Gospel Doctrine Lesson 29 – “Building the Kingdom of God in Nauvoo, Illinois”

               After the Saints were forced to leave Missouri they settled in Nauvoo. While in Nauvoo they received several revelations which led up to them receiving the doctrine for baptisms for the dead, temple endowments being performed and the organization of the Relief Society. Other important events also occurred while the Saints lived in Nauvoo and the Saints worked hard to build up the Kingdom of God.

               While Joseph Smith was still in Liberty Jail the Saints began leaving Missouri for Illinois. Since the prophet was in jail he could not organize and direct the exodus. This responsibility fell on Brigham Young who was then the President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Brigham Young began moving people out of Missouri and across the Mississippi River towards the end of 1838.

               One man described the hardships his family faced while making the journey, an experience that was shared by almost all of the Saints at that time.

Handout #1    “Well do I remember the sufferings and cruelties of those days. … Our family had one wagon, and one blind horse was all we possessed towards a team, and that one blind horse had to transport our effects to the State of Illinois. We traded our wagon with a brother who had two horses, for a light one horse wagon, this accommodating both parties. Into this small wagon we placed our clothes, bedding, some corn meal and what scanty provisions we could muster, and started out into the cold and frost to travel on foot, to eat and sleep by the wayside with the canopy of heaven for a covering. But the biting frosts of those nights and the piercing winds were less barbarous and pitiful than the demons in human form before whose fury we fled. … Our family, as well as many others, were almost bare-footed, and some had to wrap their feet in cloths in order to keep them from freezing and protect them from the sharp points of the frozen ground. This, at best, was very imperfect protection, and often the blood from our feet marked the frozen earth. My mother and sister were the only members of our family who had shoes, and these became worn out and almost useless before we reached the then hospitable shores of Illinois.” (Lyman Omer Littlefield, Reminiscences of Latter-day Saints (1888), 72–73.)

               After making the difficult journey from Missouri to Illinois, the Saints settled for a time in Quincy, Illinois. While they were there, the Prophet Joseph Smith returned to them.

Handout #2 –     After six months of illegal imprisonment, changes of venue took the prisoners first to Gallatin in Daviess County, Missouri, and then toward Columbia in Boone County. However, Sheriff William Morgan was instructed “never to carry [them] to Boone County.” A person or persons in high places had determined that the prisoners would be allowed to escape, perhaps to avoid the public embarrassment of bringing them to trial when there was no evidence to convict them. The prisoners were given the opportunity to purchase two horses and elude their guards. Hyrum Smith said, “We took our change of venue for the state of Illinois, and in the course of nine or ten days arrived safe at Quincy, Adams county, where we found our families in a state of poverty, although in good health.” There they were indeed greeted “with warm hearts and friendly hands.” (Our Heritage,  52-53)

               After the Prophet rejoined the Saints they moved 35 miles north to a village called Commerce. After much hard work draining swamps, planting crops and building homes the Saints renamed the town Nauvoo. The Prophet once gave the Hebrew meaning of the word, which is “a beautiful situation, or place, carrying with it….the idea of rest” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith [1976], 182).

               Over time, Nauvoo became the second largest city in Illinois as the church grew and new converts joined the Saints. The state of Illinois granted Nauvoo a charter in December 1840 which allowed them to create a militia, a municipal court and a university.

               On January 19, 1841, Joseph Smith received a revelation in which the Lord detailed the responsibilities of the Saints while in Nauvoo. This revelation is in D&C 124 and this, along with the examples of the Saints in Nauvoo, can show us how we, too, can help build the kingdom of God.

               One of the instructions the Lord gives unto the Saints is found in D&C 124:22-24.

D&C 124:22-24  22 Let my servant George, and my servant Lyman, and my servant John Snider, and others, build a house unto my name, such a one as my servant Joseph shall show unto them, upon the place which he shall show unto them also.

23 And it shall be for a house for boarding, a house that strangers may come from afar to lodge therein; therefore let it be a good house, worthy of all acceptation, that the wearytraveler may find health and safety while he shall contemplate the word of the Lord; and the cornerstone I have appointed for Zion.

24 This house shall be a healthful habitation if it be built unto my name, and if the governor which shall be appointed unto it shall not suffer any pollution to come upon it. It shall be holy, or the Lord your God will not dwell therein.

