

He instructed the Saints to purchase all the acreage they could buy in the area, and called several men by name to help establish a town. Among those were Edward Partridge, a bishop called to direct the temporal affairs of the settlement; Sidney Gilbert, to establish a store that would help the Saints establish an economy; and William W. Phelps, to establish a printing press there to publish the Church’s writings, with the assistance of Oliver Cowdery.

So that is the first anniversary: 182 years ago yesterday, the Lord directed the establishment of a “City of Zion” in Jackson County, Missouri. In the next few weeks, the city was founded, a site for a future temple was located, and the land was dedicated for the gathering of the Saints. Then Joseph returned to Kirtland, Ohio.

The Saints began immediately to gather to Jackson County, some coming from Kirtland (although that town continued to be the center of the Church, and Joseph’s headquarters), and others gathering from New York and other places. Outsiders were well aware of these movements – the St. Louis Republican, on the other side of the state and read throughout the country, wrote:

This infatuated people are again in motion. In their own … phrase, “they are going to inherit the promise of God to Abraham and his seed.” Their destination is some indefinite spot on the Missouri river … About eighty of them have recently been ordained, and some of them have gone; others are about going, two and two, part by the western rivers and part by land, to their distant retreat. … They still persist in their power to work miracles. They say they have often seen them done; the sick are healed, the lame walk, devils are cast out; and these assertions are made by men heretofore considered rational men and men of truth. … Although the leaders of this sect are gross impostors, a great portion of its members are sincere and honest.

The Saints really were as anxious to gather to the new Zion as that newspaper indicated. One of them, for example, was Polly Knight, Bishop Newell Knight’s mother. She was so ill during her trip by river toward Independence that Newell Knight went on shore and purchased lumber to build her coffin – yet she would not agree to stop before she reached Zion and could be buried there. (She made it!)

By the next year, 1832, there were at least 800 Latter-day Saints in Independence and neighboring settlements, making up about a third of the county’s population. By the next year, there were 1,200, as entire branches from Ohio and New York emigrated en masse.

At first, things went well for the new settlement. The Saints pledged to keep the law of the Lord, they built their homes and established a few necessary businesses. In the words of Parley P. Pratt, “there has seldom, if ever, been a happier people upon the earth than the Church of the Saints now were.”

But, like the period of peace that existed among the Nephites after the Savior’s visit, this time did not last.

Some of the problems that arose were internal. Some of the Saints were unhappy that Joseph had not moved to Jackson County, and a few of them presumed to chastise him for his “apostasy,” and to instruct him in his duty. Joseph responded by writing that

It is contrary to the economy of God for … any one to receive instruction for those in authority, higher than themselves; therefore you will see the impropriety of giving heed to them.

How does this same spirit of dictating to Church leaders persist through history, even happening today?

Where is the right place to draw the line between asking questions, and bringing problems to the notice of Church leaders, and instructing them in how they should govern the Church?

Other problems arose because of friction between the Mormons in Missouri and their non-Mormon neighbors. Traditionally, we have talked about those problems as being the fault of the Missourians – they were lazy people who were jealous of Mormon industry; they were Southerners who favored slavery, and so on. There is probably truth in that – I’m not an expert on this era and so can’t really speak to the attitudes of the Missourians. I am a Mormon, though, and suspect that the attitudes of the Mormons of that time were not very different from my own – and I know that my attitudes sometimes cause friction with other people.

I am, for instance, convinced that my standards – my level of modesty in dress, my avoidance of alcohol and tobacco, the political principles I embrace – are divinely endorsed, and are better than the standards of other people. (If I weren’t convinced of that, I would embrace those other standards.)

How is embracing and teaching Mormon ideals a good thing?

How can embracing and teaching Mormon standards sometimes become a problem?

These difficulties – differences in social ideals, in politics, in religious claims – gradually built to the breaking point in Jackson County. In July of 1833, the “old settlers” of Jackson County circulated a written document and gathered the signatures of many non-Mormons. Among other things, that document said:

We the undersigned citizens of Jackson County believing that an important crisis is at hand … in consequence of a pretended religious sect of people that have settled … in our County, styling themselves Mormons and intending as we do to rid our society peacably if we can, forcibly if we must … deem it expedient.. to form ourselves into a company for the better and easier accomplishment of our purpose …

and they went on to list their grievances against the Mormons, including claims that we had “tampered” with the slaves of the Missourians and encouraged free blacks to move to the county, and that “God has given them this County of land, and that sooner or later they must and will have the possession of our lands.”

