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Come Follow Me Insights (Doctrine and Covenants 1)

Episode Transcript

Come Follow Me Class Insights –1– Doctrine and Covenants – Preface

I'm Taylor, and I'm Tyler. This is Book of Mormon Central's Come Follow Me Insights. This year, the Doctrine and Covenants. Welcome back to all those who joined us last year. It's beautiful to be with you and for those who are joining us for the first time. We hope you find great joy in digging deep into the scriptures, learning and applying the gospel.

Today we'll be focusing on Doctrine and Covenants, section 1, the Lord's preface to the Doctrine and Covenants.

Now, since this is a new year and as we're bidding farewell to 2020 and saying hello to 2021, I wanted to begin with just a little scenario to set the stage for everything that we're going to cover this year. It's told through the – a parable-like story, just a made up story to teach a principle. I first heard this story years ago on my mission from a friend, (Brandon Brager – sp?) and it's just a delightful, little way to describe what we're trying to accomplish.

Once upon a time, there was a ward of chickens. This was a good ward and the bishop of that ward got tired of watching his ward members walk to church every Sunday and participate in the different meetings and then walk home and he thought, we're chickens, we're birds, we should be able to fly. So at the beginning of the year he assembled his ward and for sacrament meeting that day he taught them to spread their wings, to flap those wings and to fly and lo and behold, all these chickens in his ward found this new ability to be able to actually get off the ground and fly and it was the most successful sacrament meeting in the history of this ward of chickens. Everybody was so excited with this new-found ability. And then they closed the meeting with prayer and all of the chickens walked home.

You can see the moral of the story, hopefully, that as we spread our wings and try new things and learn new doctrines and are able to soar in certain ways, not that a chicken is soaring, but that we apply what we learn in our meetings, what we learn in our personal and our family scripture study to our daily life, that it actually has a change in who we are becoming. It isn't just a New Year's resolution that lasts for a day or a week or maybe a month. But it actually translates into a new way of approaching our life and moving forward.

Now, as we jump into Doctrine and Covenants section 1, there are a couple of things we wanted to just point out beforehand. If you turn backwards to the explanatory introduction, there are some really beautiful statements here that describe what the Doctrine and Covenants is all about. You'll notice in that very first paragraph this statement: "…the messages warnings, and exhortations are for the benefit of" notice "all mankind," not just members of the Church in 1831, but for all mankind. They "contain an invitation to all people everywhere to hear the voice of the Lord Jesus Christ, speaking to them for their temporal well-being and their everlasting salvation."

Down in the third paragraph you'll notice halfway down it says: "In the revelations one hears the tender but firm voice of the Lord Jesus Christ, speaking anew in the dispensation of the fullness of times." And then you turn the page over and at the top of that next page it says: "These sacred revelations were received in answer to prayer, in times of need, and came out of real-life situations involving real people."

Brothers and sisters, as we jump in here, this is a new year of studying scripture because all other scriptures that we have, have come to us through some sort of a translation process from the past, from the distant past in many cases. The Old Testament has been translated multiple times from various languages until the modern day; the New Testament was written down in Greek, translated into Latin previously and then into English and all the other languages that we have today for the Bible. The Book of Mormon was written in Egyptian, Reformed Egyptian, translated into English for us, and so for the first time, we get a scripture that was delivered originally in English and from there, then translated into the languages across the face of the world because that voice is intended to be for all people, not just English-speaking people in the latter days.

But you'll notice there's no other book of scripture that has more of the direct, personal pronouns from the Lord as does the Doctrine and Covenants. It is the tender but firm voice of Jesus Christ speaking to all mankind, to all people everywhere through the Prophet Joseph and it's beautiful as you watch him, as you watch Jesus building up his kingdom in the latter days.

We also encourage you to look at the concentration of revelations, particularly if you look at, say during the years of 1829, 1830 into early 1831, you see a high number of revelations that Joseph Smith received. And if we look at the historical context, part of what's going on, is that Joseph Smith is bringing forth the translation of the Book of Mormon and he's also working on his translation of the Bible. What we find significant here is that revelation increases as people are immersed in the scriptures. That's what we see with Joseph Smith.

