“The building up of Zion is a cause that has interested the people of God in every age; it is a theme upon which prophets, priests and kings have dwelt with peculiar delight; they have looked forward with joyful anticipation to the day in which we live; and fired with heavenly and joyful anticipations they have sung and written and prophesied of this our day; but they died without the sight; we are the favored people that God has made choice of to bring about the Latter-day glory; it is left for us to see, participate in and help to roll forward the Latter-day glory, ‘the dispensation of the fullness of times,’ when God will gather together all things that are in heaven, and all things that are upon the earth, … when the Saints of God will be gathered in one from every nation, and kindred, and people, and tongue, when the Jews will be gathered together into one, the wicked will also be gathered together to be destroyed, as spoken of by the prophets; the Spirit of God will also dwell with His people, and be withdrawn from the rest of the nations, and all things whether in heaven or on earth will be in one, even in Christ.”—Joseph Smith, Jr., Documentary History of the Church, vol. 4, pp. 609–10.
Why does the Lord from the beginning to the end of the revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants speak of Zion? Why did ancient prophets speak prophetically of the Zion of the last days? And why do almost 15 percent of the nearly four hundred hymns in the Church hymnal refer to Zion? These and other questions indicate the interest in and, above all, the importance of the concept of Zion in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; in fact, in the salvation of man.
The message of Zion is expressed in the following phrases from some Latter-day Saint hymns: “He’ll bring again Zion, the prophets declare,” “Zion’s light is bursting forth,” “Let Zion in her beauty rise,” “Shall the youth of Zion falter?” “Think not, when you gather to Zion,” “Glorious things are sung of Zion,” “Zion stands with hills surrounded,” “Holy temples on Mount Zion,” “The rays that shine from Zion’s hill shall lighten every land,” “Zion’s welfare is my portion.”*
Our introductory quotation at left indicates that Joseph Smith gave us an enlightened view of the importance of our dispensation in the establishment of Zion.
Among the scriptural meanings of Zion, the following are important: “the pure in heart,” the church of Jesus Christ, old Jerusalem and its holy mount, a holy city built by Enoch, North and South America, and a new Jerusalem to be built in America. Four of these definitions have a direct application to this dispensation.
The Doctrine and Covenants clarifies and explains best the concept of Zion in the last days. In April 1829, the Lord counseled the inquiring Oliver Cowdery, as well as others, “Now, as you have asked, behold, I say unto you, keep my commandments, and seek to bring forth and establish the cause of Zion.” (D&C 6:6.)
In the last revelation recorded in the Doctrine and Covenants, given to President Brigham Young, these promises of the Lord are given regarding Zion and her people:
“Zion shall be redeemed in mine own due time.
“My people must be tried in all things, that they may be prepared to receive the glory that I have for them, even the glory of Zion; and he that will not bear chastisement is not worthy of my kingdom.” (D&C 136:18, 31.)
To help bring forth and establish the cause of Zion is a commitment that every Latter-day Saint should make. Those who are sincerely involved in this activity put their whole souls into the building up of the Church and Zion. To these valiant ones, the following words have a significant meaning:
“Therefore, verily, thus saith the Lord, let Zion rejoice, for this is Zion—THE PURE IN HEART; therefore let Zion rejoice, while all the wicked shall mourn.” (D&C 97:21.)
The atonement of Jesus Christ made it possible for man to be redeemed if he would truly repent. It is also necessary for men to live by all that the Lord has revealed if they would contribute to the onward progress of the Church. (D&C 38:40.)
The Lord revealed that those Saints who passed away in the Missouri persecutions and were pure in heart would receive salvation. (D&C 124:54.) Our salvation will be assured also if we give everything necessary, as did the pure in heart, for the building up of the Church and Zion. (D&C 98:13–15; D&C 101:35–38.)
The context in which the modern revelations reveal information about Zion is the establishment of a center place in Jackson County, Missouri. (D&C 57:1–3.) As early as 1831, a number of the Saints settled by commandment in that area when the Prophet Joseph Smith dedicated the temple site. There the city New Jerusalem will be erected with its temple, and then the ancient prophecy will be completely fulfilled in that the law shall go forth from Zion to govern the earth. (D&C 84: 1–5; Isa. 2:2–3; Micah 4:1–2.)
The law of consecration, a spiritual and socioeconomic order, was revealed so that the poor might be cared for and the rich would gain salvation through their obedience to the laws of the gospel. Though many Saints gathered to Missouri, their stay there was only temporary, for the Lord had told them that the fullness of Zion’s glory would come only after much tribulation. (D&C 58:3–5.)
Persecution came, as the Lord says, due to transgression on the part of some of his covenant people. (D&C 101:1–9.) The Saints were driven from western Missouri, and the establishment of the center place of Zion was placed in abeyance until the Saints could reoccupy that land and become a pure people. (D&C 105:34.)
In harmony with the modern revelations (D&C 63:27–31), latter-day prophets have expressed assurance that the prophecies concerning Jackson County as a permanent inheritance for the Saints will yet be fulfilled. President Brigham Young, speaking to a group of Saints in 1856, said:
“… this people will surely go back to Jackson County. How soon that may be, or when it may be, I do not care; but that is not now the gathering place for the saints.” (Journal of Discourses, vol. 3, p. 278.)
The apathetic and slothful among the Saints will not receive the blessings of Zion, for they do not contribute to its growth. In fact, the Lord has warned the members of his church that judgments in this life await them if they do not keep their covenants. (D&C 97:22–28.)
All things will work for the good of those who walk uprightly before the Lord, and in their sanctified condition, as the pure in heart, the glory of Zion will rest upon them. (D&C 100:15–17.)