We usually refer to what happened next as a “mob” – but this was not a mob formed on the spur of the moment by wild tempers or drunkenness. This was a body of men, with a written constitution, who went about deliberately and methodically to remove what they had decided was a public nuisance. On the one hand, this makes what happened next even colder and more awful – men, acting under what they saw as their rights as Americans to protect their homes when the law could not help them, cold-bloodedly went about burning Mormon homes, driving away cattle, and other actions with the goal of making life so miserable that the Mormons would move away. On the other hand, we need to be careful in our judgment, if only because at certain times in the future, the Mormons would exercise exactly the same philosophy – our destruction of the anti-Mormon newspaper in Nauvoo in 1844 was the same kind of extra-legal handling of a public nuisance.

On July 20, 1833 –180 years ago yesterday – violence broke out at Independence. The anti-Mormon declaration was read in front of the courthouse, and a committee called on Mormon leaders to demand that they leave the county. Bishop Partridge and other elders asked for three months grace period, to consult with leaders in Kirtland. The mob denied them that time, and gave them only 15 minutes to decide. When Church leaders could not respond in that time, the delegation returned to the courthouse, and the mob moved to methodically drive the Mormons from Independence, beginning with William Phelps’ print shop, where the Mormon newspaper was published and where the first printing of the Book of Commandments – forerunner to the Doctrine and Covenants – was then being printed.

That day wasn’t without its heroes, on both sides. One of the non-Mormons, whose wife had recently given birth attended by William Phelps’s wife, slipped away from the crowd and ran to warn Mrs. Phelps. He hitched a team to a wagon, assisted Sister Phelps, holding her own infant, onto the seat. He then wrapped some bread, just out of Sister Phelps’ oven, in a cloth, handed it to her, and told her to drive away as far and as fast as she could.

She had barely made her escape when the mob surrounded the Phelps home and print shop. They through the press out of an upstairs window, dumped the type into a hopeless muddle, carried stacks of printed sheets of the Book of Commandments to an old log stable that would burn easily when they finished with the brick house, moved furniture outside and broke it up, and then demolished the house until it was a pile of rubble.

You may remember the story of Mary Elizabeth and Caroline Rollins, two young teenagers who watched the destruction from a nearby hiding place. As the mob began tearing down the Phelps house, these two sisters rushed out of hiding, and picked up as many of the unbound sheets of the scriptures as they could carry. Some of the men saw them and chased them, but they managed to flee into cornfield where their pursuers were unable to find them. Eventually, almost 100 copies of the Book of Commandments were bound from the pages they saved that day.

The mob continued their work of destruction, breaking into homes and ransacking them. They caught Bishop Partridge and another man, dragged them to their courthouse headquarters, stripped them naked, smeared their bodies with hot tar, and emptied a feather pillow over them. The men bore their attack so meekly that much of the fun of the attack was lost, and the mob eventually let them go.

The attacks continued over the next few days, then negotiations with the mob allowed a lull in the violence, and the Saints hurried to contact Joseph Smith in Kirtland.

This is when Zion’s Camp, the march of a small army of Saints from Kirtland to Jackson County took place, with the goal of defending the Saints there. We don’t have time this morning to go into that story – but it’s a thrilling story that you will want to look up in any history of the Church.

By the winter of 1833-34, the Saints temporarily – I say temporarily, but it’s been 180 years – abandoned Jackson County, moving a short distance away into Clay and Caldwell counties in Missouri.

So – this can all be a dramatic story of evil and heroism, but why does it belong in a Sunday School class?

The Lord had commanded the Saints to settle in Independence and to build the Zion there. What’s that verse in I Nephi?

I Nephi 3:7

… I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them.

How does that apply here? Was Nephi wrong?

The Lord gave the revelation recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 103 in February 1834, as the Saints were fleeing from Jackson County.

Doctrine and Covenants 103:5-8

5 But verily I say unto you, that I have decreed a decree which my people shall realize, inasmuch as they hearken from this very hour unto the counsel which I, the Lord their God, shall give unto them.

