Originally delivered on 29 July 29 2012.
If you open that green hymnal resting in the back of the pews and turn to the first hymn you’ll find a song Parley P. Pratt published in England in 1840, ten years after the founding of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints:
The morning breaks; the shadows flee;
Lo, Zion’s standard is unfurled!
The dawning of a brighter day
Majestic rises on the world.
Parley wrote of the Restoration of the gospel. But his song calls to my mind a much older morning—the morning of God’s initial creation. Perhaps this ancient morning is the one physicists say happened about 13.75 billion years ago. Most refer to it as “the Big Bang,” but some have suggested it would be more appropriate to call it the “Flaring Forth.”1 According to Joseph Smith, you and I perhaps were there, perhaps angelic assistants in the creation of this world. A world as a place of progression for God’s family, a home for the family of God. This puts a different spin on Parley’s concluding verse:
Angels from heaven and truth from earth
Have met, and both have record borne;
Thus Zion’s light is bursting forth
To bring her ransomed children home.
One of Joseph’s most expansive revelations says God’s work and glory—from that initial creation on down to the present moment—God’s work and glory has been to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of his children. God’s creation, God’s family, has always been about Restoration.
Richard Bushman, the finest biographer of Joseph Smith to date, explained that Joseph
did not think of himself as going back to a primordium of true Christianity, as the Puritans did. In his view, there never was a golden age when religion flourished to perfection. [Joseph] saw himself as completing a work that had never been perfectly realized.2 Beginning with Adam, God had pursued his purposes through the ages, working through the prophets to create a righteous people, but that work had always been thwarted…Now, in the closing times of the earth’s history, the kingdom of God was at last to be established. All the powers and knowledge of earlier ages were to be restored to bring God’s plans for the earth to completion prior to the Second Coming of Christ. Visitors from past eras of sacred history—Elijah, John the Baptist, Peter—bestowed the knowledge and authority that would equip the modern church to finish the work.3
And Joseph knew he could never fulfill such a task on his own. In the opening section of the Doctrine and Covenants we discover that God’s goal is “that every[one] might speak in the name of God the Lord, even the Savior of the world, That faith also might increase in the earth” (D&C 1:20-1). Citing that verse, Boyd K. Packer of the Quorum of the Twelve said: “The work in the Church today is performed by ordinary men and women called and sustained to preside, to teach, and to administer. It is by the power of revelation and the gift of the Holy Ghost that those called are guided to know the Lord’s will.”4
Thus, personal revelation is one of the core principles of the unfolding restoration. Continuing revelation, to our prophets, apostles, and other leaders, as well as to ourselves as mothers, fathers, children, neighbors and friends. This is the means by which God works to further this ongoing creation, this recurring restoration.
An Article of Faith puts it this way; listen:
We believe all that God has revealed, all that he does now reveal, and we believe that he will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.
Thus, the restoration isn’t a one-off special delivery from God, a package dropped from heaven directly to Joseph Smith, ready-assembled, batteries included. Instead, it is an ongoing process through which God interacts with us in building the Kingdom. Our fallible involvement means there will be hiccups along the way. Today we sometimes find ourselves the inheritors of a vision that seems somewhat fractured. But I believe these fractures constitute the space which signifies—and also allows for further—growth. Like the cracked bark of a tree that has expanded as it reaches upward and outward, leaving fissures, we bear the scars of our past mistakes, even as we grow beyond them.
The Restoration is an ongoing project where line upon line is revealed as we seek greater light and knowledge. That is how President Lorenzo Snow described the Church on its 70th anniversary in 1900. He said:
Seventy years ago this Church was organized with six members. We commenced, so to speak, as an infant. We had our prejudices to combat. Our ignorance troubled us in regard to what the Lord intended to do and what He wanted us to do … We advanced to boyhood, and still we undoubtedly made some mistakes, which … generally arise from a …lack of experience. We understand very well, when we reflect back upon our own lives, that we did many foolish things when we were boys …
Yet as we advanced, the experience of the past materially assisted us to avoid such mistakes as we had made in our boyhood. It has been so with the Church. Our errors have generally arisen from a lack of comprehending what the Lord required of us to do. But now we are pretty well along to manhood … When we examine ourselves, however, we discover that we are still not doing exactly as we ought to do, notwithstanding all our experience. We discern that there are things which we fail to do that the Lord expects us to perform, some of which He requires us to do in our boyhood. … While we congratulate ourselves in this direction, we certainly ought to feel that we have not yet arrived at perfection. There are many things for us to do yet.5
I believe, as President Snow taught, that Restoration is an ongoing process, an unfolding which is trying to enfold, or to bring in and gather all the good, noble and true. Our welfare, humanitarian, and missionary efforts, our temples and service projects, (like helping people move! Thanks to the sisters and brothers who showed up last weekend), are all a part of the Restoration today.
