“Why Has Zion Languished?” by Joseph F Smith

In Missouri’s Ozarks there are many places where water springs out of the rocks in the side of a mountain. The water is crystal clear and usually very cold. As the current flows down the waterway, it mingles with other sources of water and eventually picks up soil and other contaminants. The stream gradually loses its purity and becomes dingy.

The Restored Church followed a parallel course to an Ozark spring. Truth sprang out of the ground in purity and righteousness descended from heaven in splendor, but as man began organizing and administering the work, vanity and pride began clouding it. By September 1832, the Church had become sufficiently contaminated that the Lord placed it under condemnation: “Your minds in times past have been darkened because of unbelief, and because you have treated lightly the things you have received, which vanity and unbelief hath brought the whole church under condemnation” (D&C 83:8a.)

When I first read this divine indictment, I was surprised at the words “unbelief” and “treated lightly.” Doubt and disinterest rise from people’s vanity. As I researched the history of the Church, I began to realize that arrogance and unbelief gave birth to apathy and disobedience. People grew slack in keeping the commandments of God. Sometimes they became outright rebellious. In June of 1829, Joseph Smith, David Whitmer, and Oliver Cowdery treated lightly the command to select those who were to become Apostles. It was neglected until 1835. Then the decree was changed to include Martin Harris in the selection committee contrary to the original commandment. This is but one example of how people revised and reinterpreted God’s revelations to fit their understanding.

I would like to think that those men, who enjoyed such sublime and extraordinary spiritual experiences, did not recognize the adversary’s influence among them. We find a parallel in the Old Testament: “Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took either of them his censer, and put fire therein, and put incense thereon, and offered strange fire before the Lord, which he commanded them not. And there went out fire from the Lord, and devoured them, and they died before the Lord” (Lev 10:1-2). God gave directions about how to use the incense, but these two priests chose to offer it differently. They mingled their understanding and preferences with God’s revelation. In so doing, they altered His commandments and changed His ordinance. The result was death.

If the early Saints had better understood the Old Testament, they might have better prepared themselves to endure the temptations that erupt from pride and insolence. Jeremiah foresaw this trouble that has befallen latter-day Israel. He bewailed ancient Israel’s captivity while prophesying the expulsion of present-day Israel: “How hath the Lord covered the daughter of Zion with a cloud in his anger, and cast down from heaven unto the earth the beauty of Israel, and remembered not his footstool in the day of his anger!” (Lam 2:1). Jeremiah’s phrase “covered the daughter of Zion with a cloud”evokes a similar phrase from the cited revelation to the Restored Church: “Your minds in times past have been darkened” (D&C 83:8a).

Jeremiah also lamented, “cast down from heaven unto the earth the beauty of Israel.” What does the phrase “beauty of Israel” mean? Consider the Lord’s promise for our time: “Righteousness and truth will I cause to sweep the earth as with a flood, to gather out mine own elect from the four quarters of the earth, unto a place which I shall prepare; an holy city, that my people may gird up their loins, and be looking forth for the time of my coming; for there shall be my tabernacle, and it shall be called Zion; a New Jerusalem” (Gen 7:70). God established His nation and inspired its Constitution to birth a government that guarantees liberty to all. That freedom was necessary to facilitate the Restoration. Its primary purpose is to bring forth Zion, that city New Jerusalem. Attached to that goal is the gathering of God’s scattered people. That latter-day glory is the beauty of Zion and the gathering of the righteous to it. While the Restored Church made several incomplete attempts, the it has failed to accomplish either. The Lord has cast down its beauty. Why?

The answer lies in one of Isaiah’ prophecies: “Woe to the land shadowing with wings, which is beyond the rivers of Ethiopia” (Is 18:1). The term “land shadowing with wings” is clearly understood by Latter Day Saints to refer to the lands of North and South America. The verse begins with the word “woe,” which means great sorrow, misery and trouble. The fourth verse adds, “For so the Lord said unto me, I will take my rest, and I will consider in my dwelling place like a clear heat upon herbs, and like a cloud of dew in the heat of harvest” (Is 18:4). The Lord is revealing that He will take a break from the latter-day work and consider the situation. That He will pause for a time is illustrated by the dew in the harvest. When dew rests in the harvest, reapers must stop until things dry out.

The next verse states, “For afore the harvest, when the bud is perfect, and the sour grape is ripening in the flower, he shall both cut off the sprigs with pruning hooks, and take away and cut down the branches” (Is 18:5). The “bud”represents themRestoration movement. It is perfect when the flower opens up.The scripture continues with “the sour grape is ripening in the flower.” The “sour grape” would be the fruit of the flower. In the Restoration movement, it would represent the growth of the Church. Since it says “sour grape,” it means a fruit the Lord does not like. As we study the history of the Church, we see that after September 1832, the Church begins a downhill slide. For instance, the Saints were driven out of the Land of Zion in the very next year, 1833. In winter of 1838-39, the Saints were driven out of Missouri. In 1844 Joseph and Hiram were killed and in the next few years the Church began to break apart.

That division has continued to our day and the saints have scattered, fulfilling the prophecy: “He shall both cut off the sprigs with pruning hooks, and take away and cut down the branches.” During all this time, the heartfelt effort by many to stem the tide has failed. It continues today. It must stop. The Lord is calling the Saints to come together and build up a people who would be acceptable to Him, but we have not obeyed. How long O Israel will you be content to languish away in the foolishness and vanity of man?

Joseph F Smith