“Holy Places,” chapter 15 of Saints: The Story of the Church of Jesus Christ in the Latter Days, Volume 1, The Standard of Truth, 1815–1846 (2018)
Chapter 15: “Holy Places”
In August 1832, Phebe Peck watched proudly as three of her children were baptized near their home in Missouri. They were among eleven children baptized in Zion that day. Along with the children of Lydia and Edward Partridge and Sally and William Phelps, they belonged to the first generation of young Saints growing up in a land the Lord had set apart as holy.
Phebe and her children had moved to Zion with the Colesville Saints a year earlier. Phebe’s late husband, Benjamin, was Polly Knight’s brother, so Phebe had a place in the extended Knight family. But she still missed her own family and friends in New York who had not joined the church.
Shortly after her children’s baptisms, she wrote to two of her old friends about Zion. “You would not think it a hardship to come here,” she told her friend Anna, “for the Lord is revealing the mysteries of the heavenly kingdom unto His children.”1
Recently, William Phelps had published Joseph and Sidney’s vision of heaven in The Evening and the Morning Star, and Phebe shared with Anna its promise that those who were baptized and remained valiant in the testimony of Christ would enjoy the highest degree of glory and the fullness of God’s blessings.
With such a promise in mind, Phebe urged another friend, Patty, to listen to the gospel message. “Could you but see and believe as I do,” she wrote, “the way would be opened and you would come to this land, and we should behold each other and rejoice in the things of God.”
Phebe testified of the prophet’s recently revealed vision and the peace it brought her, encouraging Patty to read its words if she ever got the chance.
“I hope you will read with a careful and a prayerful heart,” she told her friend, “for these things are worthy of notice, and I desire that you may search into them.”2
That fall, Joseph traveled with Newel Whitney to New York City to preach the gospel and make purchases for the United Firm. The Lord had called Newel to warn people in large cities of the calamities that were coming in the last days. Joseph accompanied him to help fulfill the Lord’s commandment.3
Lately, the prophet had felt an increasing urgency to preach the gospel and build up the gathering place of the Saints. Shortly before he left Kirtland, he received a revelation that priesthood holders had a responsibility to preach the gospel and lead the faithful to the safety of Zion and the temple, where the Lord promised to visit them with His glory.
The priesthood, therefore, brought with it a duty to administer ordinances to those who accepted Christ and His gospel. Only through these ordinances, the Lord taught, could His children be ready to receive His power and return to His presence.4
As he left on his journey, though, Joseph had reason to worry about the effort to build Zion in Missouri. The church in Ohio was thriving, despite opposition from former church members, but the church in Missouri struggled to maintain order as more people moved to the area without permission. With tensions between him and some of Zion’s leaders still unresolved, something had to be done to unify the church.
Arriving in New York City, Joseph was astonished by its size. Tall buildings towered over narrow streets that stretched for miles. Everywhere he looked were shops with expensive goods, large houses and office buildings, and banks where wealthy men transacted business. People of many ethnicities, occupations, and classes hurried by him, seemingly indifferent to others around them.5
He and Newel lodged at a four-story hotel near the warehouses where Newel hoped to make his purchases for the United Firm. Joseph found the work of selecting goods tedious and was discouraged by the pride and wickedness he saw in the city, so he often returned to the hotel to read, meditate, and pray. He soon became homesick. Emma was nearing the end of another difficult pregnancy, and he longed to be with her and their daughter.
“Thoughts of home, of Emma and Julia, rush upon my mind like a flood,” he wrote, “and I could wish for a moment to be with them.”
Sometimes Joseph would leave the hotel to explore and preach. New York City had a population of more than two hundred thousand, and Joseph sensed that the Lord was pleased with the wonderful architecture and extraordinary inventions of its people. Yet no one seemed to glorify God for the marvelous things around them or take interest in the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.
Undeterred, Joseph continued to share his message. “I am determined to lift up my voice,” he wrote Emma, “and leave the event with God, who holdeth all things in His hands.”6
One month later, after Joseph and Newel had returned to Ohio, thirty-one-year-old Brigham Young arrived in Kirtland with his older brother Joseph and his best friend, Heber Kimball. They were recent converts from central New York, not far from where Joseph Smith had grown up. Brigham had wanted to meet the prophet since he first learned about the Book of Mormon. Now that he was in Kirtland, he planned to shake Joseph’s hand, look into his eyes, and know his heart. Brigham had been preaching from the Book of Mormon since his baptism, but he knew little about the man who translated it.
Joseph and Emma now lived in the apartment above the Whitneys’ store in Kirtland, but when the three men stopped there, the prophet was out chopping firewood in a forest about a mile away. They set out for the place immediately, unsure what they would find when they got there.
