My impressions, favorite quotes, and class notes from a semester of reading the LDS church history book ‘Saints: The Standard of Truth’.
This book is almost 600 pages of detailed historical background on the history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints from 1815 when the Smith family moved from Vermont to New York to 1846 with the aftermath of the Martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum Smith. It was created by a collection of historians, researchers, writers, editors, etc. and endorsed and published by the Church itself as its official history book. This is Volume 1 of a planned four-volume book series(Volume 1 was published in 2018 while Volume 2 was published in 2020). I was incredibly impressed by the fact that they used more than 500 sources to create this book, after thoroughly checking the credibility of each one(shown by the fact that the notes/sources/index is an extra 113 pages on top of the story’s 586 pages). The majority of these are primary sources and are incorporated in the book consistently with dialogue from various historical figures’ diary’s or journal’s and with endnotes in the description’s. It is written in narrative form, making it easy and enjoyable to read.
This fall, I took a class that focused solely on reading this book and discussing it in groups of four chapters per week(hence the organization of this paper). Each week we had to write journal entries from the book so each section of this paper correlates with one week. This is filled with thoughts I had, my favorite quotes and lines from the book, references I made to outside quotes or scriptures, notes I wrote down from class discussions, and details from my favorites stories or scenes that I came across while completing this book. Due to this being a collection of 14 or so weeks of notes for a 600 page book on church history that I was absolutely fascinated and awestruck by, this paper is incredibly long, just reaching the top of 28 pages on my word document before the works cited part. I apologize for that, but I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and writing each part of this paper and am excited to read Volume 2 now that I have finished this one!
Message from the First Presidency and the Preface
As a student of history, I truly believe that the past can teach us much if we only seek to learn and understand. Seeing how the events of the past have influenced our time is a powerful witness and example of how we should act in our time for the future ahead of us. We must respect and admire the foundations that have supported us and allowed us to live as we do as Saints. I like the emphasis the Preface has on the story being a ‘foundation’. That this book is a start to understanding Church history; it is not the end all be all of resources and we should not treat it that way. It is simple in its writing and is there to help us understand the basics of the early church. I also found it curious how there is a new church history published pretty much each century- the first in the 1830-40s, the second in 1930, and this series(four books in total) in the 2020s. Also, that it is the chaotic and fast-paced times now that have called for this update. This is a story of simple people just like us who are imperfect but wish to become Saints through Christ.
The climate, culture, and environment around us can affect our faith and perspective on religion. The struggles our families go through can put us where He wishes for us to be. Many obstacles and cruel people can get in the way and make the path we need to take seem like a mistake. But, when others around us fail and cannot go further- even the ones we were depending on -then we must be strong and take up the reins ourselves as Lucy Mack Smith did; the reward at the end will be worth it. Often, people read the same Bible, but come to different conclusions about its meaning. The Holy Ghost, prophets, and apostles can help us find the right beliefs and truths. The voice of the Lord can speak to us, even if we aren’t in God’s church. Often we can feel like we are in the middle of a war of words and opinions, not knowing what it is we should believe. Often, it can be hard to ‘find truth amid so much noise’. Yet, even just one scripture can change our journey on the path towards God. God will hear us, even if we stumble and are awkward in our words.
Often darkness can surround us and hide the sun from our view. Is there ever another time in the scriptures (save the Fall of Adam and Eve) that God Himself actually descends to the Earth? Just here in the First Vision that I can think of. Many things have the “form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof.” In God we, like the trees during the First Vision and the Burning Bush of Moses, can burn bright in God’s presence, but will not be consumed unto ash. The power of God can choose even the most unexpected people. Don’t cast pearls among swine for they will crush them under their feet and treat them as nothing or worthless. Spiritual experiences can be hard to write and put into words. Trust in God, follow the commandments, and wait patiently. Being forgiven once doesn’t mean that we won’t need to repent again for all will stumble and make mistakes. Amazing spiritual experiences won’t answer all our questions. Stay close to the Lord and study the Bible.
Sometimes we have a gift that we don’t quite understand or know how to use. Sometimes we hesitate when God asks us to do things. Trust in Him. “Attend to it.” Sometimes the treasure we find in the gospel can free us from mortal poverty, but true worth is what can save us from spiritual poverty. Be the kind of person that God can entrust with the gospel. Sometimes tragedies occur when good things are in our futures and minds; we may feel forsaken. But trust in the Lord and continue on. No matter how willing we may be, sometimes we are not quite ready or prepared yet. Align your will to God’s. Don’t let others pull you away or discourage you from what you know is right, including the path you walk.
This reminds me of Elder Holland’s talk ‘Be Ye Therefore Perfect- Eventually’ where he says, “Leo Tolstoy wrote once of a priest who was criticized by one of his congregants for not living as resolutely as he should, the critic concluding that the principles the erring preacher taught must therefore also be erroneous. In response to that criticism, the priest says: ‘Look at my life now and compare it to my former life. You will see that I am trying to live out the truth I proclaim.’ Unable to live up to the high ideals he taught, the priest admits he has failed. But he cries: ‘Attack me, [if you wish,] I do this myself, but [don’t] attack…the path I follow. … If I know the way home [but] am walking along it drunkenly, is it any less the right way simply because I am staggering from side to side? … Do not gleefully shout, “Look at him! … There he is crawling into a bog!” No, do not gloat, but give…your help [to anyone trying to walk the road back to God.]” Set yourself about the things which God has commanded you to do. Do all within your power to protect and preserve the gospel. Take heed continually so your enemies will not succeed. Remember that for a small thing, Esau lost his blessings and birthrights. If you are disobedient the first time, intend to be faithful the next time.
I was amazed at how little contention there was between Lucy Smith and Joseph Sr. on religion considering how different their beliefs were from one another; yet neither pulled their children to one side or the other. Joseph was raised by visionary parents. He had a hunger to regain God’s forgiveness, even though he was just a teenage boy. Moroni didn’t just visit and then leave, he taught him and visited him often. He cared and instructed. Who in the scriptures has felt more alone than Moroni? He understood Joseph because he too was alone and had the gospel resting on his shoulders. God first wanted Joseph to keep his covenants before he got the plates. So many people around us are a match for the words of 2 Timothy 3:7 “ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.”
Overall, the most meaningful thing I learned in these chapters is just how powerful and exact God is- how He guides us to where we need to be and helps us grow where we need to grow. We may not understand why He is asking such things of us or why the right path is so difficult to walk with so many obstacles, but we must trust in Him and ‘attend to it’ no matter our own worries, doubts, and failings. I think it was so meaningful to me because it gave me a new perspective on just how powerful God is and how in control He is in our lives, even in the life of an ordinary 14 year old boy. That he cares about all of us and is that exact with all of us; that idea brings me such comfort, strength, and peace.
I think what stuck out to me was the idea in D&C 3:1-2 that God’s work won’t be frustrated, only the work of men; that’s really at the crux of this whole section of chapters. So many of the Saints were focused on the world and what other’s would think as well as their own temporal obligations- that all got in the way of their own testimonies and the growth of the church. God has a path in mind and it is up to us to decide if we will walk it or not. We have to let go of our own pride and wants and listen to the Lord. Then, when we receive our answers, we must hold onto them tightly in our hearts and minds so that the chaos of the world around us does not pull us away or lead us to doubt.
A pretty much perfect example of this(though not completely perfect as he is still a human) is Joseph Smith. In class we asked the question of ‘How much was Joseph affected by his lack of education? Especially dealing with men like Martin Harris and Oliver Cowdery?’ It really is important to focus on because he could have easily been completely led away by his doubts and let them decide everything. Yet, he had a forceful spirit and the power of God within him as the prophet and that bolstered him. But he had no real pride or ego in regards to knowledge and so had an open mind to all avenues of thought and was ready to ponder and even accept anything that he came across in the Book of Mormon.
One class I’m taking right now is Early Christianity and the Great Apostasy and a topic we talked about was the creation of the Septuagint which was the first major translation of the Old Testament from Hebrew to Greek. We talked about how all these learned Jewish men came together in Egypt to translate the Bible. But these men were born and raised in a Hellenistic world and were often Greek scholars. They were so enveloped and pulled in by the words of Plato and other Greek philosophers and their ideas of the material world being bad and how to be perfect you had to be unchanging in nature(so immaterial really) that they began to make little changes here and there.
They used ‘modern’ and popular temporal ideas to explain and even change the Bible and in the end what they did was ‘distance and dematerialize God’ to where God would become an immaterial and far away Being rather than the loving Heavenly Father of flesh and bone that He is. I think that it was events like this that led God to choose a different path when his second book of scripture(the Book of Mormon) was to be translated. So he picked a teenage boy with barely any schooling and little knowledge of different schools of thought or even religion to be the translator, using a spiritual talent of seer stones rather than his own thoughts and interpretations on translation so that what happened to the Bible would not happen to the Book of Mormon. Joseph Smith’s lack of education and understanding truly made all the difference and allowed the Book of Mormon to be the tool of truth that God needed it to be to gather Israel.
