In 1829 while Joseph Smith was in the process of translating the Book of Mormon, Peter Whitmer and his family became interested in this work and invited Joseph to continue his efforts at their home. As the work of translation continued, the Whitmer family gained a testimony that this book was of God and, being God-fearing people, they asked Joseph what they could do to serve the Lord. Joseph inquired of God and was told that they should "Seek to bring forth and establish my Zion. Keep my commandments in all things" (D&C 14:6).
Later, in 1834 the Lord told the church, "I have commanded you to organize yourselves, even to print my words, the fulness of my scriptures, the revelations which I have given unto you, and which I shall, hereafter, from time to time give unto you- For the purpose of building up my church and kingdom on the earth, and to prepare my people for the time when I shall dwell with them, which is nigh at hand" (D&C 104:59)
Generally speaking, to build up the church and kingdom of God on earth is understood to mean that the members of Christ's church are to preach the gospel with the purpose of bringing souls unto Christ and also to help perfect the saints once they have accepted Christ as their Savior. In this way the church and kingdom of God is built up by expanding in numbers and in righteousness. But is that what is meant by the command to "establish Zion?"
To answer that question, we first need to understand what it means to establish something and secondly we need to define what Zion is.
One of the definitions of the word "establish" is "to set up, create, build or bring into being on a firm stable basis; to cause to be accepted or recognized; to make permanent, such as a relationship, especially a formal one, with another person, group or country ." For example, to establish a church means that a group of people set up or create or bring into existence an organization or institution that has some permanency to it where all those who belong to it accept or recognize the doctrines, teachings, and rules of that church.
In the scriptures Zion is often referred to as a place. For example, "But the laborer in Zion shall labor for Zion; for if they labor for money they shall perish" (2 Nephi 26:31). "The voice of them that flee and escape out of the land of Babylon, to declare in Zion the vengeance of the Lord our God, the vengeance of his temple" (Jeremiah.50:28). "Surely Zion is the city of our God, and surely Zion cannot fall, neither be moved out of her place, for God is there, and the hand of the Lord is there" (D&C 97:19).
However, among Latter-day Saints the word "Zion" is often defined as "the pure in heart" (D&C97:21) but how does that fit with other scriptures that refer to Zion as being physical place where people dwell? Is Zion a physical location, is it an idea or religious concept, or is it frame of mind or an attitude?
The answer is that Zion means all of the above. It is a place that has a physical location, but it is also a religious concept, and it is also an attitude of the mind. We can explain it better by way of an illustration. In every large city there is a section of town known as the slums. It is a place that is run down, economically underdeveloped where the poor live, and is usually an area that has a lot of crime. Yet, in that same city there are areas that are neat, clean, well developed, and prosperous.
These areas can be physically located on a map and often have well defined boundaries yet that is not because a group of people sitting on the city council has determined where the slums or the nicer places of town will be located. The slums exist because of the kind of people who live there and the kind of people who live there have a certain mind-set or mental attitude which is determined by their philosophy of life. And the same is true of the nicer areas of the city.
The reason why an area of town is run down is because the people there are not just poor but generally speaking they are lazy, do not have a strong work ethic, don't take much responsibility for themselves or their behavior, don't want to be educated, and who are willing to live off the handouts of others. As a result of this kind of attitude, they aren't motivated to improve themselves or their surroundings. Therefore, what work they do is for minimum wage so they are constantly struggling just to support themselves, and very often many of them are unemployed. For this reason, the place where they live begins to deteriorate because there is no money or motivation to fix or repair their surroundings.
With little or no money, they either depend on government programs to help them survive or they resort to stealing. It doesn't take long before a feeling of despair settles in and they begin to accept as a fact of life that things can't get any better for them, and because of this mental attitude, they become comfortable in their squalled surroundings.
Yet, at the same time, instead of wisely using what little money they do have they unwisely squander it on things that bring them material gratification. Thus, it is their lifestyle that perpetuates and guarantees that they will continue to live a life of poverty and the place where they live will remain a slum area.
