Saturday, June 2, 2012

The Gathering of Israel Continues Unabated

This morning I awakened to the news of the organization of India's first stake. I learned there are 10,000 members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints now living in India.

President Joseph F. Smith
This is a remarkable fulfillment of prophecy. When I was a young missionary in Great Britain, I remember being astonished to discover the largest topical heading in our study guide was "the gathering of Israel." I learned way back then I was playing a small part in that gathering process.

The news of the Church's first stake in India sent me back to review this remarkable prophecy of President Joseph F. Smith in 1911, as he opened the October General Conference:

I believe in the Gospel in its fullness. I believe in the Holy Priesthood, in its power, in its rightfulness to administer in the temples and in the waters of baptism, and in the laying on of bands for the gift of the Holy Ghost, and for healing of the sick, and for ordinations, and for all other purposes for which the Priesthood is rightfully used. I believe in the gathering of Israel, and I believe that the day will come when the valleys of the mountains will become too straight for the people of God. I believe that the time will come when we shall have to colonize abroad, when we shall have to spread abroad in the earth, for I believe that the Lord designs that eventually the people that will name His name in righteousness, and that will believe in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, together with His works, will spread over the earth, and especially spread over this land of Joseph, which the Lord has preserved in which to establish His kingdom and His Church in the latter days. I believe that as much as can be, but I do not believe that the time has yet come when our people can scatter abroad here and there, singly or by twos or threes or by little companies, away off into Central America, away off into Southern Mexico, away off into the northern limits, and away down to the western sea, or over onto the Atlantic seaboard. I do not believe the time has come that we can diffuse our strength and scatter ourselves abroad in the world, or colonize to such an extent and carry out the purposes of the Lord. I don't think that time has come. When it comes the Lord will make it manifest, and we will be able to do it too when that time comes. I believe that an overruling providence compelled us to establish settlements in Canada when they were established there, and I believe that the same providence overruled and compelled us to establish settlements in northern Mexico at the time that they were established there. I believe that President Young was moved by a correct principle, and by prophecy and inspiration when he determined that we should settle in Arizona and New Mexico in the south. I think that he was moved by the spirit of wisdom when he determined that we should settle at and in the vicinity of St. George, and we should build a temple and establish a colony there. I believe this. Why? Because he directed those movements by the inspiration of the Almighty, and therefore it was right, and when the Spirit of the Lord moves upon His servants who preside over the Church to build colonies in distant lands, it will be time enough for you to go and we will call you to go, some of you; but not till then. (October 1911, CR 9-10, emphasis mine).

Of course, President Smith was not the only prophet with this vision of the future gathering of Israel. The scriptures are full of that topic (perhaps my mission study guide was accurate, because it may the the largest single topical category). Here's one sampling of the doctrine:

And I will strengthen the house of Judah, and I will save the house of Joseph, and I will bring them again to place them; for I have mercy upon them: and they shall be as though I had not cast them off: for I am the LORD their God, and will hear them.
And they of Ephraim shall be like a mighty man, and their heart shall rejoice as through wine: yea, their children shall see it, and be glad; their heart shall rejoice in the LORD.
I will hiss for them, and gather them; for I have redeemed them: and they shall increase as they have increased.
And I will sow them among the people: and they shall remember me in far countries; and they shall live with their children, and turn again.
I will bring them again also out of the land of Egypt, and gather them out of Assyria; and I will bring them into the land of Gilead and Lebanon; and place shall not be found for them.
And he shall pass through the sea with affliction, and shall smite the waves in the sea, and all the deeps of the river shall dry up: and the pride of Assyria shall be brought down, and the sceptre of Egypt shall depart away.
And I will strengthen them in the LORD; and they shall walk up and down in his name, saith the LORD. (Zechariah 10:6-12; see also Isaiah 5:26, emphasis mine).

Today, I read that phrase "hiss for them, and gather them," meaning the seed of Joseph, latter-day Israel, and I can picture in my mind the Internet and its global reach as the means for fulfillment of those words. Can you discern the reality in today's world of Israel being scattered ("sow") "among the people" in "far countries" as well as the north country? Do you see their eventual individual journeys into the stakes of Zion ("they shall remember me") in those "far countries?"

