Sunday, January 23, 2011

God's Purpose for America

Everything God does is for the benefit of his children. He said, “For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39). God’s greatest desire is for you and me to become like Him and to return to His presence.

From Zenos’ allegory of the tame and wild olive trees, found in the Book of Mormon, we learn of God’s love and concern for his children and his great efforts and preparation on their behalf.

“And he saw that his olive-tree began to decay; and he said: I will prune it, and dig about it, and nourish it, that perhaps it may shoot forth young and tender branches, and it perish not” (Jacob 5:4).

“And the Lord of the vineyard caused that it should be digged about, and pruned, and nourished, saying unto his servant: It grieveth me that I should lose this tree; wherefore, that perhaps I might preserve the roots thereof that they perish not, that I might preserve them unto myself, I have done this thing” (Jacob 5:11).

Without taking away our agency, the Lord in His tender mercy makes preparations on our behalf to assist us while here on earth.

In a revelation given to Joseph Smith, the Lord said, “I prepared all things, and have given unto the children of men to be agents unto themselves” (D&C 104:17)

Moroni explains, “In the gift of his Son hath God prepared a more excellent way; and it is by faith that it hath been fulfilled” (Ether 12:11).

Evidence of God preparing a more excellent way is found in the Book of Mormon when Lehi’s family is commanded by God to leave Jerusalem. To the obedient son Nephi, the Lord said, “Blessed at thou, Nephi, because of thy faith, for thou has sought me diligently, with lowliness of heart. And inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments, ye shall prosper, and shall be led to a land of promise; yea, even a land which I have prepared for you; yea, a land which is choice above all other lands” (1 Nephi 2: 19-20).

The Promised Land the Lord prepared for Nephi and his family is America.

The Book of Mormon teaches that the land of promise or America is “choice above all other lands, which the Lord God had preserved for a righteous people” and “whosoever should possess this land of promise, from that time henceforth and forever, should serve him, the true and only God, or they should be swept off when the fullness of his wrath should come upon them” (Ether 2:7-8).

America was prepared to be a great blessing to Nephi’s people.

While pondering in his heart his father’s vision of the tree of life, Nephi “was caught away in the Spirit of the Lord” (1 Nephi 11:1) and received a vision. In his vision, he witnessed the great events of his posterity in the land of promise.

“And I saw the heavens open, and the Lamb of God descending out of heaven; and he came down and showed himself unto them” (1 Nephi 12:6).

“And the angel said unto me: Look! And I looked, and beheld three generations pass away in righteousness; and their garments were white even like unto the Lamb of God. And the angel said unto me: These are made white in the blood of the Lamb, because of their faith in him” (1 Nephi 12:11).

Nephi then witnessed the pride, contention, wars, and eventual destruction of his people.

Perhaps the Lord of the vineyard in the allegory of the olive tree was referring to Nephi’s people when he “wept, and said unto the servant: What more could I have done more for my vineyard” (Jacob 5:41). “Behold this last, whose branch hath withered away, I did plant in a good spot of ground; yea, even that which was choice unto me above all other parts of the land of my vineyard” (Jacob 5:43). “…It grieveth me that I should lose them. But what could I have done more in my vineyard? Have I slackened my hand, that I have not nourished it? Nay, I have nourished it, and I have digged about it, and I have pruned it, and I have dunged it; and I have stretched forth mine hand almost all the day long…” (Jacob 5:46-47).

Despite the Lord’s efforts on their behalf, the Nephites “departed from the ways of the Lord,” “rejected that Jesus, who stood with open arms to receive [them],” and were “fallen” and “lost” (Mormon 6:17-18).

How painful that must have been for Nephi, who had not yet arrived at the Land of Promise, to see. Yet immediately, hope was provided.

Nephi witnessed the preparations God would make to the restore the gospel of Jesus Christ in America—“first unto the Gentile and then to the Jew [and Lamanite]” (D&C 107:34 and Book of Mormon Institute Manual, 31).

America is the fertile soil upon which the restoration of the gospel was planted. Like in the allegory of the olive tree, the Lord would spare it a little longer, nourish it, dig about it, prune it, dung it, and stretch forth his hand.

In Nephi’s vision, he sees 4 instruments or tools which the Lord used to prepare America for the restoration: 1) Christopher Columbus; 2) the American colonists; 3) the Revolutionary War; and 4) the Bible.

First, Christopher Columbus.

Of his vision, Nephi stated, “I looked and beheld a man among the Gentiles, who was separated from the seed of my brethren by the many waters; and I beheld the Spirit of God, that it came down and wrought upon the man; and he went forth upon the many waters, even unto the seed of my brethren, who were in the promised land” (1 Nephi 13:12).

