The Promised Land of Americaby Jim

29
Jun/14
10:06 pm
0

This text comes from a talk I gave today to the Springtown Ward

The land in which we live today has long been a place where righteous people have gathered, led by the hand of God.  We often refer to it as the “promised land.”  It is of this land I would like to speak today.

In ancient times, the Jaredites escaped the wickedness of their home country and were brought by the hand of the Lord to this continent.  The brother of Jared was promised that “they should come forth even unto the land of promise, which was choice above all other lands, which the Lord God had preserved for a righteous people.” (Ether 2:7)  The Lord goes on to say,

 that whoso 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 fulness of his wrath should come upon them. (Ether 2:8)

The Jaredites lived and worshipped as the Lord directed.  They prospered initially, but soon fell into wickedness and, according to God’s promise, were eventually destroyed by their own hand.  But the promise connected to this land was still in effect.  As the last of the Jaredites prepared for their final battle on the hill Ramah, the Lord was preparing a new people to possess the land in righteousness, thus perpetuating the promise of this land.  Lehi was persecuted for his prophecies of the coming of Christ and was forced to leave his wicked home country and again brought by the hand of God, traveled to this continent.  Lehi recognized the significance of this land, and as he gathered his family before his death, he stated:

6 Wherefore, I, Lehi, prophesy according to the workings of the Spirit which is in me, that there shall none come into this land save they shall be brought by the hand of the Lord.

7 Wherefore, this land is consecrated unto him whom he shall bring. And if it so be that they shall serve him according to the commandments which he hath given, it shall be a land of liberty unto them; wherefore, they shall never be brought down into captivity; if so, it shall be because of iniquity; for if iniquity shall abound cursed shall be the land for their sakes, but unto the righteous it shall be blessed forever. (2 Nephi 1:6-7 emphasis added)

Lehi’s family lived in periods of righteousness and wickedness for the next thousand years.  Great blessings were bestowed during the righteous times.  One such period came directly following one of the greatest events in the Book of Mormon: the personal manifestation of Christ to this continent.  Of the 200 years following that glorious event, the prophet Mormon wrote,

16 And there were no envyings, nor strifes, nor tumults, nor whoredoms, nor lyings, nor murders, nor any manner of lasciviousness; and surely there could not be a happier people among all the people who had been created by the hand of God. (4 Nephi 1:16)

The people at that time were taking full advantage of the promise the Lord made to those inhabitants, that “Inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments ye shall prosper in the land” (2 Nephi 4:4).  This promise is made throughout the Book of Mormon.  The Lord first tells Lehi in 1 Nephi chapter 2.  In turn Nephi, Jarom, Amaron, Alma the Younger, Mormon and others taught this promise.  I believe this is the most repeated promise in the Book of Mormon and I also believe this is the promise of the promised land.

Unfortunately, wickedness eventually set in and before long, there were no righteous left upon the face of the land.  Mormon, the great historian and military leader, saw the deterioration of his great nation and said,

17 O ye fair ones, how could ye have departed from the ways of the Lord! O ye fair ones, how could ye have rejected that Jesus, who stood with open arms to receive you!

18 Behold, if ye had not done this, ye would not have fallen. But behold, ye are fallen, and I mourn your loss.

22 O that ye had repented before this great destruction had come upon you. But behold, ye are gone, and the Father, yea, the Eternal Father of heaven, knoweth your state; and he doeth with you according to his justice and mercy. (Mormon 6:17-18,22)

These words stand as a warning to those who defy the promise of this land.  Though the Nephites were eventually destroyed, the Lord prepared others to come to this land of promise.  While Mormon led his people to their last battle, the saints in the old world had already entered the long dark night of the apostasy.  Amid great persecution, the apostles of Christ’s church were killed.  I’m sure the surviving leaders of the church did their best to continue the Christian practices and beliefs, but it didn’t take long before outside influence changed and corrupted the true doctrine.  Prophesied by many, including Isaiah, Amos, Peter, and even Christ, this period of darkness left the world unfit for Christ’s church to be restored.  All remnants of the church and the authority Christ left with his apostles were gone.

And so the world entered a period of time where spiritual darkness reigned.  The writings of the prophets were preserved, but they were kept from the public who were, in majority, illiterate.  Even great leaders of nations were unable to read or write.  Scriptures had to be copied by hand and usually took years to complete.  The few who did have access to scripture used it as a source of power and altered doctrines for their benefit.  Under these oppressive spiritual conditions, it is improbable that a restored church could have survived.  The groundwork had not yet been laid to support the fullness of the gospel being restored.

