INTRODUCTION: A small tent, held in place by a tent peg (or stake) on each corner could be easily flattened or remodeled. But if the tent were larger and secured with 2946 stakes (as of the end of 2011), it would be almost impossible to move. This is the image Isaiah used to describe the Church and kingdom in the last days.
Enlarge the place of thy tent, and let them stretch forth the curtains of thine habitations: spare not, lengthen thy cords, and strengthen thy stakes; For thou shalt break forth on the right hand and on the left . . . (Isaiah 54:2-3)In the early days of the church with small branches of members in multitudes of locations, Lucifer’s task may have been simpler. People in isolated areas without the sustaining strength of church leaders and faithful congregations were probably easier to deceive and mislead. But early in this dispensation, the Lord commanded his people to gather. As his saints complied and assembled in each of the designated locations, their strength was “enlarged,” their cords were lengthened, and the stakes of Zion were strengthened. The Lord knew that the Saints would be safer together than separated, and so they came together and continue to come together, to Kirtland and Missouri and Nauvoo and Salt Lake, and, finally, to the strengthened stakes of Zion throughout the world.
1. THE LORD IS GATHERING HIS PEOPLE.
This quote is from the Prophet Joseph Smith:
All the prophets that have written, from the days of righteous Abel down to the last man that has left any testimony on record for our consideration, in speaking of the salvation of Israel in the last days, goes directly to show that it consists in the work of the gathering. (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, , p. 83)The gathering of which we are a part began when the Lord called missionaries and sent them forth to “declare glad tidings of great joy unto this generation” (D&C 31:3). How many of the new members of the church were expected to take part in this great missionary effort? (see D&C 38:40,41; 88:81). Almost every man who received revelation or instruction from the Lord through the prophet Joseph Smith, as recorded in the D&C, was directed to preach the gospel.
Although this missionary effort began with a few members in New York, it would one day spread to the ends of the earth. (Read D&C 33:6-7) Since the gathering is not yet completed, what responsibility do you have today in this effort?
The Lord’s great interest in this work is demonstrated by his desire and willingness to be a part of it. Turn to D&C 32:3. What great promise did the Lord make the Lamanite missionaries? (“I myself will go with them.”) The Lord expanded on this promise in D&C 84:88. What promises does he make to missionaries in this verse? In Jacob 5:72, the Savior is even more direct about his purposes in being with the missionaries. What does this verse tell us the Lord would do? (“The Lord of the vineyard labored also with them.”)
The keys of the gathering were delivered to Joseph Smith in the Kirtland Temple. Turn to D&C 110:11. Who appeared to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery? What keys did Moses deliver to them?
2. THE CHURCH WAS COMMANDED TO GATHER IN OHIO.
As the Lord sent forth his servants to gather the elect, what did he indicate his Father had decreed? (D&C 29:8 “That they shall be gathered in unto one place upon the face of the land.”) In December of 1830, the Lord designated Ohio as the first gathering place (see D&C 37:1, 3). What purposes did the Lord give for asking his people to go to Ohio? (D&C 38:31-2)
In what way would this endowment “with power from on high” be made possible? (At least in part it would come from the construction of the Kirtland Temple.) The Prophet Joseph Smith said the following:
What is the object of the gathering of the Jews, or the people of God in any age of the world? . . . .
The main object was to build unto the Lord a house whereby He could reveal unto His people the ordinances of his house and the glories of his kingdom, and teach the people the way of salvation; for there are certain ordinances and principles that, when they are taught and practiced, must be done in a place or house built for that purpose. . . .
It is for the same purpose that God gathers together His people in the last days, to build unto the Lord a house to prepare them for the ordinances and endowments, washings and annointings, etc. . . . (Joseph Smith, History of the Church, V, p. 423,424)What instructions did the Lord give about this matter? (D&C 38:27) What comforting promise did the Lord make to those who incurred financial hardship because of the commandment to gather? (D&C 38:39) Why do you think church members were willing to suffer financially and in other ways in order to gather with the saints?
Between the end of January and the middle of May, 1831, most of the New York saints sold their possessions and migrated to Kirtland and adjacent areas. The church maintained a strong presence in Ohio until 1838.
3. THE LORD’S PEOPLE WERE DIRECTED TO GATHER TO THE LAND OF ZION.
The New York saints and others who lived or gathered in Kirtland knew that Ohio was not the final gathering place for the church, and that at least one more move lay ahead of them, to a land they would call Zion.
The saints from Coleville, New York, began to settle in Thompson, Ohio, in May of 1831. They knew that they would be moving westward sometime in the future to the designated Zion. They wondered how much effort they should expend on temporary lands and homes. In fact, they were commanded to leave the next month, in June of 1831.