What stuck out to me is that sometimes we feel overwhelmed by the tasks God gives us, but we must trust in Him and have faith. When we question and doubt the Lord, we open ourselves up to making mistakes and feeling that all is lost; as Joseph and Martin Harris did upon losing the manuscript. We must not fear man more than God and must be careful with sacred things. The Lord loves us for our faithfulness and humility. To be one of His chosen, we must stop seeking the approval of others. Don’t look back, just continue to move forward. God’s wisdom is greater than the cunning of the Devil. “If you will ask of me you shall receive. If thou wilt inquire, thou shalt know mysteries which are great and marvelous”(D&C 6:5,11). Without faith, we can do nothing. It is not enough to have a spiritual gift; you must cultivate and develop it over time for use in God’s work. Sometimes there will be things we desperately want, but we must be patient and wait on the Lord for those things to come. Return unto Christ, repent of your sins, and be converted so that He can heal you. Even if we trust in the Lord and don’t complain, the added work and strain placed on us can be hard to bear. The Lord recognizes this and will bless and reward us if we carry on longer.
I found it interesting how the plates of Nephi were the last ones they translated and actually acted as a replacement for the lost manuscript(the book of Lehi). Only God could bring forth the book out of the earth and establish the Church of Christ in the last days. We must sacrifice to do God’s will no matter the cost, just as Christ did in the Garden of Gethsemane. I loved Oliver Cowdery’s words of, “When I begin to write on the mercies of God, I know not when to stop, but time and paper fail.” We should all approach the gospel like this. We must stay calm in the face of mockery, as Joseph did when faced with Abner mocking the Book of Mormon. God has the big picture planned, but He leaves the individual things to our decision. He makes the path, but we get to choose to walk it or not. We cannot become so extreme that we lose humility and don’t allow for mistakes. We can’t believe that we know it all. What was also interesting is that the Lord never gave something to Joseph until he asked. But, at first, he didn’t even know enough to even think to ask. It was the translation that helped him come to a better knowledge and foundation- Joseph Smith learned the gospel through studying and translating the Book of Mormon. We must be careful because our strength’s can also be weaknesses, as it was with Martin Harris and Oliver Cowdery’s knowledge and education.
I was also really struck by the personal part of the book in these chapters. Specifically the life problems that they all went through what with Emma being pregnant and losing the baby and almost dying herself; Martin dealing with the difficult situation with his skeptical wife as well as being the financial backer for the Book of Mormon; Mary feeling tired and troubled by the changes in her lifestyle when the Smith’s and Oliver moved in; Martin feeling like he is blocking the vision from God and is not worthy to be a witness; Oliver over his great desire to learn from God and feeling frustrated when things didn’t come in the time he wished for them; Joseph with his own worries and fears over his worthiness and ability to be faithful. Martin Harris heard the still small voice of God in his room and the answer was given, yet when he left that room, so many voices pulled at him and led him to doubt and question. They drowned out the voice of the Lord for him.
I was shocked at how much work and effort Joseph and others had to put into this gospel and how often it failed or went wrong for them. Yet, in the end, they found that it was all worth it due to the blessings they received. How, often we don’t feel worthy of the charges we are given, yet God calls those who He believes can be more. Also the personal stories of all the saints affected me especially as they all suffered yet tried their best to carry on in the establishment of God’s true church on earth.
But I was absolutely struck by the last chapter where ten years of worry, labor, troubles, and challenges were met with the formation of the church. I especially felt connected to Joseph Smith when he was able to see his father and mother baptized. In that moment when he cried into his father’s embrace and later on wept in the woods, I saw a young boy who had lived in a house of religious tolerance. Yet, despite that acceptance, it is hard to be raised in a family where your parents have differing faiths and beliefs on religion. And for the first time, in the spring of his 24th year(the age I am right now), he saw his parents actually and truly unified in the church that was created through his efforts and the burden he held as the sole witness of the gold plates for nearly ten years. How incredible and indescribable his joy and relief must have been…
How could such a small church in rural New York rise above its humble beginnings and grow to fill the entire world? All through obedience and dedication to God. We must trust in God and give up everything for Christ. If we are truly feasting on the words of Christ, it will consume us and temporal things will pale in comparison. Truly, the message of the gospel is worth more than all the riches of the world. We will not have strength if it is not our calling- if we ignore our true one from God. “For my soul delighteth in the song of the heart”(D&C 25:12). Beware of false revelations for they can undermine the authority of the Lord’s words and divide the Saints. To God, all things must be done in order and by common consent of the church. Only the prophet and apostles can receive revelation for the entire church. Prove all things and hold fast that which is good. Never stop moving onward in the gospel, even when obstacles or good things get in the way. ”Just as you think proper, I am ready at any time”- this is how we should live the gospel. I loved when the Lord said, “Here is wisdom, and let every man choose for himself until I come”(D&CC 37:4). Seek it with all your hearts.
It is ironic that without prophetic direction, there seemed to be as many ways to interpret the New Testament as there were Saints in Kirtland, Ohio- for everyone views the world and the gospel differently. Many, though, choose to enjoy life rather than seek God. These chapters also taught that we shouldn’t get carried away in the pursuit of the gifts of the Spirit. They have their role- they are not everything. We must simply obey the law and continue seeking truth. “That which doth not edify is not of God, and is darkness”(D&C 50:23). The Spirit does not alarm or confuse people, but rather uplifts and instructs them. “Ye cannot behold with your natural eyes, for the present time, the design of your God concerning those things which shall come hereafter, and the glory which shall follow after much tribulation. For after much tribulation come the blessings.”(D&C 58:3-4). We must humble ourselves and ask the Lord to forgive the blindness of our hearts. We must give all we can to help build the city of God. It seems like many thought that since they had found the true church of God and its prophet, that hard times would come no longer. But, if you come to the church for the wrong reasons, you will leave at the first sign of trouble. If the emotion you are feeling is negative, then it is not of Christ. The Saints couldn’t all forget themselves and turn to the Lord and his prophet in trust and humility.
I was impressed, though, by how just one person could change everything, what with how Samuel Smith gave the Book of Mormon to Rhoda Greene and how her conversion led to her teaching her husband, younger brother Brigham Young, and his friend Heber Kimball. How Lucy Morley’s kindness to the three missionaries even in the face of Abigail’s anger led to them teaching so many at the Morley’s place of residence as well as many other’s in the town. How Sydney Rigdon’s conversion led to many in his own congregation learning the truth and accepting it for themselves. How Polly’s conversion led her on to Zion where she became the first Saint laid to rest in Zion. How Lucy Smith’s faith, confidence in God, and ability to testify unashamedly led to the literal parting of ice on the waters for their boat.
I was especially impressed by the woman mentioned throughout these chapters. With Rhonda Greene’s heartfelt conversion to the church despite her husband’s opinions. By Phebe Rigdon’s words of “I have counted the cost. It is my desire to do the will of God, come life or death.” With the Christian kindness that Lucy Morley displayed to absolute strangers even though she was not in her own house. The strength of Elizabeth Marsh when she said, “There has a great change taken place with me, both in body and mind. I feel a desire to be thankful for what I have received and still look for more.” In the fiery testimony of Lucy Smith when she called “Where is your faith? Where is your confidence in God? If you will all of you raise your desires to heaven, that the ice may be broken up and we be set at liberty, as sure as the Lord lives, it will be done.” In Polly’s determination to make it to Zion for she wanted to step foot there before she died and how she was the first Saint laid to rest there. And also in Lydia Partridge to be able to have the force of will to take a family recovering from illness from a beautiful home and life in Ohio and move with them all towards Missouri at the words of her husband and the prophet’s revelation because she saw great honor in being one “to help lay the foundation of the city of God.”
But I also saw how imperfect the Saints were and how much they were like us. Many were quick to hop on the bandwagon, but the second something went wrong or something didn’t fit with their expectations or thoughts, they were quick to complain, doubt, murmur, and even look down on Joseph Smith. How many could not forget themselves and turn to God in trust and humility. How easy it is to begin to hear and even listen to the wrong voices. How easy it is to be puffed up in pride and power, to look down on those around us. Chaos is the opposite of the work of God; for God loves order and peace in His gospel. Also, how if there are no laws stopping something and you feel it is necessary and others around you agree, many will do it. Also with this idea is just how powerful the human need to blame is. That if something is going wrong somewhere, then there must be a direct and concrete cause for it.
Just where are we putting all of our energy? The Lord never says don’t question or just follow blindly, but He does wonder which directions we choose to face and if it coincides with the path that leads us back to Him. Oftentimes when we are busy with something, such as how Abigail was busy with her loom when the missionaries came, we are too distracted to see the bigger picture. So often it is hard for us to let go of the ideas that we have, even when faced with new faith or revelations. Take the Saints in Ohio; many of them believed that a sign of the Spirit of God was to be loud and moving, more than likely an influence from the Shaker community nearby. But the Lord does not work as an alarm, but rather like a lightbulb. Alarms bring with them a lot of noise, but barely any light. Lightbulbs are quiet, but hold a lot of illumination and brightness. Alarms are complicated and repetitive, while lightbulbs are simple, yet incredible.
