Tag Archives: Restoration of the Gospel

Hymn #18: The Voice of God Again is Heard

Those who have lived their lives in the Church have heard the story over and over, and those who aren’t may have heard it from someone who is a time or two. Joseph Smith, wondering which church he should join, went to the woods to pray and saw the Father and the Son, who told him that he should join none of them. They had a work for him to do, and through him, the gospel was restored in its fullness in our day.

And so it is. The voice of God, as we sing in this hymn, has been heard again in our day. He lives, and He has given His truth to us again. And now that we have it, it’s our duty to aid in the spread of that gospel by sharing it with not just some people, not just many people, but all people.

Rejoice, ye living and ye dead!
Rejoice, for your salvation
Begins anew this happy morn
Of final dispensation.

The word “final” is not idly chosen. This is it. There isn’t a fallback dispensation that we can rely on if we miss someone. We can’t lean back and take it easy, counting on someone else to pick up the slack. This is the last hurrah before the Lord’s second coming. When He comes, every knee will bow and every tongue confess that He is the Christ, but that’s no reason for us not to tell everyone beforehand. We want (and He wants) for His coming to be a joyful event, not a fearful one. We want everyone to bow and confess His name when He comes again because they were expecting Him. They knew He would come, and they knew who He was before He came.

O messengers of truth, go forth,
Proclaim the gospel story,
Go forth the nations to prepare
To greet the King of Glory.

There are full-time missionaries out there (many of them), and they do an outstanding job of proclaiming the gospel message. As the dispensation moves on and the second coming draws closer, those missionary efforts are intensified. There were just under 60,000 missionaries serving a few years ago; there are closer to 90,000 of them now. That’s a lot of messengers of truth. It’s even more when you consider that there are over 15 million members of the LDS Church out there with, ostensibly, the same mandate to proclaim the gospel, even if not in the same full-time sense. We share it with those we meet, glad tidings from Cumorah, a book to be revealed, the voices of Peter, James, and John, and so much more.

It’s an exciting time to be alive, and an exciting message to share. It’s one of joy, not one of fear. Redemption, restoration, and eternal life–that’s something that’s worth sharing with others. It’s something that’s worth shouting, too. Listen to how this hymn ends:

We shout hosanna, shout again
Till all creation blending
Shall join in one great, grand amen
Of anthems never ending.

The goal is to bring everyone back home. Everyone. And the goal is to have everyone participating in that last, great, grand choir singing praises to our Lord and King. Everyone. This is our last chance. There’s no failsafe dispensation following us. This is it. The voice of God again is heard, and it’s up to us to make sure that everyone hears it.

sunrise

Hymn #8: Awake and Arise

sunrise

Awake and arise, O ye slumbering nations!
The heavens have opened their portals again.
The last and the greatest of all dispensations
Has burst like a dawn o’er the children of men!

This is it. The end of days, the Second Coming, the final judgment, all of it is upon us. We’re in the very last days before all of this happens. It’s at our doors, and we don’t want to be caught napping lest that day come upon us like a thief in the night. We want to be prepared, so that rather than being taken by surprise, we will be ready, eagerly awaiting the coming of our Lord and King.

The image of the rays of the gospel message bursting forth like light across the world is well-chosen. It’s not as though the Lord’s teachings are any great secret. His mission, like that of His Father’s, is to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man. That’s a big task, and not one likely to be accomplished by skulking about in the shadows. He proclaims His gospel to all the world, and he commands us to do the same. Just as the rays of light pouring through our windows at sunrise call us out of bed and beckon us to take on the tasks of our day, the truths brought back to earth in the restoration prompt us to take action and spur others do to the same as we share those truths with them.

And yet we’re tempted, all of us, to block out those rays of light by pulling the covers back over our heads. When my alarm goes off in the morning, it’s rare that I leap out of bed full of pep and energy, eager to meet the challenges of the day. I get up, but I do so a little begrudgingly, as I’m sure you do. I’d really rather put off starting my day just by a little. Maybe five more minutes would do the trick. Maybe I could do without eating breakfast, or maybe I could skip the shower this morning. We’re faced with those temptations every day. When the gospel calls us to action (and it does often), we’re tempted to ask for a few more minutes. I know I need to prepare a lesson for church, but maybe I can watch a few more plays of football first. I know I need to make calls to schedule visits with my home teaching families, but maybe I could take a moment and read another chapter in my book first.

It’s difficult to feel the excitement of the gospel urging us on sometimes, but when we hear the second verse, perhaps we’ll be reminded of exactly why it is we have so much reason to be motivated to act:

The dream of the poet, the crown of the ages,
The time which the prophets of Israel foretold,
That glorious day only dreamed by the sages
Is yours, O ye slumbering nations; behold!

