Come Follow Me: D&C 18-19
As we continue studying the revelations of Joseph Smith, we see that some doctrines are expanded and some are completely reinvented, as God gives us higher understanding of his kingdom. Joseph's revelations will become more complex, intricate, and expansive as the years go by.
This revelation was given in June 1829, about the time the Melchizedek Priesthood was restored by the ancient apostles, Peter, James and John. The Book of Mormon translation was not yet finished. With these two key ideas in mind, let's see what the Lord taught Oliver Cowdery.
"Remember theof is great in the sight of God;
"For, behold, the Lord your suffered in the flesh; wherefore he the of all men, that all men might repent and unto him.
"And he hath again from the dead, that he might bring all men unto him, on conditions of .
"And how great is his joy in the soul that repenteth!" (D&C 18:10-13)
We learn that for Jesus, the souls of men are great. They are important enough to God that he sent his son to suffer death, so that we may all return to God under one condition: repentance. For Joseph and Oliver at this time, there was no understanding of the Three Degrees of Glory. Instead, there was only heaven and hell. Repentance was the condition which snatched all mankind out of hell and into heaven. Later revelation would bring nuance to the understanding of the word, "saved." Still, the focus of salvation are Faith in Christ, Repentance, Receiving/making ordinances/covenants, Receiving the Holy Ghost - an actual member of the Godhead - to be our companion while we dwell on earth.
"Wherefore, you are called torepentance unto this people.
"And if it so be that you should labor all your days in crying repentance unto this people, and bring, save it be one unto me, how great shall be your joy with him in the kingdom of my Father!
"And now, if your joy will be great with one soul that you have brought unto me into the of my Father, how great will be your if you should bring many unto me!" (vs 14-16)
After the Lord explained his purpose in saving mankind, he now invites us to join him in his great commission. If saving souls brings Christ great joy, it will bring us great joy, as well. We are called to be co-servants with Jesus in being saviors on Mount Zion (Obadiah 1:21).
Who is the "one soul" that we bring unto Christ? Us. Before we can bring many souls to God, we must first be converted and repent. In repentance comes great joy. We find hope in Christ, and receive the calming peace of the Holy Ghost in our lives. If our lives are in great turmoil, we can choose to repent of sin, and even if the world turns upside down, we can still experience the inner joy promised.
"against no church, save it be the ." (v 20)
As the Book of Mormon continually teaches us, contention is the doctrine of Satan (3 Ne 11). We may feel we are doing the world a favor by getting involved in Bible bashes (not to be confused with Bible discussions), but it doesn't bring forth God's purposes.
Back in the early days of the Church in Bolivia, the Pedraja family invited the missionaries to visit them. Carlos Pedraja, then a young man planning on attending college in Cuba, was present. When the elders arrived, they found the missionaries of another faith present. Those other missionaries instantly began to contend with the elders. The elders said they would not contend, excused themselves, and left. As they walked down the street, Carlos ran after them. He said his family wanted them to return. The family joined the Church. Carlos became the first missionary from Bolivia. He later was one of the first stake presidents in Bolivia (when I met him), and held major callings in the region later on in Church Education System.
Such conversion comes when the peace and calmness of the Spirit are present, and not when we are contending. What is the Church of the Devil? Well, it isn't the other Christian churches out there. It is any organization that leads people fully away from God - one that encourages immorality, carnal lusts, and materialism. It is one that supports secret combinations, getting gain at any cost.
Surprisingly, almost a year before the Church was organized, the Three Witnesses (as apostles) are called to begin the search for the Quorum of Twelve Apostles. This quorum would be ordained in Feb 1835 and include:
"The Twelve (in the order presented at the meeting) were Lyman Johnson, age 23; Brigham Young, 33; Heber C. Kimball, 33; Orson Hyde, 30; David W. Patten, 35; Luke Johnson, 27; William E. McLellin, 29; John F. Boynton, 23; Orson Pratt, 23; William Smith, 23; Thomas B. Marsh, 34; and Parley P. Pratt, 27. All had previously served missions. Eight had accompanied Joseph Smith on the Zion’s Camp expedition the previous summer."
They were ordered by age for seniority, putting David W. Patten as president of the Twelve. This would vastly affect missionary work, and the progression of the Church in preaching the gospel to all the world.
But for now, in 1829, it was only an assignment - one with a reach that Joseph and Oliver could not imagine.
Perhaps the two most engaging points in this section are: Jesus' suffering and the new understanding of certain concepts.
When Jesus speaks of his suffering, he explains it in strong terms: even God suffered great pain. He descended below all things and all people, in order to lift all of us up. However, we must, again as noted in section 18, repent. Otherwise, we will suffer even as he did.
Consider the experience of the wicked man, Alma the Younger, when he collapsed into a Near Death Experience after being chastened by an angel:
"But I was racked with, for my soul was to the greatest degree and racked with all my sins.
"Yea, I did remember all my sins and iniquities, for which I was with the of hell; yea, I saw that I had against my God, and that I had not kept his holy commandments.
"Yea, and I had many of his children, or rather led them away unto destruction; yea, and in fine so great had been my iniquities, that the very thought of coming into the presence of my God did rack my soul with inexpressible horror.
"Oh, thought I, that I be banished and become extinct both soul and body, that I might not be brought to stand in the presence of my God, to be judged of my .
"And now, for three days and for three nights was I racked, even with the of a soul." (Alma 36:12-16)
It was only when he repented that the darkness and guilt were swept away, and he was bathed in light, glory and joy. In the distance, he saw Lehi standing with God and numerous angels singing praises to God. He longed to be there, which inspired him throughout the rest of his life to serve God as a missionary.
In discussing such pain and torment, Jesus tells Joseph Smith that terminology is important. "Endless" and "Eternal" are names of God. "Endless Punishment" is God's punishment. As with Alma, it doesn't have to be forever. It lasts only until we repent, as Jesus pleads with us to do in section 19.
This would be the beginning of a concept in Latter-day Saint thought of a near universal salvation. Later revelations (see D&C 76) would build upon it, as well as the missionary work done on the other side of the veil with salvation for the dead.
With this concept, we begin to see that some things we take for granted, believing them to be solid doctrine, are left for us to consider and ponder. First, we believe Jesus is the Christ, but do we believe that Jesus is OUR Christ or Savior? Do we really believe he is washing away our sin and guilt?
Second, there is a possibility that there is some form of progression even after this life. While apostle Joseph Fielding Smith was adamantly opposed to this concept, Brigham Young and many others kept an open mind to the possibility that individuals could still progress beyond this life. Zander Sturgill of Book of Mormon Central recently published a series of apostolic quotes regarding this topic.
For me, while I know it is an open issue and not doctrine, it is a comforting thought to consider that God is so loving that he will save us whenever we are ready to repent - whether in this life or the next.
Calling of the Original Twelve Apostles: https://www.churchofjesuschrist.orPerhag/study/ensign/2017/10/young-adults/five-lessons-for-young-adults-from-young-apostles/the-calling-of-the-restorations-original-apostles?lang=eng
LDS Leaders Open to Progression Between Kingdoms, Zander Sturgill: https://zandersturgill.com/2018/08/11/lds-leaders-open-to-progression-after-judgement/