Of late, the redemption of Zion, or the return of Latter-day Saints to Jackson County, Missouri has been on my mind – in particular, a talk given by Orson Pratt in 1873.1
What is Zion?
To Latter-day Saints:
Zion . . . represents the perfect, just society ruled by Jesus Christ where all the inhabitants live in harmony, equally sharing all things. Zion, also spelled Sion in the New Testament, refers both to the actual place where a Zionic society exists, the people, and the spiritual quality of the culture. The Apostle Paul used the imagery of Zion to describe the righteous society existing amongst members of the early Church (Hebrews 12:22-24).2
In the early days of the Church, the Lord directed the Prophet Joseph Smith to redeem Zion in preparation for the Lord’s Second Coming. In order to accomplish this, Joseph was told to form a group from the “strength of the [Lord's] house” (D&C 103:22). This group came to be known as Zion’s Camp – a group of a little over 200 men, women and children – and was formed to travel from Kirtland, Ohio to Jackson County, Missouri to assist the Saints there in preserving their inheritances in Zion. However, shortly before they arrived, the Lord told the Prophet that he “should wait for a little season for the redemption of Zion” (see D&C 105:9-19).
Just as orthodox Jews await the return of the Temple3, Latter-day Saints await the call to return to Jackson County in preparation for the redemption of Zion and the Lord’s second coming.
As I re-read Elder Pratt’s address today, I took note of some things I had forgotten since the last time I read his discourse. The following are some excerpts of his talk along with my own personal commentary.
Redeeming Zion & Elder Orson Pratt
At the forefront of his talk, Elder Pratt made numerous references to the “classes” of society that had been created among Church members in the 26 years since the Salt Lake Valley was colonized. He said very pointedly:
A rich man can educate his daughters, and have them taught music and everything calculated to make them refined, polite and genteel. This enables the daughters to fascinate the rich, and should a poor man come along, and knock at the rich man’s door and tell him he desires to keep company with his daughters, he is told that he has no business there. Says the rich man, “My daughters must marry wealthy men, they must be exalted and be with the upper class among the Latter-day Saints.”4
Elder Pratt also talked about why the Latter-day Saints were driven from Jackson County and how private property5 was core to the problem:
The reason why this law was revoked was because the Lord saw we would all go to destruction in consequence of our former tradition in relation to property if this law had continued to be enforced after we were driven out, hence he revoked it for the time being, as you will find recorded in one of the revelations given June 22nd, 1834, after we were driven from Jackson County. I will repeat the words—“Let those commandments which I have given concerning Zion and her law, be executed and fulfilled after her redemption.” Here you perceive that, for the salvation of this people and of the nations of the earth among the Gentiles, God saw proper to revoke this commandment and to lay it over for a future period, or until after the redemption of Zion.
Led to Zion out of Bondage
Approximately half way through his talk, Elder Pratt read the following excerpt of a revelation given to Joseph Smith:
Behold, this is the blessing which I have promised after your tribulations, and the tribulations of your brethren–your redemption, and the redemption of your brethren, even their restoration to the land of Zion, to be established, no more to be thrown down. Nevertheless, if they pollute their inheritances they shall be thrown down; for I will not spare them if they pollute their inheritances. Behold, I say unto you, the redemption of Zion must needs come by power; Therefore, I will raise up unto my people a man, who shall lead them like as Moses led the children of Israel. For ye are the children of Israel, and of the seed of Abraham, and ye must needs be led out of bondage by power, and with a stretched-out arm. And as your fathers were led at the first, even so shall the redemption of Zion be. Therefore, let not your hearts faint, for I say not unto you as I said unto your fathers: Mine angel shall go up before you, but not my presence. But I say unto you: Mine angels shall go up before you, and also my presence, and in time ye shall possess the goodly land. (D&C 103:13-20).
Years ago, I had wondered why the children of Israel were in apparent “bondage” in Egypt. Everything I had read by Dr. Hugh W. Nibley and others on this subject seemed to indicate that ancient Egypt was a very pluralistic society – or a society that was in some respects like the United States of America. However, when I read J. Reuben Clark’s interpretation of Pharaoh’s dream (see Pharaoh’s Dream – A Modern Interpretation), my perspective changed. I then realized that there are different types and causes of “bondage” – both spiritual and temporal.
