Letter to the Elders of the Church, 2 October 1835

  • Source Note
  • Historical Introduction

Document Transcript

To the of the .
After so long a time, and after so many things having been said, I feel it my duty to drop a few hints, that, perhaps, the elders, traveling through the world to warn the inhabitants of the earth to flee the wrath to come, and save themselves from this untoward generation, may be aided in a measure, in doctrine, and in the way of their duty. I have been laboring in this cause for eight years, during which time I have traveled much, and have had much experience. I removed from , N. Y. to , Ohio, in February, 1831.
Having received, by an heavenly vision, a commandment, in June following, to take my journey to the western boundaries of the State of , and there designate the very spot, which was to be the central spot, for the commencement of the together of those who embrace the fulness of the everlasting gospel—I accordingly undertook the journey with certain ones of my brethren, and, after a long and tedious journey, suffering many privations and hardships, I arrived in Missouri; and, after viewing the country, seeking diligently at the hand of God, he manifested himself unto me, and designated to me and others, the very spot upon which he designed to commence the work of the gathering, and the upbuilding of an holy city, which should be called :—Zion because it is to be a place of righteousness, and all who build thereon, are to worship the true and living God—and all believe in one doctrine even the doctrine of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. [p. 179]
“Thy watchmen shall lift up the voice; with the voice together shall they sing: for they shall see eye to eye, when the Lord shall bring again Zion.”—Isaiah 52:8.
Here we pause for a moment, to make a few remarks upon the idea of to this place. It is well known that there were lands belonging to the government, to be sold to individuals; and it was understood by all, at least we believed so, that we lived in a free country, a land of liberty and of laws, guaranteeing to every man, or any company of men, the right of purchasing lands, and settling, and living upon them: therefore we thought no harm in advising the , or Mormons, as they are reproachfully called, to gather to this place, inasmuch as it was their duty, (and it was well understood so to be,) to purchase, with money, lands, and live upon them—not infringing upon the civil rights of any individual, or community of people: always keeping in view the saying, “Do unto others as you would wish to have others do unto you.” Following also the good injunction: “Deal justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with thy God.”
These were our motives in teaching the people, or Latter Day Saints, to gather together, beginning at this place. And inasmuch as there are those who have had different views from this, we feel, that it is a cause of deep regret: For, be it known unto all men, that our principles concerning this thing, have not been such as have been represented by those who, we have every reason to believe, are designing and wicked men, that have said that this was our doctrine:—to infringe upon the rights of a people who inhabit our civil and free country: such as to drive the inhabitants of from their lands, and take possession thereof unlawfully. Far, yea, far be such a principle from our hearts: it never entered into our mind, and we only say, that God shall reward such in that day when he shall come to make up his jewels.
But to return to my subject: after having ascertained the very spot, and having the happiness of seeing quite a number of the families of my brethren, comfortably situated upon the land, I took leave of them, and journeyed back to , and used every influence and argument, that lay in my power, to get those who believe in the , whose circumstances would admit, and whose families were willing to remove to the place which I now designated to be the land of Zion: And thus the sound of the gathering, and of the doctrine, went abroad into the world; and many we have reason to fear, having a zeal not according to knowledge, not understanding the pure principles of the doctrine of the church, have no doubt, in the heat of enthusiasm, taught and said many things which are derogatory to the genuine character and principles of the church, and for these things we are heartily sorry, and would apologize if an apology would do any good.
But we pause here and offer a remark upon the saying which we learn has gone abroad, and has been handled in a manner detrimental to the cause of truth, by saying, “that in preaching the doctrine of gathering, we break up families, and give license for men to leave their families; women their husbands; children their parents, and slaves their masters, thereby deranging the order, and breaking up the harmony and peace of society.” We shall here show our faith, and thereby, as we humbly trust, put an end to these faults, and wicked misrepresentations, which have caused, we have every reason to believe, thousands to think they were doing God’s service, when they were persecuting the children of God: whereas, if they could have enjoyed the true light, and had a just understanding of our principles, they would have embraced them with all their hearts, and been rejoicing in the love of the truth.
And now to show our doctrine on this subject, we shall commence with the first principles of the gospel, which are repentance, and for the remission of sins, and the by the laying on of the hands. This we believe to be our duty, to teach to all mankind the doctrine of repentance, which we shall endeavor to show from the following quotations:
“Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures, and said unto them, thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead, the third day; and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.”—Luke 24:45, 46, 47.
By this we learn, that it behoved Christ to suffer, and to be crucified, and rise again on the third day, for the express purpose that repentance and [p. 180] remission of sins should be preached unto all nations.
“Then Peter said unto them, repent, and be every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the . For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.”—Acts 2:38, 39.
By this we learn, that the promise of the Holy Ghost, is unto as many as the doctrine of repentance was to be preached, which was unto all nations. And we discover also, that the promise was to extend by lineage: for Peter says, “not only unto you, but unto your children, and unto all that are afar off.” From this we infer that it was to continue unto their children’s children, and even unto as many generations as should come after, even as many as the Lord their God should call.— We discover here that we are blending two principles together, in these quotations. The first is the principle of repentance, and the second is the principle of remission of sins. And we learn from Peter, that remission of sins is obtained by baptism in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ; and the gift of the Holy Ghost follows inevitably: for, says Peter, “you shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.” Therefore we believe in preaching the doctrine of repentance in all the world, both to old and young, rich and poor, bond and free, as we shall endeavor to show hereafter—how and in what manner, and how far it is binding upon the consciences of mankind, making proper distinctions between old and young men, women and children, and servants.