However, in the better parts of town, those who live there have an attitude of hard work, they strive to become educated, take responsibility for their actions, and take pride in themselves as well as in their surroundings. As a result, the place where they live looks neat and beautiful, their property is always in good repair, and they have a low crime rate.
This illustrates what Zion is like. Zion is not just some particular place located on a map but is a place located where a particular kind of people live. Zion is Zion only because the people who live there have a certain kind of philosophy on life, which then influences their mental attitude, which then is reflected in the way they think and behave about themselves, others, and their surroundings. That, in turn, then results in creating the kind of environment that produces what is known as Zion. And wherever we see the kind of people who are able to create a Zion-like environment, that is where Zion is located.
If that is so then what kind of people are needed to establish Zion?
As stated earlier, Zion is where the pure in heart live, but what exactly does it mean to be "pure in heart?" What kind of philosophy and metal attitude is necessary for someone to be classified as being pure in heart?
The scriptures tell us that "the Lord called his people Zion, because they were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them. (Moses 7:18). The Lord told Joseph Smith, "And behold, thou wilt remember the poor, and consecrate of thy properties for their support that which thou hast to impart unto them, with a covenant and a deed which cannot be broken. And inasmuch as ye impart of your substance unto the poor, ye will do it unto me; and they shall be laid before the bishops of my church and his counselors, two of the elders, or high priests, such as he shall appoint or has appointed and set apart for that purpose. (D&C 42:30,31).
At the time when this revelation was given, there were Saints moving into Kirkland, Ohio who were very poor. They had little in the way of material possessions and they had no land on which to raise crops or houses to live in so the Lord set up a system whereby the poor could be cared for. In the LDS Church, we often refer to this as the United Order.
Under this system members of the church would "consecrate" their property over to the bishop who would then lease back to the individual member that property which they needed to live on. The surplus property would then be put into the bishop's storehouse from which the bishop would then lease to those who didn't have enough to live on. In this way the poor were taken care of so that there were no poor among them. Thus, taking care of the poor is one of the philosophies that make a Zion people.
However, it should be noticed that in conjunction with the giving of property to the bishop is the command that this property should be consecrated. The word "consecrate" means "to commit, dedicate, or devote to God; to hallow, sanctify or make holy something we give to God." Therefore, it wasn't just the giving of property to the bishop that was required but consecrating that property was a necessary part of the act of giving.
But property isn't the only thing we can consecrate. We can consecrate our time, energy, knowledge, talents, money, and anything else we might possess. For example, when priesthood holders do their home teaching and sisters do their visiting teaching, they are giving their time to serving God. Thus, they are literally consecrating their time. When a Sunday School teacher studies and prepares hard for their lesson, they are consecrating their time, energy, teaching talents, and gained knowledge to help their students draw closer to God. When we do this we are living a law known as the law of consecration and this is one of the philosophies and attitudes that is necessary in order to become a Zion person.
But there is another law known as the law of sacrifice. From the time Adam was driven out of the garden of Eden he was taught to offer up sacrifices unto the Lord (Moses 5:5,6), which Adam taught to his sons, who taught it to their sons. Abraham knew of this law as evidenced by the story of his sacrifice of Isaac. But during their long sojourn in Egypt the Israelites had lost the knowledge of this practice. As a result, the Lord revealed it again to Moses and from Moses down to the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem by the Romans in 68 A.D., the Israelites kept this law.
However, after the death of Jesus, God no longer required a sacrifice through the shedding of blood. Instead He now requires that we "present [our] bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is [our] reasonable service" (Romans12:1). For Christians, the law of sacrifice now involves the sacrificing of our own life to God. This is what Jesus meant when He said, "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me" (Matthew 16:24).
