The Puritans didn't just emigrate to New England, they aimed to establish a new society. This is best expressed in John Winthop's famous sermon, "A Model of Christian Charity," delivered on the ship that took him and his fellow believers across the Atlantic in 1630. I'll pull out a couple of quotes that convey his vision of an ideal Christian society, then compare it to the Mormon vision of Zion announced by Joseph Smith.
City on a Hill
The symbol Winthrop used was the "city on a hill," well known from the Sermon on the Mount.
For we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us. So that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken, and so cause Him to withdraw His present help from us, we shall be made a story and a by-word through the world.(Compare "hiss and a byword" passages at 1 Ne. 19:14; 3 Ne. 16:9.) But for these early settlers, it wasn't just a symbol; they actually built new towns from scratch when they arrived in the New World. The question of what was an ideal Christian society was, for them, not some utopian thought exercise, it was a pressing practical question that was subsequently played out over the first couple of generations in New England. Winthrop's vision:
[F]ollow the counsel of Micah, to do justly, to love mercy, to walk humbly with our God. For this end, we must be knit together, in this work, as one man. We must entertain each other in brotherly affection. We must be willing to abridge ourselves of our superfluities, for the supply of others’ necessities. We must uphold a familiar commerce together in all meekness, gentleness, patience and liberality. We must delight in each other; make others’ conditions our own; rejoice together, mourn together, labor and suffer together, always having before our eyes our commission and community in the work, as members of the same body. So shall we keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace.Sounds familiar, doesn't it?
Characteristically, Joseph Smith drew his inspiration from the Old Testament rather than New Testament: Zion, the City of Enoch, and the New Jerusalem were his symbols of the ideal Christian society. And, like the Puritans who came to New England, the Mormons actually built their cities, their Zion. It's stunning, really, that the early Mormons, few in number, didn't just talk about building a city, they actually marched off and did it, first in frontier Missouri (abortively), then in Illinois (successfully but briefly), and finally in remote Utah (succesfully and permanently). For a nice treatment of Joseph's vision of the ideal Christian city, see "Cities of Zion," chapter 11 of Bushman's Rough Stone Rolling. See also my earlier post on the theme Mormon Cities. At the center of these Mormon cities were temples, of course.
For the history of how the Zion idea was first fleshed out in LDS discourse, see chapter 8 of RSR, "Zion." The Mormon counterpart to Winthrop's sermon is D&C 42, "the Law," given in February 1831 as the principles that would guide conduct in the Mormon Zion, the ideal Christian city to be built on the frontier (later specified to be near Independence in Missouri). After a summary of the ten commandments, a few more general principles are announced:
And behold, thou wilt remember the poor, and consecrate of thy properties for their support .... And again, thou shalt not be proud in thy heart; let all thy garments be plain .... Thou shalt not be idle .... Thou shalt live together in love ....(D&C 42:30, 40, 42, 45). Not quite as polished as Winthrop's sermon, but it gets the job done.
For all the talk of cities, the "city on a hill" image is rarely applied to Zion in LDS discourse; instead it is used to illustrate the simpler "be a good example" lesson. Maybe that's because, modernly, LDS Zion is now seen as a way of life or a societal concept, not as a blueprint for a city. Or maybe we just like our own symbols.