6 Behold they shall, for I have decreed it, begin to prevail against mine enemies from this very hour.

7 And by hearkening to observe all the words which I, the Lord their God, shall speak unto them, they shall never cease to prevail until the kingdoms of the world are subdued under my feet, and the earth is given unto the saints, to possess it forever and ever.

8 But inasmuch as they keep not my commandments, and hearken not to observe all my words, the kingdoms of the world shall prevail against them.

“I have decreed a decree which my people shall realize … they shall … begin to prevail against mine enemies from this very hour.” Does the Lord give a date by which his people will fully prevail?

What does that tell you about the Lord’s timetable in fulfilling prophecy?

Is that a comfort to you when you think about prophecies that involve you – promises in your patriarchal blessing, for instance – or do you think you would be happier if you knew the exact date something will happen?

What about that last verse – “Inasmuch as they keep not my commandments, and hearken not to observe all my words, the kingdom of the world shall prevail against them” – can we be lazy and assume that the Lord will bring to pass his promises without our efforts?

Also in 1834, the Lord gave the revelation recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 105. He says there:

Doctrine and Covenants 105:9

9 … in consequence of the transgressions of my people, it is expedient in me that mine elders should wait for a little season for the redemption of Zion –

What transgressions had been among the Saints in Jackson County? If those transgressions prevented the establishment of Zion in the 1830s, what might the same transgressions prevent in our day?

The Lord didn’t want the people to give up, though.

Doctrine and Covenants 105:10-12:

10 That they themselves may be prepared, and that my people may be taught more perfectly, and have experience, and know more perfectly concerning their duty, and the things which I require at their hands.

11 And this cannot be brought to pass until mine elders are endowed with power from on high.

12 For behold, I have prepared a great endowment and blessing to be poured out upon them, inasmuch as they are faithful and continue in humility before me.

What “endow[ment] with power” is being referred to in these verses?

Do you think of your temple endowment as an “endowment with power”? How might that be relevant to the challenges you face?

The Lord also told the Saints in the midst of their problems in Missouri what they would need to do to be able to reclaim their inheritance in Zion. As we read through these verses, consider how they apply to our desire for Zion today:

Doctrine and Covenants 105:1-13:

1 Verily I say unto you who have assembled yourselves together that you may learn my will concerning the redemption of mine afflicted people—

2 Behold, I say unto you, were it not for the transgressions of my people, speaking concerning the church and not individuals, they might have been redeemed even now.

3 But behold, they have not learned to be obedient to the things which I required at their hands, but are full of all manner of evil, and do not impart of their substance, as becometh saints, to the poor and afflicted among them;

4 And are not united according to the union required by the law of the celestial kingdom;

5 And Zion cannot be built up unless it is by the principles of the law of the celestial kingdom; otherwise I cannot receive her unto myself.

6 And my people must needs be chastened until they learn obedience, if it must needs be, by the things which they suffer.

7 I speak not concerning those who are appointed to lead my people, who are the first elders of my church, for they are not all under this condemnation;

8 But I speak concerning my churches abroad—there are many who will say: Where is their God? Behold, he will deliver them in time of trouble, otherwise we will not go up unto Zion, and will keep our moneys.

9 Therefore, in consequence of the transgressions of my people, it is expedient in me that mine elders should wait for a little season for the redemption of Zion—

10 That they themselves may be prepared, and that my people may be taught more perfectly, and have experience, and know more perfectly concerning their duty, and the things which I require at their hands.

11 And this cannot be brought to pass until mine elders are endowed with power from on high.

12 For behold, I have prepared a great endowment and blessing to be poured out upon them, inasmuch as they are faithful and continue in humility before me.

13 Therefore it is expedient in me that mine elders should wait for a little season, for the redemption of Zion.

When there is a place worthy to be called Zion, do you expect that its people will all be made Zion-like overnight? If you want to be Zion, what can you work on now – today – according to this revelation, to make yourself fit to live in Zion?



3 Comments »

  1. Ardis – You need to go on tour, your lessons are the best!

    Comment by andrew h — July 21, 2013 @ 1:05 pm

  2. Interesting. And some thought-provoking questions. Thanks.

    Comment by David Y. — July 21, 2013 @ 9:47 pm

  3. Not trying to be controversial here, but I just wish they would let you teach our High Priests Group lessons. . .

    Comment by Grant — July 22, 2013 @ 6:13 am

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