God promised to gather Israel in the last days. Isaiah prophesied, “It shall come to pass in that day, that the Lord shall set his hand again the second time to recover the remnant of his people. . . And he shall set up an ensign for the nations, and shall assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth” (Is 11:11-12).
The gathering of latter-day Israel is promised to be more miraculous than the Exodus. Jeremiah foretold, “The days come, saith the Lord, that they shall no more say, The Lord liveth, which brought up the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt; but, The Lord liveth, which brought up and which led the seed of the house of Israel out of the north country, and from all countries whither I had driven them; and they shall dwell in their own land” (Jer 23:7).
The place of Israel’s gathering is Zion. Isaiah foretold, “The ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away” (Is 35:10). Jeremiah prophesied, “Therefore they shall come and sing in the height of Zion” (Jer 31:12).
The location of latter-day Zion is not in the land of Jerusalem. Jeremiah, who prophesied in that city, indicated Israel would gather to a different place: “Behold, I will bring them from the north country, and gather them from the coasts of the earth, and with them the blind and the lame, the woman with child and her that travaileth with child together; a great company shall return thither” (Jer 31:8). Thither is an archaic word for there, indicating that the gathering would be to a different place than Judea.
Isaiah revealed that God erected the ensign to “assemble the outcasts of Israel” (Is 11:12). He also disclosed that it would be on the other side of the earth from where he prophesied: “He will lift up an ensign to the nations from far, and will hiss unto them from the end of the earth; and, behold, they shall come with speed swiftly” (Is 5:26). The prophet revealed that God intended to gather latter-day Israel to the end of the world. There, at that far place, He promised to lift up the attracting ensign. Elsewhere, he disclosed that the ensign would be raised in “the land shadowing with wings” (Is 18:1-3).
The constellation Aquila represents an eagle with outstretched wings. It is part of Capricorn and appears just north of the Equator of the Heavens, with its southern wing tip touching the equator. This means that the Aquila appears in the western to northwestern night sky when viewed from the northern hemisphere. The land to the west and northwest of Jerusalem in Isaiah’s time and shadowed by the eagle’s outstretched wings is America. Perhaps more significantly, the emblem of the USA is an eagle with outstretched wings. American rests under the eagle’s outstretched wings. It is on the other side of the earth from Jerusalem and appears to be the divinely appointed place for Zion.
Nathan, the prophet during King David’s reign, revealed that God would appoint another land in which to plant Israel. He said, “Moreover I will appoint a place for my people Israel, and will plant them, that they may dwell in a place of their own, and move no more; neither shall the children of wickedness afflict them anymore, as before time” (2 Sam 7:10). Perhaps understanding something about the divine destiny surrounding the first Puritan voyage to America, John Cotton, who gave the farewell sermon, quoted Nathan’s prophecy on April 7, 1630, the day before the Arabella set sail for Massachusetts, . The Arabella was the first armada’s flagship of the Great Migration that sowed Puritan Christians in New England. They reinforced and eventually absorbed the Pilgrims who had come a decade earlier. The fact that these Christians viewed the land to which they sought refuge as a divinely appointed country where the Lord’s people could securely live without oppression is significant. History records no other band of believers invoking Nathan’s promise on their destination, or considering their haven the place God prophetically appointed millennia before.
The Pilgrims and Puritans who first settled New England seriously devoted their efforts to building up the kingdom of God. In A Model of Christian Charity, John Winthrop explained the opportunity that their colony enjoyed: to show the world and all following “plantations” an example of a righteous society. He counseled that this goal could only be achieved if each person agreed “to do justly, to love mercy, to walk humbly with our God. . . We must delight in each other, make one another’s condition our own, rejoice together, mourn together, labor and suffer together, always having before our eyes our Commission and Community.” He concluded that if the colony followed righteousness, “We shall find that the God of Israel is among us. . . For we must consider that we shall be as a City upon a Hill.”
Two centuries after the Arabella sailed, Joseph Smith published the Book of Mormon and, by direct divine commandment, restored the Church of Jesus Christ. The next year, the Lord revealed to some elders who came with Joseph to Independence, Missouri that they had assembled on “the land which I have appointed and consecrated for the gathering of the Saints: wherefore this is the land of promise, and the place for the city of Zion” (D&C 57:1a-b). The appointed place in which God intends to plant latter-day Israel—the land the Lord specified to King David through Nathan as a land of refuge 3000 years before—is centered in Jackson County, Missouri. It is the land that, when viewed from Judea, appears to be under the outstretched wings of the eagle. It is in a nation whose emblem is an eagle with opened wings. It is the place to which God will gather a remnant of Israel in the last times; and with them will come the poor, the lame, the halt and the blind of the earth.