Many, many prophets had visions of our time, prophesying of the wonders we would see as the Second Coming approached. Job did, as did Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Joel, Micah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi, to name a very few. This is the “time which the prophets of Israel foretold,” and they were excited about it. And here we are, living it. Why should we sleep through it, then? Why pull the covers over our heads when we can take part in spread of the gospel? We can watch and help as “truth, heaven-born, in its beauty and glory [marches] triumphantly over the world.” It’s so tempting to ask for just a couple more minutes, but when we sing this hymn (“brightly,” no less), we get a powerful reminder to awake and arise, to stand up and join the great cause, and to “lift up [our] voices in song and in story.” A bright and incredible day is on the horizon. Let’s make sure we don’t miss it.

Image credit: “Sunrise,” pixabay user Archbob, CC0 1.0.

Hymn #42: Hail to the Brightness of Zion’s Glad Morning!

Note: Today’s essay is by Tyler Severson, who is a new contributor here at the Beesley Project. We’re pretty excited about having him on board, and we hope you will be, too.

Today’s hymn deals with the shift of darkness to light, the dawning of the “glad reign” of Zion. The light of this new day pushes back the shadows of sorrow and mourning, and the hymnist rejoices in this, praising the morning for doing nothing more than arriving.

Morning always shows up. It’s not a surprise to anyone. The morning in question here was, in fact, “long by the prophets of Israel foretold.” The information was there. Anyone who wanted to see the morning just had to wait long enough. It was going to come the whole time.

That’s why, I think, mornings make for a pretty easy analogy. One of the first things in the natural world that we notice and come to rely on is the fact that, without fail, it will get light in the morning. Some days are brighter than others, but the sun is there, and it will always show up when it should.

This is especially fertile ground for gospel metaphors. Morning, dawn, new beginnings. Think of the morning of the resurrection, or the day dawn breaking of the beautiful, bright Millennial day. Consider the morning breaking, the shadows fleeing before the dawning of the Restoration’s brighter day.

It’s easy, then, for us to take morning–the literal end of darkness–and extrapolate it into our lives. We associate our hard times, sadness, depression, anger, loneliness, and every other negative thing with darkness, and we hope that just like it does in the natural world, every dark night is guaranteed its ending with the breaking of the dawn.

Think of the last horrible period in your life. Think of the misery and pain, the suffering emotional, physical, spiritual, or a sordid combination of them all. It probably seemed endless. Think of our lives, the trials and daily hardships, and how easy it is to become discouraged, coming to the conclusion that the sun will never rise again.

Our Redeemer promised us that this would not ever be the case. “I will not leave you comfortless,” he assured us. But how are we to trust that, when we’re all so desperately familiar with sorrow, grief, pain, and darkness? Many times comfort simply does not exist and cannot be found. We’re sure of this, convinced. Christ then explains the source of the comfort: “I will come to you.”

We’re not promised that he’ll be hovering over us, waiting for a bad thing to happen so he can snatch us up. In fact, he never promises the absence of discomfort. He seems to be promising that it will happen, that we will all be comfortless at some point. His promise is not that nighttime will not come; it is that the dawn will always break. Our Savior is the sun to our blackest nighttimes. He promises comfort, warmth, and–taking the long term view–an end to darkness for all time. And he promises that we can count on him to bring it.

And what with it? What does the Rising of the Son have to offer us? Flowers of joy and righteousness from deserts of sorrow and sin. Places of waste–wasted time, wasted virtue, wasted opportunities–rising in verdure and mingling in the song of redeeming love. Most importantly, the return for bondage for millions of people lost in the darkness of sin. Christ’s light and warmth let us see just how lost we are and let us find our way back to the right path. It makes so much sense that his birth, the dawn of salvation, would be marked by a day and a night and a day with no darkness.

Hail to the brightness of Jesus’ morning; joy to the hearts that in darkness have lain. Hushed be the accents of sorrow and mourning. Jesus, our Savior, begins his glad reign.

Hymn #283: The Glorious Gospel Light Has Shone

Sometimes the scope of the Gospel and the breadth of its reach astounds me. At baptism we covenant to follow Christ’s teachings and obey his commandments. As we begin to follow him, he invites us to join in his mission, to take His yoke upon ourselves. Where we started out seeking baptism in order to receive forgiveness for our own sins, it’s not long before we are serving and consoling and teaching those around us as Christ would do.

It doesn’t stop there, though. When we are able to enter the temple, we have the opportunity to participate in baptism for the dead, offering the same covenants and blessings to our own ancestors and others. Later, we can even help extend the blessings of the endowment and the sealing ordinances to those who have passed into the Spirit World.

Think of it! Just as Christ offers salvation and exaltation to all mankind, we offer these ordinances to our own ancestors, one by one. No longer are we simply seeking our own salvation through the grace of Christ; now we are actively taking part in extending it to others. We are participating in God’s work and his glory: to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.

