Joseph fulfilled eternal commission

When David Whitmer was asked how many persons were present on the day the Church of Jesus Christ was organized at the Peter Whitmer farm in Fayette township, Seneca County, N.Y., on April 6, 1830, he indicated that his father's two rooms were filled with individuals. He said there were "about 20 from Colesville, 15 from Manchester . . . and about 20 from around about Father Whitmer's. About 50 members and the six elders were present." (Edward Stevenson Journal, Jan. 2, 1887.) These figures represent several score of persons who had shown an interest in the newly restored gospel.

During the next nine months that the Church was in New York, three branches were organized. Some 80 Saints were proselyted in Fayette and vicinity, approximately 50 joined the faith in the Manchester/Palmyra area, and at least 68 members comprised the Colesville Branch in Broome County. The Prophet Joseph labored personally with the Joseph Knight Sr. family in Colesville township and was highly instrumental in the conversion of the immediate household and members of the extended family consisting of the Stringhams, Pecks, DeMilles (DeMills), Culvers, Slades, Coburns, Carters and the Willes families.In September and October 1830, the Lord issued calls through the Prophet for Oliver Cowdery, Peter Whitmer Jr., Parley P. Pratt and Ziba Peterson to actively pursue missionary labors among the descendants of Lehi in a journey that would take them all the way from Fayette, N.Y., to the "borders by the Lamanites." (See D&C 28, 30, 32, 57:4.)

After a brief visit to the Seneca Indians on their Buffalo Creek Reservation near Buffalo, N.Y., the missionaries visited the Mentor/Kirtland area in Ohio where they were able to convert Parley P. Pratt's associate, Sidney Rigdon, a reformed Baptist minister. In addition to Rigdon, about 130 other persons joined the Church in that locality at that time. During December 1830, while the missionaries to the Lamanites were still en route to Missouri, Sidney Rigdon and a friend, Edward Partridge, journeyed east to Fayette, N.Y., to meet the Prophet Joseph Smith.

By revelation, Sidney was called to act as scribe to the Prophet in making a new translation of the Bible. (D&C 35.) The Lord also directed that the Church membership in New York were to "assemble together at the Ohio." (D&C 37:3.) As the members met for their final conference at the Peter Whitmer farm in Fayette, they received the divine injunction, "that ye might escape the power of the enemy, and be gathered unto me a righteous people, without spot and blameless - Wherefore, for this cause I give unto you the commandment that ye should go to the Ohio; and there I will give unto you my law; and there you shall be endowed with power from on high." (D&C 38:31-32.)

Joseph and Emma Smith were in Kirtland by Feb. 1, 1831, and initially lodged with the Newel K. Whitney family. The membership of the Colesville, Fayette, and Manchester branches followed, using such waterways as Cayuga Lake, the Cayuga and Seneca Canal, the Erie Canal, and Lake Erie from Buffalo, N.Y., to Fairport Harbor, Ohio. All were safely in Ohio by mid-May 1831. Likewise, all were bound in a common covenant under the promised "Law of the Church," which included the economic order termed the law of consecration and stewardship. (D&C 42.)

At the conclusion of the June 1831 conference of the Church in Geauga County, Joseph was instructed by revelation that the next conference was to be held in Jackson County, Mo. The Prophet, a contingent of elders, and the Colesville branch, were directed to travel to Missouri, preaching on the way. (D&C 52, 54, 55.)

Journeying by varied routes, Joseph Smith and a small advanced party were the first to arrive in Independence on July 14, 1831. By the spirit of revelation Joseph was informed that Jackson County "is the land which I have appointed and consecrated for the gathering of the saints. Wherefore, this is the land of promise, and the place for the city of Zion. . . . The place which is now called Independence is the center place; and a spot for the temple is lying westward upon a lot which is not far from the courthouse." (D&C 57:1-3.)

On Aug. 2, 1831, 12 elders, in symbolic representation of the 12 tribes of Israel, laid the first log for a combination church and school house in Kaw township, Jackson County, as a foundation for the establishment of Zion. (The site is now in residential Kansas City, Mo.) Sidney Rigdon then dedicated that region of country.

The following day, Aug. 3, 1831, the Prophet dedicated a site for a temple on a rise about one-half mile west of the village of Independence in Blue township. (History of Church, hereafter HC, 1:196-97.)

Two centers of Church activity were thus established at an early juncture, one in Ohio and the other in Missouri. These two locations were in concurrent operation from 1831 to 1838.

