We speak of Zion, sing of Zion, covenant to promote the establishment of Zion, and long for Zion—but what is Zion? Latter-day Saints ought to know.
ZION—What Do We Know of It?
This article was adapted from my new book, The Three Pillars of Zion. Click here to receive a free sample.)
We speak of Zion, sing of Zion, covenant to promote the establishment of Zion, and long for Zion—but what is Zion? Latter-day Saints ought to know. We have more scriptures and prophets’ statements about it than any other people.
One could hardly read a page from the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, or Pearl of Great Price and not bump into the term or its principles. Why? Because we have the singular charge to become Zion individually, and we have the charge to prepare for the collective establishment of the Lord’s Zion. Consequently, we—all of us—are (or should be) more identified with Zion than any other generation. Moreover, the fact that we have the additional responsibility to call God’s children to Zion suggests that we, individually, must first become Zion people: “Verily I say unto you all: Arise and shine forth, that thy light may be a standard for the nations.”[i]
Hugh Nibley reminded us that a primary purpose of the Church [the kingdom of God] is to prepare a people to become Zion: “[We] work for the building up the Kingdom of God on earth and the establishment of Zion. The first step makes the second possible.”[ii] At the outset of this last dispensation—the dispensation of Zion—Joseph Smith said, “We ought to have the building up of Zion as our greatest object.”[iii]
If we were to conduct a survey, would the building up of Zion be our greatest object? Regardless of how we might answer, we nevertheless are fond of defending Zion as uniquely us, and we are not timid about claiming the blessings of Zion as our birthright. Nevertheless, many of us are hard-pressed to describe or envision Zion, let alone live its principles.
What can we do about this dilemma?
Brigham Young had the answer: “[Zion] commences in the heart of each person.”[iv] That is, Zion, the priesthood society, is made up of Zion, individual people. Beyond the typical uses of the word Zion—as a location or a society—Zion is a person whose heart is pure; therefore, that person “shall see God”[v]—in other words, to stand in and regain his presence. President John Taylor said, “The Zion of God. What does it mean? The pure in heart in the first place. In the second place . . . the pure in heart who are governed by the law of God.”[vi]
Elder Matthew Cowley added, “And to you whose lives are committed to righteousness, I say unto you, You are Zion.”[vii] If we will fully embrace these statements, a vast library of Zion material will open to our view. We suddenly realize that by likening the scriptures concerning Zion to ourselves,[viii] many of the descriptions of that ideal priesthood society are also descriptions of individual Zionlike people, who are comprised of the same attributes. Therefore, none of us is exempt. Zion is a vibrant, current idea that we must embrace. Zion is now; we are Zion!
Zion Is Our Ideal
The term Zion is described in the scriptures and by prophets as a process, a people, and a place.[ix] Ultimately, Zion is a person who is striving to become pure in heart, someone who is in the process of qualifying to stand in the presence of God. Zion is always a condition of the heart.[x]
We qualify to be Zion people by remaining on the path to Zion. As we journey toward the ideal of Zion and strive to assimilate Zionlike attributes in our lives, we are Zion. We simply must keep our eye single and move forward with the Lord’s grace compensating for those Zionlike attributes we have not yet acquired.
The ideal of Zion is the end-purpose of the new and everlasting covenant, the oath and covenant of the priesthood, and every saving covenant and ordinance of the gospel. Therefore, if we do not have becoming Zionlike in mind, the gospel plan has little meaning or power in our lives. To become a Zion person or to have a Zion marriage or a Zion family should be our only aims in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Every program, every function, every activity is (or ought to be) designed with Zion in mind. We can become distracted and caught up in extraneous details, but in the end we will only postpone or forfeit our blessings. Because the celestial world and law are the ultimate manifestations of Zion, our origin is Zion, Zion is our earthly birthright,[xi] and it can be our destiny. Very literally, we are children of Zion.
Zion people take their covenants seriously and literally. They have a feeling of urgency and a longing that drives them to establish Zion in their hearts. The day will come when Zion individuals will receive their inheritance in the priesthood society of Zion. But until that day, each of us is commanded to become individually Zion.
President Benson handed each covenant person the responsibility for becoming Zionlike. Zion, the priesthood society, he said, can be brought about only by Zion people. As more and more of us decide to embrace the principles of Zion, the celestial order will finally exist among us and we, individually and collectively, will be prepared to receive the Lord.[xii] We recall that Enoch built his city of Zion after his people had individually qualified as Zion people (notice the sequence); just so, we will gather to build latter-day Zion when our hearts are pure, and then only under the direction of the prophet.[xiii]
President Spencer W. Kimball was another prophet who laid the responsibility for becoming and establishing Zion squarely upon our shoulders. How well we incorporate the new and everlasting covenant (the Covenant[xiv]) in our lives directly determines the time required to “accomplish all things pertaining to Zion.”[xv]
The Celestial Order
Zion is the standard among celestial and celestial-seeking beings.[xvi] We can measure substantially any situation, institution, person, group, philosophy, theory, or motivation against the standard of Zion.
