(Note: The following is taken from an appendix to Patrick Mason’s terrific new book Restoration: God’s Call to the 21st Century World. As we all turn to study the Restoration and the Doctrine and Covenants in 2021, Patrick’s thoughts on Section 1 seemed well worth sharing. The book is available at Deseret Book now, and for Kindle and pre-order paperback on Amazon).
Scripture, like fire, is a dangerous thing to play with. Some of us can’t help but be attracted to the flame.
On November 1, 1831, Joseph Smith received a revelation at a church conference held in Hiram, Ohio, in which the elders were discussing the preparation of the Book of Commandments, a precursor to what later became the Doctrine and Covenants. A small committee had originally been appointed to write a preface to the Book of Commandments. But when they presented their work to the conference, the elders “picked it all to pieces.” Asking Joseph to turn to the Lord for direction, the prophet then dictated a revelation that became not only Chapter 1 of the Book of Commandments, but the first section of every subsequent edition of the Doctrine and Covenants.1See Chapter 1 in the 1833 Book of Commandments, reprinted in Robin Scott Jensen, Richard E. Turley Jr., and Riley M. Lorimer, eds., Revelations and Translations, Volume 2: Published Revelations, vol. 2 of the Revelations and Translations series of The Joseph Smith Papers, ed. Dean C. Jessee, Ronald K. Esplin, and Richard Lyman Bushman (Salt Lake City: Church Historian’s Press, 2011), 3–6. For background history to this revelation, see Matthew C. Godfrey, “William McLellin’s Five Questions,” https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/manual/revelations-in-context/william-mclellins-five-questions?lang=eng.
The revelation never uses the word “restoration,” but it offers a compelling vision of what God intends to accomplish in the modern world. The voice of the Lord calls us to attention, diagnoses some of modern society’s spiritual pitfalls, affirms the prophetic calling of Joseph Smith (while insisting upon his “weakness”), and outlines four purposes for the Restoration.
Maybe you’ve read this section a hundred times; maybe it’s entirely new to you. Either way, sometimes it’s helpful to refashion even modern scripture into a contemporary idiom and thus see God’s word through new eyes. What follows here is, to borrow a term from Adam Miller, an “urgent paraphrase” of this powerful passage of scripture.2Adam S. Miller, Grace Is Not God’s Backup Plan: An Urgent Paraphrase of Paul’s Letter to the Romans (self-published, 2015). In addition to taking his phrase, I’m also adopting Miller’s method: “I’ve rendered [the text] with a relatively free hand. . . . Rather than worry over the letter of the text, my goal has been to illuminate the large scale patterns that structure it. With little hesitation, I’ve sacrificed some concern for details to a more urgent need for persuasion and clarity. At several points, I’ve cut some details for the sake of fluidity. At other points, I’ve expanded the material with additional explanation. Overall, I’ve purposely adopted a brisk, contemporary idiom” (6). In my contemporary remix of Section 1 I haven’t improved upon the original; undoubtedly the opposite is true. What I hope is for you (and me) to listen to scripture with new ears to hear—then go back to the actual revelation to (re)discover God’s voice, fired with a sense of urgency and mission about the nature and purpose of the Restoration and what you (and I) are called to do as part of it.
Everyone, pay attention! Church members, I’m talking to you. Everyone else, in whatever corner of the world you may live in, I’m talking to you too. I’ve been watching you all, and have a few things to say, so gather ’round and listen.
My voice and my word are for everyone, no exceptions. Eventually, every one of my children will see that I am God. Every ear will hear my voice, and every heart will be penetrated by my Spirit. Those who resist my love will eventually be filled with regret. And those who think they can do evil in secret will be exposed for who and what they really are.
When you hear my voice, consider it a loving but stern warning. I’m posting notice for every person on earth. Some people will hear my voice directly, but most will hear it from my followers whom I have asked to help spread the message. Time is short; there’s not a moment to waste. My followers understand this, so they’re out spreading the word. I’ve told them to do it, and it’s going to get done—one way or the other, sooner or later. When they share the good news of Jesus Christ with you, they do it in my name and with my authority. They’ll bring with them new scriptures and new revelations—including this one—that are meant for all of my children around the world. I know this will produce anxiety, even fear, among many of you, when you realize that I’m serious. But everything I talk about here is happening or going to happen. This is real.
