Lit Come Follow Me: D&C 49-50 — Marriage, Falsehood & Edification

Joel H. Johnson

The two sections covered in this week’s Come Follow Me lesson, sections 49 and 50, are both reactions to problems that the Saints in Kirtland encounter. Section 49 addresses the questions and teachings of Leman Copley, who converted to the Church from the Shakers and continued to teach some of their beliefs. This led to the section’s teachings on recognizing error and on marriage.

Section 50, on the other hand, was given to clarify misunderstandings among members about the gifts of the spirit, and how to discern which manifestations came from evil spirits. In the end, this  section teaches that when the spirit is present, both the teacher and the hearer are edified together — an important lesson for what we should be seeking in our lessons at Church.

 

Amazed at Error

One early restoration poet, Joel H. Johnson, found the propensity to believe error surprising — something I am constantly surprised at today. Johnson is best remembered today as the author of the familiar hymn “High on the Mountain Top,” one of the estimated 1,000 poems he authored during his 80 years. After joining the Church in Ohio in 1831, Johnson served a mission and eventually moved to Ramus, Illinois where he was called as Stake President. He immigrated to Utah in 1848 and helped settle southern Utah, founding the town of Enoch, Utah.

There is, I think, an important lesson in this poem because in expressing surprise at the errors of others, it clearly contains a number of factual errors itself—perhaps, for those reading today, answering the surprise with an admission that everyone can err. Given one of the statements Johnson makes in the poem, I should point out that it was written in 1841, following Oliver Cowdery’s excommunication.

Amazed with wonder! I look round

by Joel H. Johnson, 1841

“The wise shall understand.”—Daniel
Amazed with wonder! I look round

To see most people of our day,
Reject the glorious gospel sound,

Because the simple turn away.
Or does it prove there is no time,

Because some watches will not go?
But does it prove there is no crime

Because not punished here below?
Or can it prove no gems remain,

Because some fools, throw there’s away?
Or can it prove no king can reign

Because some subject wont obey?
Or prove the gospel was not true

Because old Paul the Saints could kill?
Because the Jews its author slew,

And now reject their Saviour still?
Or prove that Christ was not the Lord

Because that Peter cursed and swore?
Or Book of Mormon not his word

Because denied, by Oliver?
Or prove, that Joseph Smith is false

Because apostates say tis so?
Or prove, that God, no man exalts

Because from priests such doctrines flow?
O, no! the wise will surely say;

No proof unto the man that’s wise,
Then O! dig deep ye wise to-day;

And soon the truth will be your prize.
Not like the fool who chanc’d to see,

The Saint forsake his heavenly course,
And turn to sin and vanity-

Then cries your “scheme is all a farce.”

 

On Marriage

The Shakers, the religious movement Leman Copley followed before his conversion, are remembered for their disavowal of marriage, which has since led to the decline in the number of adherents to their movement. And this skepticism of marriage is probably the belief most opposite to Latter-day Saint beliefs, confirmed by the teachings in section 49.

Marriage was, of course, a subject for Mormon poets, such as in the following poem. This is another poem where I haven’t been able to find out more about the author, M. Morton. It was published in the Millennial Star in 1851.

Marriage

by M. Morton (1851)
Most sacred bond, celestial tie, cement of kindred minds!
Sweet union, patronized on high, where no harsh bondage binds!
Blest intercourse to heaven-born souls! ’tis their’s alone to prove:
Their names, by heaven’s high lows enrolled, are register’d above.
Sent here to meet by heaven’s blest will, their spirits sweetly blend;
Confiding truth their bosoms fill; their deeds to glory tend.
Thought meeting thought, no jars ensue : each will prevents the sane;
Each motive pure—affection true—no longer arc they twain:
“While He, who rules by heaven’s design, the sceptre mildly sways,
She loves, reveres, with thought sublime, and cheerfully obeys.
Each other’s weal or woe they shore, nor know a selfish aim;
They learn to bear, and to forbear, nor e’er unkindly blame.
‘Tis true, a union so divine transcends a mortal’s ken,
Till the pure gospel light refine: faith can discern it then.
This is the power alone can bind on earth, that binds above;
Its precepts pure; its laws refined; its ultimatum, Love!

 

Edification Through the Spirit

Curiosity or rejection. Human responses to the unfamiliar usually fall into either curiosity or rejection. So when early Church members brought their various spiritual practices together, or experimented with something new, the reactions of others in the community were either curiosity or rejection. And given our teachings about influences to evil, both reactions might be justified. How are we to tell whether to be interested or reject a spiritual practice? When is someone’s practice a “gift of the spirit”, and when is a practice something that might lead us astray? The answer in section 50 is based in whether the practice edifies everyone involved.

This idea is a bit complex for most of our poetry, but the following poem does give a window in how it feels to be edified by someone. Its author, Alta Vance, served on the General Relief Society Board starting in 1948, then retaining emeritus status on the Board until her death in 1996. A licensed social worker (MSW, 1957), Vance established the social work department at Shriner’s Hospital and worked to support the mentally ill throughout her life. In this poem she recounts how a teacher edified her life.

Quick Forgiveness

by Alta J. Vance (1952)
She lived above the world
And caught up many to her higher plane.
Between her and those who walk in clay
There was a bond
If they but wished to grow.
She placed high value on the human soul
And recognized its limitless possibilities.
For a dozen years she taught me;
For a life time I shall recall her teachings;
And I shall hope my heaven
Will give me further learning
At her feet –
To hear her voice and know again
Her majesty of soul.

[H.T. Ardis Parshall at Keepapitchinin]

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