“Chapter 54: Doctrine and Covenants 134–36,” Doctrine and Covenants Student Manual (2017)
“Chapter 54,” Doctrine and Covenants Student Manual
On August 17, 1835, Church members in Kirtland, Ohio, held a special meeting to approve the upcoming publication of the Doctrine and Covenants. Because the Prophet Joseph Smith was away visiting Church members in Michigan Territory, Oliver Cowdery presided at this meeting. During the meeting, Church members voted to include in the Doctrine and Covenants “a declaration of belief regarding governments and laws” (D&C 134, section heading). This statement is recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 134.
On June 27, 1844, the Prophet Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum, who was the Assistant President of the Church as well as Patriarch of the Church, were martyred at Carthage, Illinois. An announcement of the martyrdom was included in the 1844 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants and was based on the eyewitness accounts of Elder John Taylor and Elder Willard Richards, members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. This announcement is recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 135.
In February 1846, Church members began leaving Nauvoo, Illinois, and traveling west across Iowa Territory. President Brigham Young received the revelation recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 136 at Winter Quarters, Nebraska, in January 1847. In it the Lord counseled the Saints to organize themselves and prepare for their journey west.
- August 17, 1835
Doctrine and Covenants 134 was approved for inclusion in the Doctrine and Covenants by Church members in Kirtland, Ohio.
- June 27, 1844
The Prophet Joseph Smith and Hyrum Smith were martyred in Carthage Jail in Carthage, Illinois.
- July–August 1844
Doctrine and Covenants 135 was written.
- February 4, 1846
The first company of Saints left Nauvoo, Illinois, on their trek west.
- June 1846
Brigham Young’s company of Saints arrived at the Missouri River, where Kanesville, Iowa; Winter Quarters, Nebraska; and other settlements were eventually established.
- January 14, 1847
Doctrine and Covenants 136 was received.
- July 24, 1847
Brigham Young’s pioneer company arrived in the Salt Lake Valley.
After Church members were illegally driven from their homes in Jackson County, Missouri, in late 1833, Church leaders asked state and federal government officials for help in protecting the Saints’ civil rights and reclaiming their lost property, but the Church’s appeals for help repeatedly failed. In some cases Church members were “accused by their bitter enemies, both in Missouri and in other places, as being opposed to law and order” and were falsely “portrayed as setting up laws in conflict with the laws of the country” (Joseph Fielding Smith, Church History and Modern Revelation , 2:30–31).
In July 1833 very few printed copies of the Book of Commandments survived the mob violence in Independence, Missouri. Therefore, a new book containing the revelations that the Prophet Joseph Smith had received was prepared for publication in 1835 in Kirtland, Ohio. On August 17, 1835, a general assembly of Church members gathered to approve the first edition of the Doctrine and Covenants prior to its publication. During that meeting Oliver Cowdery read aloud an additional document titled “Of Governments and Laws in General.” Those in attendance unanimously approved the document’s inclusion in the Doctrine and Covenants, and the document was added after the appendix, which is now Doctrine and Covenants 133, at the end of the 1835 edition. This document, now recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 134, was not a revelation given to the Prophet Joseph Smith but was possibly prepared by Oliver Cowdery, with the help of William W. Phelps, as a declaration clarifying Church members’ beliefs regarding their relationship to government and the law. (See The Joseph Smith Papers, Documents, Volume 4: April 1834–September 1835, ed. Matthew C. Godfrey and others , 479–82.)
The persecution the Saints experienced in Missouri in 1833 and their failure to obtain help from government leaders intensified their belief that governments should protect citizens’ rights, including “the free exercise of conscience, the right and control of property, and the protection of life” (D&C 134:2). Laws that allow citizens to act according to their conscience protect religious liberty. Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught that governments have the responsibility to protect “the free exercise of conscience” (D&C 134:2) and their citizens’ religious freedom:
“Today … none of us can ignore the importance of religion globally—in politics, conflict resolution, economic development, humanitarian relief, and more. … Understanding religion and its relationship to global concerns and to governments is essential to seeking to improve the world in which we live. …
“Consequently, a government should secure religious freedom for its citizens. As stated in article 18 of the United Nation’s influential Universal Declaration of Human Rights, ‘Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance’ [Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nation’s General Assembly on Dec. 10, 1948, un.org]” (“Religion’s Vital Global Role,” Ensign, June 2017, 28).