Also what stuck out to me in class was that Joseph had to have experiences and learn as he was building the church and, due to this, others looked down on him and wondered how he could be the Prophet of God. They had trouble listening to Joseph. But who else could have done it so well or been so humble and obedient?
“Inasmuch as you have humbled yourselves before me, the blessings of the kingdom are yours”(D&C 61:37). One line that really stuck out to me was when Joseph Smith was dealing with the preacher Nancy Towle who disparaged him for his lack of education and how he was a common man. Joseph did not rise to the bait and instead said, “The gift has returned back again, as in former times, to illiterate fishermen.” I think that line describes his mission and these chapters to a tee. So many around him were puffed up in pride, feeling strength and power in their own intelligence and, due to that, they often looked down on Joseph. Yet, Joseph truly is like the first prophet and apostles who were mere fishermen chosen by Christ to follow Him. Even the idea many promoted that the Plan of Salvation saved too many souls has a ring of pride- very much a Calvinistic idea that only the elite are saved and that others are doomed to fail no matter what they do.
So many people in the first few chapters we read today thought too highly of themselves as do many people today. It is a common human weakness. Too quick are we to run before we can walk- we find a purpose or theory and shoot off before we allow it to sink in or develop. We are incredibly impatient. Yet, patience was all that Joseph knew for the first decade since the First Vision. The Lord worked and worked on him so that he would be patient and wait for things to come to pass when the Lord wished for them too. Yet many early Saints wanted things to be done now and quickly. They are building a city that is meant to last into the millennium- such a large responsibility must be treated with care and patience. If it is a city that is meant to last for so long, then what does it matter that you built it quickly, especially if you did not build it well? Zion is not a race, it is a process and city that expands over time. It reminds me of the quote that “Rome wasn’t built in a day. But they were laying bricks every hour.” Consistency is what matters, not speediness. ‘We must not be too quick to charge ahead in the gospel, lest we begin to follow our own thoughts and ideas and soon ignore the revelations given and spoken by God.’
Every man should be seeking the interest of his neighbor, and doing all things with an eye single to the glory of God, as this reading stated. Yet so many do not follow this idea and instead get wrapped up in their own wants and desires. One sister Saint instructed another to ‘Read with a careful and prayerful heart’ yet this advice expands to more than just study. We should do everything in life with a careful and prayerful heart- that way we can better stay on the right path towards God. If we are running too fast through the forest to take in the markers, then we may miss the turns we are supposed to take and will soon find ourselves far from the path to God.
Yet, one incredibly important lesson from this reading is just how strong the Saints were that did follow Joseph’s council and focus on God. Joseph and Sydney were both tarred and feathered, a truly humiliating tactic that is used to destroy a person’s pride, reputation, and standing before the community. It was a common practice in this time and many did not rise up again in dissent when they were put through it. Yet, the next day Joseph was preaching again, even with men in the crowd who had been a part of the mob. And Sydney continued onward in the church, traveling and preaching even though the event brought him near to death.
Edward Partridge refused to back down when he was captured and brought to the town square, saying, “If I must suffer for my religion, it is no more than others have once before me” and for it was tarred and feathered. Sister Vienna Jaques was fearlessly collecting the scattered pages of the Book of Commandments and when she was taunted, did not fear and even praised Bishop Partridge as he walked by tarred and feathered, saying, “Glory to God! He will receive a crown of glory for tar and feathers.” Teenage girls Caroline and Mary Rollins watched as men tore apart the Phelp’s home and the printing office building, yet still dared to race forward and gather the scattered pages of the Book of Commandments and race away to hide in a cornfield as men searched for them. Yet, even after this terrifying event, they found Sally Phelps and brought the pages to her. And Sister Sally Phelps who had just been dragged out of her home and seen it all destroyed, who was now homeless due to the target that the printing press brought her, still cared for the pages and hid them under their newly crafted beds so the men would not find them and destroy them too. What singular acts, yet each carries such power and ferocity really. The glory of God must have filled all of them as they stood up for God and His church and did not let others prevail against them.
I think what was meaningful for me was how easy it is to get caught up in the negative. That when others attack us or question us and our beliefs that we cannot shrink and cower, but must instead stand strong and continue to raise up our voices in speaking truth. We must teach with such power and strength that the Glory of God seems to encircle us. That we must strive to make our own testimonies strong and unshaken and become self-reliant as we cannot live long off of other’s light and truth. But also that we must be aware of our own faults, of our own pride and ego, and to keep going. That, as Elder Wilcox says in his General Conference talk, ‘Worthiness is not Flawlessness’, we must “Be honest and try…don’t give up, just because you slip up.” Do not get caught up in useless and unnecessary arguments and instead just get to work. That no matter what we face, we should always strive so that, in the end when we leave, we leave with God in our soul.
I also adored the quote from William Tyndale shared in class of ‘I defy the Pope and all his laws. If God spare my life, ere many years I will cause a boy that drives the plough to know more of the Scriptures, than he does” and how Joseph is truly the realization of that idea, no matter how others may mock him for his lowly status. It reminds me of the scriptures that “The glory of God is intelligence”(D&C 93:36), but we must be careful: “O that cunning plan of the evil one! O the vainness, and the frailties, and the foolishness of men! When they are learned they think they are wise, and they hearken not unto the counsel of God, for they set it aside, supposing they know of themselves, wherefore, their wisdom is foolishness and it profiteth them not. And they shall perish. But to be learned is good if they hearken unto the counsels of God”(D&C 9:28-29). We must always seek to grow and become more in the gospel- as Elder Uchdorf in his General Conference talk ‘Daily Restoration’, he says, “We cannot be content with spiritual experiences of the past. We need a steady flow.”. How different would the world be if Joseph Smith had had the First Vision and then never moved past that to get the plates? If he had not continuously sought out revelation and knowledge from God? We must do the same, “Every man seeking the interest of his neighbor, and doing all things with an eye single to the glory of God”(D&C 82:19).
I think what impacted me was also the idea of how we must follow the gospel for the right reasons. That we have to let go of the illusion of control(to quote Oogway from Kung Fu Panda…). That we must look to the future and constantly fight off the human condition of not wanting to let others control us or our lives. That, like Jesus Christ, we must submit our will to God’s and do this not just once but consistently and even daily. It was this that set Joseph apart from others and made him the true prophet of God despite his own failings- he was always turning to God and willing to listen to God and accept what he said. For God’s intelligence defines that of mortal men. Truly like Joseph we must, “Seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith”(D&C 88:118).
What stuck out to me in this reading was the question of ‘Are we really willing to suffer and die for our religion?’ as Oliver Cowdery said “yet we must die declaring its truth”. We must wait on the Lord as we go through life and trust in Him. That we should not get carried away in the passion of the mob that is quick to rise and harsh to action. I love the idea of the meteor shower happening for the Saints in their suffering as a sign from God to cheer them up- that He was there. That Zion, in the Lord’s time, will be redeemed. But how many days of her purification, tribulation, and affliction we do not know.
I absolutely love the idea of Joseph Smith, Wilford Woodruff, and Brigham Young all being in Kirtland at the same time. And all together as a part of the camp. Then, later on John Taylor will join them too. I love the idea that though tired and sore we may be from our journey, we must carry on and be ready to confront the challenges that lie ahead. Also, I love the quote from Joseph Smith that “men ought never place themselves on a level with beasts, they ought to be above it”. The political leaders in these chapters truly are being like Pilate, turning away from the conflicts as if they had no part or place, yet their hands being bloody instead of clean.
I love the idea that we should not panic, but should instead stand still and look for the salvation of God. I love the scene and symbolism that the Camp of Israel found shelter in a church as God’s hail storm raged on. When faced with trials, we must seek to obtain divine power. I love the words from Brother Woodruff on how the camp helped strengthen his testimony and wish to preach the gospel. He did not know what would come in the future, but he wished to do what the Lord required of him. As a sidenote, I was struck by the fact that Joseph Smith was only 28 during the Camp of Israel journey- so young!
The Temple truly is the salvation of the church and of the world. Also, how much stronger we are when we are united together. The members of the first quorum were so young, the oldest being in their mid-thirties. I also enjoyed the connection between them and Christ first twelve apostles. I loved Oliver’s words that we should never stop striving until we come face to face with God. That we should build our faith, let go of our doubts, so that we can reach Him. That the gospel is simple and pure and should be praised. One message that stuck out to me a lot from this reading was how, though the Camp of Israel failed, many of the men involved were chosen as members of the two quorums. “He couldn’t organize His kingdom with twelve men to open the gospel door to the nations of the earth, and with seventy men under their direction to follow in their tracks unless He took them from a body of men who had offered their lives and who had made as great a sacrifice as did Abraham.” The Lord places us where we can offer the most.
Though a terrible situation, I also love the show of Joseph and William Smith being like typical brothers, quarreling and fighting over how they treat their mother. But also, though I can understand William’s frustration, Joseph is no longer just his brother, but is the prophet and his authority is higher than any other. I was struck by Lydia Bailey’s words: “I would rather sacrifice every feeling of my own, and even life, than step aside from virtue or offend my Heavenly Father.” We must try harder to build one another up and resolve differences in meekness.