What a blessing and an honor it is to participate in this work.

Today’s hymn is The Glorious Gospel Light Has Shone. Its lyrics rejoice in this exact thing: the opportunity we have to participate with Christ in the salvation of the dead. Consider these passages from the hymn:

As Christ to spirits went to preach
Who were to prison led,
So many Saints have gone to teach
The gospel to the dead.

And we for them can be baptized,
Yes, for our friends most dear,
That they can with the just be raised
When Gabriel’s trump they hear;

Now, O ye Saints, rejoice today
That you can saviors be
Of all your dead who will obey
The gospel and be free.

There is an excitement in this hymn, an eagerness to participate in the work of the Lord. I hope we’ll partake of that eagerness and seek to apply it in our own lives.

Hymn #27: Praise to the Man

Today marks 170 years since Joseph Smith was martyred at Carthage Jail in Illinois. It’s been a long time. To put it into perspective, the United States has only been a country for 238 years, and the signing of the Declaration of Independence seems like it was forever ago.

What has happened in 170 years? Did Joe Smith’s little band of followers–those darn Mormons–just fall apart and disappear without him, as I assume his assassins hoped might happen?

We all know the answer to that is a big fat NO.

According the 2013 statistical report given in last April’s General Conference, there are now over fifteen million members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Over 100,000 missionaries–including full-time and church service missionaries–are currently preaching the gospel and serving communities in need. 141 temples dot the globe with several more in various stages of completion.

The stone “cut out of the mountain without hands” of which Daniel once spoke continues to fill the earth. “The God of heaven” has “set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed.” Indeed “it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever.”

Joseph Smith restored God’s kingdom to the earth. With his First Vision and subsequent visits from divine messengers, he opened the last dispensation. He received the necessary priesthood keys to provide each of us with the ordinances of salvation. What a great responsibility! What a sacred and honored duty! “Hail to the Prophet” indeed!

But here’s the thing. Even as we praise him, we acknowledge that Joseph Smith was just a man. We often hear him referred to as “the boy Joseph”; he was so very young, after all. Even this hymn of praise does not paint him as anything but what he was: a hero, a martyr, a prophet, yes, but at the end of the day still just “Brother Joseph.”

He was a man like any other man. He made mistakes and struggled under the weight of his calling and wondered, as we all sometimes do, “O God, where art thou?” (see D&C 121). This makes it easy for skeptics to find fault with him, claiming that such a flawed mortal could never have done what he claimed to do. Why would a perfect God use an imperfect man to restore His gospel? How can the church be true if Joseph Smith himself was not above reproach? Why do we believe in a prophet who is just so…human?

To anyone who asks such questions, I respond as Alma does:

Now ye may suppose that this is foolishness in me; but behold I say unto you, that by small and simple things are great things brought to pass; and small means in many instances doth confound the wise. And the Lord God doth work by means to bring about his great and eternal purposes; and by very small means the Lord doth confound the wise and bringeth about the salvation of many souls. (Alma 37:6-7)

God does great things with imperfect people like Brother Joseph. Like you. Like me. Those statistics I cited above are not the result of wishful thinking or magic powers. A great deal of sacrifice from so many of God’s children has gone into building His kingdom in these last days.

Joseph Smith’s legacy gives me hope that I too can play a role in this great work. I may never commune with Jehovah in this life, and I certainly wasn’t “blessed to open the last dispensation.” But I do have a purpose here. I believe I was foreordained to accomplish amazing things. I believe you were too. If we can fight in the “conflict of justice” with the same faithfulness Joseph Smith showed, we too can “mingl[e] with Gods” and be “crowned in the midst of the prophets of old” someday.

Each of us has divine potential. Each of us has a place in proclaiming the gospel, perfecting the saints, and redeeming the dead. Each of us has something to contribute, however small or simple.

After all, a 14-year-old boy who was willing to ask the right question at the right time has helped bring about the salvation of millions.

So what small and simple things will you do today?

Hymn #26: Joseph Smith’s First Prayer

Sacred Grove

Is there a God?

If so, how can we know about him? Does he care about us enough to communicate with us? Do any churches teach true doctrine? Is there any way we can discover truth about God, if he even exists? How can we know what he wants of us?

Questions like these may have been on the mind of Joseph Smith in the spring of 1820. They are certainly on the minds of many, many people today. The faith of millions rests on their answers. When fourteen-year-old Joseph walked into a grove of trees near his home, he didn’t expect to change the world. He simply had questions, and believed that God would answer them.

If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. (James 1:5)

What an answer he received! In response to Joseph’s simple prayer, a light descended from heaven and rested upon Joseph. God the Eternal Father and his son Jesus Christ personally visited Joseph Smith. They answered his questions. He knew, then, that there is a God. He knew that God can and does communicate with us. And he knew that at that time, no true church existed on the earth.

