Wednesday, July 15, 2020

The American Covenant: Written in our Hearts

One of the most important concepts of revealed religion is that of sacred covenants. In legal language, a covenant generally denotes an agreement between two or more parties. But in a religious context, a covenant is much more significant. A covenant is a sacred agreement between God and His people. He fixes the terms, and He promises to bless us as we obey. When we choose not to keep covenants, we cannot receive the blessings, and in some instances we suffer a penalty as a consequence of our disobedience. In keeping our covenants with God the powers of heaven are sealed upon us and we enjoy his protection and favor.

Through the ages, God has made covenants with His children. His covenants occur throughout the entire plan of salvation and are therefore part of the fulness of His gospel. In the Bible we read of men and women in the Old World who were identified as children of the covenant. God made covenants with Adam, Noah, and with Abraham. He renewed his covenant with Moses and then when Christ came to his people he taught that he is the "mediator of the new covenant."

There are patterns that run throughout the scriptures that teach us the blessings and obligations of God's covenants. The patterns I have been able to identify in scripture reside in what I call the three P's: power, preservation, and prosperity (posterity). 1) Power through Christ, power over sin, and power over the forces of evil. 2) Preservation in the land, preservation in perpetuity, and the preservation of our peace. 3) Prosperity in the law of the harvest, prosperity in the land and in eternity.

What is the American Covenant?

The American Covenant is an extension of those sacred covenants that God has made with all His children who have placed their trust in Him and sought to establish His righteousness. The American Covenant began with American pilgrims who witnessed that their journey to this land was guided by the hand of God. They came with the assurance of the Almighty God that their sacrifice and dedication were for a divine purpose. They arrived on the wings of a vision that freedom can and will provide the fertile soil to create, to dream, to explore, to worship, and to pursue happiness by the dictates of their own conscience.

There are many Christians and non-Christians in America today that recognize this covenant in their churches and in their faith traditions. Though we do not all share the same faith traditions or doctrines, we share this covenant and a sense of our duty to God and to each other, to the preservation of our God given rights and to live under His law.

The American Covenant has a great reverence in my faith. As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints I hold sacred the revelations given through the American prophet Joseph Smith and the teachings of the Book of Mormon translated by him. The Book of Mormon has a particular connection to the American Covenant because we believe it is an ancient scriptural text left behind by those who were brought by the hand of God to this land in ancient times. God told the people of the Book of Mormon that this land was a promised land. The book contains the promises and covenant of the land.

Whether or not you share my belief that these passages are revealed from God, it is likely that you will hear in them the very same American covenant that is written in your heart and was expressed by the founders of our nation.

The book begins with a journey, similar to the journey our pilgrim parents made. Their's was an escape from oppression and death for their beliefs in Christ, which had been revealed unto them through the prophets in the land of Israel. Here is the account of their journey to the "promised land":

"I will also be your light in the wilderness; and I will prepare the way before you, if it so be that ye shall keep my commandments... ye shall be led towards the promised land; and ye shall know that it is by me that ye are led... After ye have arrived in the promised land, ye shall know that I, the Lord, am God; and that I, the Lord, did deliver you from destruction; yea, that I did bring you out of the land of Jerusalem."

A prophet among the people of the Book of Mormon, named Nephi, the same who took the journey by sea to the promised land, saw in vision the foundations of our nation beginning with the discovery of our land by Columbus and the pilgrims that came afterward:

"And I looked and beheld a man among the Gentiles [not jews], who was separated from the seed of my brethren by the many waters; and I beheld the Spirit of God, that it came down and wrought upon the man; and he went forth upon the many waters, even unto the seed of my brethren, who were in the promised land. And I beheld the Spirit of God, that it wrought upon other Gentiles; and they went forth out of captivity, upon the many waters. And I beheld many multitudes of the Gentiles upon the land of promise. And I beheld the Spirit of the Lord, that it was upon the Gentiles, and they did prosper and obtain the land for their inheritance."