Elder Pratt then went on to discuss the latter-day “army of Israel [which must become] very great” (D&C 105:25-32) and talked about the difficulties encountered in forming the first battalion of this army:
What he meant by this, was “great” compared with the few individuals to whom this revelation was given. It will be recollected that a certain number were required as the strength of the Lord’s house to go up to redeem Zion, as they supposed. They gathered together, some one or two hundred and went up for this purpose; and the Lord said that the strength of his house did not hearken to his voice, and did not come up according to his commandment and revelation, but had said in their hearts, “If this be the work of the Lord, the Lord will redeem Zion, and we will stay at home upon our inheritances.” They made excuses and would not go up. The little handful that did go up were called the Camp of Zion. Some few of them are still living. When we arrived in the neighborhood of the Land of Zion, the strength of the Lord’s house not having hearkened to his voice, the Lord gave a revelation and said first, “Let my army become very great, and let it be sanctified before me, that it may become fair as the sun, and clear as the moon, and that her banners may be terrible unto all nations.” How do you suppose we are going to fulfill this, preparatory to the redemption of Zion? Are we now taking a course to sanctify ourselves before the Heavens? It is true that the army of Israel is very great even now when compared with that little handful that went up with the Camp of Zion, but though blessed with numbers, we are not blessed with that sanctification which the Lord has spoken of in that revelation. How much faith have we now, in our disobedience to the law of tithing, and to many other principles? Blessed are they who have faithfully paid their tithing all the time, and blessed are their children, they will receive their inheritance in the Land of Zion, when the Lord shall come. The Lord will bless them and their generations for ever. But those who have not complied with this law are not sanctifying themselves before God, neither are they preparing themselves for the redemption of Zion. Their hearts are set upon the foolish things of this world, they are grasping after riches to aggrandize themselves.
Elder Pratt also openly talked about how a “reformation” was needed among the Saints in order to obtain this new order of things:
This is plain preaching, and perhaps some of you will not like it. I can not help it, these are the things that present themselves before my mind. There must be a reformation, there will be a reformation among this people, for God will not cast off this kingdom and this people, but he will plead with the strong ones of Zion, he will plead with this people, he will plead with those in high places, he will plead with the Priesthood of this Church, until Zion shall become clean before him.
Then when I got to this next section of the talk, things really started to hit home:
I do not know but that it would be an utter impossibility to commence and carry out some principles pertaining to Zion right in the midst of this people. They have strayed so far that to get a people who would conform to heavenly laws it may be needful to lead some from the midst of this people and commence anew somewhere in the regions round about in these mountains. Ask this people if they are willing to abide by the law of God, and how would they vote? The hands of every one would be up almost without exception, but when it comes to the very point, when consecration in part might be required at their hands, that is the time to prove them and to see whether they would or would not be obedient. “Oh, I have such a fine house, and such a fine carriage and horses, such an abundance of merchandise and good things. It has taken me years and years to get these things, and it is hard to give one-half, three fourths or nine-tenths of them to establish another order of things, and I rather think I had better keep on the background, and see how the order flourishes. Let others try it first, and if they get on very well and become wealthy, then perhaps I will venture to give a little of my property.” These are the feelings that exist in the hearts of some individuals among the Latter-day Saints, but they have got to be rooted out, or those who give way to them will lose the Spirit of the Lord.
I remember when I first read the statement that “it may be needful to lead some from the midst of this people and commence anew somewhere in the regions round about in these mountains” that it caught me somewhat by surprise. And yet on the other hand, it didn’t. The Lord always led away those who were willing to listen to a Prophet’s voice. For even after arriving in the “promised land”, Nephi was commanded to flee into the wilderness (2 Nephi 5:5-8).
Elder Pratt then expressed this hope about the appointed sacrifice:
I do not know how many will stand up and obey the law of the Lord unto the sacrifice of all their earthly goods, or how long it will be before people will be called upon to make this sacrifice. I do not know how long it will be before this people are brought to the trying point to see who is and who is not for the Lord; but I would advise the Latter-day Saints to prepare for this, for it may come sooner than some of you expect. If the Lord should undertake to bring about an order of things different from that which now exists, and establish it not exactly in the midst of this people, but in some place where they can commence anew, I hope the people will begin to pray to the Lord, reckon up with themselves and examine their own hearts, and see whether they are willing and prepared, if called upon, to place all that they have, or as much as they are required in that order of things, and carry it out.
The Unity of Zion
As I read this next section by Elder Pratt, I was reminded of President Henry B. Eyring’s recent conference talk “Our Hearts Knit as One“. Elder Pratt said:
When we go back to Jackson County, we are to go back with power. Do you suppose that God will reveal his power among an unsanctified people, who have no regard nor respect for his laws and institutions, but who are filled with covetousness? No. When God shows forth his power among the Latter-day Saints, it will be because there is a union of feeling in regard to doctrine, and in regard to everything that God has placed in their hands; and not only a union, but a sanctification on their part, that there shall not be a spot or wrinkle as it were, but everything shall be as fair as the sun that shines in the heavens.
He then speculated about the “many chastisements” that God may have to pour out upon “the people calling themselves Latter-day Saints”, but felt sure that the “righteous need not fear”. He also recalled that if necessary, the Lord would “send down fire from heaven unto the destruction of their enemies” (1 Nephi 22:17).
