This article was adapted from my new book, The Three Pillars of Zion. Click here to receive a free sample.)
The Book of Mormon Guide to Establishing Zion
In the beginning of the 34th year of the Nephite calendar,[i] a remarkable event occurred, one that is of critical importance to us today. According to Mormon, on the fourth day of the first month of the year, the Nephite nation collapsed under the weight of its own depravity. The fall was on the scale of the cataclysms of the Flood and Sodom and Gomorrah. Only a small group of Christians survived.
Suddenly, above the darkness that had choked out any semblance of light, the voice of Christ was heard announcing his identity and the fulfillment of his mission; he declared the destruction of the wicked, lamented the evils of his people, and invited the remnant to come unto him with full purpose of heart.
Then the record goes silent. Mormon picks up the account “in the ending of the thirty and fourth year,”[ii] nearly twelve months later. What happened in the lives of the surviving Nephites during that year? Mormon only hints at what the people did with Jesus’ message; but when we piece together the account, we discover one of the great sermons of the Book of Mormon—a sermon that is of utmost importance to those of us who would become Zionlike.
Parallels between the 3rd Nephi Saints and the Latter-day Saints
We should keep in mind that these people were not unlike many of us: either they were new members or they were good people who were trying to live the gospel as best they could. Perhaps some were lukewarm; maybe others were sitting atop spiritual plateaus and lacking the motivation to keep climbing.
Whatever their condition, we do know this: The Lord declared that they had escaped the destructions only because they were “more righteous” than the ones who had perished. That was not saying much. He was also quick to point out that they needed to change. Therefore, he called them to repentance and bade them strive to become truly converted so he could heal them.[iii]
Why is this account important to us? To answer that question, we must first remember that from the outset of the Book of Mormon, Moroni testifies that the book was written for us.[iv] Then, within the first pages of the Book of Mormon, Nephi instructs us to read the book by likening the scriptures unto ourselves.[v]
Armed with those two pieces of information, we might envision ourselves as members of that small group of Nephite survivors. Somehow these people, whom the Savior had deemed barely righteous enough to escape annihilation, had taken to heart his commandment and invitation and changed their lives so that within twelve months they achieved Zion.
In One Year
Brigham Young said, “[Zion] commences in the heart of each person.”[vi] “The length of time required ‘to accomplish all things pertaining to Zion’ is strictly up to us and how we live.” [vii] Like Joseph Smith, President Young was obviously frustrated with the Saints’ slow pace. At another time, he suggested an intriguing timeframe, which, if we were to apply, we might also become ready for the establishment of Zion: “…which we might have received in one year.”[viii]
If it were not for the account in 3rd Nephi, we might discount President Young’s preparatory “year” as optimistically short. Nevertheless, the Nephites, who were not unlike us, qualified in about a year to become pure in heart so they could come into the presence of the Lord. Of course, the Nephites were highly motivated because of the recent destruction and the Lord’s strict commandment to change. We would hope that we could change without such motivation. Nevertheless, the account in 3rd Nephi is our latter-day model for how we might prepare to become Zion people in a relatively short period of time.
How did the Nephites do it? How can we do it.
Mormon seems to have wanted us to dig for the answer, as one would mine for a pearl of great price. A careful reading of the books of 3rd and 4th Nephi, which include the Savior’s directives and Mormon’s description of the achievement of Zion by the Nephite people, fill in the twelve-month gap and show us what we must do to rise to such a lofty ideal.
When we talk of establishing Zion in our lives, we often look beyond the mark for the announcement of a program or an exodus. While any number of possibilities might lie in our future, the one thing we can do personally is to become Zionlike, as the Nephites were commanded to do. The Lord required of them immediate changes, among which were true repentance that leads to conversion, coming to him with full purpose of heart, and ceasing pettiness, disputations and contentions.
A Mighty Change of Heart
We suspect that the Nephites took to heart Jesus’ admonition to repent—really repent–and come to him with full—not partial–purpose of heart. Alma describes this process as called being “born of the spirit.”[ix] King Benjamin’s people called it the “mighty change” in which they had “no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually.”[x] In examining various scriptural accounts of those who described the transformation of their hearts—often within a short period of time–Blaine Yorgason lists ten significant aspects of this mighty change.
- “The birth of the Spirit, being born again, most often occurs after we have been stirred up to complete repentance of all our sins, usually through uncomfortable circumstances of some sort.
- We must be taught of Christ’s atonement prior to the experience and have a sincere desire to believe in it.
- We must show godly sorrow for our sins, manifested as a broken heart and a contrite spirit.
- The birth of the spirit occurs only after crying out to God for mercy in mighty prayer, which is exercising faith in Christ unto repentance.