Is there any difference between consecrating something to God and sacrificing something to God? Yes. Under the law of consecration we consecrate our possessions but under the law of Moses a living animal was placed on an altar and its life was taken. After the death of Christ what God expects is for us to place our own life on the altar and sacrifice our self to His service. To do that we have to become dead to our old way of living and become a new creature in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17) by keeping His commandments and helping Him sustain and build up His Kingdom here on earth. But more than that, being a true Christian means being willing to lay down our own life, if necessary, rather than deny our faith in Christ.
And there is another difference between sacrifice and consecration. When someone sacrifices something it is generally for the purpose of giving up something of a lower value in exchange for gaining something of a greater value. For example, Christians are willing to give up living a worldly life now in order to gain a more glorious heavenly life in the hereafter. But when we consecrate something it is usually done more out of love than expecting something in return. Thus the law of consecrations is a higher law than the law of sacrifice because it takes a purer heart to live it.
But there is yet another law. When asked which was the greatest commandment in the law, Jesus answered saying, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets" (Matthew 22:37-40).
Of all the many commandments Jesus has given us (and there are hundreds) they can all be boiled down to two: love God and love your fellow man with all your heart. But in reality these two are actually one commandment because it is by loving our fellowman enough to care for both their physical and spiritual needs that we show our love to God. This is what Jesus meant when He said, "Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me" (Matthew25:40). This is why the apostle Pal wrote, "Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law" (Romans13:10). The "law" Paul is referring to here is not the law of Moses but the law of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The Lord had revealed to Joseph Smith a system whereby the poor would be taken care of through the law of consecration but that law is connected to and works in conjunction with the law of sacrifice and the law of the gospel. It is those who keep all three of those laws with all of their heart, soul, and mind who have the kind of attitude that will help establish Zion.
But that is obviously more easily said than done so the next question is: How do we go about living the law of consecration? In other words, how can we develop the kind of attitude where we are willing to consecrate all that we have to God? The answer is simple - commitment.
One of the definitions of the word "commit" is "to pledge or obligate one's self." When a person commits themselves to doing something they become determined to do it regardless of any obstacles they may encounter. For example, when a salesman commits themselves to selling a certain amount of products, they do whatever is necessary to achieve their goal. They may have to work much longer hours than expected or go to places they may not have anticipated, or give up more of their commission than they wanted, but a committed salesman will do everything they possibly can to keep the pledge they made to themselves.
But a person who is not committed will use every problem that comes along as an excuse for why they can't fulfill their self-imposed obligation. Instead of putting their whole heart, soul, and mind into doing what they have promised, they will put in a half-hearted attempt. If their promise is easy to keep, they will keep it but as soon as they have to put forth a little extra effort, their promise falls by the wayside.
The same principle applies to home teaching. A committed home teacher will visit all of their families each and every month without fail, but a home teacher who is not committed will do their home teaching when it is convenient, and when it isn't convenient they won't visit their families.
The same is true of paying tithing. A person who is a committed tithe payer will pay their tithing first before any other obligation, even if that means they don't have enough money left to pay some other bill. But someone who isn't a committed tithe payer will keep their promise to God only as long as it is easy for them to do so. But when they have to make a hard choice between paying God or paying a worldly bill, God loses.
In other churches, the way they get their money is through the collection plate that is past around each Sunday. Under this system no one is required to put in any money and what money is put in the plate is whatever the parishioner wants to put in. This isn't tithing. It's called a donation.
A donation is something a person gives whatever and whenever they want to. But when a person commits to paying a certain amount of money for a certain amount of time, such as for a house payment or a car payment, then they do whatever they have to in order to insure that the payment is made. However, this kind of a commitment is easier to keep because the person knows that if they don't keep their commitment they could lose their home or their car.
But when a person doesn't keep their so-called "commitment" to God, there are no obvious consequences, which then takes a greater commitment on their part to keep their pledge. Therefore, a commitment to God takes much more determination to fulfill, but without that kind of a self-imposed obligation a person cannot possibly consecrate themselves, and without consecrating themselves, they cannot establish Zion.
But how does a person develop the attitude of commitment? The answer is simple: they have to become converted to gospel of Jesus Christ.