It wasn’t until the Renaissance, a period of rebirth of art, literature, and society, that things began to change.  Over a period of about four centuries, a series of courageous and inspired men rose up, whose combined efforts made possible a restoration of God’s church.  The first of note is the englishman John Wycliffe, who in the late 14th century spoke out against religious corruption and began the first translation of the Bible into English.  His teachings and work inspired and influenced other men for years to come.

The next important event was the invention of the printing press by Johannes Gutenberg in the mid-1400s.  What was once prohibitively slow and expensive, the written word, was dramatically revolutionized and paved the way for the proliferation of knowledge throughout the world.  Many ecclesiastical leaders of the time resisted the printing of sacred text, seeing it as a threat to their power and position, but, as Joseph Fielding Smith said,

the publication of books, including the Bible, was too great a force to be stemmed, like an irresistible flood, printing, and the desire to read what was printed, swept over the entire land.

Elder McConkie concurred:

Few tools were more effective than printing in paving the way for the great revival of learning, for the religious reformation, and for the breaking away of peoples and nations from religious domination. Without the discovery of movable type… the barrier of gross darkness covering the apostate world could scarce have been pierced.

Another significant event in the 15th century was the discovery of America.  Nephi saw in vision Christopher Columbus’ discovery of this continent.

12 And 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)

Columbus himself said,

With a hand that could be felt, the Lord opened my mind to the fact that it would be possible to sail and he opened my will to desire to accomplish the project. … This was the fire that burned within me. … Who can doubt that this fire was not merely mine, but also of the Holy Spirit … urging me to press forward?

At the beginning of the 16th century, a German monk and professor at the University of Wittenberg named Martin Luther, inspired by other reformers that came before, saw the corruption and worldliness pervasive in the church.  He nailed his historic 95 theses–statements urging reform–to the door of the Wittenberg Castle Church.  He was later banished and sought refuge elsewhere.  He translated the bible into German for the masses.  Elder McConkie said of him,

Luther’s break with Catholicism was part of the divine program; it came as an Elias preparing the way for the Restoration.

About this same time in England, William Tyndale began translating the bible into English.  He, too, desired the word of God to be available to all.  Instead of using Jerome’s Latin translation, Tyndale went back to the Greek and Hebrew texts.  Prophetic were his words when he said,

If God spare me I will one day make the boy that drives the plough … to know more of Scripture than the Pope does.

When he could not find a publisher to print the bible in England, he had them printed in Germany and then smuggled them into the country.  It was this version that was used primarily in the King James version of the bible.  Tyndale was the one who penned the words in the book of James that caused Joseph Smith to say,

Never did any passage of scripture come with more power to the heart of man than this did at this time to mine. It seemed to enter with great force into every feeling of my heart. (Joseph Smith History 1:12)

Throughout Europe, other inspired men sought to correct the wrongs of centuries.  Huldrych Zwingli and John Calvin in Switzerland, John Knox from Scotland, Jan Hus from the Czech Republic, and others, many of whom gave their lives for what they knew was right.

While these men did not have the full truth, they were undoubtedly inspired by the Spirit of God to lay the foundations upon which God could restore his church in its fullness.  Each one made an important contribution that, combined together, culminated in the formation of an environment that could sustain the flourishing of God’s church again upon the earth.

Joseph Fielding Smith said,

In preparation for this restoration the Lord raised up noble men, such as Luther, Calvin, Knox, and others whom we call reformers, and gave them power to break the shackles which bound the people and denied them the sacred right to worship God according to the dictates of conscience. …

Latter-day Saints pay all honor to these great and fearless reformers, who shattered the fetters which bound the religious world. The Lord was their Protector in this mission, which was fraught with many perils. In that day, however, the time had not come for the restoration of the fulness of the gospel. The work of the reformers was of great importance, but it was a preparatory work.

As evidenced by the persecution of the reformers, religious freedom and tolerance was not yet available on the earth.  The Puritans were among the first of the groups to come to the American colonies seeking religious freedom.  They had left England for America, seeking a place to worship God.  The Puritans established a strict religious commonwealth intolerant of any other religion.  Roger Williams was a dissenter from the Puritans who argued that no particular religion should be imposed on the people.  He also believed that all churches had fallen away from the church established in Christ’s time.  He was banished from Massachusetts in 1635 and along with others established the colony of Rhode Island, which allowed total tolerance of all religions.

