Discourse, 16 May 1841, as Published in Times and Seasons
JS, Discourse, [, Hancock Co., IL], 16 May 1841. Featured version published in Times and Seasons, 1 June 1841, vol. 2, no. 15, 429–430. For more complete source information, see the source note for Letter to Isaac Galland, 22 Mar. 1839.
On 16 May 1841 in , Illinois, JS spoke to “a large concourse of the assembled on the meeting ground” on a Sunday morning with weather that “promised a beautiful day.” He began speaking at ten o’clock in the morning and spoke for “more than two hours.” In his sermon, JS explained that the devil did not have compulsory power over embodied beings, thereby refuting the idea that Satan could compel people to sin. JS also spoke on the “first principles of the gospel,” especially the for the . He then addressed the doctrine of election, explaining that the promises of the Old Testament continue and that the elect “shall be the ‘Saviors on mount Zion.’”
Multiple accounts of the discourse exist. One of the featured accounts of the sermon suggests that JS selected these topics after “observing that many of the saints who had come from different States and Nations, had only a very superficial knowledge of these principles.” Before joining the Latter-day Saint faith, some of the newly arrived British converts were members of the Church of England, which affirmed the doctrine of predestination, or unconditional election. Much of JS’s recorded sermon, however, refuted the Anglican understanding of this doctrine by focusing on election through obedience to the gospel.
The 16 May 1841 discourse was widely distributed. The published account of the discourse in the 1 June 1841 issue of the Times and Seasons was printed, distributed, and mailed to subscribers sometime in early June. The New York Herald republished the discourse alongside JS’s January 1841 revelation and several other Latter-day Saint proclamations. The editor of the Herald caustically opined: “Joe has some of the energetic characteristics of Mahomet, the Arabian prophet, or Moses, the Jewish prophet. His ‘Revelation’ is his code of thought—his ‘Sermon,’ his practice at his home—his ‘Proclamation’ is carrying Mormons to the West—and his ‘General Orders’ show that he is determined not to be put down by the Gentiles.” The Herald also lambasted JS for combining his religion with military and civil power, thus reinforcing a growing fear among many Americans that JS held too much power in .
No complete manuscript of the sermon as it was delivered exists. The scribe or scribes who recorded the discourse are unknown. The version published in the Times and Seasons concluded by informing its readers that “this is but a very imperfect sketch” of the lengthy discourse. An additional partial transcript of the text in unidentified handwriting also exists. The handwritten account of the discourse was apparently created by someone in attendance at the meeting and includes details not found in the published version. The handwritten version was copied into a larger collection of JS's teachings, some of which are not dated, making it difficult to determine when this version was copied into the larger source.
Thorp, “Religious Backgrounds of Mormon Converts in Britain,” 60. The seventeenth article of the Church of England asserted that “predestination to life is the everlasting purpose of God, whereby, before the foundations of the world were laid, he hath constantly decreed by his counsel, secret to us, to deliver from curse and damnation those whom he hath chosen in Christ out of mankind, and to bring them by Christ to everlasting salvation, as vessels made to honour.” (Wilson, XXXIX Articles of the Church of England, 119–125.)
Thorp, Malcom R. “The Religious Backgrounds of Mormon Converts in Britain, 1837–52.” Journal of Mormon History 4 (1977): 51–66.
Wilson, William. The XXXIX of the Church of England, Illustrated by Extracts from the Liturgy, Nowell’s Catechism, Jewell’s Apology, the Homilies, Bullinger’s Decades, &c. New, enlarged ed. Oxford: J. Abrams, 1840.
perfect but Jesus, and why was he perfect? because he was the son of God, and had the fulness of the Spirit, and greater power than any man.— But, notwithstanding our vanity, we look forward with hope, (because “we are subjected in hope,”) to the time of our deliverance.
He then made some observations on the first principles of the gospel, observing that many of the who had come from different States and Nations, had only a very superficial knowledge of these principles, not having heard them fully investigated. He then briefly stated the principles of faith, repentance, and for the remission of sins, which were believed by some of the religious societies of the day, but the doctrine of for the , was discarded by them.
The speaker then referred them to the 6th chap. of Heb. 1. and 2. verses, “not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works &c., but of the doctrines of baptism, laying on of hands, the resurrection and eternal judgment &c.” The doctrine of eternal judgment was perfectly understood by the apostle, is evident from several passages of scripture. Peter preached repentance and baptism for the remission of sins to the Jews, who had been led to acts of violence and blood, by their leaders, but to the Rulers he said, “I would that through ignorance ye did it, as did also those ye ruled.”— Repent, therefore, and be converted that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing (redemption) shall come from the presence of the Lord, for he shall send Jesus Christ, who before was preached unto you &c.” The time of redemption here had reference to the time, when Christ should come; then and not till then would their sins be blotted out. Why? Because they were murderers, and no murderer hath eternal life. Even David, must wait for those times of refreshing, before he can come forth and his sins be blotted out; for Peter speaking of him says, “David hath not yet ascended into Heaven, for his sepulchre is with us to this day:’ his remains were then in the tomb. Now we read that many bodies of the saints arose, at Christ’s resurrection, probably all the saints, but it seems that David did not. Why? because he had been a murderer.
If the ministers of religion had a proper understanding of the doctrine of eternal judgment, they would not be found attending the man who had forfeited his life to the injured laws of his country by shedding innocent blood; for such characters cannot be forgiven, until they have paid the last farthing. The prayers of all the ministers in the world could never close the gates of hell against a murderer.
The speaker then spoke on the subject of election, and read the 9th chap. in Romans, from which it was evident that the election there spoken of was pertaining to the flesh, and had reference to the seed of Abraham, according to the promise God made to Abraham, saying, “In thee and in thy seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” To them belonged the adoption, and the covenants &c. Paul said; when he saw their unbelief I wish myself accursed—according to the flesh—not according to the spirit.
Why did God say to Pharoah, “for this cause have I raised thee up?” Because Pharoah was a fit instrument—a wicked man, and had committed acts of cruelty of the most atrocious nature.
The election of the promised seed still continues, and in the last days, they shall have the restored unto them, and they shall be the “Saviors on mount Zion” the “ministers of our God,” if it were not for the remnant which was left, then might we be as Sodom and as Gomorah.
The whole of the chapter had reference to the priesthood and the house of Israel; and unconditional election of individuals to eternal life was not taught by the apostles.
God did elect or predestinate, that all those who would be saved, should be saved in Christ Jesus, and through obedience to the gospel; but he passes over no man’s sins, but visits them with correction, and if his children will not repent of their sins, he will discard them. [p. 430]
See Obadiah 1:21. Several months after this sermon, JS delivered another discourse in which he “presented ‘Baptism for the Dead’ as the only way that men can appear as saviors on mount Zion.” (Minutes and Discourse, 1–5 Oct. 1841.)
In his Bible revision, JS rendered Romans 8:29–30 as follows: “For him whom he did foreknow, he also di[d] predestinate to be conformed to his own image, th[at] he might be the first born among many breathe [brethren] Moreover him whom he did predestinate, him he also called; and him whom he called, him he also sanctified; and him whom he sanctified, him he als[o] gloryfied.” (New Testament Revision 2, between pp. 125–126 [second numbering] [Joseph Smith Translation, Romans 8:29–30].)