D&C 117: Coveting the drop and neglecting the weightier matters

In covering this section in class we first examined the life of Lorenzo Snow.  We viewed the 16 minute video from The Presidents of the Church and then discussed elements of his life that stood out.  Several students made mention of the fact that President Snow was able to use his priesthood to miraculously raise Ella Jensen from the dead.

This miracle mentioned in the video was worth spending more time in class discussing.  I shared the following from Ella’s perspective:

Raised from the Dead

This story, true in every particular, shows the fulfillment of a prophecy made upon the head of Lorenzo Snow when he received a patriarchal blessing under the hands of the Prophet’s father, Joseph Smith, Senior. It was given in the Kirtland Temple, and among other things were these promises:  “Thou shalt become a mighty man. Thy faith shall increase and grow stronger until it shall become like Peter’s. Thou shalt restore the sick; the diseased shall send to thee their aprons and handkerchiefs, and by thy touch their owners shall be made whole. The dead shall arise and come forth at thy bidding.”

It was March 3, 1891, and for several long weeks Ella Jensen, a young girl of 19 at Brigham City, Utah, had lingered, almost between life and death,with Scarlet Fever. Leah Rees, her girlfriend, was serving her as night nurse, and it was about three or four o’clock in the morning, when, as Leah reports it, “I was suddenly awakened by Ella calling me to get the comb, brush and scissors. She explained that she wanted to brush her hair and trim her finger nails, and get all ready, `For,’ said she, `they are coming to get me at ten o’clock this morning.’

“I asked who was coming to get her.”

“`Uncle Hans Jensen and the messengers,’ she replied. `I am going to die and they are coming at ten o’clock to get me and take me away.'”
“I tried to quiet her, saying that she would feel better in the morning if she would try to sleep.”

“`No,’ she said, `I am not going to sleep any more, but I am going to spend all the time getting ready.'”

“She insisted that I get the comb, hairbrush and scissors, which I did, but she was so weak that she could not use them. As I was brushing her hair, she asked me to call her parents. I explained that they were tired and asleep and that it would be better not to disturb them.”

“`Yes,’ insisted Ella, `you must call them. I want to tell them now.'”

“The parents were called, and as they entered the room, the daughter told them that her Uncle Hans, who was dead, had suddenly appeared in the room, while she was awake with her eyes open, and had told her that messengers would be there at ten o’clock to conduct her into the spirit world. The father and mother feared that the girl was delirious and tried to get her to be quiet and go to sleep. She knew their thoughts and said, `I know what I am talking about. No, I am not going to sleep anymore. I know I am going to die, and that they are coming to get me.'”

Ella, realizing the end was very near, summoned each one of her family to kiss and bid them goodbye. She called each one by name as they came to the bedside. But her brother Budd was out and had not returned. As it drew toward ten o’clock, she felt she could not go until she had seen him. She was gasping for breath and exerting all her strength to hold on until Budd got back.  Grandma Jensen arrived, and just as Ella had embraced and kissed her, Budd came in with Mrs. Nelson. Ella threw her arms around her brother’s neck, kissed him, and then fell back on her pillow–dead. It was just ten o’clock.

Ella’s father left at once to report to President Snow and consult him regarding arrangements for the funeral. Sister Nelson washed and laid Ella out, dressed her in clean linen, and Budd took the doctor back home, who had been called in this emergency. Meanwhile, news of her death spread about.

It was towards noon when Jacob Jensen, Ella’s father, reported to President Snow at the tabernacle service, because it was more than a mile to town and he had to hitch up the horse to drive there. They returned togeher with Rudger Clawson, who was then the President of the Box Elder Stake.

After standing at Ella’s bedside for a minute or two, President Snow asked if there were any consecrated oil in the house. All were greatly surprised, but the oil was secured for him. He handed the bottle of oil to Brother Clawson and asked him to anoint Ella, after which Brother Snow confirmed the anointing.

Particularly impressive among others, were these words that he used, “Dear Ella, I command you, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, to come back and live. Your mission is not ended.” His voice was very commanding, “Come back, Ella, come back! Your work upon the earth is not yet completed. Come back! You shall yet live to perform a great mission.”

Ella remained in her dead condition for more than an hour after President Snow administered to her, or more than three hours in all after she had died. Her mother and father were sitting there watching by the bedside, when all at once she opened her eyes, looked about the room, and saw them sitting there.  But she still looked for someone else, and the first thing she said was, “Where is he? Where is he?”

