In 1967 (the year I was baptized), Richard D. Poll delivered a sermon in the Palo Alto ward in which he coined the terms Iron Rod Saint and Liahona Saint. The sermon was reprinted in Dialogue and the Saints' Herald, and was also later published in the essay anthology A Thoughtful Faith (1986, Philip Barlow, ed.). What follows is one of a few entries on the iron rod, the liahona, and impressions about Brother Poll's essay.
In this month's general conference, I heard two references to the iron rod. I don't know if it was mentioned more than usual, but it was enough that I took notice and went back and counted. Sister Wixom and Sister Cook both spoke of it. And there were no references to the liahona that I noticed.
The mention of the iron rod got me thinking enough that we had a family night on the two this week. We know the iron rod comes from Lehi's vision of the Tree of Life. It is a means of conveying people safely from their starting point through the mist of darkness and along the river of filty water to the Tree of Life where they may partake of the fruit of the tree – the love of God. Nephi learns that the iron rod is the word of God.
In the dream, despite the physical stability and safety of a rod of iron, some still let go of the rod and wander in the mist of darkness or are tempted away by those in the great and spacious building. The faithful needed to do something in order to take advantage of the iron rod – they needed to take hold and continue holding on. If the iron rod is the word of God, it would suggest that we need to take hold of the word (study it, follow it, live it) and keep holding on (endure to the end).
It is interesting to me, however, that once they arrived at the tree and tasted of the fruit, some still fell away mostly because they had, as Lehi recounts, been led away by those of the world in the great and spacious building. Even when we taste the fruit of the love of God we must be watchful, presumably continuing to study, follow and live the word of God and endure to the end.
The liahona -- a two- spindled compass with changing writing -- is different. (It occurred to me as I taught my family about the liahona this past week that cell phones today also have directional indicators and writing that changes regularly.) The liahona appears under mystical circumstances to lead Lehi's family further on their journey in the wilderness, and it operates by the faith and diligence of those who use it. There is, in my reading, no indication that the behavior that typifies holding onto the rod of iron is any different from the behavior that allows the liahona to work.
For me, the iron rod and the liahona are two separate images that teach similar lessons, namely that our arrival at the blessings of God's love come through following His word.
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