August 9, 2007

Reflections on Gathering and the Prophet Joseph: Part 1

George A. Smith March 18, 1855 George A. Smith, then-Church Historian, was a candid speaker, and often told stories of the more human side of his cousin, Joseph Smith, Jr. He had the talent of including a little humor into otherwise serious discourses. In this particular discourse he related examples of the persecution Joseph faced, both from without and within, the Church. As his text, he quoted the Savior, paraphrasing Matthew 23:37:

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the Prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!
This verse seems to answer, at least indirectly, some of the philosophical questions dealing with God's ability. "Can God create a rock so big he cannot move it?" This calls into question whether God can do anything He wants. It seems from this statement of the Savior above, even God has a limit of ability. George A. explained:
It has been a very common saying in the world that the Lord was able to do everything, that he could do anything he had a mind to do, and accomplish what he pleased; that he possessed universal power, and could accomplish what he, undertook. But what says our text? "How oft would I have gathered you, but you would not." This indicates that he could not do it, because they were not willing; that is the way we understand the language.
God will not force us to return to live with Him. When he sends a prophet to gather his people and receive the covenants that will get us back to Him, they are often rejected. George A. talked about some of the difficulties Joseph faced. His candor on the subject might bring a smile:

The very first moment after the angel of God had communicated to Joseph Smith the revelation of the fulness of the Gospel, what do we discover? We discover that all the blood hounds of earth and hell were let loose upon him.

The very first attempt that could be made to bear testimony of the Gospel was to be thwarted by persecution, the editorial thunder was immediately let loose, and as the old Quaker said to the dog that came to his store, being little offended at the animal, 'I will not kill thee, but I will give thee a bad name,' so he turns him out and halloos, 'Bad dog,' judging rightly that somebody would suppose him to be mad, and shoot him. That was the devil's plan, when this Gospel was first introduced, the cry was, 'False prophet, impostor, delusion, fornication,' mixed up with every kind of slander.

Every person who is well acquainted with the history of this Church knows that at the commencement of it the persecutions commenced, and they continued to increase until the death of the Prophet. Forty-seven times he was arraigned before the tribunals of law, and had to sustain all the expense of defending himself in those vexatious suits, and was every time acquitted. He was never found guilty but once.

I have been told, by Patriarch Emer Harris, that on a certain occasion he was brought before a magistrate in the State of New York, and charged with having cast out devils; the magistrate, after hearing the witnesses, decided that he was guilty, but as the statutes of New York did not provide a punishment for casting out devils, he was acquitted.

Why the gathering? Why was Christ trying to gather the chickens? Why does the adversary oppose the gathering?
Among the first principles that were revealed to the children of men in the last days was the gathering; the first revelations that were given to the Church were to command them to gather, and send Elders to seek out a place for the gathering of the Saints. What is the gathering for? Why was it that the Savior wished the children of Israel to gather together? It was that they might become united and provide a place wherein he could reveal unto them keys which have been hid from before the foundation of the world; that he could unfold unto them the laws of exaltation, and make them a kingdom of Priests, even the whole people, and exalt them to thrones and dominions in the celestial world.
George A. went on to explain this was the reason the Saints were to gather at Kirtland, Ohio: to build a temple. He said a mere handful of Saints commenced the work; and among them were some who fell away. He mentioned a few interesting instances of apostasy in Kirtland:

I know persons who apostatized because they supposed they had reasons; for instance, a certain family, after having traveled a long journey, arrived in Kirtland, and the Prophet asked them to stop with him until they could find a place. Sister Emma, in the mean time, asked the old lady if she would have a cup of tea to refresh her after the fatigues of the journey, or a cup of coffee. This whole family apostatized because they were invited to take a cup of tea or coffee, after the Word of Wisdom was given.

Another family, about the same time, apostatized because Joseph Smith came down out of the translating room, where he had been translating by the gift and power of God, and commenced playing with his little children. Some such trials as these, you know, had to be encountered.

I recollect a gentleman who came from Canada, and who had been a Methodist, and had always been in the habit of praying to a God who had no ears, and as a matter of course had to shout and halloo pretty loud to make him hear. Father Johnson asked him to pray in their family worship in the evening, and he got on such a high key, and hallooed so loud that he alarmed the whole village. Among others, Joseph came running out, saying, "What is the matter? I thought by the noise that the heavens and the earth were coming together," and said to the man, 'that he ought not to give way to such an enthusiastic spirit, and bray so much like a jackass.' Because Joseph said that, the poor man put back to Canada, and apostatized; he thought he would not pray to a God who did not want to be screamed at with all one's might.

Once the temple was completed, the Lord began revealing some of the first ordinances of the priesthood, which George A. briefly described. These experiences ultimately led to the blessing- or cursing- of many Saints. Rumors about the ordinances were passed. Some were disappointed in the new ordinances while others were overcome by them:
…They got that building so far finished as to be dedicated; this was what the Lord wanted, He wished them to provide a place wherein He could reveal to the children of men those principles that will exalt them to eternal glory, and make them Saviors on mount Zion. Four hundred and sixteen Elders, Priests, Teachers, and Deacons met in the Kirtland Temple on the evening of its dedication. I can see faces here that were in that assembly. The Lord poured His Spirit upon us, and gave us some little idea of the law of anointing, and conferred upon us some blessings. He taught us how to shout hosanna, gave Joseph the keys of the gathering together of Israel, and revealed to us, what? Why the fact of it was, He dare not yet trust us with the first key of the Priesthood. He told us to wash ourselves, and that almost made the women mad, and they said, as they were not admitted into the Temple while this washing was being performed, that some mischief was going on, and some of them were right huffy about it. We were instructed to wash each other's feet, as an evidence that we had borne testimony of the truth of the Gospel to the world. We were taught to anoint each other's head with oil in the name of the Lord, as an ordinance of anointing. All these things were to be done in their time, place, and season. All this was plain and simple, yet some apostatized because there was not more of it, and others because there was too much.
I believe if God were to reveal all he possibly could- right now- it would lead to confusion and apostasy for many, because many aren't ready to receive all the blessings God has to offer. God must feed us milk before meat because many can't digest that meat just yet. More on the milk and meat of the temple tomorrow.

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