“Where is who?”

“Why, Brother Snow,” she replied. “He called me back.”   They explained to her that Brother Snow and Brother Clawson were very busy and could not remain, and that they had gone.  Ella then dropped her head back on her pillow, saying, “Why did he call me back? I was so happy and did not want to come back.”

Then Ella Jensen began to relate her marvelous experiences; marvelous both as to the incidents themselves, and as to the great number of them that occurred in the short space of time between three and four hours. And furthermore, the very nature of these incidents prove that she was telling nothing but the truth.

“At ten o’clock my spirit left my body,” related Ella. “It took me sometime to make up my mind to go, as I could hear and see the folks crying and mourning over me. It was very hard to me to leave them, but as soon as I had a glimpse of the other world, I was anxious to go, and all the care and worry left me.

“I entered a large hall. It was so long that I could not see the end of it. It was filled with people. As I was conducted through the throng, the first person I recognized was my Grandpa H. P. Jensen, who was sitting in one end of the room writing. He looked up and seemed surprised to see me. He said, “Why! There is my granddaughter, Ella!”

“He was very much pleased, greeted me and, as he continued with his writing, I passed on through the room and met a great many of my relatives and friends. It was like going along the crowded street of a large city where you meet many people, only a very few of whom you recognize.

“Some seemed to be in family groups. As there were only a few whom I could recognize and who knew me, I kept moving on. Some inquired about their friends and relatives on the earth. Among the number was my cousin. He asked me how the folks were getting along and said it grieved him to hear that some of the boys were using tobacco, liquor, and many things that were injurious to them.

“This proved to me that the people in the other world know to a great extent what happens here on the earth.  “The people were all dressed in white or cream…Everybody appeared to be perfectly happy. I was having a very pleasant visit with each one that I knew. Finally, I reached the end of that long room.  I opened a door and went into another room filled with children. They were all arranged in perfect order, the largest ones in the back rows all around the room.

They seemed to be convened in a sort of Primary or Sunday School, which was presided over by Aunt Eliza R. Snow. There were hundreds of small children there.”

“It was,” continued Ella, “while I was standing listening to the children singing, `Gladly Meeting, Kindly Greeting,’ that I heard President Lorenzo Snow call me. He said, `Sister Ella, you must come back, as your mission is not yet finished here on earth.’ So I just spoke to Aunt Eliza R. Snow and told her that I must go back.

“Returning through the large room, I told the people I was going back to the earth, but they seemed to want me to stay with them. I obeyed the call, although it was very much against my desire, as such perfect peace and happiness prevailed there–no suffering and no sorrow. I was so taken up with all I saw and heard that I did hate very much to leave that beautiful place.

“This has always been a source of comfort to me. I learned by this experience that we should not grieve too much for our departed loved ones, and especially at the time they leave us. I think we should be just as calm and quiet as possible, because, as I was leaving my mortal life, the only regret I had was that the folks were grieving so much for me. But I soon forgot all about this world in my delight with the other.  “For more than three hours my spirit was gone from my body. As I returned, I could see my body lying on the bed and the folks gathered about in the room. I wanted to stay only a short time on earth to comfort them.”

Ella frequently told of the terrible suffering that she experienced when the spirit again entered the body. There was practically no pain on leaving the body in death, but the intense pain was almost unbearable in coming back to life. Not only this, but for months, and even years afterward, she experienced new aches and pains and physical disorders that she had never known before.  Some of the people Ella described as having met in this spirit sojourn were her aunts and second cousins, long since dead and laid away before she was born. She told her Aunt Harriet Wight, who had lost two daughters, not to mourn them, for she had seen them and had talked with them, and they were very happy in their new sphere of existence.

Many relatives and others visited Ella, and she told them the same story–of how she had met their relatives and friends over there, how happy they were, and that they had asked about their loved ones here.  When Leah Rees, her night nurse, came to stay with Ella the next night, she told her about having seen her (Leah’s) father and several others of her people who had passed away, as well as her own Grandpa Jensen–all of whom appeared very happy.

