This article was adapted from my new book, The Three Pillars of Zion. (Click here to receive a free sample.)
This is a six-part series on the new and everlasting covenant, the first pillar of Zion:
(1) The Most Glorious Doctrine Ever Revealed
(2) The Covenant Reveals A Loving Relationship
(3) Power in the Covenant
(4) Safety in the Covenant
(5) Progressing in the Covenant
(6) Abiding in the Covenant
Years of service and purifying exertion are required to prepare us to endure the celestial glory that is typical of Zion. No casual effort will allow us to stand shoulder to shoulder with heavenly beings; our effort must include the totality of our heart, might, mind, and strength. The new and everlasting covenant is designed to snatch us from telestial bondage and complacency, introduce us to celestial law, and fit us for celestial glory.
Duty, Understanding and Love
We begin our progression in the Covenant by duty, which is motivation enough to provide us shelter in the Covenant. Then, keeping the Covenant’s associated commandments will hold us firmly on the strait and narrow path.
Along the way, as we have experience with the Covenant, we begin to be motivated by understanding; that is, we start to comprehend the reasoning behind the Covenant, and we hunger and thirst for more information. In other words, we now have tasted of the fruit, found it to be delicious, and we desire more.
Somewhere along the path, we discover that the Covenant is much more than a set of laws, which seems at times to be restrictive; the Covenant, rather, is a relationship. The Covenant is all about love.
Knowing that, we begin to be motivated by love. We love God and his Son in return, and our ability to love grows. The more we love God and our fellowmen, the more we become Zion people.
Finally, the path of the Covenant that we entered into at baptism leads us carefully along until we can stand in the presence of God. But the Covenant does not stop there; the Covenant is an eternal agreement whereby we become like God, inherit all that he has, do all that he does, and have the right to draw upon his resources forever to build our individual kingdoms.
The Process of Progression in the Covenant
As we examine the Covenant, we see that it begins with general requirements that progressively become more specific. For example, when we are baptized, we make broad agreements, one of which is to take upon ourselves the name of Jesus Christ.
Later, when we receive the covenant of the sacrament, we take upon us his name again—this time more specifically—by partaking of the emblems representing his body and blood.
Then, as we progress further in the Covenant and receive the covenant of the priesthood, the Lord once again places upon us his name (i), which allows us to authoritatively do his works. Later still, when we go to the temple to obtain the revelation of the priesthood (ii), we receive, as Brigham Young said, sacred “key words, signs and tokens” (iii) that specifically point to Christ and the power of his name. (iv)
Finally, when we marry for time and eternity and enter into the patriarchal order of the priesthood, we enter the door of exaltation where we receive our spouse in a way that binds us together with a bond that is symbolically as secure as that by which we are bound to the Father and the Son. Now we have taken an essential step in magnifying our primary priesthood calling, the call to eternal life that is stipulated in the oath and covenant of the priesthood. (v) Only by being sealed in marriage can we respond to that call. Only by the marriage covenant can we come to “know the only wise and true God, and Jesus Christ,” and experience “eternal lives.” (vi) Now we have progressed to the point where we can truly begin to become like the Father and the Son.
So it is with all our covenants. Initially, we make broad agreements that require general sacrifice and obedience. Then as we gain understanding about those covenants, we must demonstrate more specific obedience and greater sacrifice. The end result of the process of covenant making is the creation of a celestial person, Zionlike, fully formed in the image of Christ, someone who is willing to be profoundly obedient to every word that proceeds from the mouth of God and to sacrifice anything and everything for him.
Discovering the Divine Relationship through Progression
As we progress in the Covenant, we discover that it is a relationship of equality between two people who love each other. Although this relationship is amazingly horizontal rather than vertical, we nevertheless covenant to recognize and sustain the lordship of the Savior and the sovereignty of the Father.