Zion and a “Man Like Unto Moses”
Elder Pratt again spoke of bondage and a “man like unto Moses”:
God will shield us by his power, if we are to be led forth out of bondage as our fathers were led, at the first. This indicates that there may be bondage ahead, and that the Latter-day Saints may see severe times, and that unless we keep the commandments of God, we may be brought into circumstances that will cause our hearts to tremble within us, that is, those who are not upright before God. But if this people should be brought into bondage, as the Israelites were in ancient days, Zion must be led forth out of bondage, as Israel was at the first. In order to do this God has prophesied that he will raise up a man like unto Moses, who shall lead his people therefrom.
Over the next portion of his talk, Elder Pratt wondered about this man the Lord would raise up “like unto Moses”. He hoped that it would have been Joseph, or even Brigham Young, but was content that the Lord would at one point raise up a man “like unto Moses” to lead latter-day Israel from among the people. He described the differences between the two gospel dispensations:
But Moses was not to blame, for he sought diligently to sanctify them, but when they transgressed time after time, God became so angry with them that he finally swore in his wrath that he would not go up in the midst of that people, lest he should break forth in his anger and fury and consume them in a moment. That was the way he felt towards them because of their sinfulness, and in order that they might not be consumed, but that a remnant might be spared, and that seed might be raised up to old father Abraham and to Isaac and to Jacob, he withdrew his presence from the midst of the camp of Israel. But he did not forsake them entirely. Said he, “Mine angel may go before you. You may have an angel and you may have Moses for a season, but I will not go with you.” He swore that that people, in the wilderness, should not enter into his rest, which rest is the fullness of his glory.
It is to be hoped that there will be nothing of this kind among the armies of Israel in the latter days. We have the promise of the Almighty, and I hope that it will never be revoked, that “I say not unto you as I said to your fathers, my angel shall go before you, but not my presence, but I say unto you that my angel shall go before you and also my presence.” In order for the presence of God to go with us we must retain the higher Priesthood, for without that and the ordinances thereunto pertaining, no man can behold the face of God and live; therefore if we would retain this higher Priesthood we must sanctify ourselves through obedience to the higher laws. If we do this, we can then claim the fulfillment of this promise which the Lord has made and which I have repeated, that his presence shall go with us.
Elder Pratt also talked about the “army” that would be gathered in order to redeem Zion:
We shall go back to Jackson County. Not that all this people will leave these mountains, or all be gathered together in a camp, but when we go back there will be a very large organization consisting of thousands, and tens of thousands, and they will march forward, the glory of God overshadowing their camp by day in the form of a cloud, and a pillar of flaming fire by night, the Lord’s voice being uttered forth before his army. Such a period will come in the history of this people, and when it arrives the mountains and the hills will be ready to break forth with a loud voice before the Lord’s army, and the very trees of the field will wave to and fro by the power of God, and clap like hands. The everlasting hills will rejoice, and they will tremble before the presence of the Lord; and his people will go forth and build up Zion according to celestial law.
Will not this produce terror upon all the nations of the earth? Will not armies of this description, though they may not be as numerous as the armies of the world, cause a terror to fall upon the nations? The Lord says the banners of Zion shall be terrible. If only one or two millions of this people were to go down and build the waste places of Zion, would it strike the people of Asia and Europe with terror? Not particularly, unless there was some supernatural power made manifest. But when the Lord’s presence is there, when his voice is heard, and his angels go before the camp, it will be telegraphed to the uttermost parts of the earth and fear will seize upon all people, especially the wicked, and the knees of the ungodly will tremble in that day, and the high ones that are on high, and the great men of the earth.
The Redemption of Zion and the Temple
Then, after the “New Jerusalem” descends upon the “land of Joseph”, and after the “holy Jerusalem” descends to the land of Judah (Revelation 21), the faithful will build a temple in preparation for the return of the Lord:
When the Temple is built the sons of the two Priesthoods, that is, those who are ordained to the Priesthood of Melchizedek, that Priesthood which is after the order of the Son of God, with all its appendages; and those who have been ordained to the Priesthood of Aaron with all its appendages, the former called the sons of Moses, the latter the sons of Aaron, will enter into that Temple in this generation, or in the generation that was living in 1832, and all of them who are pure in heart will behold the face of the Lord and that too before he comes in his glory in the clouds of heaven, for he will suddenly come to his Temple, and he will purify the sons of Moses and of Aaron, until they shall be prepared to offer in that Temple an offering that shall be acceptable in the sight of the Lord. In doing this, he will purify not only the minds of the Priesthood in that Temple, but he will purify their bodies until they shall be quickened, renewed and strengthened, and they will be partially changed, not to immortality, but changed in part that they can be filled with the power of God, and they can stand in the presence of Jesus, and behold his face in the midst of that Temple.
All this will be done in preparation for “pestilence, plague and earthquake” which will be poured out upon the earth. Then, when the servants of God have been prepared, they will:
. . . stand before the nations of the earth and preach glad tidings of salvation in the midst of judgments that are to come like a whirlwind upon the wicked.
As I contemplated these things, I was reminded of what is required of the Latter-day Saints in order to be prepared for the redemption of Zion.