In 1842 the Prophet Joseph Smith emphasized the principle of religious freedom described in Doctrine and Covenants 134 when he wrote Articles of Faith 1:11, which states, “We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.” Religious freedom, however, does not mean that all religious practices should be protected by law. According to Doctrine and Covenants 134:4, citizens should be able to practice religion “unless their religious opinions prompt them to infringe on the rights and liberties of others.” Therefore, limits on religious activities are appropriate where necessary to protect compelling interests, such as the life, property, health, or safety of others.
The Prophet Joseph Smith (1805–1844) made the following statements regarding the importance of protecting religious freedom:
“We deem it a just principle, and it is one the force of which we believe ought to be duly considered by every individual, that all men are created equal, and that all have the privilege of thinking for themselves upon all matters relative to conscience. Consequently, then, we are not disposed, had we the power, to deprive any one of exercising that free independence of mind which heaven has so graciously bestowed upon the human family as one of its choicest gifts.”
“I have the most liberal sentiments, and feelings of charity toward all sects, parties, and denominations; and the rights and liberties of conscience, I hold most sacred and dear, and despise no man for differing with me in matters of opinion.”
“The Saints can testify whether I am willing to lay down my life for my brethren. If it has been demonstrated that I have been willing to die for a ‘Mormon,’ I am bold to declare before Heaven that I am just as ready to die in defending the rights of a Presbyterian, a Baptist, or a good man of any other denomination; for the same principle which would trample upon the rights of the Latter-day Saints would trample upon the rights … of any other denomination who may be unpopular and too weak to defend themselves.
“It is a love of liberty which inspires my soul—civil and religious liberty to the whole of the human race” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith , 344–45).
Elder Robert D. Hales of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught the basic principles of religious freedom that we should all seek to promote and support:
“There are four cornerstones of religious freedom that we as Latter-day Saints must rely upon and protect.
“The first is freedom to believe. No one should be criticized, persecuted, or attacked by individuals, or governments either, for what he or she believes about God. It is very personal and very important. …
“The second cornerstone of religious liberty is the freedom to share our faith and our beliefs with others. … As parents, full-time missionaries, and member missionaries, we rely on religious freedom in order to teach the Lord’s doctrine in our families and throughout the world.
“The third cornerstone of religious liberty is the freedom to form a religious organization, a church, to worship peacefully with others. … International human rights documents and many national constitutions support this principle.
“The fourth cornerstone of religious liberty is the freedom to live our faith—free exercise of faith not just in the home and chapel but also in public places” (“Preserving Agency, Protecting Religious Freedom,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2015, 112).
Latter-day Saints believe that they should “sustain and uphold the respective governments in which they reside” (D&C 134:5). The Prophet Joseph Smith summarized this principle when he wrote Articles of Faith 1:12, which reads, “We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.” Church members live this principle when they obey their country’s laws and encourage others to obey the law, serve in the community, show respect for government officials, and vote.
At times, laws of the land may conflict with Church members’ beliefs. While speaking at a conference attended by judicial and religious leaders, Elder Dallin H. Oaks taught what we can do when this dilemma occurs:
“While all believers revere divine law, most also acknowledge that civil law is also ordained of God. The Lord Jesus Christ directed, ‘Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s’ (Matthew 22:21). So taught, we must, to the extent possible, obey both systems of law. When there are apparent conflicts, we must seek to harmonize them. When they are truly irreconcilable, we should join with others of like mind in striving to change the civil law to accommodate the divine. In all events, we must be very measured before ever deciding—in the rarest of circumstances—to disregard one in favor of the other.
“In that context, I say to my fellow believers that we should not assert the free exercise of religion to override every law and government action that could possibly be interpreted to infringe on institutional or personal religious freedom. As I have often said, the free exercise of religion obviously involves both the right to choose religious beliefs and affiliations and the right to exercise or practice those beliefs. But in a nation with citizens of many different religious beliefs, the right of some to act upon their religious principles must be circumscribed by the government’s responsibility to protect the health and safety of all” (“The Boundary Between Church and State” [address at the Second Annual Sacramento Court/Clergy Conference, Oct. 20, 2015], mormonnewsroom.org).
