On the morning of 29 January 1843, JS delivered a discourse in , Illinois, before a large audience at the site during a regular Sunday worship service. Writing to the Daily Bee, explained that JS had contemplated the subject of John the Baptist after an unidentified individual privately inquired why Jesus declared that “among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John.” Addressing this topic, JS “preached in the Temple,” likely speaking to the gathering on the temporary floor of the edifice. At the commencement of the meeting, JS read the parable of the prodigal son from the Bible, offered a prayer, and a choir sang. After giving some initial remarks, JS explained that following his 22 January 1843 sermon, given the previous Sunday, he was asked two questions regarding the role of John the Baptist and that he now wished to expound upon his teachings about the baptism of John and its relationship to the parable of the prodigal son.
First, JS discounted some misconceptions about the parable of the prodigal son. During the nineteenth century, religionists sometimes applied the parable of the prodigal son to the nations of the Jews and Gentiles. They commonly compared the Gentiles to the wayward son and the Jews to the faithful son, who was “ever with” his father. In his discourse, JS refuted such interpretations; however, only the version of the discourse in JS’s journal, by , provides details about JS’s remarks on the topic, and those details are sporadic.
After establishing that the parable applied to individual repentance rather than to any specific nation, JS apparently attempted to connect the prodigal son parable to the discussion about John the Baptist. He reemphasized that John was a legal administrator who brought the gospel of salvation to sinners. JS then declared that he and those whom he ordained acted as such administrators in modern times to minister among “publicans. & sinners.”
In addition to the account recorded in JS’s journal, there are accounts by , who recorded a version of the discourse in a notebook, and by , who made a brief mention of it in his journal. Because each contains illuminative details, all three versions of the discourse are featured here.
Willard Richards [V., pseud.], Nauvoo, IL, 24 Mar. 1843, Letter to the Editor, Daily Bee (Boston), 18 Apr. 1843, ; Matthew 11:11; Luke 7:28. By 17 March 1843, Richards and William W. Phelps began writing a series of letters under the pseudonym “Viator” to be published in the BostonDaily Bee. One of these letters to the Bee recounted the first part of the 29 January discourse, in which JS explained the three reasons John the Baptist was considered the greatest prophet. Records indicate Richards wrote that particular letter, apparently basing it upon the account of the discourse he had recorded in JS’s journal. On 15 May 1843, the Times and Seasons reprinted the Bee article. (JS, Journal, 6 and 17 Mar. 1843; “Truthiana No. 2,” draft, Truthiana, 1843, CHL; “Mormonism,” Times and Seasons, 15 May 1843, 4:199–200.)
Boston Daily Bee. Boston. 1842–1857.
“Truthiana,” 1843. Draft. CHL. MS 15537.
Times and Seasons. Commerce/Nauvoo, IL. Nov. 1839–Feb. 1846.
JS’s journal notes that on 28 October 1842, “the brethren finished laying the temporary floor, and seats in the Temple.” The following May, a New York Herald correspondent reported that the temple construction was “going on rapidly” and that services were held “on the first floor every Sabbath,” during which JS frequently addressed the Saints. (JS, Journal, 28 Oct. 1842; “Late and Interesting from the Mormon Empire on the Upper Mississippi,” New York Herald [New York City], 30 May 1843, .)
See, for example, “The Elder Son,” Gospel Advocate and Impartial Investigator, 29 Apr. 1828, 121–122; Rayner, Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, 121–122; and “Review of a Discourse,” Trumpet and Universalist Magazine, 10 Jan. 1829, 112.
Gospel Advocate and Impartial Investigator. Buffalo, NY. 1827–1829.
Rayner, Menzies. Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus; Illustrated in Nine Lectures, Delivered in the First Universalist Church in Portland, Maine, 1833. Boston: Marsh, Capen, and Lyon, 1833.
Trumpet and Universalist Magazine. Boston. 1828–1862.
See Mark 1:2; and Luke 7:27. An 1832 revelation stated that John the Baptist’s purpose was “to make straight the way of the Lord before the face of his people to prepare them for the coming of the Lord in whose hand is given all power.” (Revelation, 22–23 Sept. 1832 [D&C 84:28].)