Times and Seasons (, Hancock Co., IL), 1 Apr. 1842, vol. 3, no. 11, pp. 735–750; edited by JS. For more complete source information, see the source note for Letter to Isaac Galland, 22 Mar. 1839.
The 1 April 1842 issue of the ’s , Illinois, newspaper, Times and Seasons, was the fourth issue to name JS as editor. The issue included a report of the organization of the , a lengthy doctrinal article titled “Try the Spirits,” and two short editorials, all of which are featured below. Also included in the issue, but not featured here, were a letter dated 20 March 1842 from the to the Latter-day Saints in Europe, extracts from a letter by , an excerpt of a letter to from his mother, another installment of the serialized “History of Joseph Smith,” and a letter about Nauvoo from “an Observer” to the Columbus Advocate. In addition, the issue included a petition from residents of to church leaders in Nauvoo, with an editorial comment. The comment is one of the editorials featured here; the petition is not reproduced below, but it is featured as a stand-alone document in this volume.
Note that only the editorial content created specifically for this issue of the Times and Seasons is annotated here. Articles reprinted from other papers, letters, conference minutes, and notices, are reproduced here but not annotated. Items that are stand-alone JS documents are annotated elsewhere; links are provided to these stand-alone documents.
While JS likely authored many of the paper’s editorial passages, John Taylor reportedly assisted him in writing content. No matter who wrote individual editorial pieces, JS assumed editorial responsibility for all installments naming him as editor except the 15 February issue. (Woodruff, Journal, 19 Feb. 1842; Historical Introduction to Times and Seasons, 1 Mar. 1842.)
Woodruff, Wilford. Journals, 1833–1898. Wilford Woodruff, Journals and Papers, 1828–1898. CHL. MS 1352.
On 17 March 1842 a group of members organized the —a women’s society created to care for the poor and strengthen the morals and virtues of the community. While the Times and Seasons inaccurately reported both the name of the organization and the date of its creation, the editorial’s enthusiastic tone likely contributed to the society’s rapid growth. Signed “Ed.,” the account notes that its author was present at the organizational meeting. It may have been written by JS or —the newspaper’s nominal and practical editors, respectively—both of whom attended the 17 March meeting.
A society has lately been formed by the ladies of for the relief of the poor, the destitute, the widow and the orphan; and for the exercise of all benevolent purposes. The society is known by the name of the “Ladies’ Relief Society of the City of ;” and was organized on Thursday the 24th of March A. D. 1842.
The society is duly organized with a Presidentess or Chairwoman, and two Councillors, chosen by herself; a Treasurer and Secretary. Mrs. takes the Presidential chair, Mrs. , and Mrs. are her Councillors; Miss is Treasuress, and our well known and talented poetess, Miss Secretary.
There was a very numerous attendance at the organization of the society and also at their subsequent meetings of some of our most inteligent, humane, philanthropic, and respectable ladies; and we are well assured from a knowledge of those pure principles of benevolence that flow spontaneously from their humane, and philanthropic bosoms, that with the resources they will have at command they will fly to the relief of the stranger, they will pour in oil and wine to the wounded heart of the distressed; they will dry up the tear of the orphan, and make the widow’s heart to rejoice.
Our Ladies have always been signalized for their acts of benevolence and kindness; but the cruel usage that they have received from the barbarians of , has hitherto prevented their extending the hand of charity in a conspicuous manner; yet in the midst of their persecutions, when the bread has been torn from their helpless offsprings by their cruel oppressors, they have always been ready to open their doors to the weary traveller, to divide their scanty pittance with the hungry; and from their robbed and impoverished wardrobes, to divide with the more needy and destitute; and now that they are living in a more genial soil, and among a less barbarous people, and possess facilities that they have not heretofore enjoyed, we feel convinced that with their concentrated efforts the condition of the sufferring poor, of the stranger and the fatherless will be ameliorated.
We had the privelege of being present at their organization, and were much pleased with their modus operandi, and the good order that prevailed; they are strictly parliamentary in their proceedings; and we believe that they will make pretty good democrats.—Ed.