- As the experience concludes, we feel our guilt swept away as we receive a remission of sins through the power of the Holy Ghost. This is the baptism of fire, which some in modern times have described as a sensation of warmth that sweeps over their body in a cleansing action that is otherwise indescribable. Others describe it as being filled with an overwhelming feeling of love, which lingers for an indeterminate period of time and is absolutely indescribable. This is certainly a manifestation of Christ’s charity or Christ’s pure love.
- Knowing that our sins have been remitted, we feel complete peace of conscience for all our past sins. This feeling is so wonderful that all sin becomes abhorrent to us, we have no more disposition to do evil, and we resolve to never sin intentionally again. However, this does not mean that we will never sin again—only that we will do everything in our power to avoid sinning intentionally. Nor does it mean that we will forget our sins; it seems that memory is left until the resurrection so that learning will occur…. However, with guilt swept away through the atonement of Christ, the memory is no longer painful, and it will ever after be useful for instruction of self and others. That is why Benjamin said to ‘remember and perish not’ (Mosiah 4:30).
- Once the experience is over, we are filled with an amazing heightened sense of love for our fellow beings, which is a further manifestation of charity, or the pure love of Christ. This love will be manifested by long-suffering, kindness, lack of envy, loss of pride, selflessness, being not easily provoked to anger, thinking only good rather than evil, rejoicing not in iniquity but only in the truth, and being perfectly willing to bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, and endure all things (Moroni 7:45).
- Consumed with this love, we are also filled with the burning desire to acquaint all others with what we have discovered concerning Christ and His power to deliver from sin—this that they might enjoy the same peace and happiness we have found.
- From this time forward, we will strive for a closer relationship with God and His Son. We will do this through intense study, humble living, constant repentance, earnest keeping of the commandments, and diligent service to those around us. With the light of heaven resting upon us, the course we are to pursue is now lighted plainly. In exactly following this course, we will be manifesting the image of Christ in our countenances.
- Through this process, we have received a witness from the Father that Christ’s suffering and dying have been gifts of God and that those gifts have wrought an at-one-ment in our lives, making us one with, or bringing us into the family of, the Lord Jesus Christ.”[xi]
No More Contention and Disputations
Another thing that the Nephites must have overcome during their year of preparation was to rid themselves of contention and disputations. When the Savior appeared to them, he said,
And there shall be no disputations among you, as there have hitherto been; neither shall there be disputations among you concerning the points of my doctrine, as there have hitherto been. For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another. Behold, this is not my doctrine, to stir up the hearts of men with anger, one against another; but this is my doctrine, that such things should be done away.[xii]
Contentions and disputations had always been the common denominators of Nephite decline, apostasy and war.[xiii] Contentions had also brought down the Jaredite civilization,[xiv] and later contention had nearly destroyed the Nephites after the birth of Christ.[xv] Jesus seemed to be reminding and warning them about contentions and disputations with the commandment to abandon such behavior once and for all.
But, O my people, beware lest there shall arise contentions among you, and ye list to obey the evil spirit…. For behold, there is a wo pronounced upon him who listeth to obey that spirit; for if he listeth to obey him, and remaineth and dieth in his sins, the same drinketh damnation to his own soul; for he receiveth for his wages an everlasting punishment, having transgressed the law of God contrary to his own knowledge.[xviii]
Later, Alma commanded the members of the Church “that there should be no contention one with another, but that…their hearts [should be] knit together in unity and in love one towards another.”[xix] Looking out across the generations of his children, Nephi prophesied that contention would define his people’s history and eventually cause their downfall: “For behold, I say unto you that I have beheld that many generations shall pass away, and there shall be great wars and contentions among my people.”[xx]
When the resurrected Jesus appeared to the Nephites, he commanded them to never again contend or dispute with each other. If they would obey this command, they would also impede to a great degree envy, strife, tumult, sexual sins, lying, murder, lasciviousness, secret combinations and economic and social distinctions.[xxi]
We know that the people obeyed the Lord, because Mormon exults, “there was no contention in the land, because of the love of God which did dwell in the hearts of the people…and surely there could not be a happier people among all the people who had been created by the hand of God.”[xxii] What a difference a year can make!
We might conjecture that if we would diligently strive to come unto Christ with full purpose of heart and rid our lives of contentions and disputations, we too might qualify in a short period of time, even in as little as one year, as the Nephite record and Brigham Young suggest, for the Lord to come to us and establish us as individual Zion people.
An Important Key to Establishing Zion
In the latter days, a key to establishing Zion in our lives is found in D&C 42, the revelation called, “the Law of the Church,”[xxiii] which comprises the law of Zion. In one sentence, the Lord prophecies of three significant events that will make us Zion individuals: “And ye shall hereafter receive church covenants, such as shall be sufficient to establish you, both here and in the New Jerusalem.”[xxiv] The references in this scripture lead to what I call The Three Pillars of Zion:
- The New and Everlasting Covenant (D&C 132:4-7)
- The Oath and Covenant of the Priesthood (D&C 84:33-44)
- The Law of Consecration (D&C 82:11-15)
These three covenants (pillars) are sufficient to establish Zionlike qualities in our individual lives, in our marriages, families or among a group of people under the direction of the priesthood. Understanding that this is the Lord’s way of establishing Zion, we are left without excuse. Clearly, we have been given all that we need. To become the pure in heart, which is the definition of Zion people,[xxv] we simply must better understand our covenants then live up to our privileges.