Our relationship progresses along lines of intimacy. We enter the Covenant as a servant, we progress to a friend, and we end up as a son or daughter. Joseph Smith set the latter-day example. For example, at the beginning of Joseph’s ministry, we hear the Lord referring to him as his servant:
Wherefore, I the Lord, knowing the calamity which should come upon the inhabitants of the earth, called upon my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., and spake unto him from heaven, and gave him commandments.” (vii)
Later, we hear the Lord referring to Joseph as his friend:
Verily, I say unto my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., or in other words, I will call you friends, for you are my friends, and ye shall have an inheritance with me. (viii)
Still later, after Joseph had proved that he would abide in the Covenant at all hazards, we hear the Lord calling him his son:
My son, peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment. And then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high; thou shalt triumph over all thy foes. (ix)
Of course, these titles are somewhat intermixed, but the progression we are speaking of seems to be evident in the Doctrine and Covenants, and these examples serve to illustrate the point.
This pattern—servant-friend-son—might help us to understand our progression in the Covenant. A servant receives and fulfills the commandments of his Lord. A servant might know his Lord, but not intimately.
A friend, on the other hand, because of his relationship with the Lord, is in a position to ask what he can do for the other person. Friends do not command each other; rather, one friend might request something of the other, knowing that his friend will help. Friends share intimate conversations, they know a great deal about each other, and they have much in common.
It is worth noting that servants and friends do not necessarily represent eternal relationships, as does a family. The status of servant or friend can be temporary, but always these relationships are defined by set boundaries. Therefore, if we are to progress from servant or friend to family, something significant in the relationship must change. That brings us to the ultimate stage of the Covenant: children of God.
A child—a son or daughter—is part of the most intimate relationship: family. A child comes to know everything about his Parent. A child has the right to say to his Parent, “Your name is my name and your work is my work. I am yours forever by covenant; we are linked together by blood; we are bound together by eternal love.” While one of the greatest manifestations of love is offering your life for a friend, (x) the ultimate sacrifices are made within family, which is the highest level of friendship. There the greatest loyalties are forged.
We enter the Covenant to serve the Lord, become his intimate friend, and become his child to whom he bequeaths all that he has. “Marvel not that all mankind, yea, men and women, all nations, kindreds, tongues and people, must be born again; yea, born of God, changed from their carnal and fallen state, to a state of righteousness, being redeemed of God, becoming his sons and daughters.” (xi) Zion people walk and talk with their Father and Brother and enjoy their familial relationship. (xii)
Order in the Covenant
Having received the Covenant, Frederick G. Williams, a close associate of Joseph Smith, relaxed his agreement. The result, as is always the case, was that Satan gained power over him. In a merciful rebuke, the Lord called him back to the safety of the Covenant:
I have commanded you to bring up your children in light and truth. But verily I say unto you, my servant Frederick G.
Williams, you have continued under this condemnation; you have not taught your children light and truth, according to the commandments; and that wicked one hath power, as yet, over you, and this is the cause of your affliction. And now a commandment I give unto you—if you will be delivered you shall set in order your own house, for there are many things that are not right in your house. (xiii)
Zion is defined by order, and order defines the lives of Zion people. As much as the Covenant brings power and safety into our lives, the Covenant also brings order—the order of Zion. The covenant making instances in our lives are like compass points that keep us oriented to true north. By giving strict diligence to the ordinances and covenants, we invite the Lord’s order into our lives. Repeatedly, the Lord reminds us that his house is an ordered house: “Behold, mine house is a house of order, saith the Lord God, and not a house of confusion.” (ix) Therefore, he commands us to organize ourselves against the standard of the Covenant so that we might remain safe and clean:
And I give unto you, who are the first laborers in this last kingdom, a commandment that you assemble yourselves together, and organize yourselves, and prepare yourselves, and sanctify yourselves; yea, purify your hearts, and cleanse your hands and your feet before me, that I may make you clean. (xv)
This quality of order and its associated blessings can be accomplished and found only by and through the Covenant.
Order and Ordinances
The words order, ordain, and ordinance come from the same root. Ordinances give order to the Covenant; ordinances ordain order in our lives. The order of salvation is an order of authorized ordinances. Ordinances are the markers that define the path leading to eternal life. Is there any other way to achieve exaltation? No. Jesus said, “My house is a house of order.” (xvi) To Peter and the apostles, he said, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.” (xvii) Without authorized ordinances there is no possibility of salvation.
