Discourse, 5 February 1840

  • Source Note
  • Historical Introduction

Document Transcript

He commenced, by saying, that he knew the prejudices which were abroad in the world against him; but requested us to pay to <​no​> respect to the rumors which were in circulation respecting him and his doctrines. He was accompanied by three or four of his followers. He said— “I will state to you our belief, so far as time will permit.”
I believe, said he, that there is a God, possessing all the attributes ascribed to him by Christians of all denominations. That he reigns over all things in Heaven and on Earth; and that all are subject to his power. He then spoke, rationally, of the attributes of Divinity, such as foreknowledge; mercy, &c &c
He then took up the Bible. I believe, said he, in this sacred volume— In it the Mormon faith is to be found. We teach nothing but what the Bible teaches. We believe nothing but what is to be found in this Book
I believe in the fall of man, as recorded in the Bible. I believe that God fore-knew every thing; but did not fore-ordain every <​thing​>. I deny that fore-ordain and fore-know is the same thing. He fore-ordained the fall of man: But all merciful as he is, he fore-ordained, at the same time, a plan of redemption for all mankind. I believe in the Divinity of Jesus Christ, and that he died for the sins of all men, who in Adam had fallen [p. [1]]
He then entered into some details, the result of which tended to shew his total unbelief of what is termed Original Sin. He believes that it is washed away by the blood of Christ, and that it no longer Exists. As a necessary consequence, he believes that we are all born pure and undefiled. That all children dying at an Early [age] (say eight years) not knowing good from ill, from were incapable of sinning; and that all such assuredly go to Heaven.
I believe, said he, that a man is a moral, responsible, free agent, that although it was fore-ordained he should fall and be redeemed; yet after the redemption it was not fore-ordained that he should again sin. In the Bible a rule of conduct is laid down for <​him​>. In the Old and New testaments the law by which he is to be governed may be found. If he violates that law, he is to be punished for the deeds done in the body
I believe that God is Eternal. That he had no beginning and can have no End. Eternity means that which is without beginning or End. I believe that the Soul is Eternal. It had no beginning; it can have no End. Here he entered into some Explanations, which were so brief that I could not perfectly comprehend him. But the idea seemed to be that the Soul of man— the Spirit, had Existed from Eternity in the bosom of Divinity, and so far as he was intelligible to me, must ultimately return from whence it came
He said very little of rewards and punishments. But one conclusion, from what he did say, was irresistible. He contended throughout, that every thing which had a beginning must have an Ending; and consequently, if the punishment of man commences in the next world, it must, according to his logic and belief have an End
During the whole of his address, and it occupied more than two hours, there was no opinion or belief that he Expressed, that was calculated, in the slightest degree, to impair the morals of Society, or in any manner to [p. [2]] degrade and brutalize the human species. There was much in his precepts, if they were followed, that would soften the asperities of man towards man, and that would tend to make him a more rational being than he is generally found to be. There was no violence; no fury; no denunciation. His religion appears to be the religion of meekness; lowliness, and mild persuasion.
To <​Towards​> the close of his address, he remarked that he had been represented as pretending to be a Saviour, a Worker of Miracles, &c. All this was false. He made no such pretensions. He was but a man, he said— a plain untutored <​man​>; seeking what he should do to be saved. He performed no miracles. He did not pretend to possess any such power
He closed by referring to the Mormon Bible, which, he said, contained nothing inconsistent or conflicting with the Christian Bible. And he again repeated,
that all who would follow the precepts of the Bible whether Mormon or not, would assuredly be saved. Throughout his whole address, he displayed, strongly, a spirit of Charity and Forbearance
The Mormon Bible, he said, was communicated to him, direct from Heaven. If there was such a thing on Earth, as the Author of it, then he (Smith) was the Author; but the idea that he wished to impress was, that he had penned it as dictated by God. [p. [3]]

Footnotes

  1. 1

    The identities of these followers are unknown. The group possibly included Elias Higbee and Parley P. Pratt, both of whom were in Washington DC at this time.  

  2. 2

    JS had long maintained his belief in the Bible as scripture, and an 1831 revelation instructed church elders to use the Bible and the Book of Mormon together when preaching. He had also previously commented that the church was more closely aligned with the Bible than was any other denomination. Answering a minister who asked how the church differed from other Christian denominations, JS replied, “We believe the bible, and they do not.” (Revelation, 9 Feb. 1831 [D&C 42:12]; JS, Journal, 21 Jan. 1836.)  

