“Building the Kingdom of God in Nauvoo, Illinois”

Lesson 29 – D&C 124:1-21, 87-90, 97-100; 126; Our Heritage, pgs. 51-52, 55-58, 61-62

 

Nauvoo was important in Church history for a number of reasons. It was there that the doctrine of baptism for the dead was revealed; temple endowments were first performed; and The Relief Society was organized. The early Nauvoo Saints did much to build the kingdom of God. 

 

The Saints sought refuge in Illinois

While the Prophet suffered in Liberty Jail, it fell to Brigham Young as President of the Quorum of the Twelve to get the Saints safely out of Missouri, across the Mississippi River and into Illinois to escape the persecution of the mobs and the state’s governor. In late 1838, Saints gathered in Quincy, IL.  It was only when Joseph returned to them that they moved upriver to the village of Commerce.  There, they drained the swampy land, planted their crops, and began constructing homes.  That summer, the Prophet renamed Commerce to Nauvoo, saying, “The name of our City (Nauvoo) is of Hebrew origin, and signifies a beautiful situation, or place, carrying with it, also, the idea of rest” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith [1976], 182).  About eighteen months later, Illinois granted Nauvoo a charter that allowed the city to have a militia, establish a city court, and start a university. It quickly became the second largest city in Illinois as the Church grew and new converts migrated to the new gathering place of the Saints.  A month after Nauvoo received its charter, the Lord gave commandments to the membership about their responsibilities, which we now have as D&C 124.  By studying this revelation and the way the Nauvoo Saints performed, we can learn much about how to build the kingdom of God.

 

Missionaries sent from Nauvoo converted thousands of people

Numerous members—including the Quorum of the Twelve—were called on missions during the Nauvoo period.  As an example of their success in the mission field, Wilford Woodruff told of this experience: “I…met with a large assembly of Saints and strangers, and while singing the first hymn the spirit of the Lord rested upon me and the voice of God said to me, ‘This is the last meeting that you will hold with this people for many days.’  I was astonished at this, as I had many appointments out in that district. When I arose to speak to the people, I told them that it was the last meeting I should hold with them for many days. They were as much astonished as I was. At the close of the meeting four persons came forward for baptism; we went down into the water and baptized them.  In the morning I went in secret before the Lord, and asked Him what was His will concerning me. The answer I received was that I should go to the south; for the Lord had a great work for me to perform there, as many souls were waiting for His word.” For the next two days he traveled south until he came to the farm of John Benbow in Herefordshire.  Mr. Benbow and his wife, Jane, received him gladly and said that there was a company of over 600 men and women who had formed their own congregation called the United Brethren.  Elder Woodruff said: “This body of United Brethren were searching for light and truth, but had gone as far as they could, and were calling upon the Lord continually to open the way before them and send them light and knowledge, that they might know the true way to be saved.  When I heard these things I could clearly see why the Lord had commanded me, while in the town of Hanley, to leave that place of labor and go to the south; for in Herefordshire there was a great harvest-field for gathering many saints into the Kingdom of God.” Elder Woodruff’s efforts in England enabled him “to bring into the Church, through the blessings of God, over 1800 souls during 8 months, including all of the 600 United Brethren except one person”(Wilford Woodruff: History of His Life and Labors, ed. Matthew F. Cowley [1909], 116-19).

 

The Church was greatly strengthened by the sacrifices of the dedicated missionaries in England. Elder Harold B. Lee summarized what happened during this time in England when he said: “In one year, 1840 to 1841—one year and fourteen days, to be exact—nine members of the twelve were called to labor in the British Mission.  If you remember the history [in Nauvoo], those years marked the period of some of the severest persecution that the Church was to undergo in this dispensation. In that one year and 14 days the nine members of the Twelve, with their associates, established churches in every noted town and city in the kingdom of Great Britain. They baptized between 7000 and 8000 converts.  They printed 5000 copies of the Book of Mormon, 3000 hymnbooks, and 50,000 tracts,…and [they] emigrated 1000 souls to America” (Conf. Rpt. Apr. 1960, 108)

 

The examples of the Nauvoo Saints show the importance of enduring to the end in righteousness

D&C 124 includes many instructions and promises given to Nauvoo residents.  As examples:

·        D&C 124:12-14 - Robert B. Thompson – told to help write; … “he shall be great in mine eyes”

·        D&C 124:16-17 - John C. Bennett was to do missionary work and would be crowned with blessings and “great glory” if he continued to do good and if he would accept counsel

·        D&C 124:18-19 -- Lyman Wight was to preach…he would be borne “up as on eagles’ wings…”

·        D&C 124:87-90, 97-103 -- William Law was to trust in the Lord and proclaim the gospel in specific areas…and was promised a “multiplicity of blessings” for himself and his family

·        D&C 124:104-10 -- Sidney Rigdon was to remain with the Lord’s people and be a spokesman and warn the inhabitants…and “if he will hearken” it would be well with him.