               This instruction was for the Saints to build a place for travelers to stay, whether they were converts working on building their own home, people passing through the town or those who had come to Nauvoo to hear the word of the Lord and needed a place to stay while learning the gospel. This place was to be clean and reputable. This is an important responsibility then and now. In our time, this can be interpreted as having meetingplaces for people to come and worship with us and hear what we believe and also as us inviting investigators and inactive members into our homes to meet with the missionaries and be part of our family worshipping activities.

               Another instruction from the Lord in section 124 can be found in verses 26-28.

D&C 124:26-28   26 And send ye swift messengers, yea, chosen messengers, and say unto them: Come ye, with all your gold, and your silver, and your precious stones, and with all your antiquities; and with all who have knowledge of antiquities, that will come, may come, and bring the box tree, and the fir tree, and the pine tree, together with all the precious trees of the earth;

27 And with iron, with copper, and with brass, and with zinc, and with all your precious things of the earth; and build a house to my name, for the Most High to dwell therein.

28 For there is not a place found on earth that he may come to and restore again that which was lost unto you, or which he hath taken away, even the fulness of the priesthood.

               In these verses the Lord is instructing the Saints to build another temple in order to regain the blessings of the fullness of the priesthood, which they lost when they had to leave their previous temple behind. This is important because without temples, we cannot partake of the eternal blessings which can only be bestowed by our worthy participation in temple ordinances.

               In D&C 124:29-31 we find another instance where the Lord requires the Saints to build a temple.

D&C 124:29-31    29 For a baptismal font there is not upon the earth, that they, my saints, may be baptized for those who are dead—

30 For this ordinance belongeth to my house, and cannot be acceptable to me, only in the days of your poverty, wherein ye are not able to build a house unto me.

31 But I command you, all ye my saints, to build a house unto me; and I grant unto you a sufficient time to build a house unto me; and during this time your baptisms shall be acceptable unto me.

               In these verses, the Lord is reminding the Saints that they cannot do baptisms for the dead without the temple and then the Lord gives them time to get their affairs in order and get settled before building a temple unto Him.

               In the next set of verses, verses 37-40, the Lord describes other blessings which will come with the building of a temple.

D&C 124:37-40  37 And again, verily I say unto you, how shall your washings be acceptable unto me, except ye perform them in a house which you have built to my name?

38 For, for this cause I commanded Moses that he should build a tabernacle, that they should bear it with them in the wilderness, and to build a house in the land of promise, that those ordinances might be revealed which had been hid from before the world was.

39 Therefore, verily I say unto you, that your anointings, and your washings, and your baptisms for the dead, and your solemn assemblies, and your memorials for your sacrifices by the sons of Levi, and for your oracles in your most holy places wherein you receive conversations, and your statutes and judgments, for the beginning of the revelations and foundation of Zion, and for the glory, honor, and endowment of all her municipals, are ordained by the ordinance of my holy house, which my people are always commanded to build unto my holy name.

40 And verily I say unto you, let this house be built unto my name, that I may reveal mine ordinances therein unto my people;

               There were only a few ordinances that were done in the temple at the time this revelation was received, none of which were being done currently because they had lost their temple. In these verses, the Lord speaks of the ordinances which the saints will be able to continue along with further ordinances He will reinstate once a temple has been built and the time is right.

               In verses 44-48, the Lord talks about the consequences the Saints will face if they do not follow His commandments to build a temple.

D&C 124:44-48  44 If ye labor with all your might, I will consecrate that spot that it shall be made holy.

45 And if my people will hearken unto my voice, and unto the voice of my servants whom I have appointed to lead my people, behold, verily I say unto you, they shall not be moved out of their place.

46 But if they will not hearken to my voice, nor unto the voice of these men whom I have appointed, they shall not be blest, because they pollute mine holy grounds, and mine holy ordinances, and charters, and my holy words which I give unto them.

47 And it shall come to pass that if you build a house unto my name, and do not do the things that I say, I will not perform the oath which I make unto you, neither fulfil the promises which ye expect at my hands, saith the Lord.

48 For instead of blessings, ye, by your own works, bring cursings, wrath, indignation, and judgments upon your own heads, by your follies, and by all your abominations, which you practice before me, saith the Lord.

               As with all the commandments of the Lord, there are consequences for not being obedient and following what the Lord has instructed.

               Along with the commandments from the Lord to make Nauvoo a place for teaching, worship and temple ordinances, He also continued to call members to be missionaries.