This is exactly what Ephraim ("like a mighty man") is doing today. We are following the counsel of our leaders to build up the Church everywhere in their own countries - because "place shall not be found for them" in the New Jerusalem yet. Do you understand there are more members of the Church now living outside the United States than within it?

Do you realize the meaning of the words "he shall pass through the sea with affliction, and shall smite the waves in the sea," as a reference to a later era of gathering, namely the eventual return of all the ten tribes, first to the New Jerusalem, and then to their homelands ("the land of Gilead and Lebanon") from where they were first captured and taken into slavery?

As they make their journeys, as in all the journeys of gathering in the past, will there be occasion for the "deeps of the river" to be dried up again? It is Isaiah who informs us on their return to their homelands the Lord will "destroy the tongue of the Egyptian sea," and returning Israel shall "go over dryshod," exactly as it happened the first time when the Lord brought them through the Red Sea on their way to the promised land anciently. (See Isaiah 11:15; also Elder Orson Pratt, JD 16:151-152 [1873]).

We are living in the "times of the Gentiles" in this phase of the gathering, and Isaiah continues to add perspective for these times and beyond in this prophetic declaration:

And 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:
None shall be weary nor stumble among them; none shall slumber nor sleep; neither shall the girdle of their loins be loosed, nor the latchet of their shoes be broken:
Whose arrows are sharp, and all their bows bent, their horses' hoofs shall be counted like flint, and their wheels like a whirlwind:
Their roaring shall be like a lion, they shall roar like young lions: yea, they shall roar, and lay hold of the prey, and shall carry it away safe, and none shall deliver it.
And in that day they shall roar against them like the roaring of the sea: and if one look unto the land, behold darkness and sorrow, and the light is darkened in the heavens thereof. (Isaiah 5:26-30, emphasis mine).

President Harold B. Lee
Isaiah sees the lifting up of "an ensign," which refers to phase one of the gathering in the last days. It is this phase in which we are still engaged as we are mainly gathering the tribe of Ephraim and his fellows during the times of the Gentiles. We see these references suggesting the speed of travel available to both the gathered and the gatherers. I still remember vividly when my grandfather, Elder Harold B. Lee, used to marvel at the introduction of jet travel compared to train and automobile travel in facilitating the work of the Lord in his day. Those riding in jets today come so swiftly that they have no need, and are unable "to slumber nor sleep." Remarkable to me is that Isaiah saw it and words nearly failed him in trying to describe what he saw.

Phase two of the gathering, the laying "hold of the prey," and carrying "it away safe," and "the light is darkened in the heavens" suggests a still later period of gathering when the ten tribes will be led to Zion in the New Jerusalem to escape the impending desolation in these latter days.

For almost a hundred years, latter-day Israel has been counseled by their leaders to remain in their own countries and build up the Church. In 1973, President Harold B. Lee spoke even more specifically about this topic in General Conference:

Today we are witnessing the demonstration of the Lord’s hand even in the midst of his saints, the members of the Church. Never in this dispensation, and perhaps never before in any single period, has there been such a feeling of urgency among the members of this church as today. Her boundaries are being enlarged, her stakes are being strengthened. In the early years of the Church specific places to which the Saints were to be gathered together were given, and the Lord directed that these gathering places should not be changed, but then he gave one qualification: “Until the day cometh when there is found no more room for them; and then I have other places which I will appoint unto them, and they shall be called stakes, for the curtains or the strength of Zion.” (D&C 101:21).

Elder Bruce R. McConkie
At the Mexico City Area Conference last August, Elder Bruce R. McConkie of the Council of the Twelve, in a thought-provoking address, made some comments pertinent to this subject, and I quote a few sentences from his address:

“Of this glorious day of restoration and gathering, another Nephite prophet said: ‘The Lord … has covenanted with all the house of Israel,’ that ‘the time comes that they shall be restored to the true church and fold of God’; and that ‘they shall be gathered home to the lands of their inheritance, and shall be established in all their lands of promise.’ (2 Nephi 9:1–2).

“Now I call your attention to the facts, set forth in these scriptures, that the gathering of Israel consists of joining the true church; of coming to a knowledge of the true God and of his saving truths; and of worshiping him in the congregations of the Saints in all nations and among all peoples. Please note that these revealed words speak of the folds of the Lord; of Israel being gathered to the lands of their inheritance; of Israel being established in all their lands of promise; and of there being congregations of the covenant people of the Lord in every nation, speaking every tongue, and among every people when the Lord comes again.”