As immigrants came and various religions began to take hold in the American colonies, no one religion dominated over the others.  This diversity was the major reason for the religious liberties that later became a unique and defining feature of the United States.

Nephi foresaw the coming of the colonists in vision.  He wrote,

13 And it came to pass that I beheld the Spirit of God, that it wrought upon other Gentiles; and they went forth out of captivity, upon the many waters.

15 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; (1 Nephi 13:13,15)

Though there were safe religious havens among the colonies, true religious freedom was not protected and so the time was not quite right.  Under the rule of King George II, the colonists enjoyed just policies from the British crown.  When the next monarch, King George III, and his ministry took over in 1765, they began to enact oppressive and unjust laws on the colonists.  For the next 10 years, the colonists endured the increasing difficulty imposed on them from overseas.  It was, however, only under these circumstances that the colonists rallied to overthrow the oppressive rule that governed them.  I believe God allowed these injustices to happen to inspire the minds of our founding fathers to draft the most important documents in our nation’s history.  I think it is similar to the story of the people of Alma who were oppressed by Amulon and the other wicked priests of Noah.  If you recall, they were given heavy tasks, but as they prayed, the Lord made their burdens light.  Why wouldn’t the Lord just take away their burdens?  He tells us why in Mosiah 24:

and this will I do that ye may stand as witnesses for me hereafter, and that ye may know of a surety that I, the Lord God, do visit my people in their afflictions.

Just like the story of Gideon and the Midianites, sometimes the Lord doesn’t give us the easy way out so that we may witness His hand in our lives.  So it was with the early Americans.

After repeated appeals to their oppressors, in July of 1776, the Declaration of Independence was signed in Congress.  This inspired document proclaims that

We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.  That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.

This Declaration of Independence was the first of three documents that finalized the conditions in which God’s church could be restored.  It was followed by the Constitution, which was ratified in 1789, and finally the Bill of Rights in 1791.  This last document is the one that put into law religious freedom as we know it today.  The Bill of Rights’ first amendment reads,

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

These words made it possible for God to do his work in this land.  Fourteen years after this was signed into law, on a small farm in Vermont, Joseph Smith, Jr. was born.  It was in this new free land that he was raised.  The time had come, the conditions were right.  At this time there was a great religious excitement.  Joseph Smith said he was “called up to serious reflection” on the subject of religion.  The sacrifices of countless individuals before him placed this humble 14-year-old boy in the unique circumstances that inspired him to yearn for the truth and the ability to receive it.

Joseph Smith was called of God to do what none had done before him.  He sought not to reform or protest against any church, but was directed by God to restore anew what was lost.  Through heavenly messengers, the priesthood was again restored to the earth and the keys of the kingdom were bestowed upon mankind.

For thousands of years, this continent has been a place set apart by the Lord.  The promise made to the Nephites still holds true today.  Inasmuch as we keep the commandments of the Lord, we will prosper in the land.  It is our responsibility as members of God’s church to stay true to our beliefs and strive to be obedient to what we know is right.  It is easy to get discouraged by all the negativity and wickedness prevalent in the world today, but I would like to draw your attention to the marvelous blessings and prosperity the Lord has given us in this age.

Most of us carry volumes of scripture and teaching materials on our phone.  With the click of a button, I can search through hundreds of thousands of documents and do family history research right from my couch while wearing my pajamas.  We can get on a plane and travel thousands of miles in a matter of hours.  We can stay in touch with friends and family through phone calls, shared pictures, video chats, anywhere we go.  It is truly a marvel.  So many of these things were invented in this great land of freedom.  The influence of this nation has changed the world.  Think of what these abilities and technologies can do for the spreading of the kingdom of God.  What an exciting time to be alive.

For hundreds of years, the hand of the Lord directed countless individuals to prepare the way for His church to be once again established on the earth.  It cost the blood of many brave men and women who gave their lives so that we could be here worshipping God today.  Let us not forget those who sacrificed so much and who were courageous in the face of adversity.  Let us also remember that all of this–all that we do–is only made possible because of the great and last sacrifice made by He who broke the bands of sin and death.

During the early part of the nineteenth century, Samuel F. Smith wrote the words to the hymn, My Country, ‘Tis of Thee.  The final verse reads:

Our fathers’ God to thee,
Author of liberty,
To thee we sing.
Long may our land be bright
With freedom’s holy light.
Protect us by thy might,
Great God, our King!

What a blessing to live in a land where our only King is our God.  In the name of Jesus Christ.  Amen.

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