In order to develop and grow the tree, the Lord requires there to be good fruit growing before cutting away the bad. (5: 66.) The pruning and trimming away the bad will accelerate as good continues to grow. The good growth cannot be threatened by the bad, because the Lord will cut off, cut down, and discard the bad as the good develops.
Ultimately, the purpose is to have the good overwhelm the bad. When that happens, the bad will be cut down, thrown in the fire, and burned. (Id.) They will not be allowed to overcome the good, or “cumber the ground” of the Lord’s vineyard. (Id.)
It does not matter if the bad occupy positions of authority, or have been “called of God” into the lofty positions of the tree. They will be struck down when they attempt to overcome the good growth. (D&C 85: 7.) The intention of the Lord, and His prophetic promise is that His house will be set in order. (Id.) This, however, is still future.
The natural branches are to return to the natural tree (5: 67) to produce the natural fruit again. (5: 68.) That is the original doctrine, the covenant of adoption to God’s family, the return of covenant Israel. Children suitable for Zion are the Lord’s agenda. It hasn’t changed. He will bring it to pass, and we cannot claim any credit when it comes, for it is the Lord alone who will “bring again Zion.” (See, e.g., 3 Ne. 16: 18; Mosiah 12: 22, 15: 29; D&C 84: 99; Isa. 52: 8.) This is His work, after all. We get to participate in it, but the work is His.
Those who falsely claim to be the Lord’s will be “cast away” from the tree, because they can never bring again the natural fruit. (5: 69.) This great last work, which will unfold over generations and result in a restored tree, will be the last time He will work in His vineyard. (Id.)
The Lord sent His servant to labor. There were to be others. But the numbers of the servants who would be sent were disproportionately small. The servant went, and there were “other servants; and they were few.” (5: 70.)
We do not get to chooose who the Lord sends. He does. When He sends a servant we have the rare and infrequent opportunity to be invited back to the roots of the restoration again. There is no point in insisting that we are doing things right, and that we have no need to repent and return. We must respond, repent, regain whatever was offered, reconnect with the fathers, or risk being utterly wasted at His coming.
I think the proposition is self-evident that this will always be in or near the church. The numbers may not be large in comparison to the world, but the work of the Lord has never created a great harvest. The last days vineyard is either filled with bad branches requiring trimming and burning, or in the Lord’s parable, always mingled with tares needing gathering and burning. (See Matt. 13: 30; D&C 86: 7.) The field is always to be burned. (D&C 86: 7.)
Remember, however, that any fruit produced is infinite, eternal, and will produce forever in His House. (See D&C 132: 20.) Even if there were only one couple saved, from that single source there would be worlds without end, and seed like the sand of the sea or as the stars in heaven for their number. (See Gen. 22: 17.) Therefore, from this vantage point, you cannot look upon the harvest as meager. From the vantage point of the Lord in His vineyard it is infinite and eternal. Even if the harvest produced but one, how great would be the joy in heaven over that one. (See D&C 18: 15.) And if there were one, how much greater would it be if there were as great a number as seven? (D&C 18: 16.) Remember the first Zion was made of seven patriarchs and their families. (D&C 107: 53.)
The labor to produce fruit is great. The amount of humility and meekness required to repent and return is almost beyond the tolerance of mankind. Even those who learn a little think they know much more than they do. We tend to gather together, speak reassuring words to one another, and stop up our repentance by the mutual praise we lavish on each other. We interfere with our own repentance.
I’ve often reflected on our presumption that we can apply the words of scripture that were originally given when Joseph Smith was the church’s presiding officer to all later times and individuals. Joseph, of course, stood in the presence of God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ. Therefore, the revelations to him – about him – have their veracity derived from that standing. Can we now apply statements to him, or about him to every situation we’ve encountered since then? Do we have the right to do that without some further revelation giving us that right? Is God’s promise about His protection of the church from error, given while Joseph was living, still applicable when we have lost the man who communed with Jehovah? Are we to expect all successors to also act as if they too hold the keys to the mysteries and sealed truths (D&C 28: 7) even when some have told us they have never received any audience with angels or the Lord? Are we allowed to presume the Lord invariably “sends another” when we vote to fill Joseph’s former office? (Id.) Our traditions gives us an answer that we heard again in last General Conference through President Eyring’s Priesthood Session talk. (Families Under Covenant) That talk was reassuring indeed. I hope it is altogether correct. I hope it answers this question.