But we discover, in order to be benefitted by the doctrine of repentance, we must believe in obtaining the remission of sins. And in order to obtain the remission of sins, we must believe in the doctrine of baptism, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. And if we believe in baptism for the remission of sins, we may expect a fulfilment of the promise of the Holy Ghost: for the promise extends to all whom the Lord our God shall call. And hath he not surely said, as you will find in the last chapter of Revelations:
“And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth, say, Come. And let him that is athirst, come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.” Rev. 22:17.
Again the Savior says:
“Come unto me, all ye that labor, and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart; and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”—Math. 11:28, 29, 30.
Again Isaiah says:
“Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else. I have sworn by myself, the word is gone out of my mouth in righteousness, and shall not return, that unto me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear. Surely, shall one say, in the Lord have I righteousness and strength: even to him shall men come; and all that are incensed against him shall be ashamed.”—Isaiah 45:22, 23, 24.
And to show further connections in proof of the doctrine above named, we quote the following scriptures:
“Him hath God exalted with his right hand, to be a Prince and a Savior, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins. And we are his witnesses of these things; and so is also the Holy Ghost, whom God hath given to them that obey him.”—Acts 5:31, 32.
“But when they believed Philip, preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. Then Simon himself believed also; and when he was baptized, he continued with Philip, and wondered, beholding the miracles and signs which were done. Now when the apostles, which were at Jerusalem, heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John; who, when they were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost. (For as yet he was fallen upon none of them: only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.)— Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost. . . . And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water; and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized?—And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him. And, when they were come up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip, that the eunuch saw him no more: and he went on his way rejoicing. But Philip was found at Azotus: and, passing through, he preached in all the cities, till he came to Cesarea.”—Acts 8:12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17,——36, to the end.
“While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word. And they of the circumcision, which believed, were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost: for they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God. Then answered Peter, Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we? And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. Then prayed they him to tarry certain days.”—Acts 10:44, 45, 46, 47, 48.
“And on the Sabbath, we went out of the city, by a river side, where prayer was wont to be made; and we sat down, and spake un [p. 181]
to the women that resorted thither. And a certain woman, named Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira, which worshipped God, heard us: whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul. And when she was , and her household, she besought us, saying, If ye have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house, and abide there. And she constrained us. . . . . And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God: and the prisoners heard them. And suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened, and every one’s bands were loosed. And the keeper of the prison awaking out of his sleep, and seeing the prison doors open, he drew out his sword, and would have killed himself, supposing that the prisoners had been fled. But Paul cried with a loud voice, saying, Do thyself no harm; for we are all here. Then he called for a light, and sprang in, and came trembling, and fell down before Paul and Silas; and brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved? And they said believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved and thy house. And they spake unto him the word of the Lord, and to all that were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes, and was baptized, he and all his, staightway. And when he had brought them into his house, he set meat before them, and rejoiced, believing in God with all his house.”—Acts 16:13, 14, 15.——25, to 35.
“And it came to pass, that, while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul, having passed through the upper coasts, came to Ephesus; and finding certain disciples, he said unto them, Have ye received the since ye believed? And they said unto him, We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost. And he said unto them, Unto what then were ye baptized? And they said, Unto John’s baptism. Then said Paul, John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus. When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And, when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them; and they spake with tongues, and prophesied.”—Acts 19:1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6.
[“]And one Ananias, a devout man, according to the law, having a good report of all the Jews which dwelt there, Came unto me, and stood, and said unto me, Brother Saul, receive thy sight. And the same hour I looked up upon him. And he said, the God of our fathers hath chosen thee, that thou shouldst know his will, and see that Just One, and shouldst hear the voice of his mouth. For thou shalt be his witness unto all men, of what thou hast seen and heard. And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord.”—Acts 22:12, 13, 14, 15, 16.
“For, when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat. For every one that useth milk, is unskilful in the word of righteousness; for he is a babe. But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use, have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.”—Heb. 5:12, 13, 14.
“Therefore, leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith towards God, of the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. And this will we do, if God permit. For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, if they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.[”]—Heb. 6:1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6.
These quotations are so plain, in proving the doctrine of repentance and baptism for the remission of sins, I deem it unnecessary to enlarge this letter with comments upon them—but I shall continue the subject in my next.
In the bonds of the ,
JOSEPH SMITH, jr.
, Esq. [p. 182]