Alma said that a rebirth for all mankind—a change from the carnal to the spiritual—must take place before they can inherit the kingdom of God. (Mosiah 27:25–26.) By the power of the Holy Ghost, the baptized member of the Church is reborn and sanctified if he keeps the commandments and becomes pure in heart.
For a member of the Church to become a “new creature” in Jesus Christ, he must love and serve the Lord with all his might, mind, and strength. (D&C 20:29–34.) Here are some ways in which this might be accomplished:
1. Have faith in the atoning sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ. (D&C 76:41.) God’s love for us is expressed in many ways, but the ultimate demonstration of his love was the giving of his Son as an atonement for sin that we might live endlessly in a saved condition with him. Our Elder Brother gave his life voluntarily and thus showed his love for his brethren. The best way we can show our love for him is to keep his commandments.
2. Seek to understand the word of God in the standard works of the Church so that we can know how to live and worship and be free from deception. (D&C 43:8–10; D&C 93:19; JS—H 1:37.) Daily study of the scriptures is a sure way to learn the will of God.
3. Through our righteousness and as members of the Church, we can encourage the spirit of the Holy Ghost to abide with us. The Lord has said that the gifts of the Spirit can also help us to avoid deception. (D&C 46:7–8.) Another gift of the Holy Ghost is a conviction that God lives and that Jesus Christ is our Savior, the Son of God. (D&C 46:13.)
4. Seek for the Spirit to guide us in our daily lives. The key to this counsel is found in the Lord’s word to Oliver Cowdery (D&C 9:8–9) and in the subsequent teachings of our prophets and other leaders.
5. Keep our mind single to God, by a constant awareness of our obligations to him. Brigham Young said that he knew he had the Spirit of God with him because he thought about the gospel continually. (JD, vol. 12, p. 217.) If we are always mindful of our gospel covenants, we have a distinct advantage in making correct decisions. The contemplation of a passage of scripture, recalling an event in the life of the Master, or a remembrance of the purpose of life and the potential that is available to the faithful—these all provide opportunities for keeping our mind single to God.
6. Engage actively in church work, including attendance at appointed meetings. (D&C 38:40; D&C 75:28.) Without this activity, we can become indifferent to gospel commandments and lose the guiding influence of the Spirit of the Lord. (D&C 1:33.)
7. Put the gospel into practice in our daily lives by being charitable with our fellowman.
Zion is where the pure in heart dwell, whether in the Zion of the Americas or in the far reaches of the earth where the Saints live. (D&C 101:20–23.) Each family, under the direction of the father, can make its own home a Zion. Enthusiastic participation in the programs of the Church, especially the family home evening program, will bring obedience to this goal given by the Prophet Joseph Smith: “We ought to have the building up of Zion as our greatest object.” (DHC, vol. 3, p. 390.)
8. Sustain those who preside over us. The humble, dedicated Saint knows that only by supporting his leaders will he fully enjoy the Spirit of the Lord. The uplifted hand in the sustaining process commits every baptized member to follow the counsel of his leaders. He knows that the spirit of revelation is operating in the Church, to appoint men and women to their callings. He also knows that revelation from the Lord comes to the President of the Church and that all Church officers have the right to divine guidance for their individual callings. We are commanded to strengthen the brethren in conversation, in prayers, in exhortations, and in all our doings. (D&C 108:7.) In fact, if the Saints are not as the people of Enoch—“of one heart and one mind, and … in righteousness”—in sustaining the brethren, they will not be a Zion people. (See Moses 7:18; D&C 38:27.)
Brigham Young’s counsel on building up Zion is applicable to a family or a place: “We can make Zion, or we can make Babylon, just as we please. We can make just what we please of this place. The people can make Zion: they can make a heaven within themselves. When people gather here, they should come with a determination to make Zion within themselves, with the resolution that ‘I will carry myself full of the Spirit of Zion wherever I go; and this is the way in which I will control evil spirits; for I mean that my spirit shall have control over evil’: and do you not see that such a course will make Zion?” (JD, vol. 5, p. 4.)
Zion, as envisioned by the prophets, is not here now; but as the kingdom of God, through the Church, spreads out and brings people with a Zion potential into its fold, Zion in its fullness will come in the due time of the Lord. Preparation continues for that blessed day when the elect will be prepared for the Savior’s return to usher in his millennial reign. The day will come when the leaders of the Church will call the faithful, devoted members to build the New Jerusalem; but the call will come only when the revelation is received by the prophet. (D&C 101:16–21; D&C 105:13.)
Some may not realize Zion in its fullness in this life, but each Saint who assumes his responsibility in building Zion in himself and others will find eternal joy and happiness. All members of the Church who have the spirit of Zion in their hearts find great comfort in these words of the Prophet Joseph Smith:
“The heavenly Priesthood will unite with the earthly, to bring about those great purposes; and whilst we are thus united in the one common cause, to roll forth the kingdom of God, the heavenly Priesthood are not idle spectators, the Spirit of God will be showered down from above, and it will dwell in our midst. The blessings of the Most High will rest upon our tabernacles, and our name will be handed down to future ages; our children will rise up and call us blessed; and generations yet unborn will dwell with peculiar delight upon the scenes that we have passed through, the privations that we have endured; the untiring zeal that we have manifested; the all but insurmountable difficulties that we have overcome in laying the foundation of a work that brought about the glory and blessing which they will realize; a work that God and angels have contemplated with delight for generations past; that fired the souls of the ancient patriarchs and prophets; a work that is destined to bring about the destruction of the powers of darkness, the renovation of the earth, the glory of God, and the salvation of the human family.” (DHC, vol. 4, p. 610.)