Hugh Nibley explained that three orders exist on the earth, just as they exist in the universe: The order of Zion is celestial; the order of Eden is terrestrial; and the order of Babylon is telestial.[xvii] Discernment is a gift of the Spirit,[xviii] and freedom of choice is inherent in the spirit of man.[xix] How we choose among these orders determines where our hearts are now and where they will be in eternity.[xx] This life is uniquely and strategically designed so that the three orders are ever before us. We must learn to discern between them and make our choices consistently with our eternal desires.
Zion and Babylon—Exact Opposites
Wherever there exists anything or anyone that is celestial, there exists Zion. It is in every way the exact opposite of the telestial order of Babylon,[xxi] making the two as incompatible and mutually resistant as positive and negative poles. President Gordon B. Hinckley said that compromising the revealed doctrines of the Covenant is never an option.[xxii] Like Jesus and Satan, celestial and telestial things cannot compromise in any degree. When a person attempts to straddle Babylon and Zion, he will eventually be pulled into Babylon.
It is unavoidable.
When we attempt to mix celestial Zion with telestial Babylon (often called the world), Zion simply flees to its eternal lofty location. Thus the saying, “Zion is fled.”[xxiii] Why? Because Zion is a constant that never changes despite the inconsistency of her children: “Zion shall not be moved out of her place, notwithstanding her children are scattered.”
Our covenantal responsibility, then, is to conform to Zion rather than insisting that Zion conform to us: “They that remain, and are pure in heart, shall return, and come to their inheritances, they and their children, with songs of everlasting joy, to build up the waste places of Zion.”[xxiv] If we choose otherwise or if we lack courage and commitment, we will be left to ourselves to languish in this telestial world and its order. Referencing Elder John A. Widtsoe, Elder Ezra Taft Benson said,
The troubles of the world may largely be laid at the doors of those who are neither hot nor cold; who always follow the line of least resistance; whose timid hearts flutter at taking sides for truth. As in the great Council in the heavens, so in the Church of Christ on earth, there can be no neutrality.[xxv]
Therefore, either we are Zion or we are not. There is no compromising or mingling of Zion and Babylon. Hugh Nibley explained: “Zion is pure, which means ‘not mixed with any impurities, unalloyed’; it is all Zion and nothing else.”[xxvi]
Becoming a Zion Person
If we truly long for Zion, to become that kind of person and to enjoy Zion’s unique privileges, we must first make and keep the foundational covenant of Zion—The New and Everlasting Covenant. This Covenant is not the covenant that will someday be required of Zion people when they are invited into that order; that future covenant will be an appendage to the new and everlasting covenant, which is the totality of all saving covenants, ordinances, and commandments.
The new and everlasting covenant prepares us to become Zion in our hearts and to someday gain an inheritance in the heavenly society of Zion. The new and everlasting covenant that we embrace with all our hearts walls out Babylon and welds us irrevocably to Zion and her King. The pure in heart become “all Zion and nothing else.”
This, then, is what we know of Zion. She is our origin, our birthright, and our destiny. She is our ideal. Her establishment should be our greatest desire. As part of the latter-day dispensation, we are under covenant to build up the kingdom of God for the purpose of establishing Zion.
To accomplish that feat, and to ensure our salvation and exaltation, we enter into the new and everlasting covenant. By this act, we specify that we have made a choice between Zion and Babylon and that forevermore we will not attempt to mix the two. We will follow the Covenant to its perfect conclusion: to snatch us from Babylon, to single us out, to purify our hearts, to prepare us in every way to regain the presence of God, and to obtain our inheritance and our crown.
“This is Zion: THE PURE IN HEART.”[xxvii]
This article was adapted from my new book, The Three Pillars of Zion. Click here to receive a free sample.)
[i] D&C 115:5.
[ii] Nibley, Approaching Zion, 25; emphasis added.
[iii] Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 160.
[iv] Young, Discourses of Brigham Young, 118.
[v] JST Matthew 5:10; 3 Nephi 12:8.
[vi] Taylor, The Gospel Kingdom, 245.
[vii] Cowley, Matthew Cowley Speaks, 30.
[viii] 1 Nephi 19:23–24.
[ix] Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 1624–26.
[x] Young, Discourses of Brigham Young, 118.
[xi] Every person descends from Enoch, and a high percentage of the world descends from Abraham.
[xii] Benson, “Jesus Christ—Gifts and Expectations,” 16.
[xiii] Moses 7:19.
[xiv] Note: In this book we will refer to the new and everlasting covenant as the Covenant.
[xv] Kimball, “Becoming the Pure in Heart,” quoting D&C 105:37.
[xvi] D&C 105:5.
[xvii] Nibley, Approaching Zion, xv.
[xviii] D&C 50:23–24; 1 Corinthians 2:11.
[xix] McKay, Gospel Ideals, 299.
[xx] Matthew 6:21; Luke 12:34; 3 Nephi 13:21.
[xxi] Nibley, Approaching Zion, 30.
[xxii] Hinckley, “The Dawning of a Brighter Day,” 81.
[xxiii] Moses 7:69.
[xxiv] D&C 101:17–18.
[xxv] Benson, God, Family, Country, 359.
[xxvi] Nibley, Approaching Zion, 26.
[xxvii] D&C 97:21.