Joseph would eventually receive many other revelations. He would be taught true doctrine and directed to reestablish Christ’s church, with the same divine authority it held anciently. He would translate the Book of Mormon, a second witness of the divinity of Christ alongside the Bible. He would become the first divinely appointed prophet in this era. This vision was the beginning of a marvelous work, a pivotal moment in history.

But none of that had happened yet. After Joseph’s vision, he did not immediately establish a church. He did not yet have knowledge or the authority to do so. He had much yet to learn. After his vision, he just had a few more answers. He wrote this about that time:

I had now got my mind satisfied so far as the sectarian world was concerned—that it was not my duty to join with any of them, but to continue as I was until further directed. I had found the testimony of James to be true—that a man who lacked wisdom might ask of God, and obtain, and not be upbraided. (Joseph Smith: History v26)

The primary lesson we should earn from Joseph’s first vision is not that all the churches were wrong, or that a Restoration was necessary. These are true, but they’re not the main point. The main point is this:

We can learn truth from God, through revelation.

We do not need to rely on the word of others to vouch for the truth. Yes, we have prophets, priesthood leaders, parents; yes, we have scriptures, seminaries, and sunday school. All of these things can guide us toward truth. But ultimately, our Heavenly Father expects us to come to him with questions. He wants to teach through revelation. He wants to enlarge and clarify our understanding of the things we have been taught. This is true for all people, but especially true for those who have received the Gift of the Holy Ghost after baptism. If we expect to participate in God’s work, we must learn to receive guidance directly from God if we expect to do his work.

We must learn to receive revelation, just as Joseph did.

Hymn #325: See the Mighty Priesthood Gathered

This is a great hymn. It has a regal tune and a great message. I hope you’ll take time to listen to it.

Every six months at the General Conference priesthood session, someone will note that this meeting likely represents the largest gathering of priesthood holders in the history of the world. This is significant, but not just for the obvious reasons.

Most simply, the growth of the priesthood parallels the growth of the Church as a whole, so a larger priesthood body implies a larger body of Latter-Day Saints as a whole. As the truths and covenants of the Gospel are necessary for all mankind, the growth of the priesthood body is a welcome indication that more of God’s children are finding the peace and understanding that the Gospel brings.

However, the growth of the priesthood is also meaningful in its own right. We are engaged in God’s work, and it is directed through his Priesthood. Our purpose is not merely to teach everyone about the restoration of the gospel—we also seek to make its accompanying ordinances and covenants available to all mankind. While in past dispensations the covenants of salvation have been available only to a few select nations, in these latter days God has made them available to all. The mission of the priesthood is to bring these ordinances and covenants to all the world.

This is no small undertaking. It involves planning for entire nations and concern for individual families. It’s no wonder that the priesthood body is often described in military terms—there’s organization and structure needed to effectively span the world.

Of course, when we talk about the spread of the gospel, we often talk about missionary work. And yes, missionary work is important. But the work of the priesthood is the duty of every ordained priesthood holder, not just those called on full-time missions. We are to spread the Kingdom of God to new lands, but also to establish it, to make it stable and secure.

So let’s look at some of the lyrics. The song opens with this phrase:

See the mighty priesthood gathered;
Firm in serried ranks they stand–
Son and father jointly serving,
Gathered in from ev’ry land.

The work of the priesthood is not just for 19-year-old missionaries, or just for bishops. It spans generations; fathers and sons serve together. In fact, fathers have a sacred duty to train their sons in this calling, to teach them the ways of the Lord.

Line on line, truth is revealed,
Till all darkness flees away
In the face of perfect knowledge,
Where celestial laws hold sway.

As we listen to our prophetic leaders, truth empowers us. We are better able to withstand the darkness of this world and the chaos it brings with it. Truth brings peace and order, and as the priesthood is strengthened throughout the world, peace and order will prevail.

Come, ye sons, and walk uprightly,
As your noble fathers trod

“Walk in the faith of your fathers.” Isn’t this same message repeated over and over throughout the scriptures? The prophets of ancient Israel taught it over and over. Nephite prophets taught the same. After all, sons and fathers can hardly serve together if the sons abandon the faith of their fathers. How great the importance, then, to teach our children, to guide them to a personal relationship with God.

Till Satan’s pow’rs are vanquished,
Bound in chains he conquered lies,
And our glorious hallelujahs
Loudly sound across the skies,

This is our goal: to vanquish Satan’s powers, and to bring praise of God throughout the world. Christ will come again, to reign personally upon the earth. Every six months as priesthood bearers throughout the world gather, we are reminded of this noble and holy purpose.

This is no small work. Let us not be easily distracted. The Kingdom of God is rolling forward, and it is our opportunity to be a part of that great work.