Walking into the woods, Brigham and the others came to a clearing where Joseph was splitting logs. He was taller than Brigham and dressed in simple work clothes. From the skillful way Joseph swung his ax, Brigham could see he was no stranger to manual labor.
Brigham approached him and introduced himself. Setting down his ax, Joseph shook Brigham’s hand. “I am glad to see you,” he said.
As they talked, Brigham offered to chop wood while his brother and Heber helped load it into a wagon. The prophet seemed cheerful, hardworking, and friendly. Like Brigham, he had come from a humble background, but he was not crude the way some laborers were. Brigham knew at once he was a prophet of God.7
After a while, Joseph invited the men back to his house for a meal. When they arrived, he introduced them to Emma, who lay in bed, cradling a healthy baby boy. The baby had been born a few days earlier, only hours before Joseph and Newel returned from New York. Emma and Joseph had named him Joseph Smith III.8
Following the meal, Joseph held a small meeting and invited Brigham to pray. As he bowed his head, Brigham felt the Spirit move him to speak in an unknown language. The people in the room were startled. Over the last year, they had seen many people mimic the gifts of the Spirit with wild behavior. What Brigham did was different.
“Brethren, I shall never oppose anything that comes from the Lord,” Joseph said, sensing their discomfort. “That tongue is from God.”
Joseph then spoke in the same language, declaring that it was the language Adam had spoken in the Garden of Eden and encouraging the Saints to seek the gift of tongues, as Paul had done in the New Testament, for the benefit of the children of God.9
Brigham left Kirtland a week later as a peaceful winter settled over the small village. A few days before Christmas, however, a local newspaper published reports that government leaders in the state of South Carolina were fighting taxes on imported goods and threatening to declare independence from the United States. Some people were calling for war.10
As Joseph read reports of the crisis, he reflected on the wickedness and destruction that the Bible said would precede the Savior’s Second Coming.11 The whole world groaned under the bondage of sin, the Lord had told him recently, and God would soon visit the wicked with His wrath, rending the kingdoms of the earth and causing the heavens to tremble.12
After praying to know more about these calamities, Joseph received a revelation on Christmas Day. The Lord told him that the time would come when South Carolina and other southern states would rebel against the rest of the nation. The rebellious states would call on other countries for help, and enslaved peoples would rise up against their masters. War and natural disaster would then pour out upon all nations, spreading misery and death across the earth.
The revelation was a bleak reminder that the Saints could no longer delay the building of Zion and the temple. They had to prepare now if they hoped to avoid the coming devastation.
“Stand ye in holy places,” the Lord urged them, “and be not moved, until the day of the Lord come.”13
Two days after receiving the revelation on war, Joseph met with church leaders in Newel Whitney’s store. He believed that the Saints in Missouri were growing more critical of his leadership. If they did not repent and restore harmony in the church, he feared, they could lose their inheritances in Zion and forfeit their chance to build the temple.14
After opening the meeting, Joseph asked the church leaders to pray to know God’s will for building Zion. The men bowed their heads and prayed, each expressing his willingness to keep God’s commandments. Joseph then received a revelation while Frederick Williams, his new scribe, wrote it down.15
It was a message of peace for the Saints, urging them to be holy. “Sanctify yourselves,” the Lord commanded, “that your minds become single to God.” To their surprise, He directed them to build a temple in Kirtland and prepare to receive His glory.
“Organize yourselves,” the Lord said. “Prepare every needful thing; and establish a house, even a house of prayer, a house of fasting, a house of faith, a house of learning, a house of glory, a house of order, a house of God.”
The Lord also counseled them to start a school. “As all have not faith,” He declared, “seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith.”16
Joseph sent a copy of the revelation to William Phelps in Missouri, calling it an “olive leaf” and “the Lord’s message of peace” to the Saints in Kirtland. He warned the Saints in Zion that if they did not sanctify themselves as the Lord instructed, He would choose others to build His temple.
“Hear the warning voice of God, lest Zion fall,” Joseph pleaded. “The brethren in Kirtland pray for you unceasingly, for knowing the terrors of the Lord, they greatly fear for you.”17
On January 22, 1833, Joseph and the Saints in Kirtland opened the School of the Prophets in the Whitneys’ store. One of Joseph’s clerks, Orson Hyde, was appointed to teach the class. Like Joseph and many of the other students, Orson had spent most of his childhood working rather than attending school. He was an orphan, and his guardian had allowed him to attend school only in the winter, after the harvest and before the next planting. Orson had a good memory and learned quickly, however, and he had attended a nearby academy as an adult.18
In the School of the Prophets, Orson taught the men spiritual lessons in addition to history, grammar, and arithmetic, as the Lord had commanded.19 Those who attended his classes were not just pupils. They addressed each other as brothers and bound themselves with a covenant of fellowship.20 They studied together, had discussions, and prayed as a group.21
One day, Joseph invited Orson and others in the class to take off their shoes. Following Christ’s example, Joseph knelt before them one by one and washed their feet.
