Articles of Faith: a 'guide in faith and conduct'

He could hardly have known it at the time, but John Wentworth's request in 1842 of the Prophet Joseph Smith eventually would bring about scripture.

Wentworth, editor and proprietor of the Chicago Democrat, wrote the prophet to request information about the Church for a friend, George Bastow (in some accounts, corrected to Barstow) who was writing a history of New Hampshire.Joseph Smith responded with a succinct summary of his own and the Church's history up to that time, ending with 13 declarations of LDS belief known today as the Articles of Faith.

If Barstow's history of New Hampshire was ever written, it has not been found by contemporary researchers. But the prophet's response to Wentworth's request - known among LDS historians as the "Wentworth Letter" - was indeed published. It appeared first in the Church publication in Nauvoo, Times and Seasons, on March 1, 1842. In response to other inquiries in 1844, the prophet sent revised copies of the letter to publishers of works about various churches and religious groups.

Besides the Articles of Faith, a frequently quoted portion of the Wentworth Letter is this declaration regarding missionary work:

"Our missionaries are going forth to different nations, and in Germany, Palestine, New Holland, the East Indies, and other places, the standard of truth has been erected: no unhallowed hand can stop the work from progressing; persecutions may rage, mobs may combine, armies may assemble, calumny may defame, but the truth of God will go forth boldly, nobly, and independent till it has penetrated every continent, visited every clime, swept every country, and sounded in every ear, till the purposes of God shall be accomplished and the great Jehovah shall say the work is done."

In the tradition of Luke's epistles to Theophilus (see Luke and Acts), the Articles of Faith portion of the Wentworth Letter was canonized as scripture. The articles were included in the 1851 British Mission pamphlet The Pearl of Great Price, compiled by Elder Franklin D. Richards. The pamphlet was revised in 1878 and again in 1880, the year a general conference of the Church voted to add it to the standard works.

The Articles of Faith, as they appear in today's Pearl of Great Price, have not been changed substantially from the way the prophet penned them originally; spelling of some words has been corrected and some punctuation altered. Some wording has been changed slightly for the sake of clarity; "and so forth" has replaced "&c" (etc.), for example.

Valuable as they are, the Articles of Faith are not to be regarded as an exhaustive statement of belief. In his book, Articles of Faith, Elder James E. Talmage explained:

"Beliefs and prescribed practices of most religious sects are usually set forth in formulated creeds. The Latter-day Saints announce no such creed as a complete code of faith; for they accept the principle of continuous revelation as an essential feature of their belief. Joseph Smith, the first divinely commissioned prophet and the first president of the Church of Jesus Christ in the latter-day, or current, dispensation, set forth as an epitome of the tenets of the Church the 13 avowals known as the Articles of Faith of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.' These include fundamental and characteristic doctrines of the Gospel as taught by this Church; but they are not to be regarded as a complete exposition of belief, for, as stated in Article 9,We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.' From the time of their first promulgation, the Articles of Faith have been accepted by the people as an authoritative exposition; and on Oct. 6, 1890, the Latter-day Saints, in general conference assembled, readopted the Articles as a guide in faith and conduct. As these Articles of Faith present important doctrines of the Church in systematic order, they suggest themselves as a convenient outline for the study of the theology of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints." (p. 6.)

Other lists of principles summarizing LDS belief were compiled by Joseph Smith and other early Church leaders. (See "Articles of Faith" entry in the newly published Encyclopedia of Mormonism.) But the 13 articles in the Wentworth letter are the most famous and have stood for 150 years now as a resounding testimony from a prophet about some fundamental principles of the restored gospel.

As for John Wentworth, he attained some notoriety beyond his newspaper position. He studied law in the East and returned to Chicago, where he rode the circuit with other lawyers, including Stephen A. Douglas and Abraham Lincoln. He later served a total of 14 years in the U.S. House of Representatives and was twice elected mayor of Chicago.

Little is known of his association with Joseph Smith and other Church members, but when history's final chapters are written, he might best be remembered as the man whose inquiry prompted the writing of the Articles of Faith.

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