So an invitation you might take on is if you're looking to have more revelation in your life, you might do what Joseph Smith did, spend more time in scriptures and, like Joseph Smith, you might find a higher increase in the number of revelations that you receive in your life. This is one of the beautiful things about scriptures is that God did not simply give these things to us just so we feel good for a moment, he wants us to know that real people benefitted and now today, we as real people can benefit just like those in the past.

I love that! Now, the other thing to add to your scripture study and immersing in the scriptures is to constantly be asking questions because you'll notice as we read through the Doctrine and Covenants sections this year that many of them – not all of them – but many of them come in response to Joseph and/or others coming to him or to the Lord with specific questions. I want to know. I'm confused. I don't know how to act, I don't know how to move forward and give me guidance and direction, often you get these sections of the Doctrine and Covenants coming as a response to somebody using their agency to immerse in scripture or immerse in the words of God or the prophecies and then asking follow-up questions of okay, so now what do I need to do? How do I need to live? It's a beautiful pattern for an individual, for a couple, for a family, for a ward, is to constantly be thinking, what are – what do I – what lack I yet? What can God help me better understand in moving forward in my life on this covenant path?

Now notice as you turn over and we begin the Doctrine and Covenants section 1, let's just set the stage here as far as setting because unlike most of our ancient scriptures, Old Testament and New Testament, Book of Mormon and many of the books in the Pearl of Great Price, we can actually know exactly where most of these revelations were received, what the physical setting was, who was there, what was the issue going on. We know a lot about many of these sections and their background. In this particular case you'll notice that the date is November 1, 1831 putting the church just over its year-and-a-half mark in age and so you're gathered with a group of saints in a conference in Hiram, Ohio – it's just outside of Kirtland, Ohio – at the John and Elsa Johnson farm in their home.

Think about this for a minute. 1831, November, the church is a year-and-a-half old and you've got this small group of saints gathered together and Joseph has received – if you go back to the chronological order of contents – you can see everything previous to November of 1831 – he's already received all of these revelations, and Joseph puts the manuscript of all of those revelations on a table in this conference in this setting, surrounded by this small handful of people, relatively speaking, and he says, what should we do with these revelations? They need to be published. They need to be printed so that people can have access to them and Oliver Cowdery asks the question, okay, well how many books should we print? How many copies of this manuscript should we print? And the conference decided that they should publish 10,000.

That number must have been mind-blowing for this group, but they felt like we need to publish 10,000 of these and in response Joseph Smith receives this revelation regarding the publishing of these revelations that he had received and we now call it the Preface. The amazing thing about section 1 is it's not Joseph writing a preface to the book to give people context for what these revelations are, it's not a committee of people doing it, it's not scholars sitting around saying, let's analyze them and come up with a quick description of what you can find here, it's Joseph doing what he normally does in the Doctrine and Covenants, it's him being an instrument for the Lord to give us the exact words. It's the Lord giving us the Preface to these revelations. It's not generated or crafted by Joseph Smith in isolation. This is the voice of God saying here's what I want you to understand about what I've given to my servants.

And so now you'll notice the very first word: "Hearken, O ye people of my church, saith the voice of him who dwells on high, and whose eyes are upon all men." You'll notice again this is first person pronouns, first person speech from the Lord Jesus Christ's perspective.

Our prophet Russell M. Nelson repeatedly invites us to hear him. Well, this book, this year as we study is a very simple way to fulfill that invitation to hear him as we immerse in these words, open not just your mind but your heart to hear the voice of Jesus Christ speaking to you.

Notice he says: "Hearken ye people from afar; and ye that are upon the islands of the sea, listen together." Hmm, that's interesting if you consider the setting of this small group of saints at the John Johnson farm gathered together in a conference of the church in 1831 far away from the sea, far away from the other continents in the island of the sea, you'll notice that this really isn't the church of Joseph Smith or of Brigham Young or of the early pioneers. This is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and he happens to be using this small group of people to do his work. I love that perspective.

