Letter to J. G. Fosdick, 3 February 1834

  • Source Note
  • Historical Introduction

Document Transcript

Feb. 3, 1834.
Dear Bro. [J. G.] Fosdick:
Your letter of the 10th. Jan. last is just recd. and this day there has been a regular of & in this place, and the subject spoken of in your letter was, we believe, taken into due consideration. We were very sorry to learn that Bro. J[oseph] Wood had gone so far astray and offered such violence to the pure principles of the Gospel of Christ. But, alas! Such is the depravity of man when lost to a sense of the fear of God and of the ties which bind [e]very virtuous man to the interest and happiness of his follow man.
Every principle inculcated among you which is contrary [t]o virtue, to industry, to wisdom, to good order, to propriety, and in fine, to the pure principles of godliness as contained in the Scriptures of the old and new Testaments, the Book of Mormon and the revelations and of Jesus Christ, which have been given to his in these last days, is entirely foreign from the feelings of our breasts, and is that upon which we look down with feelings of the utmost disapprobation; and as consc[i]encious men who expect to render an impartial account, before [th]e searcher of hearts, of all our transactions here, we cannot [lo]ok upon any principle contrary to the above with any degree [of] allowance.
After some investigation of the case of Bro. Wood, in Council, [it] was decided that he should be cut off from the Church. [Ac]cordingly the Council lifted their hands against him and [he] was excluded from the church on this 3d. day of Feb. 1834. [for] indulging an idle, partial, overbearing and lustful spirit, and [not] magnifying his holy calling whereunto he had been . These things were plainly manifest to the satisfaction [of] [a]ll the council, and the Spirit constrained us to separate him [fro]m the church. Should bro. Joseph Wood, after learning [th]e decission of this council, truly repent of all his sins and bring forth fruit meet to the satisfaction of that of the Church where he has committed the offences, he can be [p. 23] and come into the again if he desire so to do. The instructions which you desire relative to church gov. &c. the extent of the power of a over any of the church, are subjects which will be investigated in the next no. of the Star. Time will not allow us to write the subjects at full length now; suffice it, therefore, to say that there is no office in this Church which can be placed upon the head of any man that will place him beyond the power & control of any branch of the church where he may be guilty of transgression, even if there is not another member in the church, let the church appoint some brother to preside and let them do as one church did in ancient days “try them who say they are and are not, but are liars,” then let them demand their , raise their hands against them and thus they are expelled from the communion of the church. It requires all the members of the church to constitute the body of Christ. One man is not the body, nor are the children of <​the​> Kingdom to be tantalized by men who may hold licenses and have authority to preach the gospel; such have the more need to be discreet and humble. Should the individual, after being thus dealt with be dissatisfied with the decission of the church he can appeal to a , and should he there be judged guilty, he can yet appeal to a court of and this is an end of all disputes and controversies in the Church of God on earth.
Brethren in the , Farewell.
SignedJoseph Smith Jr. (Moderator
(Clerk of Coun[cil]
Copied by direction of the , by [p. 24]


  1. 1

    TEXT: “[Torn edge]very”. Because the left edge of the page is torn, several characters and words are missing from this document. In such places, text has been editorially supplied. Unless otherwise noted, the supplied text here and in the following paragraphs is based on syntax and common spellings.  

  2. 2

    Michigan members of the church could have had access to JS’s revelations in several ways. For example, they could have subscribed to the church’s periodical, The Evening and the Morning Star, which had published about two dozen JS revelations in 1832 and 1833. Church members in Michigan may have also had access to copies of the unfinished Book of Commandments, though these were scarce because a mob in Jackson County, Missouri, had destroyed the printing office in July 1833 while the volume was still being printed. Some church members also had revelations copied for personal use. (See “Joseph Smith–Era Publications of Revelations.”)  

  3. 3

    See Jeremiah 17:10; and Psalms 44:21; 139:23.  

  4. 4

    See Book of Mormon, 1830 ed., 349 [Alma 45:16]; and Revelation, 1 Nov. 1831–B [D&C 1:31].  

  5. 5

    TEXT: “lustful” is underlined three times.  

  6. 6

    According to Cowdery, the decision to excommunicate Wood was not made easily. “None but those who consider the worth of souls [c]an imagine the feelings of our hearts,” Cowdery wrote. “Our sympathies [w]ould have said spare him! had it not been for the [c]onviction of every mind that he could not in justice [s]tand.” (Oliver Cowdery, Kirtland Mills, OH, to J. G. Fosdick, Pontiac, Michigan Territory, 4 Feb. 1834, in Cowdery, Letterbook, 25.)  

    Cowdery, Oliver. Letterbook, 1833–1838. Henry E. Huntington Library, San Marino, CA.

  7. 7

    No such instructions appeared in The Evening and the Morning Star, though it is clear from other sources that church leaders fully intended to publish them at some point. For example, in the postscript to his 7 March 1834 letter to Fosdick, Samuel Bent, and Elijah Fordham, Cowdery wrote that there had not been enough room in the church newspaper to include the instructions concerning church governance, but that they would “probably be in the next” number of the paper. Similarly, the March 1834 issue of the Star ended with a note saying that “some instruction upon the regulation of the church” would be given later. (Oliver Cowdery, Kirtland, OH, to J. G. Fosdick et al., Pontiac, Michigan Territory, 7 Mar. 1834, in Cowdery, Letterbook, 29; Letter to the Church, ca. Mar. 1834.)  

    Cowdery, Oliver. Letterbook, 1833–1838. Henry E. Huntington Library, San Marino, CA.

  8. 8

    See Revelation 2:2.  

  9. 9

    JS’s instructions given here reflected the contents of an 11 November 1831 revelation that said a bishop had authority to “sit in Judgement upon transgressors . . . by the assistance of his councillors” and that one could appeal a bishop’s decision to the presidency of the high priesthood, which had the power to call twelve other high priests to assist. After the court of the presidency of the high priesthood ruled on a case, “it shall be had in remembrance no more before the Lord,” the revelation read, “for this is the highest court of the church of God & a final desision upon controvers[i]es.” (Revelation, 11 Nov. 1831–B [D&C 107:72, 78–80].)