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An ensign to the nations: standard unfurled 'on Zion's mount' in 1847 has global significance in 1996

The "ensign to the nations" raised by Brigham Young and eight others on Ensign Peak in Salt Lake City July 26, 1847, had a significance that extends far beyond the mountain valleys of the Great Basin.

President Young and the other Church leaders were bringing to fulfillment an Old Testament prophecy with global impact.When the resurrected Moroni appeared to 17-year-old Joseph Smith the night of Sept. 21, 1823, he quoted many biblical passages. Among them was the 11th chapter of Isaiah, which includes this verse:

"And he shall set up an ensign for the nations, and shall assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth." (verse 11.)

The Angel Moroni told Joseph that the Old Testament prophecy "was about to be fulfilled," (See Pearl of Great Price, Joseph Smith - History 1:40) thus leaving no room for doubt that it applies to the restoration of the gospel and the gathering of Israel in the latter days.

It is obvious the prophet taught the doctrine to Brigham Young and the Quorum of the Twelve, giving them the vision of the great gathering of God's elect in preparation for the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.

"The matter was a subject of discussion along the route of the march of the Pioneer company," wrote B.H. Roberts. "On the 29th of May while yet on the plains of the Platte river, President Young made mention of this; . . and Wilford Woodruff in his journal entry of that date drew in the margin of his journal a crude standard and banner representing the flags of a number of nations, and in the script of it, furthering President Young's idea, this occurs:

" `And on the standard would be a flag of every nation under heaven, so there would be an invitation to all nations to keep the celestial law. And all nations and religions would have to bow the knee to God, and acknowledge that Jesus is the Christ.' " (A Comprehensive History of the Church 4:xxiii-xxiv.)

Thus, it was not by mere whim that Brigham Young and his brethren gave the name "Ensign Peak" to the mound they climbed two days after entering the valley. The city they built was laid out at right angles, oriented toward Ensign Peak.

On the valley floor, at the foot of a slope leading to the peak, the Saints built the Salt Lake keep the celestial law. And all nations and religions would have to bow the knee to God, and acknowledge that Jesus is the Christ.' " (A Comprehensive History of the Church 4:xxiii-xxiv.)

Thus, it was not by mere whim that Brigham Young and his brethren gave the name "Ensign Peak" to the mound they climbed two days after entering the valley. The city they built was laid out at right angles, oriented toward Ensign Peak.

From the base established "in the tops of the mountains," missionaries were sent to the nations of Europe, the British Isles, Scandinavia, South America and elsewhere.

In the early days, the converts they made literally did flow from all nations to the mountain Zion built by President Young and the Saints.

In The Uncommercial Traveler, famous British novelist and journalist Charles Dickens recorded his observations on board the Amazon, an emigrant ship docked in London full of Mormons bound for Salt Lake City. Having previously been influenced by society's prejudice against the Latter-day Saints, he nevertheless admitted they were "the pick and flower of England."

"Indeed," he wrote, "I think it would be difficult to find Eight hundred people together anywhere else, and find so much beauty and so much strength and capacity for work among them."

The gathering actually began before the Saints settled the Mountain West, and more than 103,000 immigrant Church members joined the Saints in the United States during the years 1840-1910. (See Jensen and Hartley, "Immigration and Emigration," Encyclopedia of Mormonism.)

Several LDS hymns reflect the spirit of gathering from this period. The writing of "High on the Mountain Top" (Hymns, No. 5) was inspired by Ensign Peak and its scriptural significance. "Israel, Israel, God Is Calling" (Hymns, No. 7) is a direct invitation to the honest in heart to forsake the evils of Babylon and "come to Zion."

The physical gathering to the Mountain West continued until the 1890s. With the mountain headquarters of latter-day Zion solidified, Church leaders began to encourage new converts to remain in their own lands and establish Zion wherever they lived.

Thus, the concept of gathering to Zion became more figurative than literal. Logically, Zion could be found where the "pure in heart" dwelled (see D&C 97:21) or wherever a "stake of Zion" was established.

Today, the Church is in150 nations, with 2,150 stakes in existence at the end of 1995. Zion is truly a global society of 9.7 million people, more than half of whom now live outside the United States.

The gathering begun by Joseph Smith and continued under Brigham Young is going on today. But it is no longer necessary for new members to leave their homelands and come to the Mountain West.

Those who gather to Zion today go out from Babylon by forsaking the wickedness and immorality of the world and entering into the baptismal covenants. They continue on to qualify themselves to receive the ordinances of the temple. With the recent dedication of the Hong Kong Temple, there are now 48 operating temples around the world.

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