In 1821, Missouri was admitted into the United States as a slave state, meaning that the institution of slavery was legal there. While speaking at a conference on religious freedom, Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explained that the Missouri Saints were persecuted in part because of their anti-slavery beliefs:
“In Missouri in 1833, our Latter-day Saint values were in direct conflict with the Missouri settlers not of our faith. Many Missourians considered American Indians a relentless enemy and wanted them removed from the land. In addition, many of the Missouri settlers were slave owners and felt threatened by those who were opposed to slavery. …
“In contrast, our doctrine respected the American Indians and our desire was to teach them the gospel of Jesus Christ. With respect to slavery our scriptures are clear that no man should be in bondage to another. Our relatively few early black members worshipped together with white members. … Other Missouri settlers felt threatened as large numbers of Latter-day Saints, following the Lord’s revelations, moved to Missouri.
“This resulted in immense conflict and persecution for members of the Church” (“Accountability to God: Religious Freedom and Fairness” [address at the Seymour Institute Seminar on Religious Freedom, July 26, 2017], mormonnewsroom.org).
Some of the Missouri settlers were upset because they interpreted an editorial that appeared in the Latter-day Saint publication The Evening and the Morning Star to advocate the migration of free blacks into the state (see Manuscript History of the Church, vol. A-1, pages 332–33, josephsmithpapers.org). Oliver Cowdery witnessed the harsh persecution the Missouri Saints suffered, and he may have written the statement that “we do not believe it right to interfere with bondservants” (D&C 134:12) to defend the Church against that accusation. His statement clarified that the Church did not advocate violating established law in order to “preach the gospel to, nor baptize” those living as slaves “contrary to the will and wish of their masters” (D&C 134:12).
“The Church was established in 1830, during an era of great racial division in the United States. At the time, many people of African descent lived in slavery, and racial distinctions and prejudice were not just common but customary among white Americans. Those realities, though unfamiliar and disturbing today, influenced all aspects of people’s lives, including their religion. Many Christian churches of that era, for instance, were segregated along racial lines. From the beginnings of the Church, people of every race and ethnicity could be baptized and received as members. Toward the end of his life, Church founder Joseph Smith openly opposed slavery” (“Race and the Priesthood,” Gospel Topics Essays, topics.lds.org).
In early 1844 a group of apostates in Nauvoo, Illinois, declared the Prophet Joseph Smith to be a fallen prophet and tried to start a rival church. Some even held secret meetings, during which they plotted to kill him. (See Glen L. Leonard, Nauvoo: A Place of Peace, a People of Promise , 357–62.) On June 7, 1844, some of these dissenters printed and distributed the first, and what would be the only, issue of a newspaper they called the Nauvoo Expositor. It attacked the leadership of the Prophet Joseph Smith, who was serving as mayor of Nauvoo, accusing him of teaching false doctrine, of overstepping his political and religious authority, and of secretly practicing polygamy. It also called for the repeal of the Nauvoo Charter. (See Leonard, Nauvoo, 362–64.) During a meeting of the Nauvoo City Council on June 10, 1844, “the Council passed an ordinance declaring the Nauvoo Expositor a nuisance, and also issued an order to [Joseph Smith] to [stop] the said nuisance.” At that meeting, the Prophet Joseph Smith observed that “the conduct of such men, and such [news]papers, are calculated to destroy the peace of the city; and it is not safe that such things should exist, on account of the mob spirit which they tend to produce.” He also stated that the newspaper “was exciting the spirit of mobocracy among the people, and bringing death and destruction upon us.” (In Manuscript History of the Church, vol. F-1, pages 74, 77–78, 80, josephsmithpapers.org.)