I love the analogy that this was clay that the Lord was forming. Raw material He was using to make young men into great religious leaders. Also, just how scattered the church was, with all the chaos and with leaders so young, uneducated, and inexperienced. Yet, the Lord is there and is the same. How interesting, though, that the men were mad that the camp wasn’t going on to Missouri instead of being grateful that God was saving them- such a boy thing I couldn’t help but think…They truly were so human- that we are not an anomaly in our weaknesses now. We must reflect and remember the miracles, not dwell on the past, but still remember it. We must walk by faith as God will be there for us. Like it says in Exodus 14:14, “The Lord shall fight for you, and ye shall hold your peace.”
I adore the idea spoken of in class that one moment of anger- of not choosing to hold your peace – can create so much division. Also, how human Joseph Smith is, that he was the Prophet, yet was still getting in an argument with his younger brother. How pride and annoyance can snowball into something chaotic and troubling if we let it consume us. It also brings perspective of how easy it is for us to be unified today despite our global reach compared to these early Saints. I love how Joseph Smith received revelation for situations that were occurring that he didn’t even know about, yet the Lord knew. Prophets truly are instruments in the Lord’s hands. I ADORE the quote shared in class that “All cruelty springs from weakness.” Also, how hard Satan is working to disrupt the church as they are building the Temple, Zion, and gaining the endowment.
But, we do not need to fight to be strong- just trust in the Lord and move forward to a higher level of learning. Also, how many problems come when one tries to lay blame. But also how, sometimes no matter our intentions and wishes, we cannot make something better. That we should not go in trying to prove we are right, for that will not solve anything. Everybody has different ideas and experiences and so we should always try to teach with the Spirit. We should walk into every encounter with another as if they have something to teach us. How we can be friends even if we disagree. Us looking to blame, breaks unity and pulls us away from the future.
What stuck out to me was what they went through just to build the first temple. Are we taking for granted our own privileges regarding Temples? I was struck by the image of Sidney Rigdon going and praying-weeping-on the Temple walls- such a strong desire to finish the building. What also stuck out to me was just how much Joseph Smith was a prophet of the people, so willing to get involved in the individual member’s lives. How much love he had for them.
I love the idea of the Temple as a standard on a hill. How ordinances can open the heavens before us. Also, how incredible the knowledge of the salvation of the dead must have been for the Smith family considering Alvin’s death and the deaths of Joseph and Emma’s four infants. Were all these visions signs to signal the return of God’s power on the Earth after millennia without it? I was struck by how ready and willing the Saints were to be there as the Temple was dedicated. Are we truly showing that much enthusiasm regarding our own Temples? I also found it interesting how shortly after the Temple dedication, the vision of the salvation of the dead occurred as that true is the purpose of the Temple. These visions showed Heaven as it is behind the veil. I loved the story of the Knights and how Joseph Smith gave back that and more to they who had sacrificed so much for the church.
I was amazed by how much they struggled to finance the Lord’s work, and yet they still continuously did so. How this is a message that we should trust in the Lord’s promises, no matter how unlikely they may seem. If you obey, they will come to pass. I love the line of ‘try the Lord and see if anything is too hard for Him.’ Also, how we should always search for truth in what we come across. In his investigation into the church, I was struck by John Taylor’s words that “If there is truth in this thing, I will embrace it-and if error I want nothing to do with it.” I love Phebe Carter’s words of, “I believe that the Lord will take care of me and give me that which is for the best”- such dedication and strength! Or Wilford Woodruff’s quote of “Oh that they might be written upon our hearts as with an iron pen. To remain forever that we might practice them in our lives” for that is how I feel about the gospel as well.
“If we humble ourselves and are as faithful as we can be, we shall be delivered from every snare that may be laid at our feet.” How often do the problems in our lives lead us away from the truths we once believed in? How quick we are to blame others to the point that we no longer hear the spirit. How easily do mortal problems and issues get in the way of the gospel? It reminds me of Elder Gay’s talk ‘What Shall a Man Give in Exchange for His Soul’, “As I was growing up, my parents assigned me chores around the house and paid me an allowance for that work. I often used that money, a little over 50 cents a week, to go to the movies. Back then a movie ticket cost 25 cents for an 11-year-old. This left me with 25 cents to spend on candy bars, which cost 5 cents apiece. A movie with five candy bars! It couldn’t get much better than that. All was well until I turned 12. Standing in line one afternoon, I realized that the ticket price for a 12-year-old was 35 cents, and that meant two less candy bars. Not quite prepared to make that sacrifice, I reasoned to myself, “You look the same as you did a week ago.” I then stepped up and asked for the 25-cent ticket. The cashier did not blink, and I bought my regular five candy bars instead of three. Elated by my accomplishment, I later rushed home to tell my dad about my big coup. As I poured out the details, he said nothing. When I finished, he simply looked at me and said, “Son, would you sell your soul for a nickel?” His words pierced my 12-year-old heart. It is a lesson I have never forgotten.”
I was struck by how sad it was that the only loyal apostles to Joseph left in Kirtland were Brigham Young and Heber Kimball. Yet, Joseph Smith still sent Heber away on a mission to England. How ready he was to follow the words of the Lord, no matter the issues around him. I was shocked at John Boynton actually calling Joseph Smith a ‘fallen prophet’ to Heber Kimball’s face…These chapters spoke about just how much mortal issues can drive religious contention with the National economic crisis of 1837 happening and leading so many to blame Joseph for it.
I was amazed by the devotion of the Crosby’s, for Jonathan to stay and be the last one building the prophet’s home, despite their own troubles and the contention around them. And how giving Emma was, to offer food to them when she already had so little, not even knowing that they truly needed it. Also, the strength of John Taylor to stand and testify of the truth of the church and of Joseph Smith as the prophet to the very man(Parley Pratt) who had taught him and his wife the gospel, yet had lost the faith and begun to attack Joseph and the church. Also, how quick Joseph was to forgive Parley Pratt after all he had done and said, when he later repented and apologized- even while Joseph was sick and in bed. One scripture that came to mind from these chapters was, “For what is a man profited if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”(Matthew 16:26).
How easily mortal problems and issues get in the way of the gospel. How quick it went from the momentous occasion of the Temple Dedication to contention due to mortal financial problems. Just how quickly the world can invade the gospel. Are we all living in the Spirit, waiting to follow when He speaks? We must be sensitive to the Spirit and even hunger for it. Also a question that comes to mind is ‘How do we handle it when our blessings are given, but don’t come how we wanted them?’
We must have faith and trust in God’s will. We must submit to Him; be obedient always and consistently. Don’t get angry and turn away from Him- because you will be separating yourself from His power and then you will truly be alone. We must let go of our pride and ego; don’t blame and hate others and don’t allow your emotions towards another to pull you away from God and the gospel. Life is a constant test of faith. We must not put too much stock in our own assumptions. I love the mention in class of Elder Holland’s 2002 talk on ‘Waiting on the Lord’s time’. We must not be impatient. The Lord wishes to be pleased with us. I love the quote of “God has a most wonderful memory…He remembers my service and forgets my sin.” “Be thou humble and the Lord they God shall lead thee by the hand, and give thee answers to thy prayers…trouble not yourselves concerning the affairs of my church in this place, but purify your hearts before me; and then go yo into the world, and preach my gospel unto every creature… Behold, how great is your calling”(D&C 112: 10, 27-28, 33).
I also love the idea that these trials and mistakes in Kirtland are preparing the prophets and church leaders to not make these same mistakes in the future. To have food storage’s, not get in debt, and to prepare and work together. Also, how Joseph and Emma Smith could not help much in the bigger financial issues, but they went above and beyond in helping and serving in small cases and those made all the difference. How God wants to bless us, he desires to- so if we are obedient, we will be blessed. We must be courageous enough to stand up against anyone to defend the church, just as John Taylor did to Parley Pratt- the very missionary who had taught and converted him not too long before.
I was amazed by how quick the member’s conversions were- hours and days of learning before they chose to be baptized. In contrast to that, in regards to the issues in Kirtland- how the men were so angry that they were willing to go to violence and murder which is such an extreme opposite from the things of the Spirit. How Kirtland is no longer a place of peace and strength; now a place of Apostasy: of rebellion. Also, how quickly Joseph Smith was running out of people he could rely on regarding the church.
How these past church members were so angry that they met with enemies of the church and even created their own church. I loved Vilate Kimball’s quote to her husband: “They profess to believe the Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants, but in works deny them”- how sad it is when such a thing occurs. Also, how the Prophet is just as human and imperfect, yet he is faithfully consistent in repenting, trying, and progressing. It was so bad that the Smith’s and Rigdon’s abandoned Kirtland and the first Temple- how hard that must have been, especially considering how all these financial issues started up so they could build this town and, especially, complete this Temple and now they had to give it up. How sad the idea that the city was so fallen and lost in chaos, as shown in Marinda Hyde’s words: “All confidence in each other is gone.”
