In Section 84 of the Doctrine and Covenants, we read of the condemnation that ‘resteth upon the children of Zion, even all.’ We also have the words of President Ezra Taft Benson reminding us that this condemnation has not been lifted in this day. I have had some concern that I didn’t completely understand what was being said in these verses. This is my feeble attempt to better represent what the Spirit is telling me on this topic.
Starting in verse 47 of D&C 84 we read:
47 And every one that hearkeneth to the voice of the Spirit cometh unto God, even the Father.
48 And the Father teacheth him of the covenant which he has renewed and confirmed upon you, which is confirmed upon you for your sakes, and not for your sakes only, but for the sake of the whole world.
The process of ‘coming unto God’ is facilitated by listening to the voice of the Spirit. The result of this liaison with the Spirit is that we are taught of the covenant that Lord expects us to make when we have come unto Him. Each of us have the opportunity to seek the Spirit, hear the words, and participate in this covenant individually. The comment regarding the covenant has been ‘renewed’ suggests that it was offered before to those who were called by His name.
49 And the whole world lieth in sin, and groaneth under darkness and under the bondage of sin.
50 And by this you may know they are under the bondage of sin, because they come not unto me.
51 For whoso cometh not unto me is under the bondage of sin.
52 And whoso receiveth not my voice is not acquainted with my voice, and is not of me.
53 And by this you may know the righteous from the wicked, and that the whole world groaneth under sin and darkness even now.
I find it interesting that those who don’t come unto God are bound by sin. Conversely, those who come unto God have received a remission of their sins. I equate this process of coming unto God to the process of being sanctified through the remission of our sins. This remission of sins is achieved through the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost (2 Nephi 31:17).
54 And your minds in times past have been darkened because of unbelief, and because you have treated lightly the things you have received—
55 Which vanity and unbelief have brought the whole church under condemnation.
56 And this condemnation resteth upon the children of Zion, even all.
57 And they shall remain under this condemnation until they repent and remember the new covenant, even the Book of Mormon and the former commandments which I have given them, not only to say, but to do according to that which I have written—
Vanity can be defined as ‘excessive pride in one’s abilities and achievements (dictionary.com). At the time when this revelation was given, it was vanity that pushed the members of the church in that day to set themselves upon the land of Zion without adequate preparation. As a result, they were put under condemnation and we remain under that condemnation today according to President Benson.
One of my concerns is that this condemnation may have been incorrectly applied in this generation. Does the current church organization truly represent Zion either geographically or spiritually? We are not located where God defined Zion to be nor are we collectively ‘the pure in heart’ that the Lord requires. We call ourselves ‘Zion’ but it is vanity to assume that our abilities and achievements are sufficient to warrant the title.
Another concern is that the admonition of President Benson was turned into a drive to read the Book of Mormon. It is ironic that the Lord included the warning ‘not only to say, but to do according to that which I have written.’ I would equate our focus on reading the Book of Mormon with only saying the words. Have we collectively or individually DONE what that Lord has asked us to do?
But what is this ‘new covenant even the Book of Mormon?’ One aspect is that we are told the everlasting covenant is the fulness of the gospel (D&C 66:2). We also know the Lord speaks of the Book of Mormon stating the ‘fulness of the everlasting Gospel was contained in it, as delivered by the Savior to the ancient inhabitants’ (Joseph Smith – History, verse 34). One good reason to read the chapters dealing with the visit of Jesus Christ is to understand what the ‘fulness’ of the gospel is and what it is not.
Perhaps what this covenant means is that we are to embrace the covenants found in the Book of Mormon. Of the more than 150 references to covenant in the Book of Mormon, most of them refer to the original covenant the Lord made with the house of Israel. There are references to the covenants of the Gadiantons which we will ignore. There are also covenants made by groups, such as the Anti-Nephi-Lehies regarding the use of weapons to protect themselves (Alma 24).
There are references to two covenants that I think are pertinent to this discussion. Those souls that gathered with Alma at the waters of Mormon were participants of a covenant prior to their baptism as we read in Mosial 18:10:
Now I say unto you, if this be the desire of your hearts, what have you against being baptized in the name of the Lord, as a witness before him that ye have entered into a covenant with him, that ye will serve him and keep his commandments, that he may pour out his Spirit more abundantly upon you?
This covenant, or two-way promise, was that the people would be baptized and serve him and keep his commandments. The Lord’s obligation was to bless them with an outpouring of His Spirit. I would suggest that this pre-baptismal covenant is fulfilled when we receive the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost.
The second covenant I would like to highlight is found in Mosiah, chapter 5. After the people of King Benjamin collectively received the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost and received a remission of their sins, they expressed a willingness to enter into a new covenant as we read here:
5 And we are willing to enter into a covenant with our God to do his will, and to be obedient to his commandments in all things that he shall command us, all the remainder of our days, that we may not bring upon ourselves a never-ending torment, as has been spoken by the angel, that we may not drink out of the cup of the wrath of God.
6 And now, these are the words which king Benjamin desired of them; and therefore he said unto them: Ye have spoken the words that I desired; and the covenant which ye have made is a righteous covenant.
7 And now, because of the covenant which ye have made ye shall be called the children of Christ, his sons, and his daughters; for behold, this day he hath spiritually begotten you; for ye say that your hearts are changed through faith on his name; therefore, ye are born of him and have become his sons and his daughters.
8 And under this head ye are made free, and there is no other head whereby ye can be made free. There is no other name given whereby salvation cometh; therefore, I would that ye should take upon you the name of Christ, all you that have entered into the covenant with God that ye should be obedient unto the end of your lives.
Again, the people covenanted to do the will of God and be obedient to his commandments for the rest of their lives. The other half of the covenant, the Lord’s half, is that they became His sons and daughters; they have been spiritually born of Christ. In becoming sons and daughters of Christ, we become heirs also. I speak of this not in a material sense but of a spiritual sense. We become recipients of the knowledge and wisdom of God which is more precious than any kingdoms or principalities.
The Lord also tells us that it does not matter what lineage we belong to; what matters is what is in our heart individually:
For behold, I say unto you that as many of the Gentiles as will repent are the covenant people of the Lord; and as many of the Jews as will not repent shall be cast off; for the Lord covenanteth with none save it be with them that repent and believe in his Son, who is the Holy One of Israel. (2 Nephi 30:2)
Whether you consider yourself a Gentile, a Jew, or a member of the house of Israel, you have an equal opportunity to enter into this covenant.
In summary, those who seek to be called by the name of Christ are to be bound by covenants. Our baptismal covenant can be fulfilled by the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost which is a component of the fulness of the gospel or the everlasting covenant. If we are diligent in keeping the commandments of God, we are presented with an opportunity to have the bondage of sin removed from us and with it, the condemnation of God; hopefully, an opportunity to build Zion in the mode that God intends.
What think ye?