Now you'll notice what happens with this small, teeny group that you might compare it to the lump of leaven, it just takes a little bit of yeast in a big lump of dough to cause the whole dough to rise and that's what he's doing as he's getting ready to send them out to then do his work. Notice this since we're at a new year, many people have thought, I want to make big change. I want to drastically overhaul my life and you know what? That works for some people and I'm not saying that that's a bad idea, I'm just saying for most of us, that's not sustainable. It doesn't really work.

I'll never forget the time I was sitting in a setting listening to President Henry B. Eyring who at the time was a member of the Quorum of the Twelve. He was speaking to seminary and institutes of the church and he said when individuals or corporations look for making improvement, they often will look to big things that can be changed, but he said I've learned that it's when you look at things that get repeated often, if you can find small, minor, incremental improvements to make in those things that get repeated often, over time that what you'll find is that the keynote of effect is major change after a period of time, because these things that get repeated often you've just – you've made the small improvement.

In fact, to give a second witness of that from the immortal words of J. R. R. Tolkien in the Hobbit, Gandalf, the wizard says, I have found that it is the small, everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay - small acts of kindness and love. This idea of finding these little things that you can do even though you're in a big world surrounded by all kinds of bad things and trials and tribulations and uncertainties, don't focus out here. Section 1 to me is the essence of this principle of finding the little things that I do have control over and be a little kinder to the people around me in my immediate presence right now. Serve that neighbor across the street; make that phone call; write that thank you note. Reach out in kindness and love and forgive or ask for forgiveness to those people who have offended you or who have hurt you or that you have hurt or offended – today rather than waiting. It's those small acts, those little things and then find the things that you can repeat often, make minor improvements in those and over time you see (unclear) of the effect will be major change with you through the year. So now watch that pattern.

Let's take it up in verse 2: "For verily the voice of the Lord is unto all men, and there is none to escape." That's a hundred percent, "and there is no eye that shall not see, neither ear that shall not hear, neither heart that shall not be penetrated. And the rebellious shall be pierced with much sorrow, for their iniquities shall be spoken upon the housetops, and their secret acts shall be revealed." And then he goes on to verse 4. This is the part where we come in in our own little realm today: "And the voice of warning shall be unto all people, by the mouths of my disciples, whom I have chosen in these last days. And they shall go forth and none shall stay them, for I the Lord have commanded them."

Brothers and sisters it's the Lord's work to save the world, to save the earth. It's not our job to be responsible for that. So what he does is by extension he gives us callings, he gives us opportunities to change our world and by doing that, and if every one of us in the gospel of Jesus Christ will change our world, what's happening is is Christ is changing the world one little world at a time. So here's the God who holds worlds without number – not just ours – in his hand. He knows how to hold your world in – safely enclosed in his hand, and to guide you in making changes in your relationships and in the people that you associate with today.

God is doing the act of revelation and spreading his kingdom through authority. He shares his authority with his servants. I love it the word authority comes from the word author.  What do you know about the God of the universe? He is the author and the finisher of our faith. And so when he talks about authority it's because he is authoring the plan of salvation. He is authoring the opportunities that our lives have. He is encouraging us to lead or to act on the words of life that he's authored so he can finish us, bring us back into his presence. So words matter. As we look at the words that God has revealed, spend time to look at them, dwell upon them and ask yourself, why would God choose to use these particular words? What is he trying to communicate to me and what is something I could do differently today, just something small that I could do today or this week that might bring more joy to my life or the lives of those with whom I live or serve?

(Tyler) Now watch as God uses his authority to give to this small group that starts the church early, early on as he then sends them forth into the world to then change the world. Look at verse 7: "Wherefore, fear and tremble, O ye people, for what I the Lord have decreed in them shall be fulfilled."  You'll notice the wording, when God speaks to the earth in first person terms through the prophet here, he doesn't speak in probables; he doesn't say most likely this will happen or perhaps it will happen or there's a possibility this could come to pass. He speaks usually in absolutes because he has authority to do that. He's above all things. So notice the wording, the things that I've declared shall be fulfilled. There's no uncertainty here. Jesus is saying I am able to do mine own work and it will happen and I happen to be using you.

