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Memorial Day Sacrament Talk

I have been asked to speak today specifically on the topic of how the cause of America paved the way for the restoration. For me, a great place to start is the scriptures themselves.

In D&C 10:52-55 we find, if read carefully, that God still communicated with man before the days of the First Vision. As context, the Lord is speaking of establishing The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints a year before (1829) it actually happens :
"And now, behold, according to their faith in their prayers will I bring this part of my gospel to the knowledge of my people. Behold, I do not bring it to destroy that which they have received, but to build it up.
And for this cause have I said: If this generation harden not their hearts, I will establish my church among them.
Now I do not say this to destroy my church, but I say this to build up my church;"
In short, the Lord seems to recognize that there is a group of people who existed before the establishment of the Church who the Lord still considered a part of His 'church'. It is a collection of people who were faithful followers of Christ who awaited and prepared for a day of further light and knowledge.

The Lord spoke of this same group of people again in D&C 49:8. The Lord sends out a large group of missionaries to declare repentance because all men and women were under sin, "except those which I have reserved unto myself, holy men [and women] that ye know not of".

It is my opinion that the Lord had his hand in the lives of countless people before the days of the Restoration. These individuals were foreordained in the Pre-earth life to bring about certain events that would result in the restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The following is a very quick gloss of some of the more plain statements from those who, in the context of the verses just discussed, was a part of the Lord's work before the restoration began:

Thomas Jefferson; founding father, third U.S. President, and the principal author of the Declaration of Independence wrote just a few months after the First Vision:
"If the freedom of religion, guaranteed to us by law in theory, can ever rise in practice under the overbearing inquisition of public opinion, truth will prevail over fanaticism, and the genuine doctrines of Jesus, so long perverted by His pseudo-priests, will again be restored to their original purity. This reformation will advance with the other improvements of the human mind, but too late for me to witness it.” (The Writings of Thomas Jefferson 15:288)
Roger Williams; founder of Rhode Island and founder of the First Baptist Church in America:
A scholar on the life of Roger Williams writes:
"Williams strongly contrasted the church of his own day, a church scattered in the wilderness, with Christianity in its authentic form. He believed that the glorious church of the latter days would bring the godly out of the wilderness by repristinating the doctrine, discipline, and spiritual authority of ancient, apostolic Christianity. This primitivism constituted a characteristic emphasis of his piety; the goal of God’s providential plan for his church was the precise restoration of its original pattern, and Williams now awaited the apostles whose preaching would bring that plan to realization." (The Millenarian Piety of Roger Williams. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979)
Percy Bysshe Shelley; one of the major English Poets of the Romantic Era, wrote in 1819 (a year before the First Vision):
“the great writers of our own age are, we have reason to suppose, the companions and forerunners of some unimagined change in our social condition or the opinions which cement it. The cloud of mind is discharging its collected lightening, and the equilibrium between institutions and opinions is now restoring, or is about to be restored.” (“‘Companions and Forerunners’: English Romantics and the Restoration,” in Mormon Identities in Transition, ed. Douglas J. Davies (London: Cassell, 1996), 151)
 Thomas Paine; founding father, political activist, and political theorist wrote 16 years before the First Vision that a revolution of Religion would inevitably come:
"The adulterous connection of church and state, wherever it has taken place, whether Jewish, Christian or Turkish, had so effectually prohibited by pains and penalties every discussion upon established creeds, and upon first principles of religion, that until the system of government should be changed, those subjects could not be brought fairly and openly before the world; but that whenever this should be done, a revolution in the system of religion would follow.” (Thomas Paine, as cited in Cousins, “In God We Trust,” 396)
The panoramic view of apostasy and restoration was given to Nephi in the Book of Mormon. If read carefully, we see that Nephi receives knowledge and a vision of the establishment of America in the same vision of the tree of Life (see 1 Nephi 11-14).

As an outline:

  • 1 Nephi 11 has Nephi receiving a more detailed account of the vision of the tree of Life his father had received. An angel begins to unfold to him the symbols of the vision and how they represent Christ. He sees in vision the Savior's mortal ministry, death, and resurrection.
  • 1 Nephi 12 has Nephi seeing the tumultuous ending of his people on the Land of Promise. In reality, Nephi sees the destruction of his posterity 600 years before it happens. He also sees the Savior ministering to His people during the Holy of Holies experience in 3 Nephi 11-27.
  • 1 Nephi 13 is where we find ourselves in the prophetic timeline of Nephi and Lehi's panoramic vision. Nephi sees a great apostasy happen shortly after the resurrection of the Savior and the destruction of his people. A great and abominable Church arises and seeks to destroy the Saints alive during the time of the Great Apostasy (consistent with the Holy Men and Women we know not of in D&C).
    • Verse 12 of Chapter 13 is Nephi beginning to unfold to us the events that eventually lead to the restoration.
    • The events that Nephi sees in the Vision of the Tree of Life in this part are the following:
      • the voyage of Christopher Columbus across the Atlantic Ocean (1 Nephi 13:12);
      • the travails and travels of the Puritans and Pilgrims (1 Nephi 13:13);
      • the colonization of America (1 Nephi 13:15–16);
      • the American Revolutionary War involving Great Britain (1 Nephi 13:17);
      • God’s direct intervention in the affairs of the fledgling country of America (1 Nephi 13:18–19); 
      • the country’s prosperity (1 Nephi 13:20);
      • and the coming forth of the Book of Mormon (1 Nephi 13:35–40)
What does this all mean? Later on, at the end of Nephi's four chapters long vision, Nephi abruptly stops and saves the rest of the visionary experience to be written by John the apostle. All of this suggests that Nephi and Lehi's vision of the tree of life is a vision and narrative of salvation history among our Father in Heaven's children.