Hymn #21: Come, Listen to a Prophet’s Voice

Often when I read scriptural accounts of past ages, I tend to imagine the events as I would the events of a fictional novel. Conceptually I know it’s true, but in some ways scripture seems more like a fairy tale. Prophetic leaders with divine authority parting oceans, calling down fire, or raising the dead is all well and good in the ancient past, but that time seems so distant from today.

As a life-long member of the Church, I sometimes forget just how remarkable our message really is. We proclaim that God speaks now, both to prophets and to his people. We proclaim that prophets long dead returned in angelic form to give authority and direction to Joseph Smith. We proclaim that the Father and the Son literally appeared to a boy, instigating the literal Restoration of an ancient Gospel. We proclaim healing blessings through priesthood power, and sealing power in holy temples. We preach repentance to a wicked people who know not God.

It’s like we’ve been thrust right into the middle of a scripture story.

And really, I think that’s the point. God’s interaction with humanity is no different today than it was anciently. The same priesthood power, the same blessings, and the same covenants are again available on the Earth. This feels like a scripture story because it is a scripture story—it’s the continued story of the Father teaching and preparing  and tutoring his children.

So yes! Come! Listen to a prophet’s voice! Leave behind the erring schemes of days now past, and follow in the straight and narrow way. If the very God of the all creation is truly directing prophets in our day, how grand a message we carry!

Of course, prophets aren’t always popular in their own time… even among those who profess the same religion as the prophet. The Israelites murmured against Moses. The Nephites sought after riches instead of righteousness. The Jews crucified Christ himself. What heed do we give to God’s prophets today?

Just a few weeks ago, we had a spectacular General Conference, in which prophets, seers, and revelators addressed the entire world in a way inconceivable to ancient prophets. Modern technology brings them closer than ever to Alma’s wish to “cry repentance unto every people.”

Do we listen? Or does the message come in one ear and out the other?

We are told to search the scriptures, to read them repeatedly and ponder their message. I would suggest that the same direction applies to the messages of modern prophets. We have more access than ever before to the words of God’s chosen messengers. Should we not treasure up those words just as we do other scripture?

But perhaps you do. Perhaps you do take the time to read and re-read the messages of General Conference, along with your other scriptures. Lest we get complacent, let’s read the fourth verse of this hymn:

Then heed the words of truth and light
That flow from fountains pure.
Yea, keep His law with all thy might
Till thine election’s sure,
Till thou shalt hear the holy voice
Assure eternal reign,
While joy and cheer attend thy choice,
As one who shall obtain.

Our goal is not merely to do “well enough” or to be “pretty righteous.” God’s invitation to us is to keep His law with all our might, to seek the assurance of having our calling and election made sure. (It may not surprise you to learn that the fourth verse was written by Bruce R. McConkie, who was known for addressing this topic often.) Joseph Smith taught this:

“I would exhort you to go on and continue to call upon God until you make your calling and election sure for yourselves, by obtaining this more sure word of prophecy, and wait patiently for the promise until you obtain it.”

This may seem a lofty goal to some—and assuredly, it is. But God has grand plans for his children, and he lets us participate in them just as fast as we are able. He does not seek to withhold blessings from us; rather, he seeks to draw us ever closer to him, seeking to pour out blessings beyond what we can even receive. There is no room for complacency in God’s plan of salvation; no matter how much we learn and how much we emulate his Son, we still have so much more to learn.

The Gospel has been restored, and we are in the middle of a “marvelous work and a wonder.” Let’s participate fully in that work, not skimming lightly on the surface, touching only where it suits us. Prophets have been sent. Christ’s gospel is spreading throughout the world, as is the authority to administer its attendant covenants. The world is being prepared for Christ’s second coming. This is a momentous time.

So, please. Come, listen to a prophet’s voice. Listen, and heed.

Hymn #32: The Happy Day at Last Has Come

While Philo Dibble includes a lot of detail in his hymn about the “happy day” that “at last has come”, he doesn’t specify what day precisely about which he was writing. Was it the day of Joseph Smith’s first vision? The day he received the plates from Moroni? The day the church was officially organized? One could make a case of any of these and others.

Let’s see what Brother Dibble tells us about about this happy day and decide when it might be.

“The truth restored is now made known.”

This indicates that the day is post-apostasy, since the truth had to be restored. Anything from the day God and Jesus Christ appeared the boy Joseph in the Sacred Grove or after is a possibility.

“The promised angel’s come again to introduce Messiah’s reign.”