So many were quick to judge and less to forgive and learn- a common issue in human history. How in their scramble for power, they lost so much peace. I loved Oliver Cowdery’s quote of “With the unreasonable and ignorant, we do not expect to be applauded or approved.” I adore the quote of “Although we be strangers to one another, yet I hope we are not strangers to our blessed Redeemer” which should be every Christian’s focus regardless of denomination. I was fascinated by the contrast- with so much Apostasy happening in Kirtland, yet with such strong conversions occurring in England both at the same time. In this time, they also found Adam-ondi-Ahman when all this chaos and subversion of spiritual things by mortal things was going on.
How we cannot lose faith, but must preach with all the fervor of our hearts and move forward. I was touched by the powerful testimony of missionary Elijah Able to listen to God and go and teach no matter the threat and risk that stood against him. He had faith that God would protect him as he served him, no matter what these men around him thought of him due to the color of his skin. Just how the Lord does not want His people to live their religion alone, but instead wants them to gather together and support one another. I was also just awestruck by the idea of Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, Wilford Woodruff, and John Taylor serving in the new Quorum after they settled in Far West. I mean, these are the first four prophets of the church working together and at the same time with four of them having no idea of the future role they would be given.
Also, it was almost like all of this persecution and division was preparing Joseph Smith to be calm and collected when the worst comes to him later on in time. My heart ached for Joseph Smith as he again and again asked for help from the government yet was constantly ignored or pushed aside, to the point that he said, “We have tried long enough. Who is so big a fool as to cry, ‘The law! The law! When it is always administered against us and never in our favor?” So often they looked for help and yet often got hurt in the end or had their enemies getting the help they needed.
I loved the quote shared in class from Mother Teresa: “We are not called to be successful, we are called to be faithful.” How shocked I was by the idea of swords, knives, and guns within the Temple. How these men cannot see past the failures, as if they are the defining traits of a person. It all reminds me of the First Vision where the Lord says, “They draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof.”(Joseph Smith History 1:19). It begs the question: where are our hearts? Are we giving them to God? This is not just history, this is a warning to ourselves. Don’t judge, just learn and then act.
I felt such sympathy for Oliver Cowdery; there was such anguish in his heart from what was happening and the atmosphere of no peace that he was led away from it all, leaving the church. This reminds me that peace has to come from ourselves, not based on others around us. I love the idea of “If holding your ground is what you need to do, then you need to know what your ground is.” What stuck out to me also is just how destructive pride is. Are we living in the Spirit, ready to preach in a moment’s notice? Do we have absolute faith in God? Elijah Able had to preach to so many that were there to see what would happen rather than to learn, yet he still preached to them anyway.
What stood out to me was how quick the men were to condemn Joseph Smith for his faults- yet if any of them had been prophet instead, they would have failed even more. There is no such thing as perfection in mortality. “Absolute perfection belongs not to man, nor to angels, but to God alone” as Methodist founder John Wesley says. How we have enough work to do on ourselves, we do not have the time to focus and criticize others. How ‘the gospel is perfect, but the people are not.’ This all reminds me of a poem from John Wesley: “Purge me from every sinful blot; my idols all be cast aside; cleanse me from every evil thought, From all the filth of self and pride. The hatred of the carnal mind. Out of my flesh at once remove; give me a tender heart, resigned, And pure, and full of faith and love.” This is how we must act in the face of mortal struggles. What also stuck out to me was that, if these men knew the Bible, then they would have known that Prophet’s and Apostles were imperfect: Peter denied Christ three times, Moses was raised a prince over slaves and was slow of speech, Jonah ran away, David killed Uriah to marry Bathsheba, etc.. Yet, they held Joseph Smith to a high and impossible standard anyway.
What stuck out to me in these chapters was just how sad it is that the views of a few can negatively affect or condemn the many in regards to Thomas Marsh’s letter against Joseph and the various Missourians attacking the church. That men are so easily ruled by their emotions and opinion until they are blind to the truth. That humanity and law can be quickly forgotten when people are faced with something they do not like or agree with. That trust years in the making can be broken due to meaningless or singular things/events. Even more, how terrible it is that men will senselessly attack the innocent(women, children, unarmed men) due to their own anger and views.
A realization I had was when Saint George Hinckle offered up Joseph Smith and the other church leaders to General Lucas: I suddenly remembered the last few days of Christ’s life. How he too was betrayed by a friend and offered up suddenly, how he too was walked amongst cruel men who hurtled insults and spat at him, and how he marched on towards Calvary despite this just as Joseph Smith and the other church leaders did in the face of General Lucas and his men. For God rules the heavens and whatever happens here will not change that. I was fascinated by the difference between General Lucas and General Doniphan: Lucas was an old enemy of the Saints who was ready to do anything to be rid of and even exterminate the Saints(even disregard the law and humanity) while Doniphan was respectful and honorable, refusing to condemn the Saints and leaders and standing up for what was right. We must all see to be like General Doniphan, not General Lucas.
Pride seemed to be a message that jumped out to me in these chapters. How prideful the men were at their ‘victory’ and how easily such success can lead to more pride and carelessness. That men so easily mistake power and strength for authority and true control. But I also felt pity for them, because it is with their senseless violence and unspeakable actions, that they have written their own doomed sentences in heaven. For while Joseph and the Saints had to face and be condemned by these men, in the afterlife these men will have to face God himself and be judged for their actions here. It reminded me of this quote from Prophet Ezra Taft Benson: “Pride is concerned with who is right. Humility is concerned with what is right.” Or Wayne Gerard Trotman’s words of, “Beware pride; it would have us seek revenge from those most deserving of our pity.”
In regards to those that testified against Joseph Smith and the other church leaders, I found it tragic how willing men are to throw away their morals and sense of justice- to condemn innocent people, just to save their own skins. Also, once again it hit me as ironic that a place called ‘Liberty Jail’ could be the center of such injustice. Yet, throughout this, there was hope with the Saints. I was truly touched by the fact that, even amongst their misery, they still had faith enough to pray and even create miracles. That even Emma Smith was willing to suffer more if God deemed it so. That even with so little, they were willing to give to help those who needed it more. Yet, there was kindness- after so much fear and destruction, the Saint’s found compassion and love with the people of Quincy, Illinois who took them in and cared for them. I love the mention of the hymn, ‘How Firm a Foundation’ and this stanza, “The soul that on Jesus hath leaned for repose, I will not, I cannot desert to his foes, That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake, I’ll never, no never, no never forsake!”
Truly, how destructive anger can be; specifically with Thomas Marsh. He wanted everyone to be as angry as he was(which is what Satan’s mission is(2 Nephi 2:27)). How often mankind does not want to accept other people’s way of thinking. I loved the analogy from class of not being able to see your reflection in boiling water, or see truth in a state of anger- emotions really can lead us away from the path to our doom like blind sheep. That patience and humility are key in life and in the gospel. That selfish pride and anger have no true place in the gospel- that all it does is turn us into natural men and beasts hurling weapons at one another. There is that quote from Dick Armey of “You cannot get ahead while you are getting even.” Or Robert Green Ingersoll’s quote of, “Anger is a wind which blows out the lamp of the mind.”
I love the idea that we must always turn to God and allow Him to direct our path. That we need to let go of things and move on- especially if they are things that are only hurting us or limiting our growth and potential. To quote the Buddha “Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.” That is all that such emotions are in the end, no matter the reason. Also that we must build up our foundations on God and the gospel and learn to rely on the voice of the Holy Ghost.
What stuck out to me in these chapters was just how incredible Joseph Smith truly is: to face down so much adversity and trials, yet come up optimistic and ready for more. Especially when he knew that he would not survive for much longer on earth, yet he accepted that. His only true worry seemed to be that he would not finish his work by then, showing his relief and worry when his father blessed him on sickbed before Joseph Sr. passed on. Also just how willing he was to forgive those that betrayed him- he has been betrayed so much over the years that, honestly, I can’t keep track of who has done what. Yet, each time that person repented and sought forgiveness, wishing to join the church again, Joseph welcomed them with open arms and immediately put them to work: like accepting Orson Hyde back and then sending him on a mission to Jerusalem to learn about the Savior and the prophecies of the Gathering of Israel.
One hymn kept coming to mind throughout the liberty jail events that really fits Joseph Smith’s life: ‘My Kindness Shall Not Depart From Thee’. Though not part of our hymnbook, this hymn’s lyrics perfectly encapsulate what the Lord said to Joseph and how the Lord was always on his side. I can’t pick a certain line or stanza, so forgive me for pasting the full song here:
“For a little while
Have I forsaken thee;
But with great mercies will I gather thee.
In a little wrath I hid my face from thee
For a moment.
But with everlasting kindness will I gather thee,
And with mercy will I take thee ‘neath my wings,
For the mountains shall depart,
And the hills shall be removed,
And the valleys shall be lost beneath the sea,
But know, my child,
My kindness shall not depart from thee!
Though thine afflictions seem
At times too great to bear,
I know thine every thought and every care.
And though the very jaws
Of hell gape after thee I am with thee.
And with everlasting mercy will I succor thee,
And with healing will I take thee ‘neath my wings.
Though the mountains shall depart,
And the hills shall be removed,
And the valleys shall be lost beneath the sea,
Know, my child,
My kindness shall not depart from thee!
How long can rolling waters Remain impure?
What pow’r shall stay the hand of God?