Footnotes

  1. 1

    On warning the “inhabitants of the earth,” see “Is the End Near?,” LDS Messenger and Advocate, July 1835, 1:149–150; and Corrill, Brief History, 8.  

    Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate. Kirtland, OH. Oct. 1834–Sept. 1837.

  2. 2

    JS here equated the beginning of “this cause” with the translation of the Book of Mormon. Elsewhere he stated that on 22 September 1827 he obtained a set of gold plates upon which was written an ancient record in an unknown language and that he began the work of translating that record, which would be known as the Book of Mormon, shortly thereafter. (See “Joseph Smith Documents Dating through June 1831.”)  

  3. 3

    See Revelation, 6 June 1831 [D&C 52:2–3].  

  4. 4

    JS and others left Kirtland, Ohio, on 19 June 1831 and arrived at Independence, Jackson County, Missouri, on 14 July 1831. (JS History, vol. A-1, 126; [William W. Phelps], “Extract of a Letter from the Late Editor,” Ontario Phoenix [Canandaigua, NY], 7 Sept. 1831, [2]; Gilbert, Notebook, [34]–[36].)  

    Ontario Phoenix. Canandaigua, NY. 1828–1832.

    Gilbert, Algernon Sidney. Notebook of Revelations, 1831–ca. 1833. Revelations Collection, 1831–ca. 1844, 1847, 1861, ca. 1876. CHL. MS 4583, box 1, fd. 2.

  5. 5

    See Revelation, 20 July 1831 [D&C 57:1–3].  

  6. 6

    See Revelation, 9 Feb. 1831 [D&C 42:9]; Revelation, ca. 7 Mar. 1831 [D&C 45:65–67]; and Whitmer, History, 32; see also Revelation, 1 Aug. 1831 [D&C 58:57]; and Phelps, “Short History,” [1].  

    Phelps, William W. “A Short History of W. W. Phelps’ Stay in Missouri,” 1864. Information concerning Persons Driven from Jackson County, Missouri in 1833, 1863–1868. CHL. MS 6019, fd. 7.

  7. 7

    In 1828 the U.S. government publicly announced that it would begin selling federal lands in Missouri. Such lands were sold at auction for $1.25 per acre in tracts of at least eighty acres. Purchasers paid the surveyors’ fees up front, filed, and were required to complete payment within three years in order to obtain title to the land. In 1831 the federal government offered for sale the lands it had reserved to benefit public education, including the “Seminary Lands,” which had been set aside to fund higher education in Missouri and which included much of the land in Jackson County. The seminary land was initially offered for sale at $2.00 per acre. (An Act to Provide for the Sale of Seminary Lands [31 Dec. 1830], Laws . . . of the State of Missouri, vol. 2, chap. 155, pp. 209–213.)  

    Laws of a Public and General Nature of the State of Missouri, Passed between the Years 1824 and 1836, Not Published in the Digest of 1825, Nor in the Digest of 1835. Vol. 2. Jefferson City, MO: W. Lusk and Son, 1842.

  8. 8

    Revelations and instructions from church leaders directed church members to acquire lands in Missouri by buying them, not by using violence. William W. Phelps, editor of The Evening and the Morning Star at Independence, was aware of rumors that the Saints sought to acquire land violently, and in 1833 he wrote: “To suppose that we can come up here and take possession of this land by the shedding of blood, would be setting at nought the law of the glorious gospel, and also the word of our great Redeemer: And to suppose that we can take possession of this country, without making regular purchases of the same according to the laws of our nation, would be reproaching this great Republic.” (“The Elders Stationed in Zion to the Churches Abroad, in Love,” The Evening and the Morning Star, July 1833, 110; see also Revelation, 1 Aug. 1831 [D&C 58:51–53]; Revelation, 30 Aug. 1831 [D&C 63:29–31]; and Letter to Church Leaders in Jackson County, MO, 21 Apr. 1833.)  

