“Do Not Cast Me Off,” chapter 20 of Saints: The Story of the Church of Jesus Christ in the Latter Days, Volume 1, The Standard of Truth, 1815–1846 (2018)
Chapter 20: “Do Not Cast Me Off”
During the summer of 1835, while the apostles left on missions to the eastern states and Canada, the Saints worked together to finish the temple and prepare for the endowment of power. Spared the violence and loss the Saints in Missouri had suffered, Kirtland grew and prospered spiritually as converts gathered to the town and lent their hands to the Lord’s work.1
In July, a poster advertising “Egyptian Antiquities” appeared in town. It told of the discovery of hundreds of mummies in an Egyptian tomb. Some of the mummies, as well as several ancient papyrus scrolls, had been exhibited throughout the United States, attracting large crowds of spectators.2
Michael Chandler, the man showcasing the artifacts, had heard of Joseph and come to Kirtland to see if he wanted to purchase them.3 Joseph examined the mummies, but he was more interested in the scrolls. They were covered with strange writing and curious images of people, boats, birds, and snakes.4
Chandler permitted the prophet to take the scrolls home and study them overnight. Joseph knew Egypt played an important role in the lives of several prophets in the Bible. He also knew Nephi, Mormon, and other writers of the Book of Mormon had recorded their words in what Moroni called “reformed Egyptian.”5
As he examined the writings on the scrolls, he discerned that they contained vital teachings from the Old Testament patriarch Abraham. Meeting with Chandler the next day, Joseph asked how much he wanted for the scrolls.6 Chandler said he would only sell the scrolls and mummies together, for $2,400.7
The price was far more than Joseph could afford. The Saints were still struggling to finish the temple with limited funds, and few people in Kirtland had money to loan him. Yet Joseph believed the scrolls were worth the price, and he and others quickly raised enough money to buy the artifacts.8
Excitement rippled through the church as Joseph and his scribes began trying to make sense of the ancient symbols, confident the Lord would soon reveal more of their message to the Saints.9
When Joseph was not poring over the scrolls, he put them and the mummies on display for visitors. Emma took a keen interest in the artifacts and listened carefully as Joseph explained his understanding of the writings of Abraham. When curious people asked to see the mummies, she often exhibited them herself, sharing what Joseph had taught her.10
It was a thrilling time to live in Kirtland. While critics of the church still hounded the Saints, and debts continued to worry Joseph and Sidney, Emma could see the Lord’s blessings all around her. Workers on the temple completed the roof in July and immediately began constructing a tall steeple.11 Joseph and Sidney began holding Sabbath meetings in the unfinished structure, sometimes drawing a crowd as large as one thousand people inside to hear them preach.12
Emma and Joseph now lived in a house near the temple, and from her yard, Emma could see Artemus Millet and Joseph Young covering the temple’s outer walls with a blue-gray stucco, which they scored to look like cut stone blocks.13 Under Artemus’s direction, children helped collect pieces of broken glass and crockery to crush into tiny shards and mix into the stucco. In the sunlight, the shards made the temple walls sparkle as light reflected off them like the facets of a gem.14
Emma’s house was always busy. Many people boarded with the Smiths, including some of the men who ran the church’s new printing office. Aside from printing a new church newspaper, the Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate, these men worked on several other projects, including the hymnal Emma had compiled with the help of William Phelps.15
Emma’s book included new hymns by Saints and older works from other Christian churches. William wrote some of the new pieces, as did Parley Pratt and a recent convert named Eliza Snow. The final hymn was William’s “The Spirit of God like a Fire Is Burning,” an anthem praising God for restoring the gospel.
Emma knew the printers were also publishing a new collection of revelations called the Doctrine and Covenants. Compiled under Joseph and Oliver’s supervision, the Doctrine and Covenants was a combination of revelations from the unpublished Book of Commandments and more recent revelations, together with a series of lectures on faith that church leaders had given to the elders.16 The Saints accepted the Doctrine and Covenants as a work of scripture, as important as the Bible and Book of Mormon.17
That fall, as these projects neared completion, church leaders from Missouri came to Kirtland to prepare for the temple dedication and the endowment of power. On October 29, Emma and Joseph held a dinner in honor of Edward Partridge and others who had arrived. As they all rejoiced in the unity they felt with each other, Newel Whitney told Edward that he hoped to dine with him the next year in Zion.
Looking at her friends, Emma said she hoped everyone at the table might be able to join them in the promised land as well.