Elder McConkie then concluded with this statement, which certainly emphasizes the great need for the teaching and training of local leadership in order to build up the church within their own native countries:

“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. Japan is for the Japanese; Korea is for the Koreans; Australia is for the Australians; every nation is the gathering place for its own people.” (President Harold B. Lee, "Strengthen the Stakes of Zion," Ensign, July 1973, 4-5; see also President Spencer W. Kimball, Ensign, May 1975, 4; also Elder Boyd K. Packer, Ensign, November 1992, 71).

President Spencer W. Kimball
President Kimball added these insights a few years later:

Now, the gathering of Israel consists of joining the true church and their coming to a knowledge of the true God. Any person, therefore, who has accepted the restored gospel, and who now seeks to worship the Lord in his own tongue and with the Saints in the nations where he lives, has complied with the law of the gathering of Israel and is heir to all of the blessings promised the Saints in these last days. . .

The First Presidency and the Twelve see great wisdom in the multiple Zions, many gathering places where the Saints within their own culture and nation can act as a leaven in the building of the kingdom-a kingdom which seeks no earthly rewards or treasures. (TSWK, 439).

President Ezra Taft Benson
A few years later in 1991, President Ezra Taft Benson further fleshed out the doctrine as it relates to finding safety among the saints living in the far-flung stakes of Zion in the perilous times of the last days:

Yet another revelation from the Lord gives this explanation of the purpose of stakes:

“Verily I say unto you all: Arise and shine forth, that thy light may be a standard for the nations;

And that the gathering together upon the land of Zion, and upon her stakes, may be for a defense, and for a refuge from the storm, and from wrath when it shall be poured out without mixture upon the whole earth.” (D&C 115:5–6).

In this revelation is a command to let our light shine so it becomes a standard for the nations. A standard is a rule of measure by which one determines exactness or perfection. The Saints are to be a standard of holiness for the world to see! That is the beauty of Zion.

The Lord then reveals that the stakes of Zion are to be “for a defense, and for a refuge from the storm, and from wrath when it shall be poured out without mixture upon the whole earth.” Stakes are a defense for the Saints from enemies both seen and unseen. The defense is direction provided through priesthood channels that strengthens testimony and promotes family solidarity and individual righteousness.

In the Lord’s preface to his revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants, He warned: “The day speedily cometh; the hour is not yet, but is nigh at hand, when peace shall be taken from the earth, and the devil shall have power over his own dominion.” (D&C 1:35).

Today — some 160 years after this revelation was given — we see the fulfillment of this prediction. Satan, in undiminished fury, is displaying power over “his own dominion” — the earth. Never has his influence been so great, and only those who have taken the Holy Spirit as their guide and followed counsel from priesthood leaders will be spared from the havoc of his evil influence.

The Lord also states in that prefatory revelation that He “shall have power over his saints, and shall reign in their midst.” (D&C 1:36).

He does this as He works through His anointed servants and stake and ward authorities.

The Book of Mormon prophet Nephi foresaw the day when the Saints would be scattered in stakes all over the world. He saw the time when the Lord would extend His protection to them when menaced by a storm of destruction that threatened their existence. Nephi prophesied:

“And it came to pass that I, Nephi, beheld the power of the Lamb of God, that it descended upon the saints of the church of the Lamb, and upon the covenant people of the Lord, who were scattered upon all the face of the earth; and they were armed with righteousness and with the power of God in great glory.” (1 Nephi 14:14).

Through revelation we know that there will be perils, calamities, and persecution in the latter days, but through righteousness the Saints may be spared. The promise of the Lord in the Book of Mormon is sure: “He will preserve the righteous by his power.” (1 Nephi 22:17). (President Ezra Taft Benson, "Strengthen Thy Stakes," Ensign, January 1991, emphasis mine).

* * *

In this political season in America, now that Mitt Romney has clinched the Republican nomination for the presidency, it will not take much imagination to predict the potential arousal of all the old bigotries that were unleashed on our ancestors in Jackson, Clay and other counties in Missouri and later Illinois. Strange to me is that Senator Harry Reid (D-NV), also a prominent political leader as the majority leader of the Senate and also a Mormon, seems incapable of arousing so much animus, but that might be only a reflection of which political party he espouses. Liberal Mormons seemingly get a free pass, but not conservative ones.

