Lit Come Follow Me: D&C 14-17

David Whitmer

This week’s Come Follow Me lesson includes several similar sections of the Doctrine and Covenants: three revelations to David Whitmer, John Whitmer and Peter Whitmer, Jr., who have asked the Lord where they should focus their efforts. The fourth section in this lesson is essentially the call to David Whitmer, Martin Harris and Oliver Cowdery to be the three witnesses to the Book of Mormon.

But while these sections have similar purposes and focus on the Whitmer family, they are far from the same. Even the most similar, the revelations to John and to Peter Whitmer, Jr., have some differences. And those differences lead to the discussion of several different principles.

 

John Jaques and Measuring Arms with God

In section 14, a revelation given to David Whitmer, the revelation again uses the “marvelous work and a wonder” phrase that is so common in the Doctrine and Covenants. Often this phrase comes with a bit of a paradox, since it is clear that we are supposed to participate, but that regardless of what we do, God will accomplish His purposes.

I like how poet John Jaques catches some of this in the following poem. Born in England in 1827, Jaques joined the Church in 1848, and in addition to serving a mission, he wrote poetry, including several hymns in our current hymnal. He is perhaps best known for “Oh Say, What is Truth?” He immigrated to Utah in 1856, and survived the Martin handcart company tragedy. In Utah, Jaques became an editor for the Deseret News and, after serving a mission to England from 1867-1871, during which he edited the Millennial Star, he was an assistant Church historian and a librarian with the forerunner of the Family History Library until his death in 1900.

Who Can Measure Arms with God?

By John Jaques (1853)
When God begins to work upon the earth,
And roll eternal purposes along,
How weak and futile are the thoughts of men
To stay His powerful, wonder-working arm,
And thwart His grand and glorious designs.
Proud, feeble man, whose life is but a breath,
A fleeting shadow in death’s gloomy vale,
To-day builds high his hopes, and eager strives
To pierce the secrets of the heavenly worlds,
To circumscribe the path of Deity,
And bring to naught the counsels of His will.
Aha! vain, foolish man; and can’st thou learn
No wisdom from experience of the past?
Loud as the voice of thunder in the air,
Do not earth’s ruins and records proclaim
Jehovah is the Lord God terrible?
Whose shining glory is consuming fire;
At whose dread presence, cloud-capped mountains melt,
And flow in liquid streams before His face;
And hills skip to and fro—–as lambkins play;
And nations crumble to their mother dust!
Hast thou not heard of Babel’s wondrous tower,
Whose top to heaven had reached, had not God wrought
Confusion in the speech of all mankind,
And scattered them abroad throughout the earth?
Or of proud Pharaoh, who, in boasted strength
Of sword, of helmet, and of glistening spear,
Of war-horse, chariots, and Egyptia’s hosts,
Pursued God’s people on the sea-bed path,
Rampant to slay or fetter with slave-chains;
When Moses stretched once more his potent rod,
And rolling waves each other kissed again,
Swallowing up the despot in his pride?
Hast thou not read of Jericho’s strong walls,
That fell down prostrate at the rams’ horns’ blast?
Or Sodom and Gomorrah in the plains,
Whose damning wickedness reached up to heaven,
Bringing down fire and brimstone from the Lord?
Or Tyre and Sidon, seats of famous trade,
Whose glory has departed from the land?
Or Babylon of old, which as a queen,
Sat ruling mistress in voluptuous halls.
Secured with walls, and towers, and brazen gates;
Now only known on dim historic page?
Does not the Jewish cry ring in thy ears—
“His blood be on us and our children too!”
And see’st thou not their broken, cursed state,
Since Jesus hung upon the cross to die?
And last, not least, in this the latter-day,
Sure thou hast heard how those anointed ones,
The Prophet and the Patriarch of God,
Joseph and Hyrum Smith, as martyrs fell
Upon Columbia’s soil! And how the Saints
Have time on times been driven from their rights,
Till, far from civilized and Christian strife,
They’re sought out for themselves a peaceful home,
Fenced by the Rocky Mountains’ bulwark heights,
Where wisdom, knowledge, and the love of God,
How down upon them with such burning power,
That monarchs on their thrones begin to feel
Afraid at what the “Mormons” say or do!
O man! weak man, will not thy stubborn heart
Permit thee to improve on lessons given,
And learn––as man e’er should––from others’ faults
And follies, to correct in time thy own?
Or wilt thou heedless run––like headstrong fools––
Against the bucklers of Jehovah’s might,
Till overthrown and shattered, thou in turn
Becom’st a monument of human shame?
The Lord Almighty once again to man
Has spoken from His high, exalted throne,
And by the streams of Revelation given
Unto His people the last great command
To gather to their lands in one again,
And cleanse and purify their hearts and hands,
That they may be prepared again to wield
The royal Priesthoods of Melchisedec
And Aaron, both, in fulness as of old;
That holy laws may be observed on earth,
E’en as they are in heaven; that from the curse
The earth may be redeemed, with all her sons,
And in immortal youth and vigour glow
Amid the saved creations of our God.
Then listen, all mankind, to God’s own voice,
Nor mock His purposes; for be assured,
He is not trifling with the sons of men;
But hath arisen up in mighty power
To turn and overturn all human schemes,
And bring about His strange and marvelous work.
This once shall Jew and Gentile, bond and free,
English, German, American, and French,
Christian and Pagan––all the world shall know,
There now exists a God in Israel,
Fearful in working––e’en the God of old,
Who’ll utter forth His voice, and be obeyed,
Till men become subjected to His will,
Or perish from the earth by judgments dire.