The same prophecy that described an appointed land also promised a divinely built house. David wanted to build a house for God. He mourned, “See, now, I dwell in a house of cedar, but the ark of God dwelleth within curtains” (2 Sam 7:2). Nathan told the king that he was not allowed to build a house of the Lord, but prophesied, “The Lord telleth thee that he will make thee a house” (2 Sam 7:11). The Book of Chronicles renders the words of the promise, “Furthermore I tell thee, that the Lord will build thee a house” (1 Chr 17:10). David’s son, Solomon, built a house for the Lord. Nehemiah and Ezra rebuilt it after Nebuchadnezzar razed it. Herod enlarged it, but Titus destroyed it. The Lord has yet to build His house. The fact that God’s promise to build His house is part of the promise to appoint a land of refuge for Israel strongly suggests that the two promises are connected. The Lord intends to build His house on the appointed land—in America.
Any building must have a foundation. The city on a hill that John Winthrop envisioned must have a foundation, especially if it is “to be the light of the world” (Mat 5:16) as Jesus described it. The Savior established the foundation for the Lord’s house during His first advent. Paul wrote, “Other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Cor 3:11). The house that God intends to erect will be founded on Jesus Christ. He is its foundation, but the edifice above it is made with living stones. Peter noted, “Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house” (1 Pet 2:5). Each member is a part of the Lord’s glorious temple. The Bible explains, “Your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost” (1 Cor 6:19). How do faithful church members become living stones in the house of God?
When Peter testified on Pentecost that Jesus, although crucified, rose from the dead, ascended to the Father and reigns on His throne, the people who were convicted by his sermon asked what they should do. The apostle answered, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost” (Acts 2:38). Those who receive the gift of the Holy Ghost have God living in them. They become a house for God’s Spirit—a temple of God. Paul emphasized, “Ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you” (1 Cor 3:16). Those anointed with the Holy Ghost become living stones—stones alive with God—that the Lord can fit together into the house He wants. People without a common ancestry, with different languages, from diverse nations and of various races can be molded by the Lord and “builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit” (Eph 2:22). When they are baptized and receive the Holy Ghost, they “are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God; and are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone; in whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord” (Eph 2:19-21). This is the house that God intends to build in America—a house of people made holy by the Holy Spirit’s abiding presence in each one, permeating all they do and all they say—a house organized and masterfully fitted together. The architect of God’s house is Jesus Christ. The Bible calls Jesus “an high priest over the house of God” (Heb 10:21).
The apostles give the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands. Philip baptized several at Samaria, but they had not yet received the Holy Ghost. When the apostles heard, they sent Peter and John to bestow that divine confirmation. The Bible records, “Then laid they their hands on them and they received the Holy Ghost” (Acts 8:17). By the time of the Pilgrims and Puritans that power did no longer existed. Roger Williams, a Puritan himself, noted, “There is no regularly constituted church on earth, nor any person authorized to administer any church ordinance; nor can there be until new apostles are sent by the Great Head of the Church.” If God was to produce the living stones that He needed to build His house, He had to restore the apostolic power that gives the Holy Ghost. He gave that power to Joseph Smith (D&C 24:2c) and through him told others: “On as many as ye shall baptize with water, ye shall lay your hands, and they shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost” (D&C 39:6). Those who receive the Holy Ghost by the laying on of the elders’ hands join the Church of Jesus Christ, the same church that the apostles built up. They become church members, part of the family of God. They also become the house of God. Paul wrote “The house of God, which is the church of the living God” (1 Tim 3:15).
When the Lord commanded the saints to gather to the appointed place, He began assembling living stones on the appointed place and fitting them into the house that He promised for King David. He called His house Zion—a holy city set on the highest mountain. It is destined to be the light of the world, a city that cannot be hid. The ancient prophets foretold its glory and praised the peaceful teachings it brought: “In the last days it shall come to pass, that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established in the top of the mountains, and it shall be exalted above the hills; and people shall flow unto it” (Mic 4:1-2).
The city on a hill has inspired the hopes of countless Americans since John Winthrop penned the phrase. Its full expression can never occur without a righteous population. A righteous city must be founded on Jesus Christ. He is its foundation and chief cornerstone. Jesus came in the meridian of time to break down the partition separating people from God and create the way by which people can be made holy. In these last days, that same Jesus called on Joseph Smith to restore His church and dedicate the land appointed as the site for the house of God—a house that He calls Zion. Having exercised great patience, endured long suffering, and guided the growth and destiny of nations, will He fail to accomplish what he promised? Isaiah asked, “Shall I bring to the birth, and not cause to bring forth?” (Is 66:9). Surely, God is not impotent, but will finish the task He began when He gathered Pilgrims and Puritans to America’s shores and when He led Joseph Smith and the first elders to Independence “that you might be honored of laying the foundation, and of bearing record of the land upon which the Zion of God shall stand” (D&C 58:3c). The promise of God is sure: “Before she travailed, she brought forth; before her pain came, she was delivered of a man-child. Who hath heard such a thing? who hath seen such things? Shall the earth be made to bring forth in one day? or shall a nation be born at once? for as soon as Zion travailed, she brought forth her children” (Is 66:7-8).
Joseph F Smith