Recall what Jesus taught: You will be judged by the way you have judged your fellow humans. Your life will be measured in the same way that you have measured others. You are accountable for who and what you are. The way you respond to the gospel will confirm whether you’re humble and submissive or stubborn and rebellious. You have the freedom to choose what to believe and do, but you can’t choose the consequences. It’s the law of the harvest—just as you sow you shall reap.
I love you. That’s why I’m speaking to every one of you, near and far, to the ends of the earth, if you’ll only listen. Listen! There’s no time to wait. The consequences of your actions are already here. If I sound angry, it’s because I am. You haven’t listened to me, you haven’t listened to my followers, you haven’t listened to the prophets and apostles I’ve been sending for millennia now. When will you get the picture? Unless you listen—now—you’re going to lose out, cut off from the community that will ultimately sustain you.
People, get ready.
I’ve been calling my children to repentance since the beginning. But there’s a special set of problems with the modern world. You’ve walked away from law. You’ve become so casual and dismissive of ritual that you don’t even understand its power anymore. You’ve abandoned the covenant I gave to Abraham—that I would be your God, and you would be my people. You’ve forgotten the whole purpose of that covenant—to unite the whole human family in one, as children of a Heavenly Mother and Father with a destiny to become like them.
In place of this covenant of love and belonging, you’ve decided to go your own way. You scoff at old-fashioned terms like “righteousness.” You want to set your own rules. You grow less interested in me by the hour. Instead, you follow the Gospel of I: first iPads and iPhones, and now iProphets and iReligion. You’re idol worshippers, plain and simple. Money, sex, drugs, McMansions, stock portfolios, technology, ideologies, politics, “likes.” You’ve created a golden calf out of your own ego. You’ve become captives to your own desires. You’re turning the whole world into the Las Vegas Strip—a mirage, a sham, a testament to decadence and sensation and self-worship. You think you can build a society like this, but it’s impossible. It’s not sustainable. You can’t go on living like this. It seems great now, but it will all come tumbling down.
What you’re doing with the world and yourselves is nothing short of a calamity. A disaster. A catastrophe. It’s tragic, and it breaks my heart.
You have a big problem on your hands. I’ve got a solution. To counter your self-worship, I called a new messenger for a new age: Joseph Smith Jr. That’s right—a poor farm boy whose many weaknesses are apparent for anyone to see. Does that surprise you? Read your Bible. I spoke to Joseph straight from heaven, and gave him commandments to give to you. But for heaven’s sake, don’t make an idol of Joseph too—this story isn’t about him. I also spoke to plenty of others and made them messengers of my word. I could have used more accomplished, more polished, more impressive means, but I wanted to prove a point to you. It’s the “weak” things of this world that will break down your perception of what’s “mighty” and “strong.” Stop the self-worship!
To use your utilitarian language, what are my “objectives” here? It’s simple. Four things:
First, that every man, woman, and child will speak in the name of Jesus. This means not only speaking reverently of Jesus Christ, your Lord and Savior, but that everything you breathe out into the world will be filtered through his holy name. To take on and speak in the name of Jesus is to walk in the Way of Truth and Life.
Second, that faith will increase throughout the world. Yes, of course that means I want more of my children in relationship with me and not being seduced by materialism and atheism. But on a deeper level I mean trust. Trust in my love and my law. And also trust one another enough to build Zion together.
Third, that my everlasting covenant will be (re-)established. The bonds of love must be extended among all women, men, and children (what my servants in the civil rights movement called the “beloved community”). Not just now, but across the generations, both past and future. The hearts of the children must turn to the ancestors, and in turn you must think about your impact on descendants yet-unborn. Your calling is to unite all humanity as the family of God that it is.
Fourth, that the good news of my love will be spread to all the world. Don’t leave anyone out. Don’t be afraid to speak up for truth and love even in the public square. You may feel weak, or that your message is too simple, but see #2 above: have faith. Those who think they are powerful, those in positions of authority, those who are deeply ensnared in self-worship, are the ones who need to hear this message the most.
