Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Bounding out of the Wilderness

My mind has been captured by a phrase attributed to Joseph Smith in at least two of his sermons--that of John the Baptist "bounding out of the wilderness" to preach the gospel of repentance.

On the 23rd of July 1843, in Nauvoo, a sermon was delivered by Joseph Smith to the assembled Saints. At least 5 different men mentioned or took notes on this talk. In the James Burgess Notebook we have this description of John the Baptist:

And when the set time was come John came forth and when he took up his preisthood, he came bounding out of the wilderness saying repent ye for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. he having received the holy anointing was the only lawful administrator and the jews all knew it for the law and the prophets was untill John since then the kingdom of heaven is preached and all men press into it!

I love the excitement that the Burgess Notebook preserves of this discourse. The exclamation marks, and the word "bounding" calls forth such buoyancy and enthusiasm for this preparatory event.

On another occasion, on the 10th of March 1844, Brother Joseph preached a sermon on Elijah and Elias at the Nauvoo Temple. Several listeners took notes on this talk as well. Again, the James Burgess Notebook records the same phrase regarding the spirit and power of Elias:
this is the power which John the baptist was clothed with when he came bounding out of the wilderness saying repent ye for the kingdom of heaven is come unto you or is at hand...


I don't know where James Burgess picked up this phrase. None of the other accounts of Joseph Smith's sermons mention the word "bounding." I have googled the phrase to see if it was perhaps used in one of the Biblical translations of the day. But as far as I can find, it was used only one other time in connection with John the Baptist--in a sermon given by J. Golden Kimball and recorded by a missionary in South Carolina in 1891:
The speaker [Kimball] wished to speak for a few moments on the Kingdom of God, and referred to John the Baptist as he came bounding out of the wilderness with a doctrine strange and new. John didn’t give it to them sugared over, either.

I have mentioned in several of my posts the great power that words have to stir my soul. In this case, the image of John the Baptist excitedly leaping forth out of a barren wilderness to prepare the way for the coming Messiah and the light of the gospel is heartening. To a heart which has languished in wilderness for far too long, it is an enticing call.

As I searched for images of John the Baptist, I found only a few which expressed the energy that fit the new picture I have in my head of this wild man of the wilderness. The first is an oil painting by Jack Baumgartner which communicates the excitement of the moment in the positioning of the Baptist's hands, the expression in his face, and the lines of his hair and the water which surrounds him:



Another is by Anton Raphael Mengs, showing John preaching quite fervently, with upraised arms and fervent countenance.



All of the other images I found of John the Baptist seemed quite sedate in comparison. The dearth of art depicting the Baptist "bounding" out of the wilderness, over a period of several centuries, has convinced me that this is not a typical picture we have of this particular prophet. I'm quite taken with it. It seems particularly a propos for an announcement of Christ's ministry to come, and it is a vision that draws me from emotional darkness into brightness and clarity.

6 comments:

Bookslinger said...

This harkens to the saying (possibly just Mormon folklore, though) that an investigator allegedly said to the LDS missionaries teaching him:

"If what you are saying is true, shouldn't you be a bit more excited?"

Bored in Vernal said...

Yes, you got it, Bookslinger. John the Baptist just HAD to be excited about his message. It was such an amazing one. He MUST have come bounding out of the wilderness.

And WE--we sure ought to be singing those hymns with a bit more gusto, dontcha think?

Ardis Parshall said...

The speaker [Kimball] wished to speak for a few moments on the Kingdom of God, and referred to John the Baptist as he came bounding out of the wilderness with a doctrine strange and new. John didn’t give it to them sugared over, either.

Ahem. And you found this JGKimball talk posted ...

Ardis Parshall said...

So sorry. I didn't see the link the first time. Please delete my snippy earlier comment and let me just say that when I started to read your post I kept scratching my head wondering where I had just heard that phrase! Thanks for reminding me.

Bored in Vernal said...

lol, Ardis. You weren't snippy. We must give credit where credit is due! This phrase caught my eye when reading Ardis' blog, everyone. A while ago I did a post on Elias, Elijah, and Christ, where I quoted Burgess in the footnotes, and Ardis' piece got me looking back at it. I always enjoy her thoughts.

kelly miller said...

wow
this is wonderful!
thanks for inspiring me...
I just came bounding from a baptism...
Bounding out of the wilderness
John the Baptist prepared the way
With the buoyancy that was his
As the Elias of his day

With his face full of excitement
He called all unto repentance
Stirring others with incitement
Adding fervency to each countenance