The Son of Man hath descended below all things.
Art thou greater than He?
So hold on thy way,
For I shall be with thee.
And mine angels shall encircle thee.
Doubt not what thou knowest,
Fear not man, for he Cannot hurt thee.
And with everlasting kindness will I succor thee,
And with mercy will I take thee ‘neath my wings.
For the mountains shall depart,
And the hills shall be removed,
And the valleys shall be lost beneath the sea,
But know, my child,
My kindness shall not depart from thee!”
These lyrics and these chapters perfectly show just how much Joseph Smith relied on the Lord and turned to Him; how little he feared man, putting his faith in God and God’s work. He truly acted like Christ in life, drinking the bitter cup that he was handed and asking for God’s will to be done.
How quick men are to fall under the control of power and become self-focused. Christ can end their pain, yet instead He chooses to suffer with them as a part of His Atoning Sacrifice. And that that fills Him with mercy and power to succor and refine them. I was struck by how, even in trials and darkness, kindness can be seen such as when the guards allowed the church leaders to escape all while public opinion began to disagree with the Governor’s extermination order put out against the Saints. Also, how poignant it is that they sang ‘Adam-ondi-Ahman’, testifying of the peace that the Lord’s Second Coming will bring to the area what with all the chaos that had just occurred. When the balance between mortal powers and heavenly powers will be set to right. I also couldn’t help but notice that, despite Joseph Smith’s position and title, everyone only ever called him Brother Joseph, showing him as a true prophet of the people.
How incredible is it that, only days after returning home after months in prison and away from his family, Joseph was already back out doing work for the church. Such dedication to God…Even in jail, he helped the church and received revelation from God for them. I loved the one observer made while watching Joseph preach, “No violence, no fury, no denunciation. His religion appears to be the religion of meekness, lowliness, and mild persuasion” for that truly was Joseph as a teacher and Saint, yet so many enemies of the church saw him as a manipulative and power hungry man. Joseph took every opportunity he found to preach the gospel to others around him and share the knowledge he had gained from God.
I loved his remark in watching the politicians of Washington DC, “A display of folly and show more than substance and gravity” it brings the image from the Alma chapter 31 of the Zoramites and the Rameumpton; a performance seemingly to honor God but, in the end, more of a show for the people than anything else. Especially when no one would listen to his concerns about religious liberty and freedom of belief, too busy trying to get reelected and so not wanting to shake the boat. Unfortunately, the State of Missouri was at the center of politics during this time period and so everyone treaded carefully around the topic and tried to avoid it. How often men seek only to lift up themselves or make themselves look and sound good instead of having something of substance. I loved Joseph Smith’s words to William Phelps, “It is true that we have suffered much in consequence of your behavior. However, the cup has been drunk, the will of our Heavenly Father has been done, and we are yet alive”, hearkening to the Savior’s words in the Garden of Gethsemane. Joseph had such a capacity for forgiveness.
Another thing to note is how much Joseph Smith wanted to do and build in Missouri, yet he couldn’t because of the choices of others. Yet, how evident it is in his life that great things and lessons can come in times of adversity. I loved the quote of ‘Jesus was not a man for others, he was a man with others’ and Joseph Smith was very much like this too, standing with everyone in need, even the outcasts. I adore the idea from class that we shouldn’t stand for an issue, we should stand with people. That we must always turn to God, especially in times of hardship like Joseph Smith did. That we need to not walk alone in life, but instead always seek to walk alongside the Savior.
I love the idea from class that ‘Often we just want out and we miss what God is showing us in hard moments. Joseph teaches us so much about God in difficulties’; that we should always turn to God, even in times of great agony and that that ‘teaches us to keep moving.’ I was struck and moved by how willing Joseph Smith was to rejoice in the struggles they were going through, even to boast in their weaknesses and need for Christ and that great unity can come from such struggles. I was touched by the fact that the doctrine of our Heavenly Mother was introduced by Joseph simply to comfort a daughter who was mourning after her own mother. With the story of Heber Kimball and Brigham Young, I love that they were able to find the time to cheer and be glad even with the challenge of having to leave their family once again to go on a mission.
I also love the idea from class that God doesn’t give everything to us all at once, but he waits for us to ask. That we go through life and the gospel step by step and word by word. That we need to be enthusiastic in our devotion to the gospel. I was also struck and have been by how much Joseph Smith is becoming like Christ. Truly, how incredible it is that we are a part of this church and were born in this time so that we can have it in our lives.
I loved Joseph Smith’s words of “wait upon the Saints and be a servant of all” because he truly did that his entire life in the gospel and we should follow his example. A running theme of chapter 37 was that we should ‘dedicate and consecrate our lives to the Lord’ and strive to attain the blessings of heaven in this life so that we are better prepared for the next. I also adored how enthusiastic the Saints were about Baptisms for the Dead that they built and dedicated the baptismal font in the temple’s basement and started ordinances when the temple was still being built- do we show half as much dedication and gratitude for Baptisms for the Dead as they did? Or do we take it for granted?
I love that the Relief Society was started due to some sisters wanting to help those there were tasked with building the temple and how it was the first time the women had the authority to act in and on behalf of the church. I adore the idea that ‘Relief’ means to react to a great need, change, or crisis and that no job is too big or small for them and everything matters and has significance. I loved the words of keeping the commandments of God in all things. That if we want to be with God, we have to be like Him and follow His commandments. I also loved the active charge that was given, that we must “come and get them for ourselves” regarding the endowment and truths within it.
I was saddened by the betrayal and exploitation of John Bennett towards the Sister Saints and how easy it is for some people to put on a kind and hospitable outer shell towards good and kind people and to use that charity to their advantage. Yet, how easily people’s true characters are shown when their sins are found out and condemned- how quick they are to change tune in defense of themselves with no accountability for what crimes they have committed. I was also struck, though, by the defense of the women in this time. I mean, this is the 1800s- women didn’t have many rights or authority to speak up, especially in court. Even more, they were speaking out against their own city mayor! Yet, the brethren did not dismiss them and quietly and respectfully got to the bottom of things. Also, I was struck by how willing these sweet sisters were to follow the commands they were given if they were from church leaders, even if it did not fit with their beliefs and desires- yet how sad it is that this devotion was taken advantage of by John Bennett. But, truly, how strong these women were to speak up and, later on, how strong the Relief Society was to speak up and not be fearful of John Bennett in printing and publishing words that condemned him.
Yet, from his letters afterwards came so much trouble. Once again in this book, the idea was impressed on me about how quick people are to blame and point fingers when something bad occurs. How, even now that they were in Illinois, Missouri was still trying to bring down and hurt the prophet and church. My heart ached at how much Joseph Smith wished for a few months peace and rest, yet that did not come. I also was struck by how courageous Emma Smith was to write and speak to her own state officials defending Joseph and to even keep writing when she was politely dismissed.
With the story of Peter and Mary Davis, the poor family that lived in Nauvoo and stayed there, I was reminded that we should do our best to make due with what we have as long as it keeps us close to God and the church. Regarding Joseph Smith’s arrest warrant and hiding, I couldn’t help but think of how brave he was to still preside and be with the saints, Relief Society, and missionaries in person, despite the arrest warrant hanging over his head. Also how willing he was to still receive and write revelations for the Saints like ‘No man lives without fault’, that we should be active in our welfare efforts, and expanding Baptisms for the Dead. That, despite all his troubles, he still exalted in the gospel even though it was truly his position as prophet that put him in front of the ‘firing squad’ and made him a target.
I absolutely loved the image of him smiling in the courtroom as he stood trial, not beaten down by the events around him and the accusations upon his head. Truly, “As valuable as the scriptures are, they are no substitute for a living prophet.” I also found myself grateful for topics like Eternal Marriage, the nature of the Godhead, and the organization of the Church. Overall, I loved the message of this section that we should be united and have a pleasant harmony one with another, especially in times of trial and suffering. As Friedrich Schiller said, “Even the weak become strong when they are united.”
I loved the idea from Brigham Young that if the scriptures were to be burned and we didn’t have them anymore, we would still have the prophet and apostles and that is what sets our church apart from others: living and ongoing revelations. How grateful we should be to have the words of living prophets at our fingertips whenever we need them. That we should love and embrace those around us no matter what. I also was fascinated by the idea of the Relief Society being created when it was, just before everything with John Bennett happened; it was no coincidence. It led to those women finding somewhere to go for comfort and help so they would not feel alone. In the end, John Bennett went through a trial of faith and was shown as a traitor. He reminded me much of the idea that “they draw near unto me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me”(Joseph Smith History-1:19). God does not care about fancy words, all he wants is our hearts. That there is always turmoil- it is a part of life. There is also so much noise in the world, yet so little sense to it all. But, while bad things are occurring, there are good things out there too for us to focus on and be enlightened by, such as the things of the gospel like Eternal Marriage, the Endowment, and the Scriptures.
