During the early part of the 18th century, Samuel F. Smith wrote his great poem:
(Hymns, no. 115.)
These lines, first used in 1832 at a Fourth of July celebration, indicate that Samuel F. Smith had with poetic insight glimpsed some great truths concerning this land—truths which, at about the same time, were clearly made known to the Prophet Joseph Smith.
By divine revelation, Joseph, between 1827 and 1829, translated the Book of Mormon, from which he learned that God is in fact the author of our liberty and that to retain it, the inhabitants of the land must be protected by his mighty hand. There is no other power that can protect that liberty.
The truths received by Joseph Smith went further. They identified the “Great God” implored by Samuel F. Smith as Jesus Christ. They also declared that in order for us to enjoy the protection of his might, we must accept him as our God and keep his commandments.
“Behold,” says the revelation, “this [America] is a choice land, and whatsoever nation shall possess it shall be free from bondage, and from captivity, and from all other nations under heaven, if they will but serve the God of the land, who is Jesus Christ” (Ether 2:12).
The words “Protect us by thy might, Great God, our King” imply that the God of the land is also King of the land. And this is true.
The Book of Mormon, quoting Jesus as he spoke here in America, reads:
“This land shall be a land of liberty … and there shall be no kings upon [it]. …
“… For I, the Lord, the king of heaven, will be their king, and I will be a light unto them forever, that hear my words. …
“… For it is a choice land, saith God … wherefore I will have all men that dwell thereon that they shall worship me.” (2 Ne. 10:11, 14, 19.)
The alternative to enjoying this liberty and happiness through acceptance of and obedience to Jesus Christ is made clear by the Book of Mormon. It gives certain answers and abundant evidence.
More than two thousand years before his birth in the flesh, Jesus Christ led a small colony of people from Asia to America. As they came he instructed their prophet leaders “that whoso should possess this land of promise, from that time henceforth and forever, should serve him, the true and only God, or they should be swept off … when they are ripened in iniquity” (Ether 2:8–9).
The descendants of this people, known as the Jaredites, became a mighty nation. They flourished here for some two thousand years. Obeying Christ in righteousness, they rose at times to great heights. Rejecting him, they declined until they completely annihilated themselves in fratricidal wars. An abridgment of their tragic history is found in the Book of Ether.
In 600 B.C., about the time the Jaredites were annihilating themselves, Jesus Christ directed another colony to this land. He revealed to them, as he had to the Jaredites, the truth that he is the God and King of the land; that through accepting and obeying him as such, they could always remain a free, prosperous, and happy people; and that if they chose to reject him and disobey his laws, they would bring upon themselves certain destruction.
That they might be convinced, the Savior made available to them the records of the Jaredites, whom they replaced.
The thousand-year history of these people records their division into two factions—Nephites and Lamanites.
When they followed the guidance of the God of the land they reached great heights. After his postresurrection ministry among them, all who survived the cataclysm which accompanied his crucifixion—both Nephites and Lamanites—were “converted unto the Lord.” United, they built a society in which for about two hundred years “there were no contentions and disputations among them, and every man did deal justly one with another. … There were not rich and poor, bond and free, but they were all made free, and … the Lord did prosper them exceedingly in the land.
“Surely [concludes the prophet historian] there could not be a happier people among all the people who had been created by the hand of God.” (4 Ne. 1:2–7, 16.)
At the beginning of the third century A.D. this happy situation began to change. Pride, with its attendant evils, found place in the hearts of people. They began turning away from the ways of the God of the land. Finally they rejected him. By the end of the fourth century, as a result of contention, crime, and carnage, their civilization had disintegrated.
Having proved unworthy of protection by the “might” of the God of the land, the remnants of these people dwindled in unbelief until they reached the degradation in which Columbus found them.
Lehi, the patriarch of the colony divinely led to America in 600 B.C., prophesied that “there shall none come into this land save they shall be brought by the hand of the Lord” (2 Ne. 1:6).
Just as Jesus Christ has piloted to this land of America the vanguard of each succeeding civilization which has dwelt upon it, so has he made known to them his everlasting decree “that whoso should possess [it] should serve him, the true and only God, or they should be swept off … when they are ripened in iniquity” (Ether 2:8–9).
Our present civilization is no exception. We who live in America are under this everlasting decree. And the Lord has said, “My word shall be verified at this time as it hath hitherto been verified” (D&C 5:20). Jesus Christ, the God of this land, led Columbus to it. He led the Pilgrims to Plymouth. He sustained and gave victory to the colonists. He established the Constitution of the United States (see D&C 101:80). Over a period of some twenty-six centuries he directed the writing of the Book of Mormon, which contains the record of the former inhabitants of this land. At his command, Moroni finished the record and hid it up in the Hill Cumorah, where, under his surveillance, it was safely preserved for some fourteen hundred years.
By the power of Jesus Christ, the God of this land, the record was brought forth, translated, and in 1830 published. For nearly 150 years now it has been bearing its message to all who will receive it.
After setting forth the everlasting decree concerning this land and reviewing the destruction of two civilizations, Moroni, seeing the present inhabitants of America, and knowing by the power of God that we would have the record, penned this message directly to those who inhabit this land:
“And this cometh unto you … that ye may know the decrees of God—that ye may repent, and not continue in your iniquities until the fulness come, that ye may not bring down the fulness of the wrath of God upon you as the inhabitants of the land have hitherto done” ()Ether 2:11).
Now why do I emphasize this theme? I do so as a warning against the ongoing anti-Christ trend in America today.
Some years ago reference was made on a local editorial page to “a super-duper, eager-beaver atheist” who “does not like Christianity” at all, “and is out to destroy it. … In a national magazine [this atheist] is quoted as thundering from her ‘pulpit’: ‘Churches are leeches. …’
“Now that she has moved on prayer and Bible reading in U.S. public schools,” the editorial continues, “her next targets, it appears, are tax-exemptions for churches, ousting chaplains from the armed services and omission of ‘God’ in courtroom oaths, on money and in the pledge of allegiance.” (Norman Vincent Peale, Deseret News and Telegram, 3 July 1964.)
An article in a recent magazine advanced and argued the thesis that America is no longer “the Christian land of the Pilgrims.”
In distinguishing communism from the United Order, President David O. McKay said that communism is Satan’s counterfeit for the gospel plan, and that it is an avowed enemy of the God of the land. Communism is the greatest anti-Christ power in the world today and therefore the greatest menace not only to our peace but to our preservation as a free people. By the extent to which we tolerate it, accommodate ourselves to it, permit ourselves to be encircled by its tentacles and drawn to it, to that extent we forfeit the protection of the God of this land.
Relying on that part of the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States which reads, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” the United States Supreme Court has ruled against Bible reading and prayer in public schools. By so doing, said President David O. McKay, “the Supreme Court of the United States severs the connecting cord between the public schools of the United States and the source of divine intelligence, the Creator himself,” who, of course, is the God of this land (Relief Society Magazine, Dec. 1962, p. 878).
Now, of course, we all believe and wholeheartedly support the separation of church and state; but we must not let this wresting of the First Amendment, nor communism, nor atheism, nor any other anti-Christ influence, weaken our conviction that Jesus Christ is the God of this land nor diminish our determination to obey his laws. On such conviction and such obedience hang all our hopes so well expressed in Samuel F. Smith’s patriotic hymn:
(Hymns, no. 115.)
That it may be so, I humbly pray.