               Throughout the entire history of the church, missionary work has always been vital in building up the kingdom of God. While in Nauvoo, many church members were called to serve missions, including member of the Quorum of the Twelve. As with times previous and times to come, those who served missions, and their families, faced much hardship and struggle.

               In July 1839, less than a year after being established in Nauvoo, many Saints and members of the Quorum of the Twelve were struck with an illness called ague. This illness is similar to malaria and was very serious. The prophet was also struck by this illness, but he used the priesthood to heal himself and then went around healing others.

               During this time the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles were called on to serve missions in England. Elder Orson Hyde was also called to go to Jerusalem to dedicate Palestine for the gathering of the Jewish people. Other missionaries were called to serve in the United States, eastern Canada and the Pacific Islands.

               Many of those called to serve at this time were sick with ague, yet they accepted the call to serve.

Handout #3 –     These brethren made great sacrifices as they left their homes and families to respond to their calls to serve the Lord. Many members of the Twelve were struck with the ague as they prepared to depart for England. Wilford Woodruff, who was very ill, left his wife, Phoebe, almost without food and the necessities of life. George A. Smith, the youngest Apostle, was so sick that he had to be carried to the wagon, and a man who saw him asked the driver if they had been robbing the graveyard. Only Parley P. Pratt, who took his wife and children with him, his brother Orson Pratt, and John Taylor were free from disease as they left Nauvoo, although Elder Taylor later became terribly ill and almost died as they traveled to New York City. (Our Heritage, 56).

Handout #4 –     Brigham Young was so ill that he was unable to walk even a short distance without assistance, and his companion, Heber C. Kimball, was no better. Their wives and families, too, lay suffering. When the Apostles reached the crest of a hill a short distance from their homes, both lying in a wagon, they felt as though they could not endure leaving their families in so pitiful a condition. At Heber’s suggestion, they struggled to their feet, waved their hats over their heads, and shouted three times, “Hurrah, Hurrah, for Israel.” Their wives, Mary Ann and Vilate, gained strength enough to stand and, leaning against the door frame, they cried out, “Good-bye, God bless you.” The two men returned to their wagon beds with a spirit of joy and satisfaction at seeing their wives standing instead of lying sick in bed. (Our Heritage, 56).

               Even with being struck with such an illness and having to leave their families at such a time, those missionaries were blessed to teach and touch the lives of countless people. Wilford Woodruff shared an experience he had a few months after arriving in England.

Handout #5 –     “I … met with a large assembly of Saints and strangers, and while singing the first hymn the spirit of the Lord rested upon me and the voice of God said to me, ‘This is the last meeting that you will hold with this people for many days.’ I was astonished at this, as I had many appointments out in that district. When I arose to speak to the people, I told them that it was the last meeting I should hold with them for many days. They were as much astonished as I was. At the close of the meeting four persons came forward for baptism; we went down into the water and baptized them.

“In the morning I went in secret before the Lord, and asked Him what was His will concerning me. The answer I received was that I should go to the south; for the Lord had a great work for me to perform there, as many souls were waiting for His word.”

For the next two days he traveled south until he came to the farm of John Benbow in Herefordshire. Mr. Benbow and his wife, Jane, received him gladly and said that there was a company of over 600 men and women who had formed their own congregation called the United Brethren. Elder Woodruff said:

“This body of United Brethren were searching for light and truth, but had gone as far as they could, and were calling upon the Lord continually to open the way before them and send them light and knowledge, that they might know the true way to be saved. When I heard these things I could clearly see why the Lord had commanded me, while in the town of Hanley, to leave that place of labor and go to the south; for in Herefordshire there was a great harvest-field for gathering many saints into the Kingdom of God.”

Elder Woodruff’s efforts in this area of England enabled him “to bring into the Church, through the blessings of God, over eighteen hundred souls during eight months, including all of the six hundred United Brethren except one person”(Wilford Woodruff: History of His Life and Labors, ed. Matthias F. Cowley [1909], 116–19).

                Other sacrifices and works made by the Saints called to serve missions at this time led to great blessings and strength being bestowed upon the church and the members in Nauvoo. Elder Harold B. Lee described these blessings.