President Ezra Taft Benson explained, “God inspired ‘a man among the Gentiles’ who, by the Spirit of God was led to rediscover the land of America and bring this rich new land to the attention of the people in Europe. That man, of course, was Christopher Columbus, who testified that he was inspired in what he did.

“’Our Lord,’ said Columbus, ‘unlocked my mind, sent me upon the sea, and gave me fire for the deed. Those who heard of my enterprise called it foolish, mocked me, and laughed. But who can doubt that the Holy Ghost inspired me?’ (Jacob Wasserman, Columbus, Don Quixote of the Seas) (The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson).

President Gordon B. Hinckley said of Christopher Columbus, “I do not dispute that there were others who came to this Western Hemisphere before him. But it was he who in faith lighted a lamp to look for a new way to China and who in the process discovered America. His was an awesome undertaking—to sail west across the unknown seas farther than anyone before him of his generation. He it was who, in spite of the terror of the unknown and the complaints and near mutiny of his crew, sailed on with frequent prayers to the Almighty for guidance. In his reports to the sovereigns of Spain, Columbus repeatedly asserted that his voyage was for the glory of God and the spread of the Christian faith. Properly do we honor him for his unyielding strength in the face of uncertainty and danger” (Conference Report, Oct 1992).

Second, “after viewing the discovery of America by Columbus, Nephi was shown the colonization of this land” (Mark E. Petersen, The Great Prologue).

Nephi saw “the Spirit of God, that it wrought upon other Gentiles; and they went forth out of captivity, upon the many waters.” He continued, “I beheld many multitudes of the Gentiles upon the land of promise…And I beheld the Spirit of the Lord, that it was upon the Gentiles, and they did prosper and obtain the land for their inheritance...” (1Nephi 13:14-15).

In his book “The Great Prologue,” Elder Mark E. Petersen taught, “France, Spain, England, and Portugal were the principal powers involved in the discovery and exploration of America, and this is significant…All were ruled by despots, and when immigrants were allowed to leave the “mother countries,” they indeed fled from captivity [and oppression]...

Speaking of the early pilgrims, Elder Petersen said, “In spite of all the difficulties that beset their colony, they felt the freedom they enjoyed was well worth it to them…They felt as did Patrick Henry a century and a half later: “Give me liberty of give me death’” (Mark E. Petersen, The Great Prologue, 33-34).

The early colonists were God-fearing people. They desired to worship God as their conscience dictated. They came with their families and built a solid foundation for America by establishing schools, farms, and businesses; erecting churches; worshipping God; honoring the Sabbath day; and recognizing all they had came from God.

Elder Petersen continues, “It is admitted that many of the colonists were not religious and did not belong to the churches in their communities. But the leaders did—they who charted the destinies of the new land” (Mark E. Petersen, The Great Prologue, 45).

“The deep religious convictions of our early [American] leaders—wherein not only religious freedom was revered, but all liberty as well—formed the foundation on which they subsequently based their demands for self-determination and independence from their Mother Country…” (Mark E. Petersen, The Great Prologue, 47).

Third, the Revolutionary War.

“And it came to pass that I, Nephi, beheld that the Gentiles who had gone forth out of captivity did humble themselves before the Lord; and the power of the Lord was with them. And I beheld that their mother Gentiles were gathered together upon the waters, and upon the land also, to battle against them…And I, Nephi, beheld that the Gentiles that had gone out of captivity were delivered by the power of God out of the hands of all other nations” (1 Nephi 13: 16-17, 19).

Elder L. Tom Perry explained, “The success of the Declaration of Independence and the Revolutionary War came about through men who were raised up by God for this special purpose…A group of fledgling colonies defeating the world’s most powerful nation stemmed from a force greater than man. Where else in the world do we find a group of men together in one place at one time who possessed greater capacity and wisdom than the founding fathers—Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, and others? But it was not to their own abilities that they gave the credit. They acknowledged Almighty God and were certain of the impossibility of their success without his help” (New Era, Jul 1976).

Having won their independence, these same men under the direction of God established the foundation for their government: the Constitution of the United States and the Bill of Rights.

The Lord himself declared, “I established the Constitution of this land, by the hands of wise men whom I raised up unto this very purpose, and redeemed the land by the shedding of blood” (D&C 101:80).

Elder Perry stated, “Among other things, the Constitution guarantees the religious freedom that allowed the Reformation to continue and flourish. The great religious reformers began to throw off the rituals and dogmas that had been attached to Christianity during the dark ages and sought to return to the pure and simple truths of the New Testament.”

The fourth tool used by the Lord to prepare America for the restoration of His gospel is the Bible.

Nephi noticed in his vision that the people sent to America “did prosper in the land; and [he] beheld a book, and it was carried forth among them” (1 Nephi 13:20).