Enoch’s Dispensation is a Pattern
The scriptures that describe Enoch’s Zion provide us a model for establishing Zion in our lives. For example, both Enoch and Joseph Smith were commanded to:
- Preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. (See Moses 6:37Moses 6:37; Moses 7:19 7:19; D&C 19:21D&C 19:21, D&C 19:31 31; D&C 38:41D&C 38:41.)
- Gather the Saints to places of safety. (See Moses 7:17-19; D&C 33:6D&C 33:6; D&C 45:69 45:69, D&C 45:71 71; D&C 115:6 115:6.)
- Attain unity and righteousness. (See Moses 7:18Moses 7:18; D&C 21:4D&C 21:5D&C 21:6D&C 21:7D&C 21:4-7; D&C 38:27 38:27.)
- Become “pure in heart.” (See Moses 7:18Moses 7:18; D&C 97:21D&C 97:21.)
- Care for the poor and needy. (Moses 7:18Moses 7:18; D&C 38:35D&C 38:35; D&C 42:30 42:30)
- Build a City of Holiness. (See Moses 7:19Moses 7:19; D&C 45:66-70.) [xxvi]
“It is high time to establish Zion”
Could becoming Zion people be that simple? Does establishing Zion come down to repenting and becoming truly converted, coming to Christ with full purpose of heart, ceasing pettiness, contentions and disputations, and keeping our covenants? If we were to really believe what we have been taught and really live what we have been given, could we also become Zion people in as little as one year? If the answer is yes, have we any excuse for waiting?
Joseph Smith clearly stated: “So long as unrighteous acts are suffered in the Church, it cannot be sanctified, neither can Zion be redeemed.
”[xxvii] Our responsibility is to act now and embrace the principles of Zion, “or else,” the Lord warns, our “faith is vain.”[xxviii]
An editorial written by Bishop Newel K. Whitney and his counselors in the Messenger and the Advocate sums up the urgency: “Whatever is glorious. Whatever is desirable—Whatever pertains to salvation, either temporal or spiritual. Our hopes, our expectations, our glory and our reward, all depend on our building up Zion according to the testimony of the prophets. For unless Zion is built: our hopes perish, our expectations fail, our prospects are blasted, our salvation withers, and God will come and smite the whole earth with a curse.”[xxix]
Finally, President Lorenzo Snow exhorted, “It is high time to establish Zion. Let us try to build up Zion. Zion is the pure in heart. Zion cannot be built up except on the principles of union required by the celestial law. It is high time for us to enter into these things.”[xxx]
This article was adapted from my new book, The Three Pillars of Zion. Click here to receive a free sample.)
[i] See 3 Nephi 8:5
[ii] 3 Nephi 10:18
[iii] See 3 Nephi 9:13
[iv] See Book of Mormon title page
[v] See 1 Nephi 19:24; 2 Nephi 11:8
[vi] Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, vol. 9:284
[vii] Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, vol. 9:283
[viii] Brigham Young Journal of Discourses, vol. 11:300:67
[ix] Mosiah 27:24
[x] Mosiah 5:2
[xi] Blaine M. Yorgason, I Need Thee Every Hour, p.171-74
[xii] 3 Nephi 11:28-30
[xiii] See 1 Nephi 9:4; 12:3; 19:4; 2 Nephi 26:2, 32; 28:4; Omni 1:17; Words of Mormon 1:12; Mosiah 9:13; Alma 2:5; 4:9;50:25; 51:9; Helaman 16:22; 3 Nephi 2:11
[xiv] See Ether 11:7
[xv] See 3 Nephi 2:11
[xvi] See Ether 4:8
[xvii] See Mosiah 29:7
[xviii] Mosiah 2:32-33
[xix] Mosiah 18:21
[xx] 2 Nephi 26:2
[xxi] See 4 Nephi 1:24-25
[xxii] 4 Nephi 1:15-18, emphasis added
[xxiii] See D&C 42 head note
[xxiv] D&C 42:67
[xxv] See D&C 97:21
[xxvi] See “Enoch and His Message for Latter Days,” LDS Church News, 1994, 02/05/94
[xxvii] Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, vol. 2:146
[xxviii] See D&C104:54-55
[xxix] N. K. Whitney & R. Cahoon. V. Knight, Messenger and Advocate, vol. 3 (October 1836-September 1837), Vol. 3 September, 1837 No. 36 p.563
[xxx] Lorenzo Snow, The Teachings of Lorenzo Snow, p.181