Saturday, April 19, 2008

An Ensign to the Nations

Several weeks ago I was preparing to teach the Isaiah chapters found in
the Book of Mormon to our Gospel doctrine class.  For some reason I was
riveted on the concept of the "Ensign" that would be raised up in these
last days.

Of course we know this Ensign of which Isaiah spoke is the Church of
Jesus Christ that would be restored to the earth in these latter days.
As I read 2 Nephi 21:12, "And he shall set up an ensign for the
nations, and shall assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather
together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth."
There are 12 other references in the Scriptures regarding this "Ensign."
As I read them all, I could not help but start singing to myself one of
my favorite hymns, "High on the Mountain Top."  I began "Googling" (my
voice recognition software does not recognize it as a legitimate word
but I think it's a pretty good one) on the Internet and found a
beautiful account regarding how this hymn came into being.  I thought I
would share it with you in the hopes that it will help you to appreciate
gathering of God's children in these latter days.

The story of "High on the Mountain Top"
by Joel H Johnson
This is the story behind the writing of "HIGH ON THE MOUNTAIN TOP" by
Joel Hills Johnson as told by his wife Margaret Threlkeld Johnson to her
grandson Bernard A. Johnson.

Joel H. Johnson established a sawmill in Mill Creek Canyon soon after
arriving in the Salt Lake Valley. Sawing lumber for the "Building up of
Zion" was Joel's church calling. This meant that he spent his time
sawing prime lumber and delivering it to the tithing office. In lieu of
wages, he would go to the storehouse and get what was needed for him and
his family.

As he made his wagon trips up and down the steep canyon, he often
thought about the flag that had been planted on Ensign Peak. 
He knew he had safely made it down the mountain with his load when he turned north
and headed for the tithing office. He always breathed easier when he
could look up at that peak and see Old Glory waving.

In the early spring of 1850, Joel loaded up a load of prime lumber and
headed for the tithing office. As he headed into the lot that housed
this office, he noticed that there were several other wagon loads of
tithing offerings ahead of him. He stopped his team, unhitched the
horses and turned them into "Brother Brigham's" pasture, and sat down to
wait his turn to unload.

Being a warm spring day, Joel sought the shady side of his wagon, leaned
back against the wheel and waited. As was his habit, he pulled out a
piece of paper and prepared to write. He found himself thinking about
the breeze and how it must be making 'Old Glory' ripple. In his mind he
pictured how it must look there on the top of the peak under the clear
blue sky as it waved and fluttered in the breeze. His mind painted such
a wonderful picture.

Almost as if written by unseen hands, words began to appear on the

"High on the mountain top,  A banner is unfurled.   Ye nations now look
up;It waves to all the world." In Deseret's sweet, peaceful land-On
Zion's mount behold it stand! For God remembers still  His promise made
of old  That He on Zion's hill   Truth's standard would unfold!Her light
should there attract the gazeOf all the world in latter days. His house
shall there be reared  His glory to display  And people shall be heard
In distant lands to sayWe'll now go up and serve the Lord,Obey His
truth, and learn His word. For there we shall be taught   The law that
will go forth,  With truth and wisdom fraught  To govern all the
earth;Forever there His ways we'll treadAnd save ourselves and all our
dead. Then hail to Deseret!  A refuge for the good,  And safety for the
great,  If they but understood.That God with plagues will shake the
worldTill all its thrones shall down be hurled. In Deseret doth truth
Rear up its royal head;  Though nations may oppose,  Still wider it
shall spread;Yes, truth and justice, love and grace,In Deseret find
ample place,

He originally titled his poem "DESERET". It was later changed to HIGH ON

Joel finished his poem, folded up the paper, put it in his pocket, and
went about the task of getting his lumber measured and recorded. Much
later in the day, he went home.

Sometime later he showed his poem to John Taylor, then a member of the
Quorum of the Twelve. President Taylor liked the poem so much, he asked
if he could keep it. In those days, words only were written down and
then sung to familiar folk tunes. In just a short time it became one of
the favorite songs where ever the Saints gathered

This poem was only one of hundreds that Joel H. wrote. But it became one
of his most recognized ones. His poetry centered around four themes: His
love and devotion to the gospel, his love of the Prophet Joseph Smith,
his love of his family, and his desire to enjoy life, liberty, and the
pursuit of happiness for himself and all other human beings.

Because today there is some controversy over the exact date this song
was written, this account is being written. In his journal he states
that at eighteen years of age "I commenced writing religious songs and
hymns upon various subjects, some of which may be found in Zion's
Songster, or the Songs of Joel, a work of my own, but many are lost."
Throughout his journal are many examples of his poetry. * See page 2 of
JHJ journal volume 1.


1 comment:

Donovan said...

That's cool. He is actually one of my ancestors :)