Sunday, May 9, 2021

Doctrine and Covenants 49-50


In June of 1831, a church conference was held in Kirtland, Ohio. Just prior to that conference, Section 50 of the D&C was given. The reason this revelation was given is stated right in the beginning. First, verse one tells us that the brethren had asked for guidance from the Lord in discerning spiritual manifestations.

“Behold, verily I say unto you, that there are many spirits which are false spirits, which have gone forth in the earth, deceiving the world. And also Satan hath sought to deceive you, that he might overthrow you” (D&C 50:2-3).

Why is Satan so interested in deceiving us?

“And because he had fallen from heaven, and had become miserable forever, he sought also the misery of all mankind…” (2 Nephi 2:18).

“Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life through the great mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself” (2 Nephi 2:27).

The revelation of May 1831 told the brethren how to choose:

“And that which doth not edify is not of God, and is darkness. That which is of God is light; and he that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day.”

This counsel is very important in preventing apostasy, today as well as in the 1830s. It was prophecied that Satan would deceive the very elect if possible, and he did. Within two years after the marvelous spiritual manifestations occurred in relation to the dedication of the Kirtland Temple, all of the Three Witnesses, three of the Eight Witnesses, and one-third of the General Authorities, including three Apostles, left the Church. Interestingly, apostasy was more prevalent among the leadership than among the “average” members. As near as can be determined, 87 percent of the Kirtland Saints continued in the faith, including most of those who lost a lot of money due to stock held in the Church bank, the Kirtland Safety Society (Milton V. Backman, Jr., Ensign, April 1989, p. 30).

We can hopefully learn from the errors of the early church apostates, and avoid some of these problems ourselves.  (Double-click on the chart to enlarge it.)

Our inner attitudes are very important when it comes to following the guidance of the Spirit, our leaders and the doctrine that we know. Wrong attitudes can keep us from truth and freedom, and can deceive us as surely as if we were blindfolded. All of these wrong attitudes are based upon pride. A study of how some of the early Saints were deceived can help us see how we can avoid those same pitfalls. (Information is from Susan Easton Black, Who’s Who in the Doctrine and Covenants, unless otherwise noted.)

Thomas B. Marsh. The cream incident with his wife created a mountain out of a molehillHere are more details about Brother Marsh and his struggles. He declared that he would “sustain the character of his wife if he had to go to hell to do it.” President Gordon B. Hinckley said of this incident: “What a very small and trivial thing—a little cream over which two women quarreled. But it led to, or at least was a factor in, Governor Bogg’s cruel exterminating order…”

Joseph Wakefield. In obedience to the revelation, he went on a mission with Parley P. Pratt, wherein they “visited the several branches of the Church, rebuking the wrong spirits which had crept in among them, setting in order things that were wanting…” (Parley P. Pratt, quoted in Black, p. 324). Joseph baptized George A. Smith, who later became an apostle. George A. Smith was very distressed when his missionary joined with Mormon apostates in criticizing and tormenting Joseph Smith. The reason? Joseph Smith played with the children immediately after translating. “This convinced him that the Prophet was not a man of God, and that the work was false, which, to me and hundreds of others, he had testified that he knew came from God” (George A. Smith Autobiography, quoted in Black, p. 324).

Frazier Eaton. (Not mentioned in D&C.) He had given $700 to the building of the Kirtland Temple, but he arrived late to the dedication and couldn’t get in. The dedication was being repeated the following day for those who couldn’t get in the first day, but Brother Eaton thought that he should get in on day one, and so he apostatized (George A Smith, Journal of Discourses).

Oliver Cowdery. Oliver Cowdrey was with Joseph from the very first. He received the Priesthood with him, was baptized with him, saw great and glorious visions with him, and received the keys of the Priesthood with him from Elijah, Elias, and Moses. Pride in his education, however, led to his downfall. He commanded Joseph Smith in the name of God to change the words of D&C 20:37. He also said that he told the Church leaders about his land in Jackson County, “…while I lived and was sane, I would not be dictated, influenced, or controlled, by any man or any set of men by no tribunal of ecclesiastical practices whatever.” At the encouragement of Brigham Young, 11 years after leaving the Church, he finally returned.

William Carter. Called on a mission in D&C 52 although he was blind. He refused to go and his priesthood was taken from him. His uncle tried to bring him back to the faith and immediately afterwards wrote the conversation: “He said he was convinced that it was the work of the Lord but he did not as yet feel prepared to obey the work…I…felt with my own soul as though his situation was very dangerous for he had some time grieved the Spirit by his disobedience and I having a sense felt to cry mightily to my Heavenly Father for him. I, at length, felt the power of prophecy to him and expressed to him that this was the very day he would obey the commends if ever…Soon after this, he knelt down with me and entreated the Lord to have mercy on him.” He did help to build the Kirtland Temple, but there is not any information about him after that to show whether he stayed faithful. 

