Joseph Smith looked upon himself first as a servant of the Lord Jesus Christ, and this caused him to react to situations in a way that is unusual to the people of the world. What prompted these reactions were multiple revelations that came to Joseph Smith, particularly in the years of 1829-31. They were important revelations. They were revelations pertaining to the establishment and governance of the kingdom of God restored to the earth. A conference was called in the latter part of 1831, and the brethren of the priesthood assembled in the home of John Johnson in Hiram, Ohio. The Prophet Joseph Smith presented to those assembled a number of revelations and asked them to consider them and approve of them as worthy of being published as a latter-day book of scripture to be titled the Book of Commandments. 4Those assembled quickly demonstrated that they had minds of their own, and in essence they confronted the twenty-five year old prophet with the challenge: “How do we know that the revelations are of God? The language sounds so very much like the language of Joseph Smith.”
Here is an excellent opportunity to view historically another incident that gives insight to what Joseph Smith was like. He did not appear to be offended. He took the question in stride. I feel he was honestly perplexed. He knew the revelations were from God. I have wondered if he truly ever thought of why they sounded as they sounded. He did not become defensive. He did not rebuke them for questioning a prophet of God. But he very simply suggested an approach to the problem, which he had utilized numerous times before. In essence his reply to the question was a candid “I don’t know” followed by the words, “Let’s ask the Lord.” They knelt with him and he petitioned God for the answer. The answer was received in an effective, forceful, but most unpretentious way. No angel appeared; no audible voice was heard. The Prophet simply said to his scribe, “Please record the following.” And then, speaking in measured sentences slow enough for a man to record the revelation in longhand, Joseph dictated the revelation as given to him by the Lord. But the answer sought is part of a comprehensive revelation of both warning and hope to the whole earth—a revelation that was to be known as the preface to the Book of Commandments and today is Section One of the Doctrine and Covenants. Verses 24-27 are the verses that directly answer the question Joseph asked of God:
Behold, I am God and have spoken it; these commandments are of me, and were given unto my servants in their weakness, after the manner of their language, that they might come to understanding. And inasmuch as they erred it might be made known; And inasmuch as they sought wisdom they might be instructed; And inasmuch as they sinned they might be chastened, that they might repent….
One would think that this amazing demonstration of the receiving of such a reasonable and satisfying answer would have silenced his questioners. But it did not, at least not all. William E. McLellan had had more formal education than any of the others. He was an impressive man. He continued to question Joseph. Again the Prophet sought the help of God. The revelation he received is a classic example of the principle stated by the Lord in the first revelation given that day to his servant. The Lord is interested in communicating with his children so they can understand and, if necessary, change their ways. The second revelation of the day is also in the Doctrine and Covenants and says rather simply:
Your eyes have been upon my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., and his language you have known; and his imperfections you have known; and you have sought in your hearts knowledge that you might express beyond his language; this you also know. Now, seek ye out of the Book of Commandments, even the least that is among them, and appoint him that is the most wise among you;
Or, if there be any among you that shall make one like unto it, then ye are justified in saying that ye do not know that they are true; But if ye cannot make one like unto it, ye are under condemnation if ye do not bear record that they are true. 5
William E. McLellan was selected as being, by the standards of the world, the wisest in the group, and his assignment was to write a revelation that would sound as good and make a contribution equal to the “least” revelation presented by Joseph Smith. Brother McLellan was a complete failure; he could not write anything that sounded like a revelation. The next day he manifested an attitude of meekness as he offered his sustaining vote and his apologies to the youthful prophet. Now, with the approval of the body of the priesthood, plans were quickly made and put into action for the publication of the new book of scripture.
Mob intervention delayed the publication of the book. By the time publication could be resumed, additional revelations had been received, and it was determined that a new title, “The Doctrine and Covenants,” would be more descriptive of the volume of modern day scripture. Joseph Smith’s humility in the foregoing situation is astonishing. His humble attitude is further reflected in a letter written by Joseph to the members of the Quorum of the Twelve while they were laboring in England:
How pleasing it is for brethren to dwell together in unity. Let the Saints of the Most High ever cultivate this principle, and the most glorious blessings must result, not only to them individually, but to the whole Church…
…There are many things of much importance, on which you ask counsel, but which I think you will be perfectly able to decide upon, as you are more conversant with the peculiar circumstances than I am; and I feel great confidence in your united wisdom; therefore you will excuse me for not entering into detail. If I should see anything that is wrong, I would take the privilege of making known my mind to you, and pointing out the evil. (Italics added.)
Beloved brethren, you must be aware in some measure of my feelings, when I contemplate the great work which is now rolling on, and the relationship which I sustain to it, while it is extending to distant lands, and thousands are embracing it. I realize in some measure my responsibility, and the need I have of support from above, and wisdom from on high, that I may be able to teach this people, which have now become a great people, the principles of righteousness, and lead them agreeably to the will of Heaven; so that they may be perfected, and prepared to meet the Lord Jesus Christ when He shall appear in great glory. Can I rely on your prayers to our Heavenly Father on my behalf and on all the prayers of all my brethren and sisters in England, (Whom having not seen, yet I love), that I may be enabled to escape every strategem of Satan, surmount every difficulty, and bring this people to the enjoyment of those blessings which are reserved for the righteous? I ask this at your hands in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. (Italics added.)
In conclusion the Prophet says:
“…Let every selfish feeling be not only buried, but annihilated; and let love to God and man predominate… Let us realize that we are not to live to ourselves, but to God; by so doing the greatest blessing will rest upon us both in time and in eternity…Give my love to all the brethren and sisters and tell them I should have been pleased to come over to England to see them, but I am afraid that I shall be under necessity of remaining here for some time; therefore I give them a pressing invitation to come and see me. I remain, dear brethren, yours affectionately,
JOSEPH SMITH 6
Joseph Smith’s submissive nature permitted him to enjoy the companionship of the Spirit of the Lord and the resultant blessing of such a companionship.
Article adapted by Leon Hartshorn, Unformatted Source info: JOSEPH SMITH: PROPHET OF THE RESTORATION, by Leon R. Hartshorn. Deseret Book 1970
4. From a consideration of incomplete historical records, following is what I believe took place relative to the presentation of a new book of scripture and its ultimate acceptance. See also William E. Berrett, Teachings of the Doctrine and Covenants (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1961) pp. 2-6.
5. D&C 67:5-8
6. HC 4:226-32
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