“Amen,” Joseph said. “God grant it.”18
After the dinner, Joseph and Emma attended a meeting of the Kirtland high council. Joseph’s younger brother William had charged a woman in the church with physically abusing her stepdaughter. Among the witnesses who spoke in the case was Lucy Smith, Joseph and William’s mother. During her testimony, Joseph interrupted when she started speaking about something the council had already heard and resolved.19
Leaping to his feet, William accused Joseph of doubting their mother’s words. Joseph turned to his brother and told him to sit down. William ignored him and remained standing.
“Sit down,” Joseph repeated, trying to stay calm.
William said he would not sit unless Joseph knocked him down.
Agitated, Joseph turned to leave the room, but his father stopped him and asked him to stay. Joseph called the council to order and finished the hearing. By the end of the meeting, he had relaxed enough to say a cordial goodbye to William.
But William was seething, still convinced that Joseph was wrong.20
Around this time, Hyrum Smith and his wife, Jerusha, hired Lydia Bailey, a twenty-two-year-old convert, to help out in their boardinghouse. Joseph had baptized Lydia a couple years earlier when he and Sidney were on a short mission to Canada.21 Lydia had moved to Kirtland not long after, and Hyrum and Jerusha promised to care for her like family.
The work kept Lydia busy. With church leaders from Missouri in town to prepare for the temple dedication, she and Jerusha cooked meals, made beds, and cleaned the house constantly. She rarely had time to talk with the boarders, although Newel Knight, a longtime friend of the Smiths, had caught her eye.22
“Brother Knight is a widower,” Jerusha told her one day as they worked.
“Oh,” said Lydia, pretending not to be interested.
“He lost his wife last fall,” Jerusha said. “His heart was almost broken.”
Hearing about Newel’s loss caused Lydia to remember her own.23 When she was sixteen, she had married a young man named Calvin Bailey. After their marriage, Calvin drank heavily and sometimes hit her and their daughter.
In time, they lost their farm because of Calvin’s drinking, forcing them to rent a smaller home. Lydia gave birth to a son there, but the baby lived only a day. Calvin abandoned Lydia soon after, and she and her daughter moved back in with her parents.
Life seemed to be getting better, but then her daughter got sick. When she died, it was as though the last of Lydia’s happiness died too. To help her cope with the loss, her parents sent her to friends in Canada. There she heard the gospel and was baptized, and since then, her life had been happier and more hopeful. But she was lonely and longed for companionship.24
One day, Newel approached her in an upper room of the Smith home. “I think your situation, as well as mine, is rather lonely,” he said, taking her hand. “Perhaps we might be some company for each other.”25
Lydia sat in silence. “I suppose you are aware of my situation,” she said sadly. “I have not the slightest knowledge where my husband is, or whether he is alive or dead.” Without a divorce from Calvin, she did not feel she could marry Newel.
“I would rather sacrifice every feeling of my own, and even life,” she told him before leaving the room, “than step aside from virtue or offend my Heavenly Father.”26
The day after arguing with his brother, Joseph received a letter from him. William was upset because the high council had blamed him, and not Joseph, for the dispute. Believing he had been right to reprimand Joseph in front of the high council, he insisted on meeting privately with Joseph to defend his actions.27
Joseph agreed to meet with William, suggesting that they each share their version of what had happened, acknowledge their errors, and apologize for any wrongdoing. Since Hyrum had a calming influence in the family, Joseph invited him to join them and make a fair judgment on who was at fault.28
William came to Joseph’s house the next day, and the brothers took turns explaining the dispute. Joseph said he was upset that William had spoken out of turn in front of the council and failed to respect his position as president of the church. William denied that he had been disrespectful and insisted that Joseph was in the wrong.
Hyrum listened carefully to his brothers. When they finished, he started to give his opinion, but William interrupted, accusing him and Joseph of heaping all the blame on him. Joseph and Hyrum tried to calm him down, but he stormed out of the house. Later that day, he sent Joseph his preaching license.
Soon all of Kirtland knew about the dispute. It divided the normally tight-knit Smith family, setting Joseph’s brothers and sisters against each other. Worried that his critics would use the feud against him and the church, Joseph kept his distance from William, hoping his brother’s anger would cool.29
But William continued to rail against Joseph in the early weeks of November, and soon some of the Saints took sides as well. The apostles condemned William’s behavior and threatened to eject him from the Quorum of the Twelve. Joseph, however, received a revelation urging them to be patient with William.30
Watching divisions unfold around him, Joseph grew sad. That summer, the Saints had worked together with purpose and goodwill, and the Lord had blessed them with the Egyptian records and great progress on the temple.
