“Elders” (including JS), Letter, , Geauga Co., OH, to “brethren in Christ, and companions in tribulation,” ca. Feb. 1834. Featured version published in “The Elders of the Church in Kirtland, to Their Brethren Abroad,” The Evening and the Morning Star, Feb. 1834, 135–136. For more complete source information on The Evening and the Morning Star, see the source note for Letter, 30 Oct. 1833.
Bearing a title similar to that of a column in the December 1833 issue of The Evening and the Morning Star, this letter, published in the February 1834 issue of the Star, was the first installment of a series directed to those who had been ordained to the in the . The articles, written as epistles from JS and other leaders in , Ohio, focus on major doctrinal themes and contain almost no allusions to contemporary concerns such as the recent expulsion of Church of Christ members from , Missouri, and ongoing efforts to obtain redress and protection. The series continued in the March and April 1834 issues of the church’s periodical. Since these installments may have been prepared at different times, each installment of the serial is reproduced as an individual document.
The installment featured here focuses on Jesus Christ’s atonement and on law and governance—particularly the superiority of the laws of heaven over the laws of the land. JS and other priesthood leaders in emphasized that human law guarantees a level of temporal protection, while God’s law does not promise exemption from afflictions: human law “promises safety in temporal life; but the law of God promises that life which is eternal.” The epistle also discussed the eternal nature of and need for strict adherence to the laws of God. “God has given certain laws to the human family,” this epistle declared, “which, if observed, are sufficient to prepare them to inherit this rest.” Missionaries were to take this message to the people they encountered “for the good of man” that all might become “joint heirs” with God’s son in celestial, eternal rest. The letter featured here thus provided a conceptual foundation for the work of the ministry of the Church of Christ and the invitation for all of God’s children to partake in .
Before this letter was published, priesthood bearers had primarily received instruction from handwritten revelations or oral instructions. This and other letters published in church newspapers during this period seem to mark a transition to a different method of delivering religious instruction.
Dear brethren in Christ, and companions in tribulation:
WHEN we call to remembrance the ties with which we are bound to those who embrace the , and the fellowship and love with which the hearts of the children of our Lord’s kingdom should be united, we cherish a belief, that you will bear with us, when we take this course to communicate to you some of the many thoughts which occupy our minds, and press with continued weight upon our hearts, as we reflect upon the vast importance and responsibility of your callings, in the sight of the Master of the vineyard. And though our communications to you may be frequent, yet we believe they will be received on your part with brotherly feelings; and, that from us your unworthy brethren, you will suffer a word of exhortation to have place in your hearts, as you see the great extent of the power and dominion of the prince of darkness, and realize how vast the numbers are who are crowding the road to death without ever giving heed to the cheering sound of the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ!
Consider for a moment, brethren, the fufillment of the words of the prophet; for we behold that darkness covers the earth, and gross darkness the minds of the inhabitants thereof—that crimes of every discription are increasing among men—vices of every enormity are practiced—the rising generation growing up in the fulness of pride and arrogance—the aged losing every sense of conviction, and seemingly banishing every thought of a day of retribution—intemperence, immorality, extravigance, pride, blindness of heart, idolatry, the loss of natural affection, the love of this world, and indifference toward the things of eternity increasing among those who profess a belief in the religion of heaven, and infidelity spreading itself in consequence of the same—men giving themselves up to commit acts of the foulest kind, and deeds of the blackest dye; lying, blaspheming, stealing, robbing, murdering, defaming, defrauding, blasting the reputation of neighbors, advocating error and opposing the truth, forsaking the covenant of heaven, and denying the faith of Jesus—and in the midst of all this, the day of the Lord fast approaching when none except those who have on the wedding garment will be permitted to eat and drink in the presence of the Bridegroom, the Prince of peace!