Now you've probably heard the phrase, I want to be an instrument in the hands of the Lord. Stop and think about what that means. When you go to an art museum, let me use this example, if you go up to a sculpture so you could  take the Pieta, you could take David, you could take any of the famous sculptures that have been made in our – by our – some of the greatest artists to have ever lived, how many people go up to one of those sculptures and are sitting there or standing there admiring it thinking, man, I wish I could see the chisels that made this part, or the chisel set that made this sculpture. People usually aren't focused on the chisels and the instruments, they're usually focused on the author, or in this case, the artist.

The Lord is the one who's doing this work which means he picks up instruments to use in his hands to perform his work. But that means if I'm an instrument in the hands of the Lord, that the master craftsman or the master artist might look at me as an instrument in his hands and say, hmm, it's the wrong shape, I need you to be a little sharper here and a little less dull over there, which means sometimes he might put you in a fire, a really hot fire and then he might put me on an anvil and grab a really painful hammer and start reshaping me until I'm the shape and size and the dimension that he wants and then puts me in water to cool me off and now the instrument is ready to do that work.

Brothers and sisters, you're going to watch Jesus, the master artist, the master craftsman, he who has all authority to do his work and knows what instruments he needs to do it, who's going to take common, simple people like me and you and like these early saints and he's going to pick them up and he's going to shape them through the furnace of affliction, he's going to consume their dross, he's going to make them sharp and the right shape for him to then be able to perform his work and to create this beautiful sculpture that we're after which is building up of the kingdom of God upon all of the face of the earth in the latter days. So you can watch both the magnificent carving episodes that take place in church history as well as the shaping of the instruments episodes that are going to be taking place throughout this story.

Now notice verse 8: "And verily I say unto you, hat they who go forth, bearing these tidings unto the inhabitants of the earth, to them is power given to seal both on earth and in heaven." Once again, it's not the missionaries or the leaders of the church in the different organizations at various levels, it's not the parents or the grandparents who take this authority to themselves, it's given to them by the Lord – that power is given to them to go and do this work.

Look at verse 11: "Wherefore the voice of the Lord is unto the ends of the earth, that all that will hear may hear." There's a pattern, it just keeps coming up over and over again, that his voice isn't just for a small group. The gospel of Jesus Christ, the covenant path is not a restricted members only kind of a club. He is inviting all to come to this path. So notice verse 12: "Prepare ye, pare ye for that which is to come, for the Lord is nigh."

Brothers and sisters, language is an interesting thing. You can interpret it in a variety of ways and here's an example of something that the Lord said that didn't need to get translated from another language into English. It was given to Joseph Smith in his language and his understanding and written down, and yet, we still could interpret it a variety of ways. Let me give you an example. You could read that and say, oh, well what Jesus just told this group in Hiram, Ohio is that the Second Coming is going to happen very soon. That's one way you could interpret those English words right there. Another way that you could interpret them is to say the Lord is nigh, perhaps he's not referring to his Second Coming, perhaps he's referring to his watchful care of this early group of saints spreading the gospel saying, you're not going to be doing this alone. You're not going to be a parent alone, you're not going to be a missionary alone, you're not going to be my prophet alone. I'm not going to forsake any of you at any phase of this building up of my kingdom. I am nigh. I am near. I am right with you. I'm in the trenches. You're walking with me on that covenant path. That's how I love to look at that phrase is instead of apocalyptic or saying, oh, the end is near, which we'll get plenty of those sections down the road and we'll talk about them, but to rather stop focusing on the big, huge, cataclysmic event and rather the simple, everyday struggles and the events that we are facing every day – today, the people and the relationships and the opportunities for growth and development surrounding today. It makes a difference to know that the Lord has not forsaken us, that he's nigh, he's right – he's with us and he sends his angels to be with us and his Spirit to be with us.

Look at verse 13 and 14: "And the anger of the Lord is kindled, and his sword is bathed in heaven, and it shall fall upon the inhabitants of the earth. And the arm of the Lord shall be revealed; and the day cometh that they who will not hear the voice of the Lord, neither the voice of his servants, neither give heed to the words of the prophets and apostles, shall be cut off from among the people." You'll notice God isn't coming down to destroy the earth because that's what he wants to do, he's promising that he will cut people off only after they have rejected his voice and his prophets and his servants and the people to whom he has given the authority to go and give the voice of warning. Only then does he say, okay, now you're going to have some problems.