The Nauvoo City Council ordered the city marshall to destroy the printing press. Subsequently, the owners of the Nauvoo Expositor filed charges against Joseph Smith and other Nauvoo city officials for rioting. Fueled by the accusations of the Prophet’s enemies, citizens in the nearby communities of Warsaw and Carthage gave speeches and wrote newspaper articles calling for an armed force to expel all Latter-day Saints from the state of Illinois if Joseph Smith and others did not surrender to authorities. As mayor of Nauvoo, Joseph Smith declared martial law to protect residents of the city from possible attacks. The Prophet also appealed to state authorities for help in resolving the legal issue. As tensions grew in the state, Thomas Ford, the governor of Illinois, issued an order for Joseph Smith and other Nauvoo city officials to go to Carthage, Illinois, to stand trial on the rioting charges. With Nauvoo under the threat of attack, and having received Governor Ford’s assurance that they would receive a safe and fair trial, the Prophet Joseph Smith, Hyrum Smith, and other Nauvoo officials traveled to Carthage. After a hearing, Joseph and the other defendants were allowed to post bail. At this point the Prophet’s enemies charged Joseph and Hyrum Smith with treason based on Joseph’s declaration of martial law in Nauvoo. Treason was a nonbailable offense, so Joseph and Hyrum would have to remain in jail until their trial. The Prophet and his brother were placed in custody and taken from the Hamilton Hotel, where they had been staying, to Carthage Jail to await trial. (See Leonard, Nauvoo, 365–72, 376, 381, 384.)
On the afternoon of June 27, 1844, a hostile mob attacked the jailor’s second-floor bedroom in Carthage Jail, where the prisoners were staying, and murdered the Prophet Joseph Smith and Hyrum Smith. Two others, Elder John Taylor and Elder Willard Richards, who were members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, were also in the room with the Prophet and his brother. John Taylor was seriously wounded, while Willard Richards escaped without any injury.
In July and August 1844, a written announcement of the martyrdom was prepared based on the eye-witness accounts of Elder John Taylor and Elder Willard Richards. The Church included this announcement and tribute to the Prophet Joseph Smith at the end of the 1844 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants. (See Jeffrey Mahas, “Remembering the Martyrdom,” in Revelations in Context, ed. Matthew McBride and James Goldberg , 304–5, or history.lds.org.) That announcement is now recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 135.
Just as many ancient prophets were persecuted and even killed while fulfilling their God-given missions (see Acts 7:54–60; 1 Nephi 1:19–20; Mosiah 17:9–13; Alma 33:14–17; Helaman 8:17–19), the Prophet Joseph Smith was also criticized, persecuted, and eventually killed, thus “seal[ing] his mission and his works with his own blood” (D&C 135:3). In a revelation given to President Brigham Young, the Lord confirmed that “it was needful that [Joseph Smith] should seal his testimony with his blood, that he might be honored and the wicked might be condemned” (D&C 136:39). Elder Robert D. Hales taught: “Joseph Smith sealed his testimony with his own blood. The Prophet’s martyrdom was a voluntary acceptance of death to seal the testimony of the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants (see D&C 135:1) and to bear holy witness of Jesus Christ and his gospel in this dispensation” (“The Importance of Receiving a Personal Testimony,” Ensign, Nov. 1994, 21).
For more information on the Prophet Joseph Smith sealing his testimony with his blood, see the commentary for Doctrine and Covenants 136:39 in this chapter.
The Prophet Joseph Smith was a mortal man who was called by God to assist in the Restoration of the gospel (see D&C 1:17–23; 136:37–39). As a result of his calling as a prophet of God, Joseph Smith “has done more, save Jesus only, for the salvation of men in this world, than any other man that ever lived in it” (D&C 135:3). Church members today have access to rich blessings because of the Prophet Joseph Smith’s work. While speaking of these blessings, President Gordon B. Hinckley (1910–2008) provided this witness of the Prophet Joseph Smith: “During the brief 38 and one-half years of his life, there came through him an incomparable outpouring of knowledge, gifts, and doctrine. Looked at objectively, there is nothing to compare with it. Subjectively, it is the substance of the personal testimony of millions of Latter-day Saints across the earth” (“The Great Things Which God Has Revealed,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2005, 83).
President Joseph F. Smith (1838–1918) explained that the influence of the Prophet Joseph Smith’s ministry extends to all people, regardless of when they have lived or will live upon the earth: “The work in which Joseph Smith was engaged was not confined to this life alone, but it pertains as well to the life to come, and to the life that has been. In other words, it relates to those who have lived upon the earth, to those who are living and to those who shall come after us. It is not something which relates to man only while he tabernacles in the flesh, but to the whole human family from eternity to eternity” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph F. Smith , 13–14).