Here we get a little more ambiguous. Which angel are we talking about? Nephi teaches us a little something about angels: “Do ye not remember that I said unto you that after ye had received the Holy Ghost ye could speak with the tongue of angels? And now, how could ye speak with the tongue of angels save it were by the Holy Ghost? Angels speak by the power of the Holy Ghost; wherefore, they speak the words of Christ.“(2 Nephi 32:2-3)

By this token, we could argue that anyone speaking by the power of the Holy Ghost is acting as an angel, a messenger sent by God. On this happy day, someone–heavenly being or divinely appointed mortal–has or will proclaim the best tidings of great joy mankind has ever heard: Jesus lives and will return again.

This happens a lot. With 15 million members and 83,000 missionaries, people are proclaiming the gospel all the time. And when they do, they speak with the tongue of angels.

(Do you see where I’m going with this “when is the happy day” business?)

“The lands which long benighted lay have now beheld a glorious day.”

The Americas were “long benighted” when the Nephites were destroyed and the Lamanites dwindled in unrighteousness. But the Holy Land and surrounding areas also sank into the night of apostasy as one by one Christ’s Apostles were killed and the gospel fulness was lost. Other lands that (as far as we know) were not even visited by the Savior have lain in darkness even longer. Much of the world has received the good news of the gospel, but not every country has been touched by its light yet.

But slowly, slowly the dawn is breaking.

The day was foretold by prophets and anticipated by Saints. (see verse 3)

The time of the Restoration was foretold. The building of temples was foretold. The spreading of the gospel through missionary work, the organization of stakes throughout the world…everything pertaining to this last dispensation has been prophesied by prophets in every other dispensation. The Saints have been looking forward to the end of times for countless generations. Each step forward is another fulfillment of prophecy, another happy day.

Which brings me to what I have concluded is the happy day of which we sing in this hymn.

“Saints again shall hear the voice of Jesus in their ear.”

Every day another child of God hears the gospel message for the first time is a happy day. Every time we read our scriptures is a happy day. Each General Conference weekend, each visit to the temple, each Sabbath when we are instructed, each Family Home Evening…whenever we hear the word of God, it is a happy day.

His gospel is good news. His word is hope and love and eternal joy in the presence of the Father. Go read Jesus’ teachings. Share them with your family, friends, and neighbors.

Make it a happy day.

Hymn #11: What Was Witnessed in the Heavens?

clouds

If you remember this hymn for anything, it’s probably for the opening bars. We have plenty of hymns in which the men drop out, leaving the women to carry the melody for a moment, but here, the opposite happens. The men are left alone for the first eight beats of each of the first two lines, and if your ward is anything like mine, there’s a strange sort of silence as the men try to figure out what it is they’re supposed to be doing.

It’s a shame when that happens, though, because we miss the call and response aspect of the beginning of the hymn. Listen to the first two lines:

What was witnessed in the heavens?
Why, an angel earthward bound.
Had he something with him bringing?
Yes, the gospel, joyful sound!

The angel we sing about was Moroni, as he appeared to the boy Joseph Smith, telling him the location of the Book of Mormon and teaching him about his role in the upcoming restoration of the gospel. The hymn is about the restoration, yes, but you’ll notice the tag “missionary work,” too. The men sing the part of someone who doesn’t know about the restoration, asking someone who does. That may not be apparent in the first verse, which feels more like exposition than genuine questioning, but it’s unmistakable in the second verse:

Had we not before the gospel?
Yes, it came of old to men.
Then what is this latter gospel?
‘Tis the first one come again.
This was preached by Paul and Peter
And by Jesus Christ, the Head.
This we latter Saints are preaching;
We their footsteps wish to tread.

It’s an honest enough question to ask. Don’t we already have the gospel? Isn’t the earth littered with Christian churches? What is this new gospel we’re talking about? It’s the same as we had before. It’s the same gospel we read about Paul and Peter preaching, and the same one we read about Moses and Abraham living as well. Jesus Christ stands at its head, and it was restored in its fullness to us today.

That’s an exciting prospect, if true. We claim a direct link to the church of Christ in His time. I remember learning about the Protestant Reformation in high school and talking about all of the branches of Christianity that came out of it. My teacher, knowing I was a Latter-day Saint, pulled me aside after class, showed me the chart with all the churches on it, and asked where mine fit. I drew a line off to the side from the top to the bottom and said, “This is our church. It’s the original church Jesus taught, restored in our day.” Nothing came of that conversation that I’m aware of, but the boldness of my claim has always remained with me.

It’s a bold claim that we make, and since it’s so bold, it’s our responsibility to make it often. And as we touched upon yesterday, we not only share the gospel with those we meet here, but those who have gone before without a chance to hear the gospel. “What became of those departed,” we ask, “knowing not the gospel plan?” The Lord extends an opportunity for them to hear and receive His teachings, too. The fullness of the gospel was gone from the earth for a long time (about 1700 years), so there’s a lot of catching up to do. We sing that as the angel said, the gospel is to go “to all men, all tongues and nations.” All doesn’t allow for much wiggle room. Everyone is entitled to know and share in those teachings. That’s a bold claim that we make, too.