When he finished, he said, “As I have done, so do ye.” He asked them to serve one another and to keep themselves clean from the sins of the world.22
While the School of the Prophets was in session, Emma watched the students arrive and make their way up the stairs to the small, tightly packed room where they met. Some men came to the school freshly washed and neatly dressed out of respect for the sacred nature of the school. Some also skipped breakfast so they could come to the meeting fasting.23
After class got out and the men left for the day, Emma and some young women hired to help would clean the schoolroom. Since the men smoked pipes and chewed tobacco during the lessons, the room was hazy and the floorboards were covered in tobacco spit when they left. Emma would scrub with all her might, but tobacco stains remained on the floor.24
She complained to Joseph about the mess. Joseph did not normally use tobacco, but he did not mind if the other men did. Emma’s complaints, however, caused him to question if tobacco use was right in God’s eyes.
Emma was not alone in her concerns. Reformers in the United States and other countries throughout the world thought smoking and chewing tobacco, as well as drinking alcohol, were filthy habits. But some doctors believed tobacco could cure a host of ailments. Similar claims were made about drinking alcohol and hot drinks like coffee and tea, which people drank liberally.25
When Joseph took the matter to the Lord, he received a revelation—a “word of wisdom for the benefit of the Saints in these last days.”26 In it, the Lord cautioned His people against consuming alcohol, declaring that distilled liquor was for washing their bodies while wine was for occasions like the sacrament. He also warned them against tobacco and hot drinks.
The Lord emphasized a healthy diet, encouraging the Saints to eat grains, herbs, and fruits and to consume meat sparingly. He promised blessings of health, knowledge, and strength to those who chose to obey.27
The revelation had been declared not as a commandment but as a caution. Many people would find it hard to give up using these powerful substances, and Joseph did not insist on strict conformity. He continued to drink alcohol occasionally, and he and Emma sometimes drank coffee and tea.28
Still, after Joseph read the words to the School of the Prophets, the men in the room tossed their pipes and plugs of chewing tobacco into the fire to show their willingness to obey the Lord’s counsel.29
The first session of the School of the Prophets closed in March, and its members dispersed to serve missions or fill other assignments.30 Church leaders in Kirtland, meanwhile, worked to buy a brickyard and raise funds to build the temple.31
Around this time, Joseph received a letter from Missouri. After reading the “olive leaf” revelation, Edward and others had urged the Saints to repent and reconcile with the church in Kirtland. Their efforts worked, and they now asked Joseph to forgive them.32
Ready to put the conflict behind him, Joseph sought ways to fulfill the Lord’s commandments for Zion. In June, he prayed with Sidney Rigdon and Frederick Williams to learn how to build a temple. As they prayed, they saw a vision of the temple and examined its exterior, observing the structure of its windows, roof, and steeple. The temple then seemed to move over the top of them, and they found themselves inside it, inspecting its interior halls.33
After their vision, the men drew up plans for temples in Kirtland and Independence. Outside, the buildings would look like large churches, but inside they would have two spacious assembly rooms, one on the upper floor and one on the lower, where the Saints could meet and learn.34
Joseph next focused on helping the Saints in Zion make a city of their settlement, which had more than doubled in size since his last visit.35 With the help of Frederick and Sidney, he drew up plans for a one-square-mile city. Long, straight streets in a grid pattern crisscrossed the map, with brick and stone houses set on deep lots with groves of trees in the front and garden space in back.
Land was to be divided into lots of a half acre each, for rich and poor alike. Farmers would live in the city and work in fields on the outskirts of town. At the center of the city were the temple and other sacred buildings intended for worship, education, administration, and caring for the poor. Each public building was to be inscribed with the words “Holiness to the Lord.”36
The city could accommodate fifteen thousand people, which would make it far smaller than New York City, but still one of the largest cities in the country. Once the city was full, the plan could be replicated over and over, until all the Saints had an inheritance in Zion. “Lay off another in the same way,” Joseph directed, “and so fill up the world in these last days.”37
In June 1833, Joseph, Sidney, and Frederick sent the plan for the city from Kirtland to Independence, along with detailed instructions for how to build the temple.
“We have commenced building the House of the Lord in this place, and it goes on rapidly,” they reported in a letter that accompanied the plans. “Day and night, we pray for the salvation of Zion.”38