This process of ordinances seems like nonsense to many in the world. The Lord uses sacred symbols and rites to teach us about his world. To access the powers associated with these ordinances, we must make agreements or covenants with the Lord. When we keep our part of the agreement, he keeps his. Then we progress in an orderly manner, ordinance to ordinance, blessing to blessing, power to power, knowledge to knowledge, until we become like God.
We must receive the ordinances in the correct order; otherwise, they lack power to save. The Apostle Paul was teaching in the province of Ephesus when he met a group of twelve disciples who said they had been baptized. He wondered about this and asked them if they had received the Holy Ghost. They had not. Joseph Smith said you might as well baptize a bag of sand as baptize without conferring the Holy Ghost—one without the other is meaningless. (xviii) Paul asked these people how they had been baptized, and they said they had received John’s baptism. We might speculate on what they meant, but obviously they had not received the ordinances correctly. Paul explained to them that baptisms must be done in the name of Jesus Christ by someone having the authority of Jesus Christ.
That is the order of this ordinance. Because Paul had authority to baptize correctly, he baptized them again the right way, and then he conferred upon them the gift of the Holy Ghost. Now they were on the ordained path.
What do we learn from this account? Being good is not enough to save us, nor is merely having good intentions. We must be good and do the right thing in the right order if we want to end up in the right place. We should keep in mind that the people whom Paul was teaching were sincere people who were trying to live good lives, but they had a mistaken idea. When Paul, who was authorized by Jesus Christ, performed the ordinance of baptism correctly, these people suddenly received the promised blessings associated with true baptism and the Holy Ghost, and miraculous things began to happen:
And when Paul had laid [his] hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them; and they spake with tongues, and prophesied.
Miracles always happen as a result of receiving covenants and ordinances. These miracles are signs that the ordinances are true. Zion people order their lives according to the ordinances; they follow the ordained markers leading to eternal life, and they experience miracle after miracle along the way.
Order and Consecration
The issue of order goes to the heart of the new and everlasting covenant: the law of consecration. This culminating law bids us to acknowledge that all things belong to God. We are stewards (xx) who are accountable to him for the discharge of our stewardships. (xxi) What is done with his property is not our prerogative to dictate—it is his. The element of order mandated by consecration insists that we esteem others as ourselves (xxii) in order that all men and women might be made equal according to their wants, needs, family situations, and access to the Lord’s storehouse. (xxiii)
This is the established order of the law of consecration as dictated by the Covenant. When we ignore, rationalize, or modify this order to fit our personal objectives, we step away from the Covenant and become a law unto ourselves. (xxiv) That attitude opens the door for Satan to afflict us. Then we, like Frederick G. Williams, might also receive the Lord’s rebuke. But if we will allow the Covenant to help us organize ourselves and set our houses in order, we will reap power, safety, and prosperity in the order of the Covenant.
This is the fifth of six articles on the new and everlasting covenant. These articles were adapted from my new book, The Three Pillars of Zion. Click here to receive a free sample.
i. Abraham 1:18.
ii. D&C 2:1.
iii. Young, Discourses of Brigham Young, 416.
iv. Moroni 7:48; 1 John 3:2; D&C 132:24; Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 1428.
v. D&C 84:33.
vi. D&C 132:34.
vii. D&C 1:17; emphasis added.
viii. D&C 93:45; emphasis added; D&C 100:1.
ix. D&C 121:7–8.
x. John 15:13.
xi. Mosiah 27:25; emphasis added.
xii. Moses 7:21.
xiii. D&C 93:40–43; emphasis added.
xiv. D&C 132:8, 18; 88:119; 109:8.
xv. D&C 88:74; emphasis added.
xvi. D&C 132:8.
xvii. Mark 16:15–16.
xviii. Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 314.
xix. Acts 19:1–7.
xx. D&C 38:17; 104:11–14.
xxi. D&C 72:3; 104:13–18.
xxii. D&C 38:24–27; 51:3, 9; 70:14; 78:6; 82:17.
xxiii. D&C 51:3.
xxiv. D&C 88:21–35.