What do the sacrifices of the early saints have to do with us? They lived in a different time and in a different social environment. Are there lessons their sacrifices can teach us?
The lesson manual starts this lesson with this:
On 28 July 1847, four days after arriving in the Salt Lake Valley, President Brigham Young stood on the spot where the Salt Lake Temple now stands. He struck his cane on the ground and said, “Right here will stand the temple of our God” (in Wilford Woodruff, Deseret Evening News, 26, July 1888, 2). Thus the sacrifice and blessings of building another temple began.
The saints were living all alone in the Salt Lake Valley, with no one to bother them. They could do as they pleased in this mountain retreat. What sacrifices are being referred to? What sacrifices accompanied each of the temples they built or attempted to build in the past?
The temple in Kirtland did not offer any temple covenants, but taught the saints some valuable lessons about what temples could do for the people. It was in this temple the Savior came, as well as multiple prophets who restored keys of the priesthood to Joseph Smith.
What sacrifices did they have to make? They were under persecution at the time. They were dirt poor, yet they saved, scraped, and sacrificed time and talents, labor, and personal contributions that were made at the expense of their own comfort, to finish the temple.
What happened after they had finished the temple? Within a short period of time they were driven out of the city and the temple fell into the hands of gentiles. The Church has never been able to recover possession of the building.
The saints went to Jackson County, Missouri to build the city of Zion. They laid the cornerstone of the temple, but never got farther than that. They were driven out of their homes, members were killed, and they lost everything, having to start over elsewhere.
The Lord accepted their attempt to build a temple, and they dedicated a sight in Far West for a temple that never got built. They moved to Nauvoo and turned a swampland into a thriving city. They sacrificed every spare penny, literally, to build the Nauvoo temple, spending one out of every 10 days in labor on the temple instead of working to build their own homes, farms, and businesses.
Once completed, the Lord not only had given the saints the ordinance of baptism for the dead, but the endowment ordinances and the sealing ordinance. Again, after all their hard work they were driven out of their homes, people lost their lives, and they had to face the long, difficult trek on foot to the Rock Mountains, a distance of more than a thousand miles.
Now Brigham Young was expecting the saints to go through it all again to build yet another temple. For forty years the members of the Church labored and sacrificed to build the Salt Lake Temple. While they were building that temple the prophet started work on the St. George temple, which was finished first. Both temples required great sacrifice on the part of both the Church as an entity, and the people individually.
Obviously having a temple was worth to the people what they had to go through in order to build them. Do we have to make the same kind of sacrifices today? Nope. Why not? The Church has been maturing with each passing generation. The sacrifices required of the people back in the days of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young were those of great physical hardship.
As the members and the Church as an organization have become more mature, the demands placed on them have changed. The Church used to have a series of funds that all active members were required to contribute to in order to build chapels and temples. As the years passed the part required by the members to get these building built shrunk. Now the Church just builds them. The members don’t have to “pay” anything out of pocket.
How does that work? It works because more of the members are faithfully paying their tithes and offerings. The Lord promised great blessings of prosperity if the saints would be faithful in paying their tithes and offerings. The prosperity the Lord promised includes great spiritual blessings to the Church as a whole, and to individuals. Anyone who has learned to accept and live the commandments to pay tithes and offerings have learned from personal experience that the blessings of the Lord makes keeping these commandments a valuable edition to their lives.
As the world becomes more wicked, and society turns further away from the ways of the Lord, the Lord requires greater and greater strictness in keeping His statutes from his covenant children. He knows that it is only through strict obedience that we will be able to survive the onslaught of wicked and perverse practices that abound all around us.
Sometimes we look at the sacrifices made by the early saints and we don’t feel we can relate because the nature of their sacrifices are different from the sacrifices we have been called upon to make. They didn’t have things like the Proclamation on the Family, or the statements from the prophet on how we are to handle children of practicing gay couples.
But the early saints did have doctrine they had to uphold by faith in the face of great persecution, like that of the doctrine of polygamy. And we too will have to face such openly and socially unacceptable obedience to the tenants of our faith in the future. What we are being called upon to sacrifice now by our prophets is preparing us for what comes next.
We know that we will face even greater physical and social persecution than the early saints. That day is not far off. We may not see it coming until it is upon us, but it is coming none the less. The prophets see it coming and they are doing everything in their power to encourage us to commit ourselves to being obedient to the Lord and to follow His servants.
Someone asked me recently if I had a strong testimony. My answer surprised him. I told him I hoped that I have a sufficiently strong testimony. He wanted me to explain my response, so I told him that we don’t really know how strong our testimonies are until we have been put through trials in the furnace of affliction. It is only then that we know what we are capable of enduring and still remain faithful.
The manual also said this about the saints:
It took years for the Saints to quarry, transport, and shape the granite blocks for the construction of the temple. During this time, they struggled just to survive, as they lost crops to the elements, served missions in faraway lands, and accepted calls to leave their homes and establish communities in remote areas. In spite of these many challenges, the Saints persevered, and with the Lord’s help they prevailed.
The scriptures teach us that we are each temples of our God. We have sacred bodies that must be tutored, and brought under control in the service of the Lord. This work is done for not only His glory. As we glorify our Father He will also glorify us.
The rocks we hew (carve) for our own temple is done as we learn to be obedient in all things, at all times, in all circumstances. They are carved and assembled one sacrifice at a time as we learn to follow the Lord’s servants and fulfill all that is required of us, even when it is inconvenient, challenging, and down right difficult. Sometimes our challenges seem like more than we can bear. Yet the Lord has always promised His saints that when they are obedient He will lift them, bless them, and prosper them in the end.
How were the saints able to make these kinds of sacrifices, seeing they were collectively so poor and destitute? They were able to do it because they learned to rely on each other. They supported each other. They put their faith in the Lord and trusted that He would keep His promises, even when it looked like there was no way His promises could be kept. In short, their trials had taught them the power of putting one’s faith in God.
This is the lesson we will also need to learn. And we need to understand that such lessons are not learned in the midst of ease and comfort. They can only be learned when our way seems to be hedged up on all sides and there appears to be no way forward. Only then can we have the opportunity to choose obedience and optimism based on the Lord’s promises.
Faith can only be learned in one way, and we must all pass through our personal “crossing of the plains with a handcart” experiences. We must all go through what the saints did when they were required over and over again to build yet another temple in another new place because they had been driven out of their last home.
What we go through in this life is not unique. We are not alone. Everyone who makes covenants with God and seeks to become like His son will have to go through such experiences. But if we recognize that the path back to our Father has to be traveled by everyone who wants to live with Him, and that we have the Love and support of our Savior and the Holy Ghost in the process, we can find the faith we need to make the personal sacrifices needed to prove that this is indeed what we want more than anything else in our lives. Once we can do that we can say that we have unshakable testimonies, and that we have truly been converted.
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