The angel explained to Nephi that this book “is a record of the Jews, which contains the covenants of the Lord, which he hath made unto the house of Israel; and it also containeth many of the prophesies of the holy prophets…” He then declared this book, which we know to be the Bible, to be of “great worth unto the Gentiles” (1 Nephi 13:23).

While many things could be said of how the Bible has blessed America, I mention only one.

Despite many plain and precious truths being lost as a result of the apostasy, because the Bible was translated and printed in English and brought to America a young boy named Joseph Smith had access to the word of God. When he was confused, wanting to know which of all the churches was true, he discovered how he could gain additional understanding while reading in the Bible. “If any of you lack wisdom, let him as of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him” (James 1:5).

Because of Columbus’ discovery of America and the subsequent arrival of colonists searching for religious freedom, because of the declaration of freedom from oppression and the blood lost in its defense, because of the word of God being carried to America—a boy entered a grove of trees to pray and there initiated the restoration of the Church of Jesus Christ.

President N. Eldon Tanner, a former First Counselor in the First Presidency declared, “The discovery of the Americas was not an accident. The event had been foreordained in the eternal councils.” The destiny of America is part of the Lord’s eternal plan (New Era 1977).

President Joseph F. Smith proclaimed, “This great American nation the Almighty raised up by the power of his omnipotent hand, that it might be possible in the latter days for the kingdom of God to be established in the earth” (The Great Prologue).

As part of his vision, Nephi saw this restoration of all things. The Lord helped him see that despite the vision of the impending fall of his seed, the journey which he and his family were about to take to the promised land would not be in vain.

Through Joseph Smith, the Book of Mormon (the word of God given to Nephi’s seed) would be brought to light, restoring to the world the fullness of the gospel.

“For, behold, saith the Lamb: I will manifest myself unto thy seed, that they shall write many things which I shall minister unto them, which shall be plain and precious; and after thy seed shall be destroyed, and dwindle in unbelief, and also the seed of thy brethren, behold, these things shall be hid up, to come forth unto the Gentiles, by the gift and power of the Lamb. And in them shall be written my gospel, saith the Lamb, and my rock and salvation” (1 Nephi 13:35-36).

What joy this must have brought Nephi to know his posterity would be the means of blessing so many people!

Returning to the allegory of the olive trees, Nephi provided his brothers (and us) its interpretation regarding the latter-days.

“Behold, I say unto you, that the house of Israel was compared unto an olive-tree, by the spirit of the Lord which was in our father; and behold are we not broken off from the house of Israel, and are we not a branch of the house of Israel?

“And now, the thing which our father meaneth concerning the grafting in of the natural branches through the fullness of the Gentiles, is, that in the latter days, when our seed shall have dwindled in unbelief, yea, for the space of many years, and many generations after the Messiah shall be manifested in body unto the children of men, then shall the fullness of the gospel of the Messiah come unto the Gentiles, and from the Gentiles unto the remnant of our seed—

“And at that day shall the remnant of our seed know that they are of the house of Israel, and that they are the covenant people of the Lord; and then shall they know and come to the knowledge of their forefathers, and also to the knowledge of the gospel of their Redeemer, which was ministered unto their fathers by him; wherefore, they shall come to the knowledge of their Redeemer and the very points of his doctrine, that they may know how to come unto him and be saved…

“Behold, I say unto you, Yea; they shall be remembered again among the house of Israel; they shall be grafted in, being a natural branch of the olive tree, into the true olive tree” (1 Nephi 15:12-16)

Brothers and sisters, I testify that God’s work and glory is to bring about the immortality and eternal life of man. America is a choice land, a land of promise. It was prepared by the Lord to bring his children back to his presence.

Through the gospel of Jesus Christ, which was restored on this continent, we know the way to return to Heavenly Father’s presence. He has prepared the more excellent way and has given us the agency to choose.

President Ezra Taft Benson said, “We are commanded by God to take this gospel to all the world. That is the cause that must unite us today. Only the gospel will save the world from the calamity of its own self-destruction. Only the gospel will unite men of all races and nationalities in peace. Only the gospel will bring joy, happiness, and salvation to the human family” (Preach My Gospel).

I bear my testimony that as God provided instruments and tools to prepare the soil of America for the restoration of His gospel, we as instruments of God have been strategically placed to prepare our neighborhoods, places of work, schools, and communities to receive the gospel of Jesus Christ.

I bear witness that God lives and loves us.

1 comment:

  1. Wow. Thank you for sharing this. Such powerful words and such a great reminder that indeed we live in a chose land. I don't think I have ever put together those four elements and yet it is through them that we are where we are today. Inspired.