As one braces for the onslaught of the envy, jealousy and fear associated with the rise of conservative Mormons on the political scene, let us never forget what has been prophesied as outlined by these leaders cited above. With or without Mitt Romney in the White House, Zion will continue to prosper and spread its tentacles abroad throughout the world, and stakes will continue to be established as the gathering to the stakes continues.

The ongoing spread of Constitutional values throughout the world seems to continue amidst all the political foment, as the dictators one by one are toppled. Whatever storms may arise in the future days ahead, safety and protection will be available for Ephraim's descendants in the stakes of Zion throughout the world.

As the times of the Gentiles draw to a close, the fewer of scattered Ephraim there will be left to gather into the stakes. We've already witnessed the consolidation of missions in Europe where the harvest has been dwindling. However, there are still a number of countries the missionaries have not been granted permission yet to enter, and there may be many of the tribe of Joseph locked within those borders.

The harvest is rich in the Latin American countries, where many of the seed of Joseph were scattered anciently. (See 3 Nephi 21:24). You may know assuredly when the second phase of the gathering has begun, because it will involve an escalation of baptisms among the descendants of the lost tribes as they begin to embrace the gospel at a far greater rate than anything we have heretofore imagined. (See 3 Nephi 21:26-29).

The thunderous appeal of the gentle invitation to "come unto me" continues to echo down the corridors of time, and increasingly the people of the world will heed the invitation to gather in among the stakes of Zion. I think that invitation is captured best in these words:

"One of the most frequent words in Christ’s vocabulary was
a small one –  come. The gestures which we associate with
him echo the same idea. Arms outstretched in welcome, his
entire being said, ‘Come.’ This is not a restricted invitation
for the few, for the elect, for those who somehow deserve it;
he made it open and for all, no matter how weak or afraid or

“Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden,” he
said, “and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28). At another
time he said, “Suffer the little children to come unto me, and
forbid them not,” appealing to the little child in each of us.
(Luke 18:16). Come follow me, in fact, was the message of
his life.

“Come. It is an immediate appeal, admitting no excuses.
We who say to the Lord, ‘I am too busy; I am too tired; I will
work for you at another time,’ have missed the point. There
is not a mortal being who is not burdened with the cares
that threaten to absorb him altogether. All are preoccupied,
all busy. But when Christ said to Peter and Andrew fishing
in the sea of Galilee, ‘Come… and I will make you fishers of
men,’ they dropped their nets and came. (Mark 1:17).

“Come. It is without qualifications. Not come when we are
perfect. Not come when we have no doubts, when life is
uncontested and we have no problems. Nor is it an invitation
to come only when life is at its darkest –  only in time of dire
need. It is simple, ‘Come now. Come as you are.’

“Why is the Lord so insistent about this invitation? Probably
because he walked with us and knows firsthand the
mysteries, violence, and contradictions of life on this earth.
He knows if we will come to him in pain, we will leave in joy.
If we come in confusion, we will leave in clarity. If we come
in darkness, we will leave in light. So he offers the invitation
and leaves it extended with a kind of divine hopefulness –
until we respond." (Spencer Kinard, “The Spoken Word,”
Time for Reflection [Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Co.,
1986], 113-14).

There is much lying in futurity we know must yet come to pass before the Lord is done with America. Let us not be weary (this is self-talk now, because sometimes I get weary) in well-doing and in expressing our hope and faith in the future. I believe America will survive yet a while longer to fulfill her mission as a beacon to the world, though she has stumbled badly in recent years. Why do I believe it? Because it is the land of the New Jersualem yet to come and its Constitution is divinely inspired.

The gathering of Israel in these last days is a harvest the Lord of the vineyard will have on His own timetable and in His own way, and to the human mind it could only be classified as "strange" sometimes.

Pray ye, therefore, that their ears may be opened unto your cries, that I may be merciful unto them, that these things may not come upon them.
What I have said unto you must needs be, that all men may be left without excuse;
That wise men and rulers may hear and know that which they have never considered;
That I may proceed to bring to pass my act, my strange act, and perform my work, my strange work, that men may discern between the righteous and the wicked, saith your God. (D&C 101:92-95, emphasis mine).

If you think sometimes this political campaign season featuring Mitt Romney qualifies as a "strange act," be assured it is only the preamble to that which lies ahead.

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