Impressed with the truth of these facts, what can be the feelings of those who have been made partakers of the heavenly gift, and have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come? Who but those who can see the awful precipice upon which the world of mankind stand in this generation, can labor in the vineyard of the Lord with a feeling sense of their deplorable situation? Who but those who have duly considered the condesention of the Father of our spirits, in providing a sacrifice for his creatures, a plan of redemption, a power of atonement, a scheme of salvation, having as one of its great objects, to bring men back into the presence of the King of heaven, crown them in the , and make them heirs with his Son to that which is incorruptible, undefiled, and which fadeth not away—can realize the importance of a perfect walk before all men, and a diligence in calling upon all men to partake of these blessings? How indescribably glorious are these tidings to mankind! Of a truth they may be considered tidings of great joy to all people; and tidings too that ought to fill the earth and cheer the heart of every one when sounded in his ears.— And the reflection, that every one is to receive according to his own diligence and perseverance while in the vineyard, ought to inspire every one who is called to be a minister of these glad tidings, to so improve upon their talent that they may gain other talents, that when the Master sits down to take an account of the conduct of his servants, that it may be said, Well done, good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things; I will now make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.
Some may presume to say, that the world in this age is fast increasing in righteousness; that the dark ages of superstition and blindness have passed over, when the faith of Christ was known and practiced only by a few, when ecclesiastic power held an almost universal control over christendom, and when the consciences of men were held bound by the strong chains of priestly power; but now, the gloomy cloud is burst, and the gospel is shining with all the resplendent glory of an apostolic day; and that the kingdom of the Messiah is greatly spreading, that the gospel of our Lord is carried to divers nations of the earth, the scriptures translating into different tongues, the ministers of truth crossing the vast deep to proclaim to men in darkness a risen Savior, and to erect the standard of Emmanuel where light has never shone, and that the idol is destroyed, the temple of images forsaken; and those who but a short time previous followed the traditions of their fathers and sacrificed their own flesh to appease the wrath of some imaginary god, are now raising their voices in the worship of the Most High, and are lifting their thoughts up to him with the full expectation, that one day they will meet with a joyful reception into his everlasting kingdom!
But, a moment’s candid reflection upon the principles of these systems, the manner they are conducted, the individuals employed, the apparent object held out as an inducement to cause them to act, we think, is sufficient for every candid man to draw a conclusion in his own bosom, whether this is the order of heaven or not. We deem it a just principle, and it is one the force of which we believe ought to be duly considered by every individual, that all men are created equal, and that all have the privilege of thinking for themselves upon all matters relative to conscience. Consequently, then, we are not disposed, had we the power, to deprive any one from exercising that free independence of mind which heaven has so graciously bestowed upon the human family as one of its choicest gifts; but we take the liberty, (and this we have a right to do,) of looking at this order of things a few moments, and contrasting it with the order of God as we find it in the sacred scriptures. In this review, however, we shall present the points as we consider they were really designed by the great Giver to be understood, and the happy result arising from a performance of the requirements of heaven, as therein revealed, to every one who obeys them; and the consequence attending a false construction, a misrepresentation, or a forced meaning that was never designed in the mind of the Lord when he condescended to speak from the heavens to men for their salvation.