The 1 April 1842 issue of the Times and Seasons included a lengthy article titled “Try the Spirits.” The title was derived from 1 John 4:1, which reads, “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.” The article was prompted by “recent occurrences” of apostasy among . It specifically referenced, as cautionary examples, the experiences of an unnamed boy in , Ohio; Isaac Russell; ; and (the latter two were excommunicated for apostasy only the previous month). The editorial emphasized the importance of discerning between true and false spirits and warned readers not to be misled by false prophets. In addition to giving Latter-day Saint examples, the article referenced several biblical figures and episodes as well as more recent historical figures known throughout the western world, such as Joanna Southcott, Jemima Wilkinson, and Edward Irving.
JS likely authored the article, which was signed “Ed.” Despite the numerous scriptural references and quotations, it does not appear that the author consulted the Bible when drafting the editorial—many of the quotations conflate multiple verses or provide slightly inaccurate chapter or verse citations. In this aspect the editorial mirrors JS’s usage of scriptural references in his public sermons, with frequent impromptu allusions not checked or written beforehand. Additionally, the editorial includes six uses of the personal pronoun “I.” Although it was not uncommon for JS’s amanuenses to author documents on his behalf using that pronoun (for instance, used “I” to describe JS when keeping the latter’s personal journal), it was not typically used in Times and Seasons editorials written by someone other than JS. The frequency of use in this editorial, particularly in informal parenthetical asides, suggests JS’s authorship. Certain examples of authoritative pronouncements in the editorial—like the author’s statement that a “bad angel” could be identified by “the color of his hair”—seem to also suggest JS’s authorship.
“TRY THE SPIRITS.”
Recent occurrences that have transpired amongst us render it an imperative duty devolving upon me to say something in relation to the spirits by which men are actuated. It is evident from the apostle’s writings that many false spirits existed in their day, and had “gone forth into the world,” and that it needed intelligence which God alone could impart to detect false spirits, and to prove what spirits were of God. The world in general have been grossly ignorant in regard to this one thing, and why should they be otherwise, “For no man knows the things of God, but by the spirit of God.” The Egyptians were not able to discover the difference between the miracles of Moses and those of the magicians until they came to be tested together; and if Moses had not appeared in their midst they would unquestionably have thought that the miracles of the magicians were performed through the mighty power of God; for they were great miracles that were performed by them: a supernatural agency was developed; and great power manifested.
The witch of Endor is no less singular a personage; clothed with a powerful agency she raised the prophet Samuel from his grave, and he appeared before the astonished king and revealed unto him his future destiny. Who is to tell whether this woman is of God, and a righteous woman? or whether the power she possessed was of the devil, and her a witch as represented by the bible? it is easy for us to say now; but if we had lived in her day, which of us could have unravelled the mystery?
It would have been equally as difficult for us to tell by what spirit the prophets prophesied, or by what power the apostles spoke, and worked miracles. Who could have told whether the power of Simon, the sorcerer was of God, or of the devil? There always did in every age seem to be a lack of intelligence pertaining to this subject. Spirits of all kinds have been manifested, in every age and almost amongst all people: if we go among the Pagans they have their spirits, the Mahomedans, the Jews, the Christians, the Indians; all have their spirits, all have a supernatural agency; and all contend that their spirits are of God. Who shall solve the mystery? “Try the spirits,” says John, but who is to do it? The learned, the eloquent, the philosopher, the sage, the divine, all are ignorant. The Heathens will boast of their Gods, and of the great things that have been unfolded by their oracles. The Mussulman will boast of his Koran and of the divine communications that his progenitors have received, and are receiving. The Jews have had numerous instances both ancient and modern among them of men who have professed to be inspired and sent to bring about great events, and the Christian world has not been slow in making up the number.
“Try the spirits;” but what by? are we to try them by the creeds of men? what preposterous folly, what sheer ignorance, what madness. Try the motions and actions of an eternal being, (for I contend that all spirits are such,) by a thing that was conceived in ignorance, and brought forth in folly,—a cobweb of yesterday. Angels would hide their faces, and devils would be ashamed and insulted and would say, “Paul we know, and Jesus we know, but who are ye?” Let each man or society make a creed and try evil spirits by it and the devil would shake his [p. 743]
At the society’s first meeting, JS instructed the members to follow parliamentary procedure. (Minutes and Discourses, 17 Mar. 1842; see also Derr et al., First Fifty Years of Relief Society, 33n109.)
Derr, Jill Mulvay, Carol Cornwall Madsen, Kate Holbrook, and Matthew J. Grow, eds. The First Fifty Years of Relief Society: Key Documents in Latter-day Saint Women’s History. Salt Lake City: Church Historian’s Press, 2016.