Whether here on the earth or in the spirit world, everyone will have their chance to hear the gospel message and decide for themselves how they feel about it. “God is just to ev’ry man,” we sing, and it’s true.

Image credit: “Blue Sky and Clouds,” flickr user Sherrie Thai. CC BY-NC 2.0

Hymn #4: Truth Eternal

In John chapter 8, we have record of one of my favorite teachings in all of scripture:

31 Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed;

32 And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.

In the following verses, Jesus first indicates that the promised freedom will make us free from sin. Crucially, though, when we are free from sin through the Son of God, Christ indicates that the truth ultimately leads us to Eternal Life, the greatest of all gifts of God. “If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.”

The fourth hymn in our hymnal is titled “Truth Eternal.” In it, we sing of the same Truth that Christ taught his disciples, the truth that brings freedom.

Truth eternal, truth divine,
In thine ancient fulness shine!
Burst the fetters of the mind
From the millions of mankind!

Truth is not new; it is an unchanging constant from the beginning. When the fulness of truth was restored by Joseph Smith, it was the same ancient truth that has been taught by prophets through the ages, the truth that frees each of us from sin.

Of course, this eternal truth does nothing for us on its own. Truth cannot free us from sin, or exalt us, unless we act upon it. We rejoice to have the ancient truths restored to the Earth, but that alone is not enough. With knowledge comes responsibility, responsibility we willingly accept as we make various covenants. We should not think that through simple membership in Christ’s church, we will be burst free of the fetters that bind us. That blessing requires action from each of us. It requires following through on the covenants we have made.

Truth again restored to earth,
Opened with a prophet’s birth.
Priests of heaven’s royal line
Bear the keys of truth divine!

This restored makes powerful and significant claims. It is appropriate, then, that the veracity and authority of it was restored not just through visions, but actual visitation by those who administered this same truth anciently. What a marvelous claim to make!

The visitations of Moroni, John the Baptist, Peter, James, John, Elias, Elijah, Moses, and surely many others lend divine authenticity to the restored Gospel. Though it can seem simple in our day-to-day lives, the restoration of the gospel was a divinely orchestrated event that speaks of careful planning and specific intent. When we take this truth into our lives and when we seek to share it with others, we are participating in a grand event. As has been said, it is a marvelous work and a wonder.

Truth shall triumph as the light
Chases far the misty night.
Endless ages own its sway,
Clad in everlasting day.

We frequently sing hymns that speak of the great battle that is currently raging over the hearts and beliefs of people worldwide. How encouraging it is to know that truth will triumph. In the face of our own frailties and weaknesses, God is still able to prevail. There is no reason for despair, no reason to abandon a sinking ship. In the end, all will know the truth, the truth that, if they will accept and act upon it, will make them free.

Hymn #19: We Thank Thee, O God, for a Prophet

This is the hymn that we, more than any other, associate with the leader of our church. We sing it at General Conference after he speaks to us. We sing it when he visits our local congregation (if we’re lucky enough to have him visit). I had a missionary companion who would listen to the song every morning. He would turn it on, look at me with an excited look on his face, and say, “Prophet song!”

I was set to write an essay about prophets for today. I was ready to tell you about the unique role prophets play in the gospel as watchmen, and about the sustaining power of continuing revelation. I read through the lyrics of the hymn, excited to find quotes that told us about the incredible gift of a living prophet.

A close reading of those lyrics, however, shows that the hymn is much less about prophets than we might be led to think. Listen to the first verse, excluding the first two lines:

We thank thee for sending the gospel
To lighten our minds with its rays.
We thank thee for every blessing
Bestowed by thy bounteous hand.
We feel it a pleasure to serve thee
And love to obey thy command.

I see themes of gratitude, obedience, truth and light, but not much about prophets. Adding the phrase “we thank thee, O God, for a prophet” certainly sheds a different light on the verse, but it seems to me in this hymn, we’re grateful for the entirety of the gospel, of which a living prophet is just one part. It’s not that we’re not grateful for him–after all, our gratitude for him is in the title–it’s that we’re not only grateful for him.

The gospel provides an anchor for us. We receive conflicting and changing messages in life, and having something constant to cling to helps us to stay pointed in the right direction. There’s a reason the gospel, the word of God, is described in scripture as an iron rod. It is strong, unshakable, and provided for us to hold to. It doesn’t just help us to stay put, either; it leads us to our final destination of God’s presence.

When dark clouds of trouble hang o’er us
And threaten our peace to destroy,
There is hope smiling brightly before us,
And we know that deliv’rance is nigh.