 

Phelps’ God Spake the Word, and Time Began

In sections 15 and 16, the revelations to John Whitmer and Peter Whitmer, Jr., respectively, both contain the statements about how the word of God is quick, powerful and sharp. Many poets have used the theme of the power of the word of God in their poetry, including William W. Phelps, who wrote the following poem on this subject:

God spake the word, and time began

By William W. Phelps (1835)
God spake the word, and time began;
He spake and gave his law to man;
His presence oft did Adam cheer,
Who loved the voice of God to hear.
But, by and by the scene was changed,
Our parents broke the Lords command;
They lost their innocence, and fled
Among the trees, and strove to hide,
From God their Father; but in vain,
For soon the Lord appear’d again,
And call’d to Adam in the wood,
Who felt condemn’d and trembling stood.
So wicked men, in every age,
Far from the God of heaven have strayed,
Till near six thousand years have fled,
And left the world with faith that’s dead.
By faith, the ancients sought the Lord,
From time to time obtain’d his word,
Not only they but so may we,
When faith and works do both agree.
From Adam to the present day,
Many have sought a righteous way;
And some have found the narrow road,
And Enoch-like, have walk’d with God.
In every age, God is the same,
But men, they change from time to time.
While sinners take the counter road,
The man of faith approaches God.
Experience and the word agree,
Draw nigh says God; I’ll draw nigh thee.
Then are they wise who do deny,
The works of faith beneath the sky?

 

The Venerable Lucy Smith by Eliza R. Snow

The Come Follow Me lesson points out that beyond the eleven men who served as witnesses to the Book of Mormon, Mary Whitmer also received a witness of the golden plates. And, of course, beyond these witnesses are many others who were involved in the events of the restoration and had their own witnesses—just not one that involved viewing the plates themselves. The following poem by Eliza R. Snow is an homage to Lucy Mack Smith, mother of the Prophet, and her witness to the restoration:

The Venerable Lucy Smith

by Eliza R. Snow (1845)
The aged, venerated, much belov’d
Mother in Zion, and the mother of
The greatest men this generation had
To boast. One, only one, of all her sons
Survives-the other sleep the sleep of death!

The great anointed seer and prophet, she
Has nurs’d upon her bosom and has watch’d
In helpless, cradled infancy: her heart
With deep solicitude had often yearn’d
Over his tender childhood, ere the God
Of heav’n reveal’d the glorious purpose which
Was pre-determined in the courts above,
Should be accomplosh’d in the present age:
But when she realiz’d the Lord had call’d
Him in his youth and inexperience to
Re-introduce the “ancient order” and
Confront the prejudices of the world;
The throbbings of her breast, none can describe;
And she can tell a tale that none besides
Can tell.

She’s suffer’d much and much she has
Enjoy’d. I oft have sat beside her and
Have listen’d with sweet admiration to
Her strains of heav’nly eloquence while she
Describ’d the glories that are soon to be
Reveal’d.

She’s witness’d change succeeding change
Roll up the tide of revolution till
Its heaving waves accumulating seem
About to burst and overwhelm the world!

The standard of our country, she has seen
Rising in glorious majesty, and wave
Its fam’d, unrival’d banner gracefully,
Till other hands than those that rear’d it, sapp’d
Its broad foundation, and its ensign marr’d-
Tott’ring and tremulous it now appears
Ready to fall and in its fall to make
The most tremendous crash the civil world
Has ever known!

She’s seen the church of God
Start into being and extend itself
From shore to shore and plant its footsteps on
The Islands of the sea.

She once beheld
Her lord, her consort dragg’d to prison while
With tears and supplicating words, she plead
His innocence, and begg’d for his release.
“Commit the Book of Mormon to the flames”
Replied the “officer of justice” “and
Your husband shall be liberated:” But
Her noble spirit scorn’d to purchase his
Release, on terms so base! at such a price!
She lov’d the truth and fear’d the God of heav’n.

She’s seen her children driv’n from place to place
And hunted like the mountain deer. She’s stood
Beside the death bed of her noble lord
Who, ere the lamp of life became extinct,
Like ancient Jacob, call’d his children round
And bless’d them one by one.

I knew him well,
For he was Zion’s first great patriarch;
And from his lips I’ve felt the sacred pow’r
Of blessing on my head. But he has gone,
And she in lonely widowhood remains!

She’s follow’d to the grave, five noble sons!
She stood beside the bleeding forms of those
Great brother-martyrs of the latter-day.

Ah! think of her, ye tender mothers when
Her feeble, tott’ring frame that bow’d beneath
The weight of years and life’s infirmities,
Accumulated by the toils and cares,
Anxieties and oft heart-rending griefs;
Stood o’er her murder’d sons! She laid her hand
Upon their marble foreheads, while the blood
Was freely gushing from their purple wounds!
And yet she lives, and yet bears witness to
The truth for which they fell a sacrifice.
Yes, venerable Lady, thou shalt live
While life to thee shall be a blessing. Thou
Art dear to ev’ry faithful saint. Thousands
Already bless thee-millions yet to come
Will venerate thy name and speak thy praise.
City of Joseph, May, 1845.

 

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