Consider what he says here in verse 14: "The arm of the Lord shall be revealed." If you do a careful review of the phrase the hand of God or the arm of God, arm of the Lord, typically these are used to indicate different aspects of God's power. Typically the hand of God symbolizes this power to bring justice whereas the arm of God typically reveals his power for mercy. Now if you look at verse 14 you might think that well this seems like a justice, an act of justice. So listen carefully, it says the arm of the Lord shall be revealed. I actually read that as mercy and salvation.  He's offering it. He's not here to bring down justice. But look what happens. Those who will not hear the voice of the Lord, to be enveloped in his arms – I'm adding a few words – neither the voice of his servants – to be enveloped in the arm of the Lord which has been revealed as scripture that's part of that revelation will be cut off. So think about that. If I open up my arms to envelop my kids in a hug, and one kid's in a bad mood and he decides not to be hugged, he's been cut off by his own choice. I have been wrapping my kids in a hug and one of them chooses, I don't want to be part of the hug. It's their agency and therefore, they don’t get the embrace. That's what we have here is that the restoration is about revealing God's mercy. We all have access here. All we have to do is to enter into his presence where we meet and we are not cut off.

I love that analogy as it ties into verse 15: "For they have strayed from mine ordinances, and have broken mine everlasting covenant." We've spoken a lot about covenants and there are a lot of ways to approach covenants. The simplest way for me, for my mind to make sense of it, is that simple phrase I will be your God and you will be my people. It's as if two people are coming together embracing each other, that it's not just me standing here taking the arms of Jesus but me extending my arms to him as well, it's this joint connecting that's a covenantal connection with Christ. Notice again in verse 15 they've strayed from mine ordinances and they've broken mine everlasting covenant. They don't want me to be their God. I've given them the warnings, I've given them the promises and the glorious blessings that come when you just come into the arms of my safety, encircled in the robe of my righteousness, but you won't have that, so you get cut off as Taylor was saying, look at verse 16: "They seek not the Lord to establish his righteousness, but every man walketh in his own way, and after the image of his own god, whose image is in the likeness of the world, and whose substance is that of an idol, which waxeth old and shall perish in Babylon, even Babylon the great which shall fall."

Brothers and sisters, the symbolism here is profound that we can build up whatever we want to be an idol, to become a god for us, because if we're saying I don't want Jesus to be my God and I don't want to be his people, I want something else to be my God, whatever else we pick, whether it be sports, fame, money, work, body-building, art, dance, theater, it doesn't matter, whatever else we worship, whatever else we put our heart and soul and energy, effort into building up, at the end of the day, none of those things can truly give us what a God can give us. Every single one of those things will let us down. Notice they'll perish, even as Babylon of old fell and perished.

So verse 17: "Wherefore, I the Lord, knowing the calamity which should come upon the inhabitants of the earth," he's not in rough draft mode as an author here, he's in finishing mode. He knows what he's doing. This is the final draft that we're creating here with him. Notice he knows all the calamities which are going to come upon the inhabitants of the earth, therefore he called upon his servant, Joseph Smith, Jun., and spake unto him from heaven, and gave him commandments.

Brothers and sisters, there are a lot of people who have said a lot of really, really bad things about the Prophet Joseph. I love seeing how the Lord speaks about this man, Joseph Smith, Jun. He was called of God. He was given authority and God spake to him, gave him commandments.

Verse 18: "And also gave commandments to others, that they should proclaim these things unto the world; and all this that it might be fulfilled, which was written by the prophets." Now notice, notice the significance of the structure of how these sentences are set up. The simple word that does something in this context. He did something that this would then result. The way we might better understand it in discussing it right now might be to put a simple word so in front of the that, in order to accomplish this or so that this could occur. Let's just put here phrase B, so I did phrase A – whatever it is – so that B could actually come to pass so that it could happen, it's a cause/effect kind of relationship. Notice he called Joseph Smith as a prophet and he spoke to him and he called others and he spoke to them so that what? They should proclaim these things unto the world. He didn't teach them those things so that they would be smarter for themselves and have their curiosity questions answered, he gave those revelations to these people so that they would share them with the world.