We are grateful for the gospel in its entirety because we know that obedience to it will bring us through the challenges of life. We can look those trials in the face with a smile, knowing that God will bring us through to the other side. We know He can be counted on to fulfill His end of the bargain, so long as we keep up our end. We can count on Him because, as we sing, “we’ve proved him in days that are past.” He has always, in every case, been there to support us (though perhaps not in obvious or expected ways), and we know that He always will be.

Prophets are an important part of this protective aspect of the gospel, of course. The Lord protects us by warning us of dangers ahead, and He does that through a prophet. While the gospel gives us general counsel, a prophet can give us specific counsel relevant to our unique situations. Ancient scripture can warn us about the dangers of dishonesty and theft. A modern prophet can counsel us against online piracy and copyright violations.

So we’re grateful for our prophet, but grateful for him as a part of the gospel as a whole. We are blessed to have that truth in our lives to guide us in the right way. We rejoice in that gospel, and “bask in its life-giving light.” We know that as we are obedient to the principles we’ve been taught (by a prophet, no less!), we can go on to eternal perfection and the happiness that will accompany it.

We’re grateful for the gospel, and we’re grateful for all of it.

Hymn #25: Now We’ll Sing with One Accord

This is a hymn we don’t often hear in church. I don’t think I’ve ever sung it in sacrament meeting, although it turns out that I have at least heard it once. The Mormon Tabernacle Choir sang this hymn during the April 2009 General Conference. WordPress doesn’t allow us to embed the video here, sadly, but you can view it here. You should, or at the very least, listen to the hymn via the link we’ve provided at the top.

Notice anything unusual about the hymn? The rhyme scheme is unique among the hymns we’ve talked about so far this year. While most LDS hymns follow an ABAB scheme, this hymn uses AAABCCCD. The fourth and eighth line of each verse don’t rhyme with anything else in the verse, causing them to stand out from the rest of the lyrics. Perhaps even more interesting is that the fourth lines of the first, second, and third verses all rhyme with each other, and they in turn rhyme with the last line of the fourth verse. It’s an unorthodox technique that serves to tie the verses together, while drawing attention to the non-rhyming lines within each verse.

So why those lines in particular? How do they tie this hymn together? Well, first we’ll have to start with understanding what this hymn is all about. The first two lines tell us that “now we’ll sing with one accord/for a prophet of the Lord,” and those attentive enough to review the topics found at the bottom of each hymn will see that the prophet in question is Joseph Smith. (Even if you hadn’t, you could be forgiven for assuming the hymn was about Joseph Smith; “the prophet” virtually always refers to Joseph Smith within LDS psalmody.) We sing about his role as restorer (“brought the priesthood back again”) and as translator (“for the Gentile and the Jew/he translated sacredly”). We sing boldly, as we do with many of the hymns of the restoration. The claim of a modern-day prophet is a bold one, as are the claims of continuing revelation and restored authority from on high, and the tone of the hymn reflects that boldness.

So we’re singing about the restoration and Joseph Smith; what about those four lines in each verse that tie the hymn together? Let’s take a look at them and see. In verse one, the line that sticks out is “cheers the Saints as anciently.” We receive revelation and guidance from the Lord as did His faithful in years past. That’s cause for cheer. It’s easy to feel adrift in a sea of conflicting messages. The clarity of the gospel message helps us to keep our bearings straight, and it brings us joy.

In the second verse, the special line is “in its ancient purity,” referring to the restored authority of the priesthood. It was restored through Joseph, yes, but the authority is the same as it ever was. It is the authority of God given to man to direct His work as though He were here. It was given to men in ancient times, and it is given to us today. The line in the third verse dovetails with that theme nicely: “He translated sacredly.” Joseph translated the Book of Mormon, a book of scripture that shows us that God spoke to more than one group of people. He translated the book not because of his expertise in Meso-American languages, or because of his mastery of ancient scripture, but because he received authority from God to do so. It’s the same authority held by ancient prophets like Moses and Abraham, and it’s the same authority held by modern prophets like Thomas S. Monson today.

The hymn concludes with the line “purer for eternity,” referring to Zion. It will spread throughout the earth during the Millennium as every knee bows and every tongue confesses that Jesus is the Christ. And again, it has little to do with our own efforts (though we do, and will, work toward building the kingdom) and instead much to do with the power of the Almighty. This is His work, and it will not fail. The gospel has been restored to Earth, never to be taken again.

We sing about Joseph Smith, but these lines that stick out in the middle of each verse remind us that when we sing about him, we sing about the power of God, restored through him. Joseph is no longer with us, gone nearly 170 years now, but the church thrives. We revere him, but we worship the God who made the restoration he accomplished possible. And so when we sing this hymn, we sing about a great man, but also about great men to come (“prudent in this world of woes/they will triumph o’er their foes”) as they are given inspiration, guidance, and authority from on high.