In this same vision the prophet Nephi saw the revolutionary war:

"The Gentiles who had gone forth out of captivity did humble themselves before the Lord; and the power of the Lord was with them. And I beheld that their mother Gentiles were gathered together upon the waters, and upon the land also, to battle against them. And I beheld that the power of God was with them, and also that the wrath of God was upon all those that were gathered together against them to battle. And I beheld that the Gentiles that had gone out of captivity were delivered by the power of God out of the hands of all other nations."

The Book of Mormon prophet described the faith of Americans and testified that they understood the covenants of the Lord:

"I beheld that they did prosper in the land; and I beheld a book and it was carried forth among them... The book is a record of the Jews, which contains the covenants of the Lord, which he hath made unto the house of Israel; and it also containeth many of the prophecies of the holy prophets... wherefore, they are of great worth unto the Gentiles."

As the vision continues, Nephi sees the progress of the great nation that is built up upon the promised land, he records it this way:

"The Gentiles who have gone forth out of captivity, and have been lifted up by the power of God above all other nations, upon the face of the land which is choice above all other lands, which is the land that the Lord God hath covenanted with thy father that his seed should have for the land of their inheritance... I will be merciful unto the Gentiles in that day, insomuch that I will bring forth unto them, in mine own power, much of my gospel, which shall be plain and precious, saith the Lamb... And blessed are they who shall seek to bring forth my Zion at that day, for they shall have the gift and the power of the Holy Ghost; and if they endure unto the end they shall be lifted up at the last day, and shall be saved in the everlasting kingdom of the Lamb; and whoso shall publish peace, yea, tidings of great joy, how beautiful upon the mountains shall they be." (1 Nephi 3, Book of Mormon)

In the long history of the people of the Book of Mormon the people learn much about the promised land the covenant of the land. Their experience teaches them that it is a land set apart by the Lord and a land upon which those only who God brings to the land and who will follow the Lord will prosper in it. Here is a passage that expresses the promised covenant of the land:

"But [the Lord] would that they should come forth even unto the land of promise, which was choice above all other lands, which the Lord God had preserved for a righteous people... And he had sworn, that whoso should possess this land of promise, from that time henceforth and forever, should serve him, the true and only God, or they should be swept off... for it is the everlasting decree of God... Behold, this is a choice land, and whatsoever nation shall possess it shall be free from bondage, and from captivity, and from all other nations under heaven, if they will but serve the God of the land, who is Jesus Christ." (Either 2, Book of Mormon)

Just as the pilgrims the people of the Book of Mormon set up a free nation, established upon principles of liberty and rooted in the laws of God. The book contains many patterns that are types and shadows of things that would come in our days and I believe the book was inspired of God and written for our times. It's primary purpose is to testify of Christ, but the connection between the promises of Christ and the promises of the covenant of the land are tangible.

The founders of our nation came to feel this way about this land. They recognized the hand of God in their journey to it and in their establishment upon the land. They saw his hand in the movements of the people toward independence, in the enlightenment of their ideals toward principles of natural law and liberty, they acknowledge His hand in their victory in the revolution. They leaned upon the Spirit of God and supplicated themselves in prayer for his guidance as they established the Constitution and brought the states into this great union. 

Later when the nation was brought to face God and reckon for the grave sin of slavery, a sin against both God and the ideals of our nation, the very union seemed that it would divide asunder and no longer uphold the patriot dreams of our inheritance. The nation renewed the covenant of the land in the blood stained battle fields of the civil war. Lincoln called it a new birth, dedicated to the equality of ALL before God. God brought forward just the leader American needed at that time and he brought the President and the nation to their knees to plead for victory and liberty. In these times of distress, President Abraham Lincoln personally came into this American covenant with the Lord Jesus Christ. There was a great turning point in the war and coinciding with that was a great turning point for the President. Lincoln recorded it this way:

“Oppressed by the gravity of our affairs, I went into my room one day and locked the door and got down on my knees before Almighty God and prayed to Him mightily for victory at Gettysburg… And I then and there made a solemn vow to Almighty God that if He would stand by our boys at Gettysburg, I would stand by Him. And He did, and I will. And after that, I don’t know how it was and I can’t explain it, but soon a sweet comfort crept into my soul that things would go all right at Gettysburg…” (Lincoln’s Battle with God, Mansfield, p. 169)

