On 27 August 1831 Joseph Smith and his party returned to Kirtland, Ohio, from their first trip to Zion, bringing news that the center place of Zion was now known. “When the report spread among the members of the Church that the Lord had revealed definitely where the city New Jerusalem was to be built, naturally there was rejoicing and many expressed the desire to know what they were to do in order to obtain inheritances. The Lord has given instruction repeatedly that all who go to Zion shall obey His law—the celestial law on which Zion was to be built. Those who were weak in the faith, or indifferent to the commandments, were warned that they would not be made welcome in that land unless they repented. ‘Hearken, O ye people, and open your hearts and give ear from afar; and listen, you that call yourselves the people of the Lord, and hear the word of the Lord and his will concerning you.’ These are the words by which this revelation is introduced.” (Smith, Church History and Modern Revelation, 1:229.)
The Prophet Joseph Smith explained: “In these infant days of the Church, there was a great anxiety to obtain the word of the Lord upon every subject that in any way concerned our salvation; and as the land of Zion was now the most important temporal object in view, I enquired of the Lord for further information upon the gathering of the Saints, and the purchase of the land, and other matters, and received the following: [D&C 63].” (History of the Church, 1:207.)
The Lord in His revelations teaches the Saints that in order for them to inhabit Zion, they must be a righteous people (see D&C 58–59, 97, 101, 103, 105). The Lord opened this revelation with a solemn reminder that His commandments are not to be taken lightly and that those who ignore them or rebel against them will be punished. The reminder was necessary, since many of the early Saints claimed to be anxious to build Zion but were not being obedient to the laws God had revealed. The Prophet Joseph Smith also tried to teach the Saints the same principle: “We know not what we shall be called to pass through before Zion is delivered and established; therefore, we have great need to live near to God, and always be in strict obedience to all His commandments, that we may have a conscience void of offense toward God and man” (Teachings, p. 32).
These verses contain a very important statement on the relationship between faith and works and the miraculous powers, or signs, that accompany faith.
The process by which faith, or power, is developed is one of testing. The Lord gives certain principles, and by obedience to them, blessings and power follow. But one has no proof of that promise until one acts on the basis of trust or belief. Then comes the confirmation of the reality of the principle, but only after one acts in faith and trust. That is why James taught that “faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone” (James 2:17). Moroni taught the same principle when he explained that the evidence that the principles are true and will bring power cannot be known for sure at first, but can only be hoped for until one acts on the principle: “Faith is things which are hoped for and not seen; wherefore, … ye receive no witness [confirmation] until after the trial of your faith” (Ether 12:6).
The Lord will give confirming evidence of all gospel principles if we are willing to act on the basis of faith. Imagine a person who says, “Before I pay my tithing, I must know for sure that it is a true principle.” The Lord’s way is just the opposite. He says, “First act in faith and pay your tithing, then I will give you evidence it is a true principle.” The Savior taught this relationship during His mortal ministry: “If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine” (John 7:17).
When we understand this process, we can see why sign seeking is condemned. Someone who demands outward evidence of the power of God as a condition for believing is seeking to circumvent the process by which faith is developed. He wants proof without price. As with the adulterer, he seeks the results without accepting the responsibility. Thus it is a wicked and adulterous generation that seeks signs.
The Prophet Joseph Smith said: “I will give you one of the Keys of the mysteries of the Kingdom. It is an eternal principle, that has existed with God from all eternity: That man who rises up to condemn others, finding fault with the Church, saying that they are out of the way, while he himself is righteous, then know assuredly, that that man is in the high road to apostasy; and if he does not repent, will apostatize, as God lives. The principle is as correct as the one that Jesus put forth in saying that he who seeketh a sign is an adulterous person; and that principle is eternal, undeviating, and firm as the pillars of heaven; for whenever you see a man seeking after a sign, you may set it down that he is an adulterous man.” (Teachings, pp. 156–57.)
Thought always precedes action, as President David O. McKay explained: “Let me make it simple. Many years ago a young man came to me while I was president of the European Mission and made a confession of a wrong and sinful act. He justified himself by saying that he happened to be in a bookstore at the closing hour, and when the door was locked he yielded to temptation. He rather blamed the circumstances for his fall.