Latter-day prophets have taught that the Restoration and its blessings are not limited to members of the Church. Many people kept the flame of faith alive through what we usually call the Great Apostasy, and we’re grateful for their service. Those who were baptized in secret ceremonies to avoid prosecution under oppressive laws, those who labored to translate and distribute the Bible to the masses, those who kept the flame of Christ burning down through the ages so that when the Church was restored in 1830 there would be a faithful people receptive to the restored truths. A poem adapted from Leviticus describes our debt of gratitude well:
We are ever bound in community:
We build on foundations, we did not lay.
We warm ourselves at fires, we did not light.
We sit in the shade of trees, we did not plant.
We drink from wells, we did not dig.
We profit from persons, we did not know.
We light this chalice in thanksgiving
For those who have passed their light to us.6
And the contributions of non-members has not ceased. Elder Orson F. Whitney observed:
[God] is using not only his covenant people, but other peoples as well, to consummate a work, stupendous, magnificent, and altogether too arduous for this little handful of Saints to accomplish by and of themselves.7
Joseph Smith similarly taught:
One of the grand fundamental principles of Mormonism is to receive truth, let it come from whence it may. . . . Christians should cease wrangling and contending with each other, and cultivate the principles of union and friendship in their midst; and they will do it before the millennium can be ushered in and Christ takes possession of His kingdom.8
This is why we are commanded to seek wisdom from the best books, to seek knowledge by study and also by faith (D&C 109:7), and to seek after things of good report and praiseworthy (Articles of Faith 1:13). Such scriptural injunctions indicate that the Restoration is not merely happening in the wider cosmos and in the church, but among all of God’s children.
Restoration is perhaps most immediately recognizable, however, in the self. If truth is never fully “restored” in this life, (none of us have the capacity to comprehend the whole of it anyway), “Truth” is more importantly Restorative.
This means we Mormons are also personal restorationists. Jesus Christ has promised us an ongoing restoration as we receive his image, as it becomes engraven upon our countenances (Alma 5:19). Through baptism we promise to take upon us the name of Christ, to bear one another’s burdens, to forgive, to love and serve and repent (Mosiah 18:8-10). To be restored.
So today I ask: Where am I in my own personal restoration? We’re all in different places. The faithful primary teacher, the silent questioner, the exhausted Relief Society president, the anxious youth speaker, even the president of the Church. Each is seeking restoration in Jesus Christ, restoration in the community, restoration in the world which God has created. I pray that these Restorations will continue to unfold, and to enfold us. I pray for the dawning of brighter days for God’s creation, in the Church, throughout the world, and in ourselves.
1. See Brian Swimme, The Universe Story : From the Primordial Flaring Forth to the Ecozoic Era—A Celebration of the Unfolding of the Cosmos (San Francisco: HarperOne, 1994); E. M. Conradie, Christianity and Ecological Theology: Resources for Further Research (Stellenbosch: Sun Press, 2006), 137.
2. Canonical exceptions might include the City of Enoch and the Nephite society as constituted for 200 years after Jesus appeared on the American continent.
3. Richard L. Bushman, Mormonism: A Very Short Introduction (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008), 5-6.
5. Lorenzo Snow, 6 April, 1900, Conference Report (Salt Lake City, UT: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1900), 1-2.
6. Author unknown, adapted from Deuteronomy 6:10-12.
7. Orson F. Whitney, April 1921, Conference Report (Salt Lake City, UT: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1900), 32-33.
8. B.H. Roberts, ed., History of the Church (Salt Lake City: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1932-1951), 5:499.