Many other prophets saw the same thing. Those whom we know of consists of Adam (see D&C 107:56), the brother of Jared (Ether 3:25-26), and Moses (see Moses 1:27-19).

This all means that the Restoration did not happen by chance or that it was some backup plan just in case an apostasy happened. This all means that you and I are active participants in salvation history that were shown unto Holy Men of old. It means that the forerunners of the restoration and their contributions were seen by prophets and foreordained before the foundations of the world.

Continuing on the theme of the vision of the tree of life, let us run our forefathers through the narrative experience Lehi and Nephi received.

1. The Gentiles, our forefathers, begin in captivity in a dark and dreary wasteland subservient to the great and abominable Church (the counterpart of the great and spacious building).

2. The great waters that separate the Gentiles from the New World are reminiscent of the waters that separate the Great and spacious building from the tree of Life in Lehi's dream.

3. Once Lehi's posterity loses their right to the land because of wickedness (see 1 Nephi 13:14) the Gentiles then hold to the spirit of God/the iron rod to cross the watery gulf that separates them from the tree of life/the land of promise.

4. After reaching the promised land the Gentiles are described as being "white, and exceedingly fair and beautiful" (verse 15). This is the same description used to describe the fruit of the tree in earlier chapters and should be seen as the Gentiles partaking of the tree of life.

5. The New World Gentiles then must defend themselves from their mother Gentiles and are preserved through the power of the Lord. This is symbolic of the opposition between the inhabitants of the great and spacious building and the individuals at the tree. (1)

With the prophetic narrative firmly in our minds, I will close with some of the wonderful words of the Hymn "America the Beautiful". It is my opinion that this hymn not only assumes the restoration of the Church of Jesus Christ but the restoration of the Holy Temple and a Zion people.

"Oh, beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!
America! America!
God shed his grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea."

These lines, believe it or not, have a reference to Zion and the 'New Jerusalem' that the early Protestants and Joseph Smith saw in this land's potential. The phrases of spacious skies and waves of grain remind me of the promises made to Israel that the promised land flows with milk and honey. The phrase 'crown thy good' has reference to receiving all the blessings from the Holy Temple. We also see this in the use of the color purple to describe mountains. The House of the Lord is often associated with the cosmic mountain in the scriptures and the color purple represents royalty, particularly those who enter into and exit the Holy Temple.

"May God thy gold refine,
Till all success be nobleness,
And ev’ry gain divine."

These lines have echoes of various verses in the scriptures; mainly the idea "Inasmuch as ye will keep my commandments ye shall prosper in the land" (Jarom 1:9). In the Book of Mormon prosperity and success in the land are heavily related/equated to bringing a nation/community into the Divine Presence (compare Alma 9:13 to Omni 1:6). On another but similar thought, every gain divine suggests consecrated property, labor, and capital. This suggests living under covenant to live the celestial law of consecration.

"God mend thine ev’ry flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law."

This beloved hymn admits that America has flaws, but it admonishes us not to abandon its cause. The plea in this Hymn is for God to mend every flaw until over process of time it is an exalted place. The phrases about self-control and liberty in law suggest that overcoming our flaws are predicated upon living His commandments.

"Oh, beautiful for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam,
Undimmed by human tears!
America! America!
God shed his grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea."

The whole of this last verse has heavy temple themes. The first line gives us an interesting definition of patriotism. A patriot is one who sees beyond the years. This might be a slight reference to Joel 2:28 in that many will dream dreams and see visions; that the spirit of revelation will be poured out upon the inhabitants of this country. The phrase 'alabaster cities gleam' has reference to the Zion dream as alabaster is white and used for ornamentation. It could mean that the Holy Temple ought to extend outward and cover the whole nation. That is the hope and the dream.

In closing, these words from Elder Mark E. Petersen ring true:
"In this land we often sing “God Bless America.” Let us continue to do so as a prayer. But why not also sing God bless England, and God bless Scandinavia, and God bless South America and Mexico and the Orient, and God bless Australia and New Zealand, and God bless all other lands? He will bless them—every one—if they will turn to him with full purpose of heart. But there is no other way.
He can end their wars, their internal conflicts, their poverty, their unemployment, and their need of doles. He can eliminate their crimes, their moral corruption, and all the diseases that follow in their wake.
He can give them peace—genuine peace—mentally, physically, spiritually, economically, and politically. But they must pay the price, which is sincere obedience to the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ." (October 1979 GC)

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