Handout #6 –     “In one year, 1840 to 1841—one year and fourteen days, to be exact—nine members of the twelve were called to labor in the British Mission. If you remember the history [in Nauvoo], those years marked the period of some of the severest persecution that the Church was to undergo in this dispensation. In that one year and fourteen days the nine members of the twelve, with their associates, established churches in every noted town and city in the kingdom of Great Britain. They baptized between 7000 and 8000 converts. They printed 5000 copies of the Book of Mormon, 3000 hymnbooks, and 50,000 tracts, … and [they] emigrated 1000 souls to America” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1960, 108).

               Because of their faith and willingness to follow the Lord’s commandments during a time of personal hardship, these missionaries were able to bless the lives of thousands of people and do great work in building up the kingdom of God.

               The revelations given in D&C 124 also include instructions and promises given to specific saints who lived in Nauvoo. These show the importance for all of us to endure to the end and follow the will of the Lord. One of these instructions is found in D&C 124:12-14.

D&C 124:12-14   

12 And again, verily I say unto you, let my servant Robert B. Thompson help you to write this proclamation, for I am well pleased with him, and that he should be with you;

13 Let him, therefore, hearken to your counsel, and I will bless him with a multiplicity of blessings; let him be faithful and true in all things from henceforth, and he shall be great in mine eyes;

14 But let him remember that his stewardship will I require at his hands.

               The instruction given in this verse is for Robert B. Thompson to help the prophet write the proclamation the Lord was giving him and the Lord promised him ‘a multiplicity of blessings’ if he was faithful and obedient in all things.

               While we may not all be asked to personally assist the prophet or apostles in their responsibilities, we can all still be faithful and obedient in the responsibilities and commandments the Lord has given to us. By doing so, we will each be greatly blessed.

               Sometime we may find it hard to fulfill our callings or be obedient to the commandments and will of the Lord, but if we work on developing certain characteristics in ourselves we can find it easier to submit to the will and design of the Lord. Speaking of his brother, Hyrum, the Prophet Joseph Smith described some of the characteristics that will help us in our endeavors to follow the Lord, build the kingdom of God and endure to the end.

Handout #7 –     The Prophet Joseph Smith said of his brother Hyrum, “I could pray in my heart that all my brethren were like unto my beloved brother Hyrum, who possesses the mildness of a lamb, and the integrity of a Job, and in short, the meekness and humility of Christ; and I love him with that love that is stronger than death, for I never had occasion to rebuke him, nor he me” (History of the Church, 2:338).

               If we each work to develop an attitude of meekness and humility before the Lord, we will find it easier to endure the trials we have been called on to go through as well as submit to the will and command of the Lord.

               While in Nauvoo, the Saints were blessed with an organization that was designed to help and uplift them. This organization is known as the Relief Society. The Relief Society was designed to build faith, strengthen testimonies, help those in need and strengthen home and family.

               In the 1999 General Relief Society Meeting, the church issued a declaration of the purpose of the Relief Society.

Handout #8 –     “We are beloved spirit daughters of God, and our lives have meaning, purpose, and direction. As a worldwide sisterhood, we are united in our devotion to Jesus Christ, our Savior and Exemplar. We are women of faith, virtue, vision, and charity who:

“Increase our testimonies of Jesus Christ through prayer and scripture study.
“Seek spiritual strength by following the promptings of the Holy Ghost.
“Dedicate ourselves to strengthening marriages, families, and homes.
“Find nobility in motherhood and joy in womanhood.
“Delight in service and good works.
“Love life and learning.
“Stand for truth and righteousness.
“Sustain the priesthood as the authority of God on earth.
“Rejoice in the blessings of the temple, understand our divine destiny, and strive for exaltation”
(Mary Ellen Smoot, “Rejoice, Daughters of Zion,” Ensign, Nov. 1999, 92–93).

               While the Relief Society organization is for the women of the church, the blessings received go to all the families of the church as well as those not of the church. The Relief Society organization helps uplift and sustain any and all lives it touches and goes a long way towards softening hearts and building up the kingdom of God.

               The Saints in Nauvoo were given many directives and ways to help build the kingdom of God and bring the gospel to the entire world. Those instructions are still pertinent for us today as we strive to continue the work of bringing the word of the Lord to the entire earth. Each of us is here because the Saints were faithful in following the commandments of the Lord and we, too, should be faithful and obedient in our efforts to build the kingdom of God. There are many ways we can do this: temple work, inviting friends and family to come worship with us, befriending inactive members and encouraging them to become active again and being good examples. As we do these things, the Lord will bless us and the lives of those we touch. As the Lord has said, if we bring “save it one soul unto me, how great shall be your joy.”