John Whitmer. For many years, John Whitmer was a stalwart in the Church. He was a scribe, a historian, and a member of the First Presidency, as well as one of the Eight Witnesses to the Book of Mormon. At one time in Jackson County, he offered himself as a ransom to the mob to prevent further violence. He purchased land in Far West for the saints, but there were some allegations about how he handled the finances. He was angered when asked to account for his use of Church funds, and declined to disclose the records. He was excommunicated. To quote Susan Black, “John remained in Missouri during the atrocities arising from the Extermination Order of 1838, free from persecution because [he was no longer a member of the Church]. When the Saints fled from their homes and property in Far West, he returned and took advantage of cheap prices for land…” He lived there the rest of his life.

Jared Carter. The uncle of William Carter. D&C 79:2 says, “I will send upon him the Comforter, which shall teach him the truth and the way wither he shall go.” Although Jared Carter was a great missionary for a time, later he wavered back and forth in church activity, joining the Danites, conspiring against the Prophet, and not following counsel. He repented and promised faithfulness, but did not keep the promise. When the saints went west, he stayed behind.

Selah Griffin. He lost a lot of property to the mobs in both Jackson County and in Caldwell County. To quote Susan Black, “Angered by the governmental affront and by the persecution he had suffered for his religious conviction, Selah weighed the cost and concluded that the price of faithfulness was too great.” He gave up Church Activity for an easier life.


Hiram Page was one of the 8 witnesses to the Book of Mormon. He joined the church in 1830, and shortly thereafter found a stone five by three inches, and one-half inch thick with two holes in it. He thought he received some revelations by looking through the stone. These included the location of the “New Jerusalem” and the proper governing process of the Church. Newel Knight said, “He had quite a roll of papers full of these revelations, and many in the Church were led astray by them…although they were in contradiction to the New Testament and the revelations of these last days. [The Prophet] Joseph Smith was perplexed and scarcely knew how to meet this new exigency. That night I occupied the same room that he did, and the greater part of the night was spent in prayer and supplication.” 

As a result, D&C 28 was received, which states that only the prophet has the keys to revelation for the entire church. In that revelation, Oliver Cowdery (one of those who had been deceived) was told to advise Hiram that the source of his revelations was false. Hiram Page and those who had followed him took that counsel and renounced the stone and its revelations. Elder Knight commented on the situation that “…it was wonderful to witness the wisdom that Joseph displayed on this occasion, for truly God gave unto him great wisdom and power, and it seems to me that none who saw him administer righteousness under such trying circumstances could doubt that the Lord was with him. He acted not with the wisdom of man, but with the wisdom of God.” 


How could it be that these people all believed Joseph’s revelations over Hiram’s revelations with no more than Joseph’s word about it?

Therefore, why is it that ye cannot understand and know, that he that receiveth the word by the Spirit of truth receiveth it as it is preached by the Spirit if truth? Wherefore, he that preacheth and he that receiveth, understand one another, and both are edified and rejoice together. (D&C 50:21-22)

The reason they believed it was because they had more than Joseph’s word: they had the manifestation of the Holy Ghost to go with it. With the revelation, Brother Knight said, “The Holy Ghost came upon us and filled our hearts with unspeakable joy” (Andrus, They Knew the Prophet, quoted in LDH, p. 65).

What outer guides do you see in our world today that might deceive us if we are not careful? Do you agree that the outer guides to truth are the same for us today as they were in 1831?

The Holy Ghost is truly the most powerful of the guides available to us, and testifies of the truth of the others. It’s like the final word and it can be trusted. It is vital that we learn to hear and understand the Holy Ghost.
At the conference in 1831, the following month, a pattern was given for discerning whether a man was speaking the word of God or not, in D&C 52:14-18. In that same revelation with this advice, 34 men were called as missionaries. Do you ever wonder who all these people are who are mentioned in the D&C, and whether they followed the counsel given them? Of those 34 in Section 52, how many do you think followed the counsel on how to avoid deception? I wondered, and so I researched them (very sketchily) and discovered that although most of them went on the missions they were called to in this revelation, just 13 remained faithful to the Church their entire lives, no matter what the cost. Three more left fellowship for a period of time but later returned (Orson Pratt for just a few months, Thomas B. Marsh for 19 years, and Martin Harris for 32 years). (Brief sketches on each of these faithful men are included at the end of this post.)