But now, with the endowment of power almost within their reach, they could not come together in heart and mind.31
Throughout the fall of 1835, Newel Knight remained determined to marry Lydia Bailey. Believing Ohio law allowed women who had been abandoned by their husbands to remarry, he urged Lydia to leave her past behind. But as much as Lydia wanted to marry Newel, she needed to know that it was right in the eyes of God.
Newel fasted and prayed for three days. On the third day, he asked Hyrum to find out from Joseph if it was right to marry Lydia. Hyrum agreed to talk to his brother, and Newel left to work on the temple on an empty stomach.
Newel was still working when Hyrum approached him later that day. Hyrum told him that Joseph had asked the Lord and received an answer that Lydia and Newel should marry. “The sooner they are married, the better,” Joseph had said. “Tell them no law shall hurt them. They need not fear either the law of God or man.”
Newel was ecstatic. Dropping his tools, he ran to the boardinghouse and told Lydia what Joseph had said. Lydia was overjoyed, and she and Newel thanked God for His goodness. Newel asked her to marry him, and she accepted. He then rushed to the dining room to break his fast.
Hyrum and Jerusha agreed to host the wedding the following day. Lydia and Newel wanted Joseph to perform the ceremony, but they knew he had never performed a marriage before and did not know if he had legal authority to do it.
The next day, however, while Hyrum was inviting guests to the ceremony, he told Joseph he was still looking for someone to marry the couple. “Stop!” Joseph exclaimed. “I will marry them myself!”
Ohio law allowed ministers of formally organized churches to marry couples.32 More importantly, Joseph believed his office in the Melchizedek Priesthood divinely authorized him to perform marriages. “The Lord God of Israel has given me authority to unite the people in the holy bonds of matrimony,” he declared, “and from this time forth I shall use that privilege.”
Hyrum and Jerusha welcomed wedding guests into their home on an icy evening in November. The aroma of the wedding feast filled the room as the Saints prayed and sang to celebrate the occasion. Joseph stood and asked Lydia and Newel to join him at the front of the room and take each other’s hands. He explained that marriage was instituted by God in the Garden of Eden and should be solemnized by the everlasting priesthood.
Turning to Lydia and Newel, he had them covenant that they would accompany each other through life as husband and wife. He pronounced them married and encouraged them to start a family, blessing them with long life and prosperity.33
Lydia and Newel’s wedding was a bright spot in an otherwise difficult winter for Joseph. Since his falling out with William, he had not been able to focus on the Egyptian scrolls or on preparing the Saints for the endowment of power. He tried to lead cheerfully, following the Spirit of the Lord. But the turmoil within his family and the burdens of leading the church could be taxing, and sometimes he spoke harshly to people when they made mistakes.34
In December, William began holding an informal debating society at his home. Hoping the debates would provide opportunities for learning and teaching by the Spirit, Joseph decided to participate. The society’s first two meetings went smoothly, but during the third gathering, the mood grew tense when William interrupted another apostle during a debate.
William’s interruption led some people to question if the society should continue. William grew angry and an argument broke out. Joseph intervened, and soon he and William were exchanging insults.35 Joseph Sr. tried to calm his sons down, but neither man relented, and William lunged at his brother.
Scrambling to defend himself, Joseph tried to remove his coat, but his arms got tangled in the sleeves. William struck hard, again and again, aggravating an injury Joseph had received when he was tarred and feathered. By the time some of the men wrestled William away, Joseph lay on the floor, barely able to move.36
A few days later, as he recovered from the fight, Joseph received a message from his brother. “I feel as though it was a duty to make a humble confession,” William stated. Afraid that he was unworthy of his calling, he asked Joseph to remove him from the Quorum of the Twelve.37
“Do not cast me off for what I have done, but strive to save me,” he begged. “I do repent of what I have done to you.”38
Joseph responded to the letter, expressing hope that they could reconcile. “May God take away enmity from between me and thee,” he declared, “and may all blessings be restored, and the past be forgotten forever.”39
On the first day of the new year, the brothers met with their father and Hyrum. Joseph Sr. prayed for his sons and pleaded for them to forgive each other. As he spoke, Joseph could see how much his feud with William had pained their father. The Spirit of God filled the room, and Joseph’s heart melted. William too looked contrite. He confessed his fault and asked again for Joseph’s forgiveness.
Knowing he had been at fault as well, Joseph apologized to his brother. They then covenanted to try harder to build each other up and resolve their differences in meekness.
Joseph invited Emma and his mother into the room, and he and William repeated their covenant. Joyful tears ran down their faces. They bowed their heads, and Joseph prayed, grateful that his family was once more united.40