The Lord responded to their concerns in D&C 51:16-7, with counsel that has blessed me throughout my life. He said, “And I consecrate unto them this land for a little season, until I, the Lord, shall provide for them otherwise, and command them to go hence; And the hour and the day is not given unto them, wherefore let them act upon this land as for years, and this shall turn unto them for their good” (emphasis added)
“Let them act upon this land as for years.” Wherever we are, and in whatever circumstances we find ourselves, we will be blessed (it will turn unto us for our good) if we act like we will be there for a long time. I currently serve as bishop of a ward of apartments filled mostly with young couples with small children and who are looking forward to a move to a better, more permanent place. Brigham Young taught:
When Joseph Smith first revealed the land where the saints should gather, a woman in Canada asked if we thought that Jackson County would be large enough to gather all the people . . . I will answer that question . . . Zion will extend, eventually, over all this earth. There will be no nook or corner upon the earth but what will be in Zion. It will all be Zion . . . . We are going to gather as many as we can, bless them, give them their endowments, etc., preach to them the truth, lay the principles of eternal life before them, inform their minds all we have power to do, and lead them into the path and righteousness . . . (Brigham Young, JD, 14:138)The Lord also gave information to the members of the church about their destiny. Where did the Lord indicate church members would one day assemble if they were faithful? (D&C 52:42-3)
Next the Lord sent church leaders and various elders to the land of Missouri for a conference. To them he revealed the location of the “city of Zion” or the “center place.” Where was it to be? (D&C 57:1-3) While Joseph Smith and the others were in the land of Zion, Joseph Smith and six brethren met at a spot in Independence, Missouri, and dedicated the site for the building of a temple. Other temple sites were also dedicated in Missouri, but persecution made it impossible to build those temples at that time.
By the time the revelation identifying the site of Zion was given, the Lord had already commanded saints living at Thompson, Ohio, to journey to Missouri as mentioned above (see D&C 54:7-8). Thus the Lord began to establish his presence upon the land of Zion. And the land of Missouri became a second gathering place for the church in this dispensation.
When conditions in Missouri became intolerable, the saints left the state. In Nauvoo, they gathered their strength and resources again to build a temple. In 1846, Brigham Young led the saints west to a new gathering place. Just four days after the arrival of the Latter-day saints in the valley of the Great Salt Lake, Brigham Young placed the tip of his cane on the ground and identified the spot for the construction of a temple. That same day the ten acres of Temple Square were marked off.
4. SAINTS NOW GATHER TO THEIR OWN LANDS AS TEMPLES ARE BEING BUILT AROUND THE WORLD.
Turn to Luke 3:5-6 (JST Appendix) These verses describe the mission of the Savior. IN verse 5, he says that his mission is to take away the sins of the world, bring salvation to the heathen nations, and gather together the lost of the house of Israel. What other endeavor is mentioned in verse 6? The Savior has always intended to make the blessings of the gospel available to all of his children. They are all (heathen, Jew, and Gentile) to be given the opportunity to gather to the true church and kingdom of God, and to come to the House of the Lord for the blessings of the temple.
Finally, the pioneering phase of the gathering came to an end. The church had sufficient members and resources to establish stakes and build temples in many areas of the world. It was no longer necessary for all the members to attempt to come to a single location. Ponder the following quote regarding the gathering.
In an area conference held in Mexico City in 1972, Bruce R. McConkie said:
[The] revealed words speak of . . . there being congregations of . . . covenant people of the Lord in every nation, speaking every tongue, and among every people when the Lord comes again . . .
The place of gathering for the Mexican Saints is in Mexico; the place of gathering for the Guatemalan Saints is in Guatemala; the place of gathering for the Brazilian Saints is in Brazil; and so it goes throughout the length and breadth of the whole earth . . . . Every nation is the gathering place for its own people (Conference Report, Mexico and Central America Area Conference, 1972, p. 45; emphasis added).The following April, President Harold B. Lee quoted those words in general conference and, in effect, announced that the pioneering phase of gathering was now over. The gathering is now to be out of the world into the Church in every nation (see Conference Report, Apr. 1973, p. 7; or Ensign, July 1973, pp. 4-5).
There is one other part of the gathering worth a brief mention here. The Lord speaks of the Gathering of Israel to the lands of her inheritance many times in the scriptures. That gathering was to include the return of the “dispersed of Judah” (2 Nephi 21:12) to Judah and Jerusalem. That gathering, like the ones to Ohio and Missouri, was also to be conducted under the direction of the living prophet and by the inspiration of Jehovah.
As a part of the gathering of the Jews, Orson Hyde, who was of the house of Judah (see Essentials in Church History, p. 313) and also a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, was sent to Jerusalem to dedicate that land for their return.
In April Conference in 1840, Elder Orson Hyde was set apart to travel to Palestine and dedicate that historical land for the gathering of the Jews. After a journey of eighteen months and thousands of miles, he arrived at his destination. Early Sunday morning, October 24, 1841, he ascended the Mount of Olives and dedicated by prayer the land of Palestine for the gathering of the Jews. He prayed “for the gathering together of Judah’s scattered remnants,” as had been prophesied. He appealed for the rebuilding of Jerusalem again, and for the construction of a temple to the name of the Lord. He also placed a pile of stones, as a witness of the deed, on the top of the Mount of Olives and on top of Mount Moriah, where the ancient temple stood. The spot where that dedicatory prayer was offered is now a lovely garden, called the Orson Hyde Memorial Park. It is located on the western slope of the Mount of Olives.
If the purpose of the gathering in every dispensation is to build temples and prepare covenant people for the ordinances of the House of the Lord, what is the most important way in which we can participate in the gathering in our own day?
President Howard W. Hunter said:
I invite the Latter day Saints to look to the temple of the Lord as the great symbol of your membership. It is the deepest desire of my heart to have every member of the Church worthy to enter the temple. It would please the Lord if every adult member would be worthy of and carry a current temple recommend. The things that we must do and not do to be worthy of a temple recommend are the very things that ensure we will be happy as individuals and as families. (President Howard W. Hunter, Conference Report, October 1994, p. 8)