We’ve already covered a number of restoration hymns on this blog, but this one has some uniquely beautiful messages that I want to look at in detail.
The imagery of the first verse can teach us a lot about the Restoration generally. Notice that this is something seen specifically in “the morning sky.” Why the morning sky rather than midday or evening, or even plain old “sky?” The restoration of the gospel came as the dawn after a long night. Dawn is such a hopeful and refreshing time of day, much as the gospel brought hope and light and refreshment to the earth. We also learn that “an angel” came to bring “the gospel’s joyful sound.” This angel—Moroni—is also described as a “messenger” (see this post for more on the importance of angels as messengers), and it’s significant that part of what he helped restore was the priesthood, the “pow’r” by which the gospel “would be preached on earth / by men of God ordained.” This first verse even contains the goal of the restoration: that “all men” would “accept and praise [God’s] name.”
There’s a lot packed into that first verse—the message and messenger, the priesthood and its purpose—but there is one crucial word that the next two verses dwell on, and it’s buried in the following lines:
The messenger proclaimed anew
The gospel’s joyful sound.
Did you catch it? It’s the word “anew.”
The last two thirds of this hymn focus on the ancient prophets and how their dispensations connect up with this one. For instance, verse 2 recounts:
In ancient days the gospel plan
Was giv’n of God to men;
In latter days the gospel is
Restored to earth again.
And verse 3 says the following:
Apostles of a former day
To modern prophets came;
They brought the priesthood of our Lord
To bless the earth again.
This hymn doesn’t simply want to tell us about what is being restored to us; it wants us to understand where it is being restored from.
One of the most significant and powerful statements Joseph Smith ever made about the gospel came in a discourse he gave in the summer of 1839: “we cannot be made perfect without them, nor they without us.” Although we’re already familiar with this statement from D&C 128:15, in the discourse Joseph gives it a slightly different context. “They” are not just our immediate ancestors, for whom we must do family history work; they are the ancient patriarchs—Adam, Seth, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, etc! Joseph Smith was teaching that there is an important connection between us and the ancient saints, and it’s a connection we’ve got to be aware of.
It’s not enough that the gospel was restored anew to us; we have to be equally cognizant of where it was restored from, who had it before us, and how they lived relative to it. If we focus too much on our daily life and the principles of the restoration for us, we’ll miss the important covenants that stretch across generations.
This is why I’m so fascinated by this scene of Moroni coming to meet Joseph Smith. Moroni was sent precisely because he came from the previous era, because he was one of the ancients who cared enough about the covenant to risk his life and spend decades bearing the plates across a dangerous landscape all by himself. When he appeared to Joseph, it was not significant simply as a meeting of the human with the divine, but the ancient with the modern, forging a relationship and carrying on a covenant that must stretch across generations in order to accomplish salvation.
Along the same lines, Joseph Smith also told us to “go … and do the works of Abraham” (D&C 132:32). We’ve got to live the same faithful life, receive the same difficult revelations, and wrestle with the strangeness of the same God as our ancient fathers. We’re part of the same family, and if we don’t feel that bond across the generations, our very salvation—and theirs!—is at stake.
When this hymn tells us that the gospel is for “all men, all tongues, all nations,” the Lord really does mean all, including people from all time periods of history. We can’t forget that we’re in this together, on both sides of the veil. We’ve got to turn our hearts to our fathers, ancient as well as modern, and the ability to do so is one of the greatest blessings of the restoration.