Lincoln believed in the American Covenant and he lead our nation to renew it. He had written often his belief that the Declaration of Independence was a proclamation of an American religion that called upon the powers of the almighty through a promise to uphold the ideals of his law in liberty. He often wrote about the evils of slavery and attempted to preach the gospel of liberty, to counter the perversions of that great faith. He was openly opposed to the exploitation of the texts of the bible as an excuse to carry on the great evils of slavery. Abraham Lincoln contended with the false doctrines of his times but it was the crucible of the civil war that brought Lincoln to dedicate the sacrifices of that war to the God of this land. At Gettysburg Lincoln reminded Americans of the conception of the American covenant in the founding of our nation and called upon his generation, and all the generations that would follow, to be so dedicated to that covenant. He famously said:

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Abraham Lincoln
November 19, 1863

I remember a sweet moment I had as a young girl in which I felt a witness from the Spirit of the truth of these words and a great peace and comfort that came to me because of them. It was during a discussion with my father about the future fate of America. I was in distress as I looked at the direction our nation was headed. It seemed that as a society we were departing from the ways of the Lord. That observation has only increased in it's distressing tangibility, and yet there is a steadiness of peace even today because of the trust I place in God to care for the future.

At that young age my father testified to me of his belief that Lincoln's words were inspired of God and as such they are words of prophecy. At that time, I felt an assurance of their truth, and that assurance has stayed with me. It has created in me a resolve to be dedicated to this nation under God and to it's ideals. These words became connected to the American covenant that I had learned in the pages of the Book of Mormon, and I knew that if we lived true to these principles of liberty that were inspired at our founding, that our American liberty would not perish from the earth.

This American covenant was renewed to me years later in another such moment of personal witness. It was during another time of great political strife in our nation, a time that seemed to be another turning point. I was a young mother and one day when my heart was weighed down with worry and sorrow for the direction our nation was taking, I turned to prayer. I wanted to receive a confirmation that our free American federalist republic would be preserved.

As I struggled in prayer and tears flowed, I couldn't find the words and didn't know what to ask for. I didn't know how to ask for the desires of my heart; I'm not sure I knew what they were. My heart was drawn out in a sincere desire to pray for what was righteous, to submit to the will of God. I couldn't find the words and I fell into a silent pause and listened. I felt a voice from heaven ask me what I thought about the current events, a strange question, but there I was telling the Lord all of my opinions and thoughts. Somehow in getting it all out my deepest yearnings were revealed to me, I was able to realize what was at the heart of it. I realized what I was feeling wasn't anger or fear, but rather, a feeling of extreme loss. 

I had a sense that the trajectory we were on, if we didn't turn around, would result in my beloved America being lost, it was slipping away. As I let myself feel the full emotion of that thought and laid it on the Lord, I felt a sweet spirit of peace wash over me, much like the one Abraham Lincoln described; and then followed a still steady voice of assurance with these words in my mind: "America will not die because it cannot die. It cannot die because America is an idea, a truth. So long as there are people who remain and hold these truths in their hearts America will live on. -- You are not alone, there are many who hold America in their hearts."

This is the American Covenant!

Those who understand the covenant have it written in their hearts, they affirm it in their willingness to stand for the natural God given liberties of all mankind. They honor the pilgrim and pioneer, they uphold the patriot dreams, and they cheerfully do all that lies within their power and then they stand still to see the arm of the Lord revealed. This is the heart of covenant keeper.

"The greatest compliment that can be earned here in this life is to be known as a covenant keeper. The rewards for a covenant keeper will be realized both here and hereafter. When we realize that we are children of the covenant, we know who we are and what God expects of us. His law is written in our hearts. He is our God and we are His people. Committed children of the covenant remain steadfast, even in the midst of adversity." ~ Russell M. Nelson, "Covenants"

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