Most of the Saints were faithful during trials, endured to the end, and were blessed for their steadfastness. Some, however, such as Bros. Bennett, Law, Wight, and Rigdon became apostates and were unable to realize the blessings which could have been theirs.

 

D&C 124:15 highlights the attributes of Hyrum Smith that the Lord loved—deep integrity and a love for “that which is right before me”.  The Prophet Joseph Smith said of his brother, “I could pray in my heart that all my brethren were like unto my beloved brother Hyrum, who possesses the mildness of a lamb, and the integrity of a Job, and in short, the meekness and humility of Christ; and I love him with that love that is stronger than death, for I never had occasion to rebuke him, nor he me” (History of the Church, 2:338).

 

The Relief Society was organized in Nauvoo

While in Nauvoo, the Church was blessed with a new organization.  Through the authority of the priesthood, the Prophet Joseph Smith organized the Relief Society. (See Our Heritage, pgs. 61-62)

 

Purposes of the Relief Society

The following declaration was presented in the 1999 general relief Society meeting: “We are beloved spirit daughters of God, and our lives have meaning, purpose, and direction. As a worldwide sisterhood, we are united in our devotion to Jesus Christ, our Savior and Exemplar.  We are women of faith, virtue, vision, and charity who: Increase our testimonies of Jesus Christ through prayer and scripture study; Seek spiritual strength by following the promptings of the Holy Ghost; Dedicate ourselves to strengthening marriages, families, and homes; Find nobility in motherhood and joy in womanhood; Delight in service and good works; Love life and learning; Stand for truth and righteousness; Sustain the priesthood as the authority of God on earth; Rejoice in the blessings of the temple, understand our divine destiny, and strive for exaltation” (Mary Ellen Smoot, Ensign, Nov. 1999, 92-93).

 

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The early Saints were excused from building a temple in Missouri.  The Lord taught them in D&C 124:49-53 that if their enemies prevent them from following a commandment, the Lord will judge their enemies and punish them unless they repent.  The Saints would be relieved of their assigned responsibility if they did all that they could to do the work in spite of the opposition.  Today, we need to remember this principle and a statement that Brigham Young made: “Man controls the acts, God controls the results.”  If we are true and faithful in doing all within our power to accomplish what the Lord has assigned us, then even if others prevent the accomplishment, the Lord will know that we have done our best and will reward us.

 

The Apostles’ efforts to fulfill the Lord’s words. In D&C 118, the Lord instructed the Apostles to go to Europe on missions. His specific instructions were that they leave from the temple site at Far West.  When they were ready to go, the mobs had driven them out of Far West and threatened to kill any LDS leaders who returned.  Following the Lord’s instructions, would, therefore, be very dangerous.  Despite the threats and danger, Brigham Young, four other apostles, and several others returned to the Far West temple site shortly after midnight on the morning of 26 April 1839. There they ordained two additional apostles—Wilford Woodruff and George A. Smith.  They sang and prayed, and a large stone was rolled to a corner of the proposed temple site. Soon afterward, they left for their missions to England.

 

The Prophet Joseph Smith’s red brick store was not only a general store, but also served as a center of religious, social, and civic activity.  A public school was established there. Church and civic meetings as well as youth gatherings were hosted in it.  On March 17, 1842, The Relief Society was organized at the store. It was also used as an ordinance room before the temple was completed, so the first endowments in this dispensation were given there.

 

A Proclamation to the World.  D&C 124:1-7 was the reason Joseph and others worked on a proclamation until the Prophet’s martyrdom in 1844.  The Quorum of the Twelve then completed it and it was published on 6 April 1845. Addressed to the kings of the world, the US President, and the rulers and people of all nations, it proclaimed that God had spoken again from the heavens and that the kingdom of God and the holy priesthood had been restored to prepare the way for the Second Coming of the Savior.  In 1975, President Ezra Taft Benson of the Quorum of the Twelve quoted part of this document in general conference and declared that the Church was once again proclaiming these truths to the world.

 

Lessons are found on the internet at www.neumanninstitute.org