One of these men who avoided deception and continued faithful to the end was Parley P. Pratt. He spent his 50th year on a mission, away from his large family. He wrote to them, “The whole country is being overwhelmed with the most abominable lying, mockery, and hatred of the Saints, and with all manner of corruption. The legions of spirits are let loose and are working wonders.” A little later in the letter, he says, “I hope you will not be cast down or borrow any trouble about me because I admit an if as to my safe return. I have no doubt but that I shall return in safety and live to a good old age. But still I must acknowledge that I do anticipate with a great deal of pleasure the change of worlds. And, every day that I work on my history, I naturally think that the word finis will soon be added to the end.”

Elder Pratt was shortly thereafter accused of some false charges by three men who had sworn to kill him. He was honorably released from the court with the charges dismissed. The three men followed him twelve miles, until he was utterly alone and defenseless, and then shot him. He had 11 living wives, and 21-22 living children, ranging in age from 20 years to 10 months. Among his children are found many Book of Mormon names: Moroni, Helaman, Alma, Nephi, Abinadi, Lehi, Teancum, Mosiah, Omner, Ether, and Moroni. John Taylor wrote of him, “…his name is revered by thousands and tens of thousands, and will be honored by millions yet unborn; while that of his cowardly assassins…will be loathsome, and a stink in the nostrils of God and good men” (The Mormon, published in New York, May 30).

I am fifty years old! I have lived to see
Seven times seven and a Jubilee.
That period famed in the days of yore
As a grand release for the humble poor;
When the pledg’d estate was again restor’d
And the bondman free’d from his tyrant lord.
When man his fellow was bound to forgive, and begin anew to think and to live. . . .

All these are facts; but of little worth,
Compared with a Prophet restored to earth.
I have seen his day and have heard his voice,
Which enraged a world, while the meek rejoice.
I have read the fate of all earthly things:
The end of thrones, and the end of kings.
I have learned that truth alone shall stand,
And the Kingdom of God fill every land.
I have seen that Kingdom rolling along,
And taking its seat ‘mid the mountains strong;
While the nations wondered but could not tell
To what these wondrous things would swell.
I have wandered far, over land and sea,
To proclaim to the world its destiny—
To cry to the nations, repent and live,
And be ready the bridegroom to receive. . . .

I have toiled with the great in freedom’s cause,
And assisted to give to a State its laws.
I have lain in a dungeon, bound in chains,
And been honored in Courts where Justice reigns.
In a thousand joys, and a thousand fears
I have struggled on through my fifty years.
And now, by the law of God, I am free;
I will seek to enjoy my Jubilee.
I will hie me home to my mountain dell,
And will say to the “Christian” world—farewell!
I have served ye long--; ‘twas a thankless task,
To retire in peace is all I ask.

Another fifty years will fully prove
Our message true, and all our motives love.
Then shall an humble world in reverence bow,
And hail the Prophets so rejected now.
Kings shall revere, and nations incense bring
To Zion’s temple and to Zion’s King.
I shall be there and celebrate the day
‘Till twice ten fifties shall have passed away.

(Excerpts from Parlet’s poem My Fiftieth Year, p. 410-412 of Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt.)

At Parley’s death, his brother Orson wrote, “O how pleasant is the death of a righteous person! He lays down his body with a sure and certain hope of coming forth from the tomb in the morning of the first resurrection, to reign as a mighty King and Priest of the Most High God, to sit enthroned in eternal glory, ruling with power and dominion for ever and ever” (ibid., p. 419).

In the first edition of the British church magazine, the Millennial Star, a hymn written by Parley P. Pratt was published: “The Morning Breaks.” It is now Hymn #1 in our hymnbook. As the first two verses elaborate on Darkness vs. Light, you may want to sing it or read it as the conclusion to the lesson.

Elder Melvin J. Ballard: “No man goes away from this church and becomes an apostate in a week, nor in a month. It is a slow process. The one thing that makes for the safety of every man and woman would be to appear at the sacrament table every Sabbath day. We would not get very far in a week – not so far away that, by the process of self-investigation, we could not rectify the wrongs we may have done. If we should refrain from partaking of the sacrament, condemned by ourselves as unworthy to receive these emblems, we could not endure that long, and we would soon, I am sure, have the spirit of repentance. The road to the sacrament table is the path of safety for Latter-day Saints” (quoted in Millet, et. al., Doctrinal Commentary on the Book of Mormon, 4:121).


In next week's post, we will read more about what it takes to remain faithful or to return to faithfulness, using examples from the early Saints.

1 comment:

Indra Burgess said...

Thank you so much for the effort and sharing, it helped me and is helping me to better prepare my lessons.