Lit Come Follow Me: D&C 37-40 — Gathering, Fears and Cares

The sections of the Doctrine and Covenants discussed in this week’s Come Follow Me lesson cover main three topics—The Gathering, Preparation to ally our Fears, and the Cares of the World. One of these sections also deals with Joseph Smith’s Bible “translation” project, and the call to Sidney Rigdon to participate in that effort. As always, I’ve found LDS poems to accompany each of these topics.

 

The Gathering

While part of the idea of gathering still resonates for Church members today, I think a lot of the concept is quite foreign to us. We can all identify with the resonance of place in our lives, but the Gathering was more about finding Zion, a blessed physical space that we didn’t know. We have reduced the concept to a spiritual gathering, abandoning the need for a common physical place or places, and also abandoning the struggle and sacrifice necessary to get to that place.

While the idea of Gathering was first mentioned in section 29 (and I published a poem about gathering then) and again in section 37, it didn’t become a commandment until section 38. This time the poem is The Gathering by William W. Phelps, first published in the May 1834 issue of the Evening and Morning Star.

The Gathering

by William W. Phelps (1834)

WHAT wond’rous things we now behold,
Which were declar’d from days of old
By prophets, who in vision clear
Beheld those glories from afar.
The visions which the God,
Confirm’d by his unchanging word,
That to the ages then unborn
His greatest work he would perform.
The second time he’d set his hand
To gather Israel to their land,
Fulfil [fulfill] the cov’nants he had made,
And pour his blessings on their head.
When Moab’s remnant, long oppress’d,
Should gather’d be and greatly blest:
And Ammons children, scatter’d wide,
Return with joy, in peace abide.
While Elam’s race a feeble band,
Receive a share in the blest land;
And Gentiles, all their power display
To hasten on the glorious day.
Then Ephraim’s sons, a warlike race,
Shall haste in peace and see their rest,
And earth’s remotest parts abound,
With joys of everlasting sound.
Assyria’s captives, long since lost,
In splendor come a num’rous host;
Egyptia’s waters fill’d with fear,
Their power feel and disappear.
Yes, Abram’s children now shall be
Like sand in number by the sea;
While kindreds, tongues, and nations all
Combine, to make the numbers full.
The dawning of that day has come,
See! Abram’s sons are gath’ring home,
And daughters too, with joyful lays,
Are hast’ning here to join in praise!
O God, our Father, and our King,
Prepare our voices and our theme;
Let all our pow’rs in one combine
To sing thy praise in songs divine.

 

Preparation Against Fear

In the 19th century it would have been quite natural to be afraid when contemplating the idea of gathering, given the dangers of the trail and the uncertainty inherent in moving away from everything you know. As a result, much of section 38 contains an assurance that those who are prepared need not fear.

This poem, by either William W. Phelps or Parley P. Pratt, was included in Emma Smith’s first hymnal and appeared in most Latter-day Saint hymnals through 1847. In addition to directly addressing the idea of preparing so that you don’t fear, it also connects the concept of gathering to the millennial zeitgeist of early Mormonism.

Let all the saints their hearts prepare

by either William W. Phelps or Parley P. Pratt (1835)

Let all the saints their hearts prepare:
Behold the day is near,
When Zion’s King shall hasten there,

And banish all their fear;
Fill all with peace and love,
And blessings from above,
His church with honors to adorn,
The church of the first born.
Behold, he comes on flying clouds,
And speeds his way to earth,
With aclamations sounding loud,

With songs of heav’nly birth.
The saints on earth will sing,
And hail their heav’nly King:
All the redeem’d of Adam’s race
In peace behold his face.
Before his face devouring flames,
In awful grandeur rise:
The suff’ring saints he boldly claims,

And bears them to the skies:
While earth is purified,
In peace they all abide,
And then descend to earth again,
Rejoicing in his reign.
A thousand years in peace to dwell;
The earth with joys abound,
Made free from all the pow’rs of hell,

No curse infect the ground,
From sin and pain releas’d
The saints abide in peace:
And all creation here below
Their King and Savior know.