Most people believe that conversion is a one-time event. In other words, conversion is viewed as coming to accept as fact that Jesus is the Christ, the Savior, who can take away our personal sins and allow us to enter heaven. But that is only a first step because conversion is not a destination; it's a journey.
There are people who are converted to Jesus Christ but they are not converted to coming to church every Sunday or reading their scriptures every day, or paying their tithing, or doing their genealogy, or going to the temple regularly. The gospel of Jesus Christ includes these and many other things and we can be converted to one aspect of the gospel but be far from converted to other aspects of the gospel.
When a person is first baptized they are usually converted to Jesus Christ and to His Church but no one is ever totally and completely converted to each and every principle of the gospel. That takes time and effort to achieve. That's why conversion is a journey. Little by little we work on one principle at a time, sometimes struggling to gain a testimony of a particular principle. But, over time, and with diligence on our part, we gradually become converted to one more and then one more, and then one more principle. And then, once we become truly converted to a principle, it becomes an easy matter to commit ourselves to living it. But until that conversion takes place, it is almost impossible to make any real commitment.
Then how do we become converted to every principle of the gospel? The answer is simple: the same way we became converted to Christ.
The apostle Paul wrote "as it is written, eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God." (1 Cor. 2:9-11)
How do we know the things of God? We can't by sight because no eye has seen the things which are of God and we can't know spiritual things by sound because no ear has heard the things which God knows. Just like man knows the things of this world because of the spirit that is within him so likewise we can only come to know the things of God because of the Spirit of God within a man which teaches him.
Moroni wrote, "And when ye shall receive these things I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the eternal Father, in the name of Christ I these things are not true. And if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you by the power of the Holy Ghost" (Moroni 10:4).
If a person wants to become converted to Jesus Christ or to tithing, or home teaching, or genealogy, or any other principle of the gospel, the way to do it by asking God for a testimony of that principle. But there are two conditions that have to be met before a person can receive the kind of testimony that will lead to conversion. The first is that they have to be sincere about their request and that sincerity will be evident in the way they ask. If the prayer is not asked "with real intent" then it is not sincere.
The second condition is that a person must have faith that God will answer those who seek Him diligently. Therefore, if the request comes from the heart and it is coupled with faith in Christ then the Spirit of God will touch that person's heart and they will experience a mighty change, which is the definition of conversion.
This is what Alma meant when he said, "according to [my father's] faith there was a mighty change wrought in his heart... And behold, he preached the word unto your fathers, and a mighty change was also wrought in their hearts, and they humbled themselves and put their trust in the true and living God" (Alma 5:12,14).
Both Alma the elder and his son, Alma, the younger, experienced such a mighty change in their attitude that their whole philosophy on life was completely changed to the point that their commitment to God became unshakable. As a result they had no trouble consecrating their time, talent, and energy to the service of God. Because of that they were also willing to sacrifice all that they possessed to building and sustaining the kingdom of God on earth. And as far as they were able to help others keep the law of consecration, in conjunction with the law of sacrifice and the law of the gospel, they were helping to establish Zion.
The psalmist wrote, "When the Lord shall build up Zion, he shall appear in his glory" (Psalms 102:16). God cannot dwell in an unrighteous environment therefore before the Lord can come again He needs to have people who will first prepare the earth for His return. That is the reason why He has commanded us to establish Zion because Zion is not just a place but is a place where the people who live there are of one heart and one mind, who dwell in righteousness and where there are no poor among them. This is what it means to be pure in heart.
Alma asked the people of his day a question that each of us should ask ourselves: "And now behold, I ask of you, my brethren of the church, have ye spiritually been born of God? Have ye received his image in your countenances? Have ye experienced this mighty change in your hearts?" (Alma 5:14).
Conversion leads to commitment which leads to consecration. But before conversion can happen there has to be a sincere desire on our part to want to go through that process. Without that desire we will not be able to become the kind of people who can keep the commandment to establish Zion.
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