Our God is strong and almighty- when we rely on Him, we can face down anything. That we must listen to the prophet and have faith in a God that can do anything. That we should NEVER take God lightly and should always put Him first. That we should be cautious and slow to judge others; have accountability, no matter the people around us. That we should work to do something extraordinary in the gospel. That we have the ability to tap into resources beyond what we can see and that will make up the difference. That we should seek after truth and learn for ourselves. These chapters reinforced for me that I should follow after Joseph Smith’s example: to fulfill my duties and responsibilities, be happy, and not fear the people around me, having confidence in the fact that I am on God’s side. For, when we have God behind us, we need not fear anything man can bring or create to impede or destroy us. That we should share charitable love, not judgment. One idea that truly came to mind regarding Joseph Smith from this was that he was so forgiving towards others because their salvation meant more to him than his anger and hurt, or the wrongs they had done to him or others. That we should all strive after the same thing.
What stuck with me from these chapters was that we should resolve to face our trials and trust in the Lord. In regards to service, every little bit counts when we are helping those around us and means much to the Lord. Through little things, great things are made possible. That we should be swift in protecting those around us and not fear the enemies that come against us. To never let the hatred and views of others stop you on your path to Zion. That we should always be kind and willing to offer our homes to those in need. We are not to judge others, for that is God’s role, not ours. Also, how easily even the greatest of us can be offended and led away from the church, even to work against it.
How aware Joseph Smith was that his death was coming; how much he set in place for the church for when he would die so that it could go on without him. How little fear he had, trusting absolutely in Christ and God. How little he worried about his death. What truly struck me as well was just how greatly Joseph Smith has changed from that 14 year old boy in a grove of trees to a prophet of God facing his martyrdom, having dedicated his life to the Saints as God’s mouthpiece. I was struck by the dedication of the Saints, such as with Denison Harris and Robert Scott, to risk their lives helping Joseph Smith and to not fear the men that spoke out against the prophet. They were threatened to be silent, yet immediately went and told Joseph Smith what they learned.
I loved how fervently Joseph Smith defended religious liberty and how it said that ”the spirit of religious intolerance had drenched the earth in blood.” It reminded me of Articles of Faith #11 and how we all have a right to believe what we want to believe based on our own conscience. Regarding the Nauvoo Expositor, I found it ironic how it claimed to be full, candid, and factual and show things as they really existed in Nauvoo when, as a University History student, we were told constantly that history was tricky and that one can never truly know all that occurred and that we should beware biases. Having such a clear bias, yet proclaiming such words shows that they truly do not understand history, journalism, or reporting…
I loved Joseph Smith’s quote of “the devil always sets up his kingdom at the very same time in opposition to God.” For that is what happens, but the actions of Satan and his followers can never truly stop the works of God. What also stuck with me in these chapters is the idea that anyone driven by anger into threatening someone else(especially to violence), is not of God. As Elder Uchtdorf says, “Conflict is inevitable, but contention is a choice.” Also, that Freedom of Speech is important and should be protected, but it does not mean we are free from consequences. That we should not abuse our right to freedom of speech for we may not like how we are treated afterwards- or how we are defined by the words we utter.
Also, how quick men are to turn to violence when their pride and egos are hurt or seemingly attacked. But, violence can never be satisfied, it will always seek after more blood. That we are to stand with the gospel in times of trouble, no matter what we face. What also caught my attention was how quick the mob was to act like animals, moving to mocking words and savagery.
But, among all this chaos and so close to death, Joseph Smith was literally preaching to their guards, never resting from preaching the gospel. I loved his words of “Engaged in such a cause, I do not think that death would have many terrors” and even proclaimed that Dan Jones would see Wales again. I also found it interesting that their room had a broken lock on the door, meaning that if a mob broke in, they would only have their own strength to stop them. Also the fact that the night before the martyrdom, the mob entered the jail and stood outside the door, yet did not attack. Yet, how even with this, the governor did not take Joseph Smith with him and even took military away, leaving the jail more vulnerable to attack. How the day of the attack, they were planning to retire to a more secure jail cell after dinner, but the attack happened before they could.
I adore the hymn ‘A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief’ and how it was sung twice here on the important day, testifying of the Savior and of serving others. Verses 6 and 7 especially fit the situation, “In pris’n I saw him next, condemned, To meet a traitor’s doom at morn. The tide of lying tongues I stemmed, And honored him ‘mid shame and scorn. My friendship’s utmost zeal to try, He asked if I for him would die. The flesh was weak; my blood ran chilled, But my free spirit cried, ‘I will!’ Then in a moment to my view The stranger started from disguise. The tokens in his hands I knew; The Savior stood before mine eyes. He spake, and my poor name he named, ‘Of me though hast not been ashamed. These deeds shall thy memorial be; Fear not, thou didst them unto me.’” Truly a perfect match for Joseph Smith on his last day living on earth. I don’t even know what to say about the specific martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum Smith- there are no words worthy of such an event…The Hymn ‘Praise to the Man’ is the perfect tribute to this event and to the Prophet Joseph Smith.
Another thing of note is the idea that William Law allowed his own sins to taint him enough that he was ok with murder; how easily we can slip into Satan’s hands and be controlled by him. How incredible it is to have a Relief Society now that is open to all women no matter what. How even Joseph had his trip ups, fearing Emma more than God on the topic of Plural Marriage. How he even regretted asking God about the topic that led to this revelation. Yet, how in the church, despite this topic being a hard one, it brought so many blessings regarding it’s incredible growth. That this was a command from God and we must accept it and let go of our own issues and beliefs regarding it.
I also found it truly sad how Jane was treated just due to the color of her skin. God does not care about that and so neither should we. I also enjoyed our conversation in class about how, in the end, human nature does not change and God still expects the same things. I was fascinated by our conversation about oaths and promises and how important they are- that they should not be taken lightly. I was incredibly fascinated by the two hour long speech given by the Prophet Joseph Smith which was his last sermon and I want to study it in depth myself so as to better know and understand it. How incredible is it that we know the true nature of God and can learn how to be God’s ourselves piece by piece, grace by grace. That our goal in this life is to be righteous enough to feel comfortable in God’s presence in the afterlife. I also am truly grateful that I was not born in this time as I do not know that I would’ve had the strength to go through what they went through. How incredible Emma was to go through so much for so long.
I found it saddening how right around the time Joseph Smith is being martyred, the Governor is speaking to the Saints and condemning them for their actions. I loved our conversation in class, though, about how the men had the Spirit in the jail room just before the martyrdom and how the mob was pushing against that as well. What was brought home with this situation was the idea that we are not to blame God or anyone else, but must take accountability for our own actions. I was amazed at how the Saints continued on and moved forward after the martyrdom and continued carrying Joseph and Hyrum’s legacy. How, despite all their struggles, it was all worth it for they brought to pass this wonderful gospel and into being the situation we live in now. They will also, forevermore, be remembered by God for their blood, sweat, and tears.
What stuck out to me from these two chapters was how strong the grief of Emma and Lucy Smith was. With Emma, she loved her husband so dearly that she couldn’t accept the idea previously that he would die early. So, when he did, she broke. She could barely even walk into the room to see him in his coffin and, when she reached it, she knelt down beside it. She had no idea why this had to happen, and cried out about it. She felt ‘deserted’- empty inside. From this pain and loss, she continued on as best as she could. And while one can understand why she chose to stay in Nauvoo- the city that she had her husband had worked tirelessly to build up and which, nowadays, stands as a memorial to Joseph Smith, it is sad that her decision to stay made it so that the children of Joseph and Hyrum(two brothers so connected) were split apart: Joseph’s children staying in Nauvoo and eventually leaving the church and Hyrum’s children continuing on to the Great Salt Lake valley and some even becoming prominent members of the church(though that is more a topic for volume 2 which I am excited to read now that I’ve finished this one). Emma was so worried about worldly things in her life that I think it often obscured her view of the things that God wanted, from Plural Marriage to the decision not to move west.
As for Lucy, already she has lost her husband and two sons(Alvin and Don Carlos). Now she has lost two more sons and so brutally too. Then, this section mentioned that, just a few months later, her son Samuel died as well. How much pain she went through in all of this to lead her to ask why God had forsaken her family. Yet, her faith and connection was so strong to God that she still heard his voice. It’s an interesting contrast between the two women- Emma was so lost and hurt that she sank into herself while Lucy immediately turned to God and was able to hear his voice as he said: “I have taken them to myself that they might have rest.”
I did a bit of research here out of curiosity and found out that, by her death in 1856(she stayed in Nauvoo to help Emma and the children), Lucy Mack Smith had lost her husband, 7 of her 11 children, 15 grandchildren, and 8 son’s or daughters-in law. And that’s not even mentioning her parents and siblings she lost. So much pain, yet she carried on as best as she could, making her family her focus.
I was amazed by John Taylor and Willard Richards, especially John- to have seen such a horrible scene, yet urge the Saints not to retaliate, but leave ‘redress’ in the hands of the Lord. Also the idea that, in hindsight, the church almost lost two Prophets that night(as John Taylor would later become the fourth prophet of the church). I loved the words by Mary Ann Young; we should all seek to be blessed to stay ‘calm during the storm.’ I loved Phebe Woodruff’s poignant quote: “I believe Joseph and Hyrum are where they can do the church much more good now than when with us.” Such strength of character and faith in the idea that the gospel was the work of God. How strong the Saints were to not give in to grief and panic and instead work together to continue on in the face of such trials.