One person Ella was puzzled about seeing in the spirit world was little Alphie, the son of Alphonzo H. Snow. He had been in her Sunday School class in the First Ward, and she did not know that he had just died. When she told her mother, she said, “Yes, Ella, little Alphie is dead, too. He died early this morning while you were so very sick. We knew you loved him and that it would be a shock to you, so we did not tell you about his death.” But, nevertheless, she had recognized the little fellow happily singing among the children under the direction of Eliza R. Snow.

It was while sitting there listening to those children that she heard a voice coming to her in commanding tones, apparently from a long distance, which said, “Come back, Ella, come back! Your work on earth is not yet completed.” And, although she had no desire to come back, but on the contrary, felt determined to remain in that beautiful world, the voice was so authoritative in manner that it seemed to draw, yes, actually draw her spirit out of that room and back to her body. She felt compelled to follow it and return to earth, where she filled to the fullness, her life’s mission on earth, becoming a mother in Israel, and doing much for the glory of God and her own exaltation in the service of the Lord. She is now known as Mrs. Henry Wight of Brigham City, Utah.  (Condensed from Sept.-Oct., 1929, issues of The Improvement Era, 32:883; also Y.W. Journal 4:164. Compare with Life of Lorenzo Snow, p. 406.)

After sharing this experience we discussed what Ella seemed most concerned with after her death.  The class shared the general feeling that Ella’s main concern was her family and loved ones; those she was leaving behind as well as those she would encounter in the next life in the world of spirits.

With this firm on our minds, we read D&C 117.  A key section of 117 states, “Therefore, will I not make solitary places to bud and to blossom, and to bring forth in abundance? saith the Lord.  Is there not room enough on the mountains of Adam-ondi-Ahman, and on the plains of Olaha Shinehah, or the land where Adam dwelt, that you should covet that which is but the drop, and neglect the more weighty matters?” (D&C 117:7-8)

I asked the youth, “What does this mean?  What does it mean to covet the drop and neglect the weighty matters?”

What would Ella Jensen say is the most important thing we should focus on?

Several youth responded that our relationships with Heavenly Father and family matter more, in fact, they are the “weightier matters” when compared with social status in high school.  When asked what they put most of their time working on, the majority of the students acknowledged that their focus is primarily on less important relationships and things.

Newel K Whitney

We examined the instruction the Lord gave to Newel K. Whitney: “Let my servant Newel K. Whitney be ashamed of the Nicolaitane band and of all their secret abominations, and of all his littleness of soul before me, saith the Lord, and come up to the land of Adam-ondi-Ahman, and be a bishop unto my people, saith the Lord, not in name but in deed, saith the Lord.” (D&C 117:11)

The Lord was instructing both Newel Whitney and William Marks in matters of a typical human tendency: our tendency to covet.  The Doctrine and Covenants shows several examples of how we covet our own property.  Martin Harris was instructed to not covet his own land (D&C 19:25-26), Joseph was instructed not to covet man’s approval, stressing the idea that it is God’s approval we should strive for and not man’s (D&C 10), and here in 117 Newel and William are told to settle their business and get on with building Zion.

As a class we examined a talk by Brent L. Top, in which we divided the talk into two parts: one part illustrating how coveting appears, another defining coveting (see the end of this post for the article).  After the youth read one part, they explained what they read to their partner, who read the other part of the talk.  Afterwards we had a great discussion as a class using the following questions as an outline:

  • What does it mean to covet?
  • Is it okay to want something really bad?  Why or why not?
  • Why does Nephi use the word envy instead of covet?
  • Is it possible to covet something immaterial?
  • Can two people desire the same thing or result and one be coveting and another not?
  • What about meetings?  Have you ever showed up late to a meeting or class on purpose?  What are you coveting in this circumstance?  What message are you sending to the teacher and your peers when you do this?
  • What is the most common behavior you see along the lines of coveting?
  • What factor determines whether you are guilty of coveting or envying?

These questions generated some great discussion, which helped us to see the tendency in ourselves.  Most classes identified the fact that our motives determine whether we are coveting or not.  The great check to this tendency is gratitude and obedience.  By showing our gratitude to Heavenly Father, we have an increased desire to humbly accept His will and keep the commandments.  This will strengthen our resolve to purify our hearts and motives.

D&C 117 Covetousness as Idolatry

D&C 117 An Appetite That Grows

See the full text of Brother Top’s talk here: http://bit.ly/fGXFFW

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About LDS Scripture Teachings

I write about ways scripture applies in our lives: LDSScriptureTeachings.org
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