Look, I’m God, and you’re not. I’m trying to communicate with you in language that you’ll comprehend. That’s always true of how I work with my servants. I speak with them in their own language, in ways that they can understand even in their weakness. When they make mistakes—and they do—I let it be known. When they truly seek wisdom, I give it to them. When my servants sin—and they do (again, read the Bible)—I chastise them so they can learn and change and do better the next time. But when they are humble, that’s when they are strong. That’s when they are blessed. That’s when, every so often, they are prepared for me to send down knowledge like manna from heaven.
These principles apply to Joseph Smith and all my other servants in the modern age. After he received the gold plates, Joseph had power to translate the Book of Mormon only through my mercy and power. The same is true of the saints who laid the foundation of the Church of Jesus Christ. They had power to do so—to bring the church out of obscurity and into the light of day where everyone can see it—insofar as they sought forgiveness and relied on me. The Church of Jesus Christ is the only true and living church. That’s not because of any great virtues of its individual members, all of whom are in need of repentance, but because collectively the church points people to salvation in Christ and the building of Zion. I simply can’t overlook the many things you do to separate yourself from me. Those who remain enmeshed in sin drive away my Spirit until, if they don’t turn around, they lose the light I’ve given them; at a certain point they just forget how to hear and respond to spiritual things. That’s what sin is—the act and state of alienating yourself from me and my love. So yes, I’m well pleased with the church in a collective sense, precisely because it is a gift I have given the world as part of my answer to the calamity of modern self-worship. But don’t get full of yourselves just because you happen to be in the club—which is so exclusive that I want everyone to become a member!
Please listen to me when I tell you that I want nothing more than for everyone to know and embrace the good news of redemption. I love all my children equally; I don’t privilege one person or group over any other. I want every man, woman, and child to realize how urgent this is. The end isn’t here yet, but it’s coming soon. I can’t promise you perpetual peace in these troubling times. The world you thought you were building for yourself will be claimed as part of the devil’s dominions. But you can always find refuge in me. Trust that I have power to protect those who come to me. The day of reckoning for this sin-sick age is coming, so you need to choose what kind of world you want.
Search my word as recorded in modern scripture. The revelations are true. The prophecies and promises I have given will all be fulfilled. Trust me. I don’t need to justify the things I’ve said to you. Everything you think you know will come and go. The world you have so carefully cultivated will fade away. But my word will not. My promises will not. My love never fails. If it’s truly the gospel of Jesus Christ, it doesn’t matter whether you hear it straight from me or from one of my servants. The prophecies and promises are true, and you need to respond just the same.
You can know that what I’m saying is true because the Spirit will bear witness of it to your soul. You can rely on that truth forever. Amen.
|↑1||See Chapter 1 in the 1833 Book of Commandments, reprinted in Robin Scott Jensen, Richard E. Turley Jr., and Riley M. Lorimer, eds., Revelations and Translations, Volume 2: Published Revelations, vol. 2 of the Revelations and Translations series of The Joseph Smith Papers, ed. Dean C. Jessee, Ronald K. Esplin, and Richard Lyman Bushman (Salt Lake City: Church Historian’s Press, 2011), 3–6. For background history to this revelation, see Matthew C. Godfrey, “William McLellin’s Five Questions,” https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/manual/revelations-in-context/william-mclellins-five-questions?lang=eng.|
|↑2||Adam S. Miller, Grace Is Not God’s Backup Plan: An Urgent Paraphrase of Paul’s Letter to the Romans (self-published, 2015). In addition to taking his phrase, I’m also adopting Miller’s method: “I’ve rendered [the text] with a relatively free hand. . . . Rather than worry over the letter of the text, my goal has been to illuminate the large scale patterns that structure it. With little hesitation, I’ve sacrificed some concern for details to a more urgent need for persuasion and clarity. At several points, I’ve cut some details for the sake of fluidity. At other points, I’ve expanded the material with additional explanation. Overall, I’ve purposely adopted a brisk, contemporary idiom” (6).|