Now notice, that then becomes a phrase A for the next one. They're going to share these things with the world and this that, there's another that, it might be fulfilled which was written by the prophets. So I'm going to do that in order to fulfill these prophecies.

Now look at verse 19: "The weak things of the world shall come forth and break down the mighty and strong ones, that" there's another that, you can circle these if you want, "that man should not counsel his fellow man, neither trust in the arm of flesh." Instead of living in a world where you have to rely on the world's experts alone and turn horizontally to the internet for all of your answers, he's saying I know the calamities that are coming and I know what mankind's answers are going to be to those calamities and how epically they're going to fail at solving the problems that are facing your world, not just in 1831, but in 2021 and beyond. So that you don't have to rely just on mankind, I'm giving you my words through my prophets and my appointed leaders which means you have to trust me and you have to trust them to a certain degree.

Now notice we're doing this so that in verse 20: "But that," there's another that, "every man might speak in the name of God the Lord, even the Savior of the world." You'll notice here that Jesus' invitation is not just for Joseph Smith and the other small group of leaders of the church to get the voice of God. He's giving it to them first so they can spread it to the rest of the world so that the rest of the world can connect with that same voice and get revelation for the things in their jurisdiction, in their setting.

Think about this for a minute. If you combine verse 19 and 20 here, the weak things of the world coming forth and breaking down the strong and mighty ones and God doing all of this so that everybody can speak in the name of the Lord, I know of no better place for this to be fulfilled than at home. I know of no better setting than in a family where you can take people who have flaws, who are weak, who are far from perfect, but God, when we give ourselves to him, when we come into his loving embrace, the arms of his mercy and power, then we now tap into his abilities to become an instrument for him to help us to work with our loved ones and those people in our own circles of influence surrounding us today.

As weak as I may be, when I give what I have to the Lord and say, here I am, shape me, mold me, sharpen me, and use me however you would like to build up thy kingdom, then I can fulfill this. I can actually speak in the name of God in the realms that I have influence and I have power to be able to help people come unto Christ.

Look at verse 21: "That," are you noticing this? God as he carries forth his work on the earth it's very – he's a finisher. He knows what he's doing. He has an intent with all these things, "that faith also might increase in the earth; that mine everlasting covenant might be established; that the fullness of my gospel might be proclaimed by the weak and the simple unto the ends of the world, and before kings and rulers." If you go back through and count all of those that’s, all of them come back to verse 17. He calls a servant named Joseph Smith, Jun. and he gives him authority and through that authority to other people (unclear) so that all of these things can occur.

The reason we can stand here today and say, I know that God lives, I know that Jesus is the Christ, begins with Jesus himself giving those keys and that authority to the earth through appointed means to spread this chain of human testimony and spreading the work of God upon the whole face of the earth.

Let's take a look at the word commandment that shows up all over this section, this Preface. We get it particularly right there in verse 17, God gave Joseph Smith commandments. You might know that the Doctrine and Covenants was originally called The Book of Commandments. It had a different name. Let's talk about that for just a moment. As you read D. & C. 1, and actually both the Doctrine and Covenants, you'll see this word quite often. But particularly here in D. & C. 1, this is a preface to the Book of Commandments where they're gathered together – the commandments that God himself has delivered in the restoration of these latter days.

Now generally we all understand what commandments are, right? These are things that God speaks and asks us to do. I want to enlarge our understanding a bit and have us also realize that commandments are covenantal instructions for faithfulness. So let's take a look at this. In addition to what we understand as commandments, I invite you to also consider that from a covenantal context, commandments are the instructions for how to be faithful to God. If he's trying to embrace us, how do we really know to come unto him unless he's provided instructions for us for how to be faithful, how to join in that embrace and not to be cut off? So any time you see the word commandment, you might also think to yourself, okay, God is giving me instructions for faithfulness. That's what the commandments are.