  3. 3

    According to Davis’s letter, JS stated that he “does not believe in infant baptism.” His declarations, as recorded by Davis, echo a doctrine taught in the book of Moroni in the Book of Mormon. Earlier JS revelations rejected the notion of original sin, the belief that all men and women are born in a sinful state as a result of the rebellion of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. In 1836 JS taught that all children who die before reaching an age of accountability will be saved in the highest degrees of heaven. An 1829 revelation stated that children were not to be baptized until they reached the “years of accountability.” Sometime between 1 February and 7 March 1831, JS revised Genesis 17:11 so that it explained “that children are not accountable before me till eight years old.” An 1831 revelation declared that “children shall be baptised for the remission of their sins when eight years old.” (M. L. Davis to M. Davis, 6 Feb. 1840; Book of Mormon, 1837 ed., 613 [Moroni 8:8–15]; JS, Journal, 21 Jan. 1836; Revelation, June 1829–B [D&C 18:42]; Old Testament Revision 1, p. 14 [Moses 6:54–55]; Faulring et al., Joseph Smith’s New Translation of the Bible, 64; Old Testament Revision 1, p. 41 [Joseph Smith Translation, Genesis 17:11]; Revelation, 1 Nov. 1831–A [D&C 68:27]; see also Explanation of Scripture, 1830 [D&C 74:6–7].)  

    Davis, Matthew L. Letter, Washington DC, to Mary Davis, New York City, NY, 6 Feb. 1840. CHL. MS 522.

    Faulring, Scott H., Kent P. Jackson, and Robert J. Matthews, eds. Joseph Smith’s New Translation of the Bible: Original Manuscripts. Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2004.

  4. 4

    See Book of Mormon, 1837 ed., 353 [Alma 40:11].  

  5. 5

    In an 1829 revelation, the voice of the Lord declared, “Endless is my name: Wherefore— Eternal punishment is God’s punishment: Endless punishment is God’s punishment.” (Revelation, ca. Summer 1829 [D&C 19:10–12].)  

  6. 6

    The early Latter-day Saints believed strongly in exercising gifts of the Spirit but insisted on attributing the power to God rather than to human ability. In 1838 JS presented this viewpoint as an answer to a commonly asked question: “Can they [the Latter-day Saints] raise the dead. Answer. No, nor any other people that now lives or ever did live. But God can raise the dead through man, as an instrument.” JS followed this with a closely related question and answer: “What signs do Jo Smith give of his divine mission. Answer. The signs which God is pleased to let him give: according as his wisdom thinks best: in order that he may judge the world agreably to his own plan.” (Questions and Answers, 8 May 1838.)  

  7. 7

    The Book of Mormon.  

  8. 8

    Likely influenced by public discourses JS gave at this time, Orson Pratt published a pamphlet in fall 1840 that similarly asserted that “the gospel in the ‘Book of Mormon’ is the same as that in the New Testament, and is revealed in great plainness, so that no one that reads it can misunderstand its principles.” (Pratt, Interesting Account, 30.)  

  9. 9

    In 1832 JS and Sidney Rigdon gave an account of a vision in which they saw three degrees of postmortal glory. They wrote that, whereas only faithful Latter-day Saints would receive the highest “kingdom” of glory, the middle kingdom of heaven would include “honorable men of the earth” who would “receive of the presence of the son but not of the fulness of the father.” (Vision, 16 Feb. 1832 [D&C 76:75, 77].)  

  10. 10

    JS was named as the “AUTHOR AND PROPRIETOR” of the Book of Mormon on its title page, but only to satisfy copyright conventions. JS provided only a general description of the translation of the Book of Mormon in the preface to the book’s 1830 edition, in which he wrote that he had translated the book “by the gift and power of God.” Even before the book was published, critics of JS and the church accused him of fabricating the entire book or copying it from another source. (Title Page of Book of Mormon, ca. Early June 1829; Preface to Book of Mormon, ca. Aug. 1829; Howe, Mormonism Unvailed, 278–280; “Joseph Smith Documents Dating through June 1831.”)  

    Howe, Eber D. Mormonism Unvailed: Or, A Faithful Account of That Singular Imposition and Delusion, from Its Rise to the Present Time. With Sketches of the Characters of Its Propagators, and a Full Detail of the Manner in Which the Famous Golden Bible Was Brought before the World. To Which Are Added, Inquiries into the Probability That the Historical Part of the Said Bible Was Written by One Solomon Spalding, More Than Twenty Years Ago, and by Him Intended to Have Been Published as a Romance. Painesville, OH: By the author, 1834.