Previous to entering upon a subject of so great a moment to the human family, there is a prominent item which suggests itself to our minds which, here, in few words we wish to discuss: All regularly organized and well established governments, have certain laws by which, more or less, the innocent are protected and the guilty punished. The fact admitted, that certain laws are good, equitable and just, ought to be binding upon the individual who admits this fact, to observe in the strictest manner an obedience to those laws. These laws when violated, or broken by that individual, must, in justice convict his mind with a double force, if possible, of the extent and magnitude of his crime; because he could have no plea of ignorance to produce; and his act of transgression was openly committed againts light and knowledge. But the individual who may be ignorant, and imperceptibly transgresses or violates these laws, though the voice of the country requires that he should suffer, yet he will never feel that remorse of conscience that the other will, and that keen-cutting reflection will never rise in his brest that otherwise would, had he done the deed, or committed the offence in full conviction that he was breaking the law of his country, and having previously acknowledged the same to be just. It is not our intention by these remarks, to attempt to place the law of man on a parallel with the law of heaven; because we do not consider that it is formed in that wisdom and propriety; neither do we consider that it is sufficient in itself to bestow any thing in comparison to the law of heaven, even should it promise it. The law of men may guarantee to a people protection in the honorable pursuits of this life, and the temporal happiness arising from a protection against unjust insults and injuries; and when this is said, all is said, that can be in truth, of the power, extent, and influence of the law of men, exclusive of the law of God. The law of heaven is presented to man, and as such guarantees to all who obey it a reward far beyond any earthly consideration: it does not promise that the believer in every age should be exempt from the afflictions and troubles arising from different sources in consequence of wicked men on earth; though in the midst of all this there is a promise predicated upon the fact that it is the law of heaven, which transcends the law of man, as far as eternal life is prefferable to temporal; and the blessings which God is able to give, greater than those which can be given by man! Then, certainly, if the law of man is binding upon man when acknowledged, much more must the law of heaven be. And as much as the law of heaven is perfect, more than the law of man, so much greater must be the reward if obeyed. The law of man promises safety in temporal life; but the law of God promises that life which is eternal, even an inheritance at his own right hand, secure from all the powers of the wicked one.
We consider that God has created man with a mind capable of instruction, and a faculty which may be enlarged in proportion to the heed and diligence given to the light communicated from heaven to the intellect; and that the nearer man approaches perfection, the more conspicuous are his views, & the greater his enjoyments, until he has overcome the evils of this life and lost every desire of sin; and like the ancients, arrives to that point of faith that he is wrapped in the glory and power of his Maker and is caught up to dwell with him. But we consider that this is a station to which no man ever arrived in a moment: he must have been instructed into the government and laws of that kingdom by proper degrees, till his mind was capable in some measure of comprehending the propriety, justice, equity, and consistency of the same. For further instruction we refer you to Deut. xxxii. where the Lord says, that Jacob is the lot of his inheritance. He found him in a desert land, and in the waste howling wilderness; he led him about, he instructed him, he kept him as the apple of his eye, &c. which will show the force of the last item advanced, that it is necessary for men to receive an understanding concerning the laws of the heavenly kingdom, before they are permitted to enter it: we mean the celestial glory. So dissimilar are the governments of men, and so divers are their laws, from the government and laws of heaven, that a man, for instance, hearing that there was a country on this globe called the , could take his journey to this place without first learning the laws of this government; but the conditions of God’s kingdom are such, that all who are made partakers of that glory, are under the necessity of first learning something respe[c]ting it previous to their entering into it. But the foreignor can come to this country without knowing a syllable of its laws, or even subscribing to obey them after he arrives. Why? Because the government of the does not require it: it only requires an obedience to its laws after the individual has arrived within its jurisdiction.
As we previously remarked, we do not attempt to place the law of man on a parallel with the law of heaven; but we will bring forward another item, to further urge the propriety of yielding obedience to the law of heaven, after the fact is admitted, that the laws of man are binding upon man. Were a king to extend his dominion over the habitable earth, and send forth his laws which were of the most perfect kind, and command his subjects one and all to yield obedience to the same; and annex as a reward to those who obeyed them, that at a certain period they should be called to attend the marriage of his son, who in due time was to receive the kingdom, and they should be made equal with him in the same; and annex as a penalty for disobedience that every individual should [p. 135]
The phrase “that all men are created equal” is the second clause in the preamble of the United States Declaration of Independence. The phrase indicates that there are inalienable and equal human rights for all people. That all are created equal is also a biblical idea that indicates all have sinned and come short of the glory of God and that Jesus Christ is the savior for all. (See Acts 17:26; Romans 3:23; and 1 John 2:2.)
This sentence appears to allude to the phrase “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” as written in the preamble of the United States Declaration of Independence, in order to contrast human-made law with God’s law, or the law of heaven. In other words, guaranteeing security of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is the aim of human-made law; the law of heaven does not guarantee those temporal benefits but assures blessings in the life to come.