Literary BMGD #4: On the Latter-day Dispensation

From a literary point of view the second part of Nephi’s vision, his vision of the future, is very like an epic. It covers a broad sweep of human history and mentions the actions of a series of heroes and heroic groups who have an impact on the fate of humanity. Unfortunately, the broad nature of this epic vision is difficult to cover in a short form, like a blog post or something you might share in a Gospel Doctrine lesson.

In fact, Mormon poets have composed epics poetry, despite its length. Perhaps the best known Mormon epic is Orson F. Whitney’s Elias: an epic of the ages (text here), which seems to have been fairly popular at the time it was written. More recently, Michael Collins published The Nephiad, which, through its name, invites comparison with classic epic poetry like the Illiad, the Aeneid and the Lusiad. Beyond these, many other Mormons poets have produced epics that retell everything from the history of the Church to the Mormon Trek to the Book of Mormon. [I compiled a list in my post¬†There is Mormon Epic Poetry? (and comments on that post added many additional Mormon epics)].

Perhaps the most significant element of Nephi’s vision of the future is the restoration of the gospel. While it is somewhat difficult to find poetry and other literature that take the other elements of the vision as a subject, the Restoration is one of the most visited (if not simply most important) themes of Mormon literature. The poem below is just such a work. And I selected it for this post because, unlike the many others I found, it shares a bit of an epic view with what Nephi saw:

On the Latter-day Dispensation

by James H. Hart

When Zion’s long appointed time, foretold in sacred pages,
Had come, by faith and promise, as looked for through the ages,
Then came the Eternal Father, in plenitude of power,
And revealed Himself in person, in this the eleventh hour.
His royal Son was present on that eventful day,
And pointing, said, “Behold my Son, hear Him and Him obey.”
Thus spake the great Jehovah, as man would speak to man,
And thus the Church of Jesus Christ in latter-days began.
Not only these great Potentates of everlasting fame,
But Moses and Elijah and other Prophets came.
Thus blending frail humanity, with all the name implies,
With Rulers of the Universe, and Legates of the skies.
Three witnesses were chosen, and unto them was given
To see the great Moroni, a messenger from heaven,
Who showed them the engravings, and plates of golden hue,
And bade them handle, and to bear a record, strange, but true.
As they were so directed, they saw, and felt, and knew,
The records and the messenger were genuine and true.
Nor did they ever waver midst all the scenes of strife,
But testified persistently throughout their checkered life.
The honored Seer was but a boy-had seen but fourteen years-
To whom the future was portrayed through both the hemispheres;
‘Twas shown that ‘mongst the nations he would form a brotherhood,
His name be known in every land for evil and for good.
They told him not to fraternize with any sect or creed,
That all were vague and spurious, and led by selfish greed;
They had neither Faith nor Priesthood, nor Gospel that could save
Themselves and those that slumber in dark and silent grave.
They gave the tyro keys and powers to formulate the scheme
Devised to found a Kingdom and every soul redeem;
E’en every son of Adam who would subjugate his will,
In this or in the spirit world, and righteous laws fulfill.
The record he translated by gift, and power, and grace
Of God, th’ Eternal Father of all the human race.
And those who will may read and learn the history sublime
Of nations on this continent, down from remotest time.
He organized the Church of Christ as ’twas in days of yore,
Its officers and rites complete, no fewer, and no more;
Its faith and gifts and miracles were thus restored again,
And with the Church of latter days forever will remain.
He taught mankind to worship the true and living God,
Who in the form of perfect man the earth again has trod.
He taught the only Gospel the Gods have ever given,
To elevate the sons of men from earth to reign in heaven.
Among our great reformers he stands without a peer,
Combining all the qualities of Prophet, Priest and Seer;
And in the role of statesman prescribed a plan to save
Thousands who now lie mouldering in fratricidal grave.
He urged upon philanthropists, by sale of lands to raise
Wherewith to buy the negroes, and let them end their days
With slavish bonds unshackled, and thus avert the day
When the gory field of battle would be the only way.
In eighteen hundred thirty-two he told the name of State
In which the dread rebellion would surely culminate;
That in the bloody conflict the slaves would marshalled be
Against their masters, and ‘twould end in death and misery.
The counsel was unheeded, as now is known, too well,
For in the great rebellion legions of warriors fell,
And untold lives and treasure was e’en the costly price
Of failure in observing the Prophet’s sound advice.
He taught sincere repentance, that men should all obey
The everlasting Gospel, restored in God’s own way.
He guaranteed the sacred gifts that man could not bestow,
E’en gifts that from the Source of Truth in heaven can only flow.
Refusal by Jehovah to verify the bond,
A failure to bestow the gifts on those who did respond,
Would have solved the “Mormon problem,” and ended all its strife,
When no one would have wished to take the great Apostle’s life.
But every word and prophecy were backed with vital power,
His work has been triumphant in every trying hour;
With this eternal Priesthood there’s no such thing as fail,
For, guided by Omnipotence, they must and will prevail.
They grapple with emergencies and breast the surging wave,
And some o’er death have triumphed, and rest in silent grave;
They’re uncompromising heroes, ‘mid scenes of Gentile strife,
And fight for truth and liberty in jeopardy of life.
No greater revolution on earth was e’er begun;
More splendid victories for truth the Prophets never won.
They’ve gathered ransomed legions from far and distant lands,
Dispelled the fogs of ages, and broke the tyrant bands.
And this is but commencement, a beginning of the plan,
Projected in eternity before the world began,
To found a righteous Kingdom, whose power will never end,
Where every man will meet in peace a brother and a friend.
The ultimatum of the Saints will be supremely great,
And Utah, now oppressed, will be the great Millennial State.
‘Tis futile for despotic fiends to play their venal game,
For Zion will eclipse her foes, and put them all to shame.
No grasping tyrant then will seek his fellow to oppress,
Nor dare to subjugate the weak, and place him in duress;
The Saints must have their heritage, and hinder it, who can?
Since Heaven has vested power on earth to execute the plan.
‘Tis folly and presumption for mortals to contend
Against the Priest or Prophet the Lord may choose to send;
No matter if the chosen one should be the merest youth,
He’s bound to win the battle when vested with the truth.
‘Twere better men had ne’er been born, than human tyrants be;
And better with a millstone be cast into the sea,
Than harm the Lord’s Anointed, or least of all His Saints,
For retribution follows a righteous man’s complaints.
The tempest and tornado, and e’en the dread cyclone,
Are ministers to execute fiats from the Unknown.
And lightnings, plagues and pestilence are also held in store,
To waste besotted nations till the wicked rule no more.
Then rally all ye noblemen from every sect and creed,’
And help us fight the battles ‘gainst tyranny and greed,
Nor rest upon our armor till human rights shall be
O’er all the earth extended, and every soul be free.

From The Contributor 4 (1882-1883)

In fact, there is so much Mormon poetry that discusses the restoration it is a little hard to point to additional individual works that may be of interest. The current LDS hymnal, for example, has no less than 30 hymns about the restoration, beginning with the first hymn in the book, The Morning Breaks, The Shadows Flee (which, I might add, was written by Parley P. Pratt as the introductory hymn for the 1840 English hymnal).

In addition, Pratt’s collection, The Millennium, the first published book of Mormon poetry, includes his Dispensation of the Fullness of Times, which covers the restoration. Eliza R. Snow twice wrote about the history of the Church, first in a poem titled The Gathering of the Saints, and second in her Two Chapters of the Life of President Joseph Smith, which were published in her book Poems, religious, historical and political. More recently, General Authority S. Dilworth Young published his poetic look at Church history, The Long Road, in 1967.

Somehow, all these poems are long, which really makes it seem like addressing the epic events in this vision and in the restoration requires long works. So, if you’re looking for something short, perhaps you should stick with the hymns.

1 comment for “Literary BMGD #4: On the Latter-day Dispensation

Comments are closed.