 

Cares of the World

The last two of the sections covered in this lesson concern James Covel, a methodist minister who, according to these sections, decided not to join the Church despite the revelation in section 39 directed to him. This section urges Covel to leave aside the cares of the world and follow God’s word instead. Regardless of Covel’s decision, the cares of the world are an issue for all of us. How do we earn a living and sustain a reasonable lifestyle without worrying about the details of our lives?

This concern is the topic of Joseph L. Townsend‘s poem, A Scene in Virginia. Townsend is best remembered for hymns like “Choose the Right”, “Hope of Israel”, and “The Iron Rod”, 10 of which are found in the current Latter-day Saint hymnal. From 1881-1882, Townsend served a mission to the Southern States, and he wrote this poem during his mission. I think it works particularly well in this context, given its discussion of location and the effect of location on those who live there. As poetry, I think this is even better than his hymns:

A Scene in Virginia

by Joseph L. Townsend (1882)

Here mountain ridges side by side extend,
Far as the eye in distance can discern,
While lost in hazy blue, the outlines blend,
And fade from sight where skies to earth return.
Dark robed in sombre growth of forests green,
The mountain sides, with ever changing hue,
Throw deep their shadows o’er the vales between,
And rise in grandeur far in heavens’ blue.
With knobby ridges where the river swells
From streamlets ever purling as they run,
The broken valleys, mingling hills and dells,
Lie dark in shade or brightened in the sun.
With pastures velvet green and woodland hills
Rock-ribbed and craggy reaching o’er the vales,
The farms adjoin, and all the valley fills
With checkered bounds marked by the zigzag rails.
The golden grain fields of oats and wheat
Is ready for the reapers busy throng,
The meadows, full of grasses blooming sweet,
Await the mower and his cheerful song.
What homes could be within a scene like this,
Were truth upheld and culture free to all!
Alas! the selfish hearts to love remiss
Uphold the laws that must their minds enthrall.
Where nature, kind to all, her wealth bestows
In forests, field, and ever flowing springs,
The customs of society impose
The poverty of thought tradition brings.
When landscapes fill with beauty all the scene
In depths of leafy shade and sunlit fields,
Uncultured man sees only country green,
And beauty only where it money yields.
The grasping rich forever grasp for more,
The poor are filled with sullen discontent,
And class distinction keeps both rich and poor
Away from culture by their own consent.
All works united interesting require,
All joys refinements of the soul create,
All pleasures art and nature may inspire,
Are lost within the minds uncultured state.
The sordid thoughts of temporal affairs,
The jar and wrangle of a daily strife,
Enslave the mind beneath the many cares
Of selfish labors, and a foolish life.
And vales where labor skilled in landscape art
Could make an Eden of the prosy farms,
Show everywhere the minds unskillful part,
Destroying even natures’ lavished charms.
O! land of mountains, forests, fields and streams,
When will thy people from their errors turn?
When will thy customs yield to light that beams
In knowledge free to all that will to learn?
Can mind from darkness of traditions’ lore
Evolving truth from error turn its range
In thought and action that may laws restore
Of universal and progressive change?
Alas! to-morrow as to-day must be,
Except the powers of heaven wield their might,
In revolutions that externally
Establish higher thoughts of life and right.
Till man, inspired with higher, nobler thought,
The selfish passions of inherent sin
Has conquered in the aspirations taught
By revelation to the soul within.
While mind, expanding in the laws of God,
To something higher than the common state
And pathways which for ages it has trod,
Aspires to be the noble, truly great.
Inviting all to join a higher cause
And in progressive thought have liberty,
By heaven sent, we teach the higher laws,
And daily labor all the land to free.
And slowly, surely, truth the land inspires
To turn from customs ever seeking pelf,
To nobler aspirations and desires
In Gods’ refinement of immortal self.

 

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