So as you look throughout, we find it everywhere – verse 24: Behold, I am God and have spoken it; these "instructions for covenantal faithfulness are mine. And even when you look back in verse 22, God is trying to establish his everlasting covenant, okay? So covenants require instructions and those are the commandments. So we invite you as you read the Doctrine and Covenants this year, whenever you see the word commandments think also about the fact that these are covenantal instructions that can help you join God in his embrace.

In fact, it's interesting, if you look carefully at just this page, page three in our English Doctrine and Covenants, that the Lord lists many things, but kind of the highlights here, there are four things among the many that are listed, that God has given in order to carry forth his work and do this amazing building of his kingdom upon the whole face of the earth in the latter days. The first thing that he gave us was, he called a prophet, Joseph Smith. Then you'll notice verse 24 Taylor mentions, "I am God and I have spoken it, these commandments are of me." These covenantal instructions for faithfulness, there is me, I made them up. I have created them and given them to you, Joseph isn't creating them himself. Mankind isn't getting committees of experts together to decide what they should be. They're given of me.

So he gives us a prophet, he gives us specific instructions on how to keep that covenant – we call them commandments. Notice what else he gives us.  Verse 29 at the very end you can circle the Book of Mormon. We get this incredible book that God prepared to gather the elect out of the four corners of the earth. That book is the means whereby these servants are going to be able to go and help gather those elect into the church.

And, by the way, you'll notice in our missionary efforts, is there a difference between somebody who gets baptized for cultural reasons or out of pressure from other people, or for any other reason, versus those who get baptized into the gospel of Jesus Christ, into the Church of Jesus Christ because they have gained a deep and abiding testimony of the Lord Jesus Christ through a serious study of the Book of Mormon? That book is an amazing tool, an amazing instrument in our missionary effort moving forth to accomplish all the things we've been talking about here in section 1.

And then notice verse 30: "And also those to whom these commandments were given, might have power to lay the foundation of this church, and to bring it forth out of obscurity." Did you notice that? We get a prophet – through the prophet you get commandments. Through that prophet you get a book of scripture, the Book of Mormon and through that prophet God reveals the foundation of his church. These are all the things that are necessary to have in place to be able to accelerate and now move this work forward into the whole face of the earth.

Notice here, verse 24, the second half of verse 24 after he describes the commandments being of him, he says, they "were given unto my servants in their weakness, after the manner of their language, that they might come to understanding." You'll notice he's speaking in their language directly to them so that they can come to understand and grow into it.  

Notice verse 25: "And inasmuch as they erred it might be made known." Brothers and sisters, this is a powerful principle to keep in mind. Sometimes we live in a world that loves dichotomies, that loves extremes, polarization. So something is either ultimately good or ultimately evil and we love putting labels on people and on things and on organizations and swinging the pendulum all the way to one side or all the way to the  other. I love the Lord's wording here because it's not polarizing at all. You'll notice instead of giving you choice one and choice two, what he gives you is an infinite number of choices in between choice one and two.

Look at the wording again in verse 25: "And inasmuch as." In English this phrase and inasmuch as implies to the degree to which something is occurring. It's a range, it's a scale, it's not forcing you to say oh, the early leaders of the church or the church itself is either all good, one hundred percent or all evil. He's saying to the degree to which they erred, my servants are going to mess up is the implication here occasionally, and the degree to which they do struggle, it will be made known. Verse 26: "And inasmuch as they sought wisdom they might be instructed." To the degree that they're going to God to seek wisdom, they're going to get answers. Verse 27: "And inasmuch" so you're noticing verse 25, 26, 27, 28 all begin with the same three words setting up this scale.  "Inasmuch as they sinned they might be chastened, that they might repent," so that they could improve, so they could repent. Verse 28: "And inasmuch as they were humble they might be made strong, and blessed from on high, and receive knowledge from time to time."

Brothers and Sisters, we live in a world that loves looking back through the corridor of time and condemning and judging and pointing fingers of accusation at previous dispensations of people, dispensations of the gospel, dispensations of the world's history. The reality is God will be the judge of all of that. It's for us to figure out where on the scale between this good and this evil and where we've erred and where we sought wisdom and where we've seen that we can be chastened to repent and where we've been humbled.