They were determined that the church stay with what God willed, focused on proper authority. I loved Brigham’s words that it did not matter who was in charge as long as God wanted it; also his reassurances to the Saints that the keys were with them, given by Joseph before his martyrdom. Then there is him worrying that some among them were grasping for power against the will of God, just wanting to fill the power vacuum. He and the twelve worked hard to keep the Saints together, making it so that the decision was up to everyone. I adored his whole speech about the foundation that Joseph Smith had created and especially loved the line of “We can build a kingdom faster than Satan can kill the Saints off.” Such determination and faith in God’s will.
I loved Emily Partridge’s quote of, “Get the Spirit of God and know for yourselves. The Lord will provide for His own.” They worked tirelessly to finish the temple, receive the endowment, and continue the work of God. I was deeply saddened by the actions of Sidney Rigdon. This was the man who had been with Joseph through so much; who had worked so hard to build up the city of God- who had wept on the walls of the Temple, praying it to be built. Yet, he had either completely changed over time or had been an incredible actor. But, her he showed his true or new colors- he returned to Nauvoo honoring Joseph and speaking about visions he had had from Joseph that he should lead the church, saying that they should build the church in Joseph’s name(but, this is the church of Christ, not the church of his prophets). Yet, when he was not given the position, he conspired against the church and even called Joseph a fallen prophet. Such a sad change for a man once so strong in the church…
I loved Lewis Dana’s words of, “In the name of the Lord, I am willing to do all I can.” We should act in the same way as well. I love how much the twelve prepared, searching for a new home while finishing the temple and working towards the endowment. I loved Addison Pratt’s determination to continue on in his mission in the Hawaii area, knowing that God would provide and protect His faithful servants. I love how sure they were and also how quickly they knew that the Great Salt Lake valley was where the new Zion would be built, especially with hindsight in mind- seeing what it is now. A new place, open and free for them to settle peacefully. I love the line of, “With the Lord’s help, Brigham was confident” as that is how we should approach everything in life.
I love the idea that if we are faithful to our covenants, then God will make it possible for everyone to accomplish what they wish “to the letter”. I love the line of “With each ordinance, the Lord’s plan of a welded chain of Saints and their families, bound to Him and to each other by the priesthood, became a reality.” Also, such was the threat against the church leaders, that they often had to keep out of sight and often even hid inside the Temple, a place of refuge and safety. I loved reading about Brigham’s determination to listen to God and his confidence that it would happen once the revelation was given or the prayer was answered.
I loved the dedication of the Saints; they had such limited time, yet made sure every ordinance was properly recorded. So many thousands of Saints were entering the Temple up until the last moment. Are we this determined to get our own endowments? I loved reading about Louisa Pratt’s worries, yet how in the end she simply said: “I will show them what I can do” and decided to move west. I was touched by the words of Emily Partridge Young, that this was the fourth time she had been driven from her home because of her faith. Also, she was so worried for her son- that he would be born in the mountains away from the dangers of a mob, yet he would never know what it was like to truly live in Jackson County and Nauvoo and hear the Prophet Joseph speak of the Restoration.
I adore the last paragraph of the book, of the reliance the Saints had on the endowments- on the power of God those ordinances and covenants gave them. It enabled them to face the great unknown and choose to move west. It reminds me of the idea that ‘the obstacles in front of them were never as great as the power that was behind them’; that power being of God. They had such trust and faith in God and continued on no matter what challenges they would face.
I love the idea that the Saints realized that there was nothing more for them in Nauvoo and that they needed to leave. They were too limited where they were and needed more freedom: a blank slate. Also, just how differently people reacted to the death of the prophet: so many were shocked and horrified, particularly Joseph’s family and friends. Others saw it as a chance to gain power and control, like Sidney Rigdon. And others saw it as the end to an era and the beginning to a new one that would be built upon Joseph’s efforts. I was truly astonished by Sidney Rigdon’s actions- to immediately start campaigning to be the next leader of the church and to use Joseph’s name to win him sympathy(just like John Bennett before who used the authority of the church to fulfill his desires and lusts). Then, when it was clear he would not gain that power, he showed his true or new colors by conspiring against the church and actually speaking bad about his supposed friend who had just been murdered so brutally. Like, no matter the situation, it is just common courtesy not to speak bad about the dead, especially if you knew them!
I love the idea that Joseph Smith was empowered in a new way by passing on to the other side; able to create more change there than he would have if he had stayed on the earth. This book truly speaks of the power of family- especially with regard to Joseph. His family was there by his side through it all, even disagreements, and supported him constantly. So many sought to knock him down, thinking that if they did that that would be the end of the problems. But, the church was stronger than that. Joseph’s death did not tear the church apart, but rather it pulled the Saints together in ways unimaginable just months before Joseph’s death. His sacrifice empowered them to not let his death be in vain as they were determined that the church that he had founded and created would move on and grow even more; that it would fulfill all the prophecies that he had made regarding its future.
I was truly inspired by Brigham Young in these two chapters; in his confidence and obedience to God. He also seemed so cautious and humble regarding the church’s future. He realized so quickly that it was not the position of the prophet that mattered, but the authority of the keys that did. As long as they had that, the church would continue. That knowledge allowed him to carry on with strength. The contrast between Sidney Rigdon and Brigham Young was so incredible: Sidney Rigdon immediately arrived and started campaigning, focusing on the negative situation surrounding the Saints and using their fear and panic to gain control. Brigham Young, though, was patient and spoke of peace and unity to the church- that the leader did not matter as long as the Saints stuck together and worked with one another. While others were clamoring for power, seeing how Brigham reacted was a breath of fresh air. He was so organized and obedient to the Lord, continuously turning towards Heaven when faced with a decision or issue.
It truly is incredible how much they accomplished regarding the Temple and the endowments, especially considering the time constraints and the tensions and obstacles surrounding them. They were all living in the Spirit, even amongst the chaos of it all. I adored Brigham’s speech about building on the foundation that Joseph had laid, his words of “We can build a kingdom faster than Satan can kill the Saints off.” Such confidence in the work, that it will go forward no matter what Satan tries; that the light can beat the darkness. The Saints stayed together and ‘covenanted’ to leave no one behind that wished to go West. Growing up, I was always so sad that they had to leave this Temple in Nauvoo so soon after it was completed. Yet, it was not all for nothing. The covenants and endowments the Saints received there empowered them to continue on in the gospel, to move West together with the power of the Lord at their back. They were so dedicated and focused, getting up no matter how much they were beaten down.
Notes and Acknowledgement Pages
I was amazed by the fact that they used over 500 sources for the entire book as well as their statement that, despite this, the book is not perfect or complete which is true of history; no matter how much you research and study, you will never have all the facts and so your writings will always be incomplete. I also love their statement about biases as everyone when writing something, writes how they see the world- not how the world is. We are all different in our experiences and lifestyles and that is reflected in how we speak about things that occur. I love that they are addressing that here. History truly is a thing of interpretation…
I also love how it echoes the words of so many in the book: that each person should study and learn for themselves whether the things of this book are true- not just take it all at face value. Even more, there is always the chance of new documents being found that will shine a light on more knowledge and interpretation. I love their discussion about the specific sources and how they focused on primary sources mostly, getting their information from the witnesses themselves, even if the documents were written after the fact. It shows an openness they have about the faults that may lay in the writings due to biases, loss of memory, and hindsight.
They truly were detailed in their writing of this book, checking each source’s credibility and even down to punctuation choices. I love how this was a team effort also, not just one singular person creating it all, allowing for discussion. I also love how they branched out and even explored the sources and ideas from people who were enemies of the church to see their beliefs and ideas. It gave the book a more full picture and understanding. I also love how this book was written; it was simple and incredibly factual in that it rarely fell into the mental wonderings of the author. I honestly felt like I barely heard the voice of the author, only hearing the words of the historical figures themselves from their letters, speeches, and quotes which is absolutely incredible and truly hard to do.
I also love how they honor the people who came before them that laid the foundation for the records they found and used for this book, particularly with the Joseph Smith Papers. It’s incredible just how many people played a role in the creation of this book, dedicating so much time to it. I was surprised to see it has been translated into 13 languages and even more for the first 8 chapters. Additionally, they went into a focus group type of situation, letting people around the world read it and give their opinions and advice as there can often be a disconnect or differing perspective when one goes from writer to reader. Overall, I was truly astonished by the amount of work that went into creating this book and enjoyed every moment of reading it!
Link to the Story
Here is a free link to the entire almost 600 page book(700 pages if you include the notes/sources cited/acknowledgement/Index pages). It also has a free audiobook version if you click on the blue headphone icon down at the bottom corner of the screen. Each chapter is between 15-20 minutes long and so I would sit there writing notes down as I listened/read along which made it super easy to finish the book.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Saints: the story of the Church of Jesus Christ in the latter days. Volume 1, The Standard of Truth, 1815-1846. Salt Lake City, Utah: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, 2018.
Not the best source(typically used more as a starting point for more research), but Wikipedia’s usually pretty great at facts, dates, and family trees.