In Ohio, the Lord, through His Prophet, introduced the concepts of the degrees of glory (D&C 76); specified the obligations of the oath and covenant of the priesthood and the nature of associated offices and ordinances (D&C 84, 107); delivered the prophecy on war (D&C 87); commenced the School of the Prophets (D&C 88); commanded Zion's Camp to go and assist in the reinstatement of the dispossessed Saints of Jackson County, Mo. (D&C 103, 105); called for the erection of a temple and superintended its erection (D&C 88, 95, 109); was visited by the Savior and received significant priesthood keys from the hands of Moses, Elias and Elijah (D&C 110); announced the Lord's law of health or the Word of Wisdom (D&C 89); worked on the translation of the Bible, translated the Book of Abraham, published the Doctrine and Covenants, and produced Emma's hymnal; organized the Quorum of the Twelve and the Seventy; and administered a highly effective missionary program in the United States, Canada and the British Isles.

When persecution drove the Prophet from Kirtland, in January 1838, he joined his fellow Saints in Far West, Caldwell County, Mo. There he dedicated land for yet another temple; identified the site of Adam-ondi-Ahman in Daviess County; inaugurated the law of tithing among the Saints (D&C 119); and called upon the Twelve as a quorum to prepare themselves to go on a mission to Great Britain (D&C 118).

The enormities of Missouri Gov. Lilburn W. Boggs's extermination order of Oct. 27, 1838, and the resultant "Mormon War," drove the Saints from that state in the winter and spring of 1838-39. An estimated 8,000-12,000 exiles made their way back east to the safety of Illinois. After a lengthy imprisonment under extremely trying circumstances (D&C 121-22), the Prophet rejoined the Saints in Quincy, Ill., on April 22, 1839.

Undaunted by the array of problems that had constantly beset their efforts to gather and establish a community of Zion, the Saints once again undertook the acquiring of properties in Hancock County, Ill., and directly west across the Mississippi River in Lee County, Iowa. There were other counties that also experienced an influx of Mormon families. The "paper community" of Commerce, Hancock County, Ill., became the factual city of Nauvoo.

The first members of the Quorum of the Twelve began leaving Nauvoo for their missions in Britain during August 1839, a missionary effort which would build on the foundations first laid in 1837, and witness the conversion of some 157,000 people during the next several decades. Some 65,000 of this number eventually immigrated to America to build the Church in this land.

Doctrinally, the Prophet Joseph introduced baptism for the dead during his funeral sermon for Seymour Brunson on Aug. 15, 1940. (See also D&C 124, 127, 128.) Among the first benefactors of the new ordinances was the deceased brother of the Prophet, Alvin. Hyrum Smith acting as the proxy, was baptized for and on behalf of his brother who was dead. The cornerstones of the Nauvoo Temple was laid on April 6, 1841, as an outgrowth of a revelation from the Lord in January, in which he admonished "let this house be built unto my name, that I may reveal mine ordinances therein . . . for I deign to reveal unto my church things which have been kept hid from before the foundation of the world." (D&C 124:40-41.)

The endowment followed on May 4, 1842, administered by the Prophet in the second story of his Red Brick Store in Nauvoo. Apostles Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball and Willard Richards were numbered among the nine men who were the first recipients - they would be the First Presidency in 1847. (HC 5:1-2.) At the behest of Hyrum Smith, the Prophet recorded the content of the new and everlasting covenant, including the eternity of the marriage covenant, on July 13, 1843, (D&C 132) a revelation received in 1831.

In the fateful month of June 1844, the Prophet again affirmed to the Saints in Nauvoo the initial testimony which he had acquired as a 14-year-old boy in the early spring of 1820, "I have always declared God to be a distinct personage, Jesus Christ as a separate and distinct personage from God the Father, and that the Holy Ghost was a distinct personage and a Spirit: and these three constitute three distinct personages and three Gods." (HC 6:474.)

At the April 1844 conference, Joseph had expressed, "I want you all to know God and to be familiar with Him. If I can get you to know Him, I can bring you to Him." (Donald Q. Cannon and Larry E. Dahl, The Prophet Joseph Smith's King Follett Discourse, [Provo: BYU Printing Service, 1983, p. 25.)

And in his waning moments at Carthage jail, "both Joseph and Hyrum bore a faithful testimony to the Latter-day work, and the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, and prophesied of the triumph of the Gospel over all the earth, exhorting the brethren present to faithfulness and preserving diligence in proclaiming the Gospel, building up the Temple, and performing all the duties connected with our holy religion." (HC 6:610.)

Joseph and Hyrum suffered martyrs' deaths at Carthage on June 27, 1844.

In an inspired eulogy of the Prophet's accomplishments, John Taylor exclaimed, "he lived great, and he died great in the eyes of God and his people; and like most of the Lord's anointed in ancient times, he sealed his mission and his works with his own blood; and so has his brother Hyrum. In life they were not divided, and in death they were not separated." (D&C 135:3.)

Within the Church every member is a partaker of the great blessings associated with the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. Under the auspices of the Holy Priesthood, the Prophet Joseph Smith fulfilled the predictions of the prophets of ages past and met the expectations of his eternal commission.

Subscribe for free and get daily or weekly updates straight to your inbox
The three things you need to know everyday
Highlights from the last week to keep you informed