Instead of using verse 25, 26, 27 and 28 to condemn or exalt anyone from the past, what an amazing thing if we took the Lord's words seriously to say that his voice is unto all and include ourself in that all and say wait, I can use verse 25 through 28 in my own life as a mirror to look into the scripture page and say, instead of feeling like a failure, like I'm never going to be good enough, or patting myself on the back saying I'm doing okay, rather put it on the scale and say every single one of those verses I can move the dial further towards the good today. Not tomorrow, not next week, not next year, not when I'm ready to die – today I can move the dial in verse 25, 26, 27, 28. I can do better at seeking wisdom. I can do better at being more humble and recognizing my sins and repenting.

Now let's jump down to verse 30 after he talks about the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, he says in verse 30: "And also those to whom these commandments were given, might have power to lay the foundation of this church, and to bring it forth out of obscurity and out of darkness." Hiram, Ohio 1831 November, a small group of people gathered for a conference of the church. Yah. Small group that could be considered obscure and living in the relative darkness. Notice he speaks of the church: "I, the Lord, am well pleased, speaking unto the church collectively and not individually." I love that! I love that he's not patting them all on the back saying don't change anything; you're all perfect, you're all wonderful. He says, I'm well pleased with this church collectively as you move forward but not individually because he's going to work with this one on one on the individual side.

Why did he do that? Verse 31: "For I the Lord cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance." And then he follows it up with: "Nevertheless" which puts greater emphasis on what's to come because it's never the less, it's always the greater coming next. "…he that repents and does the commandments of the Lord," as Taylor was talking about, the significance of that word commandments, "shall be forgiven." If you mark your scriptures you might recognize the significance of those two words again shall, he didn't say it's a high probability that I might forgive you, or if I'm in a good mood I'll forgive you, he says you will be, you shall be forgiven.

But since we have our agency there's the other side, verse 33: "And he that repents not, from him shall be taken even the light which he has received; for my Spirit shall not always strive with man, saith the Lord of Hosts."

And then he comes to the conclusion of this section. I'm going to jump down to verse 37: "Search these commandments for they are true and faithful." Brothers and sisters you get the Lord Jesus Christ bearing his own testimony right there of these commandments that he has given to us in this great book. It's Jesus saying they are true, they're faithful and the prophecies and the promises which are in them shall all be fulfilled. There's that shall again.

Verse 38: "What I the Lord have spoken I have spoken, and I excuse not myself; and though the heavens and the earth pass away, my word shall not pass away, but shall all," that's a hundred percent, "…shall all be fulfilled, whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same." I love the fact that when a person, a man or a woman speaking under authority from God, speaking the words that he would have them speak, he's saying it's going to be fulfilled and whether I say it or whether my servant says it, it's going to be fulfilled the same.

In conclusion, I love something else that Joseph Smith shared. He says, "The standard of truth has been erected. No unhallowed hand can stop the work from progressing. Persecutions may rage, mobs may combine, armies may assemble, calumny may defame, but the truth of God will go forth boldly, nobly and independent until it has penetrated every continent, visited every clime, swept every country and sounded in every ear, 'till the purposes of God shall be accomplished and the great Jehovah shall say, the work is done."

Brothers and sisters, as you move forward today, this week, this month, at the beginning of this new year, our prayer for you and for us and for everyone is that we can take these lessons that are coming and think deeply, ponder on what we can do to more fully come into the embrace into the loving arms of the Lord Jesus Christ, to tune our ear more fully to hear his voice, eyes to see his face and his countenance reflected in the faces of those people around us, that we can find ways to improve – just small improvements in things that we do often so that as we go through this year, when we get to the end of 2021 and look back, we will see the shaping hand and influence of the Lord's voice in our life as we have helped him build his kingdom in the big world, but more specifically, in our world around us.

Know that he lives. Know that he knows what he's doing when he calls different people at different times to accomplish different missions and he knew what he was doing when he called you to fulfill those responsibilities that have been placed upon your shoulders at this time wherever it is that you live and with the people that you interact with. Know that he loves you. And we leave that with you in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

Scripture Reference

Doctrine and Covenants 1:1