“But I said, ‘It wasn’t the circumstances; it wasn’t the locked door, nor the enticement. You had thought of that before you went to that bookstore. If you had never thought of that act, there would have been no circumstance strong enough to entice or to tempt you, a missionary to fall. The thought always precedes the act.’” (“Cleanliness Is Next to Godliness,” Instructor, Mar. 1965, p. 86.)
Notes and Commentary for Doctrine and Covenants 42:23–24 contains a more extended discussion of this subject.
Elder Bruce R. McConkie explained that brimstone is “sulfur, an easily melted, very inflammable mineral which burns with a blue flame and emits a suffocating odor. …
“The nature of burning brimstone is such that it perfectly symbolized to the prophetic mind the eternal torment of the damned. Accordingly we read that the wicked are ‘tormented with fire and brimstone’ (Rev. 14:9–11; 19:20; 20:10), or in other words that ‘their torment is as a lake of fire and brimstone, whose flame ascendeth up forever and ever and has no end.’ (2 Ne. 9:16; Alma 12:17.) This burning scene, a horrifying ‘lake of fire and brimstone,’ symbolizes ‘endless torment’ (2 Ne. 9:19, 26; 28:23; Jac. 6:10; Alma 14:14; D. & C. 76:36); those who find place therein are subject to the second death.” (Mormon Doctrine, pp. 280–81.)
“The earth will pass through two changes which might be called transfigurations:
At the beginning of the Millennium, it will be raised from its present telestial to a terrestrial state, and only the righteous will have a place on earth at that time.
After the thousand years are ended, the earth will be celestialized and the faithful who are worthy of that glory will receive their permanent inheritance thereon.” (Cowan, Doctrine and Covenants, p. 101; see also D&C 77; 88:17–20, 25–26; 101: 24–25; 130:4–11.)
President Joseph Fielding Smith explained that land in Zion was to be purchased. “This fact was taught the early members. They were warned against creating antagonism among their neighbors, many of whom were extremely bitter towards the members of the Church. The Lord said the land could not be obtained by the shedding of blood. Those who had the privilege of assembling there should not go up to Zion in haste, but gradually. The reason for this advice is apparent, for haste would lead to confusion, unsatisfactory conditions and pestilence, and then, also, it creates consternation and fear in the hearts of their enemies and arouses greater opposition. Satan desired to destroy them and in his anger endeavored to stir them up to strife and contention as well as the older settlers in Missouri.” (Church History and Modern Revelation, 1:232.)
The Prophet Joseph Smith “explained concerning the coming of the Son of Man; also that it is a false idea that the Saints will escape all the judgments, whilst the wicked suffer; for all flesh is subject to suffer, and ‘the righteous shall hardly escape;’ still many of the Saints will escape, for the just shall live by faith; yet many of the righteous shall fall a prey to disease, to pestilence, etc., by reason of the weakness of the flesh, and yet be saved in the Kingdom of God. So that it is an unhallowed principle to say that such and such have transgressed because they have been preyed upon by disease or death, for all flesh is subject to death; and the Savior has said, ‘Judge not, lest ye be judged.’” (History of the Church, 4:11.)
Many places in the Doctrine and Covenants use phrases or concepts from New Testament parables (see, for example, Notes and Commentary on D&C 40:2; 45:36–37, 56–57; 60:13; 86:1–7.) Here is yet another example. The phrase “foolish virgins” refers to the five virgins in the parable who did not have sufficient oil in their lamps (see Matthew 25:1–13).
“Sidney Rigdon had been instructed, by revelation (Sec. 58:50), to write a description of the Land of Zion. His first effort was not acceptable to God. The reason for his failure is stated. He was too proud to receive counsel. He was, however, given another chance, and his second effort proved a success and was accepted.” (Smith and Sjodahl, Commentary, p. 384.)
To take the name of the Lord in vain is often thought of only as profanity. Elder James E. Talmage offered a broader definition:
We may take the name of God in vain by profane speech.
We take it in vain when we swear falsely, not being true to our oaths and promises.
We take it in vain in a blasphemous sense when we presume to speak in that name without authority.
And we take his name in vain whenever we wilfully do aught that is in defiance of his commandments, since we have taken his name upon ourselves.” (In Conference Report, Oct. 1931, pp. 53.)
Dealing with sacred things in an appropriate manner is discussed in Notes and Commentary for Doctrine and Covenants 88:121.