    The Evening and the Morning Star. Independence, MO, June 1832–July 1833; Kirtland, OH, Dec. 1833–Sept. 1834.

  9. 9

    See Luke 6:31.  

  10. 10

    See Micah 6:8; and Revelation, May 1829–A [D&C 11:12].  

  11. 11

    This may refer to some misrepresentations of the Saints’ efforts to settle in Jackson County. In December 1833, Benton Pixley, a pastor in Jackson County, wrote that the Saints would use “blood and violence” to build up their kingdom and drive the non-Mormons away. In June 1834, Samuel C. Owens, Jackson County clerk and chairman of the committee that negotiated with the exiled Saints in summer 1834, was among those who expressed suspicions about Mormon land purchases in Jackson County. Even though an August 1831 revelation stated that church members were to obtain land only by legal purchase and were “forbidden to shed blood,” Owens asserted that the revelation authorized church members to use violence to obtain land. Two months after Owens’s letter and a year before the letter featured here, the church at Kirtland published “An Appeal” to the public to help dispel the rumors. It said that the Saints sought “only the peaceable possession of our rights and property.” The appeal, signed by church leaders who had suffered in Jackson County, used the text of the August 1831 revelation as evidence. (Benton Pixley, “The Mormonites in Missouri,” Christian Watchman [Boston], 13 Dec. 1833, 2; History of Jackson County, Missouri, 256; “Propositions of the Mormons,” Painesville [OH] Telegraph, 8 Aug. 1834, [3]; Declaration, 21 June 1834; Revelation, 30 Aug. 1831 [D&C 63:29–31]; “An Appeal,” The Evening and the Morning Star, Aug. 1834, 183–184.)  

    Christian Watchman. Boston. 1821–1848.

    The History of Jackson County, Missouri: Containing a History of the County, Its Cities, Towns, Etc. Kansas City, MO: Union Historical, 1881.

    Painesville Telegraph. Painesville, OH. 1822–1986.

    The Evening and the Morning Star. Independence, MO, June 1832–July 1833; Kirtland, OH, Dec. 1833–Sept. 1834.

  12. 12

    See Revelation, 1 Aug. 1831 [D&C 58:57].  

  13. 13

    David Whitmer, a church leader who resided in Jackson County in 1833, later said, “There were among us a few ignorant and simple-minded persons who were continually making boasts to the Jackson county people that they intended to possess the entire county, erect a temple, etc. This of course occasioned hard feelings and excited the bitter jealousy of the other religious denominations.” On 12 October 1832, Benton Pixley wrote that the Saints were “most zealous and forward” in their cause. Isaac McCoy, a federal land surveyor and Baptist minister in Jackson County, wrote that the Mormons “have repeated, perhaps, hundreds of times, that this country was theirs, the Almighty had given it to them, and that they would assuredly have entire possession of it in a few years. . . . Such sayings, appeared to the people very near akin to many remarks which were common among them, and unfortunately for the Mormons, these reports were believed to be true, and the effect upon the public mind was accordingly.” (“Mormonism,” Kansas City [MO] Daily Journal, 5 June 1881, [1]; Benton Pixley, “The Mormonites,” Independent Messenger [Boston], 29 Nov. 1832; “The Disturbances in Jackson County,” Missouri Republican [St. Louis], 20 Dec. 1833, 114; see also “To His Excellency, Daniel Dunklin,” The Evening and the Morning Star, Dec. 1833, [2].)  

    Kansas City Daily Journal. Kansas City, MO. 1878–1891.

    Independent Messenger. Milford and Boston, MA. 1831; Boston, 1832–1839.

    Missouri Republican. St. Louis. 1822–1919.

    The Evening and the Morning Star. Independence, MO, June 1832–July 1833; Kirtland, OH, Dec. 1833–Sept. 1834.

  14. 14

    Possibly in response to sentiments similar to the one quoted here by JS, church leaders issued a statement on marriage that first appeared in August 1835. It stated in part, “It is not right to persuade a woman to be baptized contrary to the will of her husband, neither is it lawful to influence her to leave her husband. All children are bound by law to obey their parents; and to influence them to embrace any religious faith, or be baptized, or leave their parents without their consent, is unlawful and unjust.” Six months after writing this letter, JS wrote to Oliver Cowdery regarding the proselytizing then occurring in the southern United States. He counseled Cowdery and all members of the church that they were “not to preach at all to slaves, until after their masters are converted.” (Statement on Marriage, ca. Aug. 1835; Letter to Oliver Cowdery, ca. 9 Apr. 1836.)  

  15. 15

    TEXT: Ellipses in original.  

  16. 16

    TEXT: Ellipses in original.