All those who desire to know for themselves that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God can receive a spiritual witness of this truth. Elder Neil L. Andersen of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught that each Church member should prayerfully seek this witness:
“Joseph Smith is the prophet of the Restoration. His spiritual work began with the appearance of the Father and the Son, followed by numerous heavenly visitations. He was the instrument in God’s hands in bringing forth sacred scripture, lost doctrine, and the restoration of the priesthood. The importance of Joseph’s work requires more than intellectual consideration; it requires that we, like Joseph, ‘ask of God’ [James 1:5; see also Joseph Smith—History 1:11–13]. Spiritual questions deserve spiritual answers from God. …
“Each believer needs a spiritual confirmation of the divine mission and character of the Prophet Joseph Smith. This is true for every generation. …
“A testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith can come differently to each of us. It may come as you kneel in prayer, asking God to confirm that he was a true prophet. It may come as you read the Prophet’s account of the First Vision. A testimony may distill upon your soul as you read the Book of Mormon again and again. It may come as you bear your own testimony of the Prophet or as you stand in the temple and realize that through Joseph Smith the holy sealing power was restored to the earth. With faith and real intent, your testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith will strengthen. …
“To the youth listening today or reading these words in the days ahead, I give a specific challenge: Gain a personal witness of the Prophet Joseph Smith” (“Joseph Smith,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2014, 28–30).
The Prophet Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum sensed their impending deaths as they prepared to leave their homes in Nauvoo to travel to Carthage, Illinois. The Prophet described his feelings at that time, using the Messianic imagery of Isaiah: “I am going like a lamb to the slaughter” (D&C 135:4; see also Isaiah 53:7). In spite of the obvious efforts of enemies who were conspiring to bring about his death, the Prophet told friends, “I am calm as a summer’s morning; I have a conscience void of offense towards God, and towards all men” (D&C 135:4).
Early on the day that he would be murdered in Carthage Jail, the Prophet Joseph Smith wrote the following in a hasty letter to his wife Emma: “I am very much resigned to my lot, knowing I am justified and have done the best that could be done. Give my love to the children and all my friends … ; and as for treason, I know that I have not committed any, and they cannot prove one appearance of anything of the kind, so you need not have any fears that any harm can happen to us on that score. May God bless you all. Amen” (Teachings: Joseph Smith, 531).
Earlier, in a discourse he gave in Nauvoo on June 18, 1844, the Prophet Joseph Smith said: “I do not regard my own life. I am ready to be offered a sacrifice for this people; for what can our enemies do? Only kill the body, and their power is then at an end. Stand firm, my friends; never flinch. Do not seek to save your lives, for he that is afraid to die for the truth, will lose eternal life. Hold out to the end, and we shall be resurrected and become like Gods, and reign in celestial kingdoms, principalities, and eternal dominions” (Teachings: Joseph Smith, 531).
On the morning of June 24, 1844, when the Prophet Joseph Smith and his companions left Nauvoo for Carthage Jail, “after Hyrum made ready to go … he read [Moroni’s farewell], near the close of the twelfth chapter of Ether, in the Book of Mormon, and turned down the leaf upon it” (D&C 135:4; see also Ether 12:36–38). After describing the events that took place on that morning, Elder Jeffery R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said:
“Later, when actually incarcerated in the jail, Joseph the Prophet turned to the guards who held him captive and bore a powerful testimony of the divine authenticity of the Book of Mormon [see History of the Church, 6:600]. Shortly thereafter pistol and ball would take the lives of these two testators.
“As one of a thousand elements of my own testimony of the divinity of the Book of Mormon, I submit this as yet one more evidence of its truthfulness. In this their greatest—and last—hour of need, I ask you: would these men blaspheme before God by continuing to fix their lives, their honor, and their own search for eternal salvation on a book (and by implication a church and a ministry) they had fictitiously created out of whole cloth?
“… Tell me whether in this hour of death these two men would enter the presence of their Eternal Judge quoting from and finding solace in a book which, if not the very word of God, would brand them as imposters and charlatans until the end of time? They would not do that! They were willing to die rather than deny the divine origin and the eternal truthfulness of the Book of Mormon” (“Safety for the Soul,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2009, 89).
Hyrum Smith was the Prophet’s older brother, and he was also one of Joseph Smith’s most trusted and devoted friends and followers. President Heber J. Grant (1856–1945) described Hyrum’s great loyalty to his brother: “There is no better example of an older brother’s love than that exhibited in the life of Hyrum Smith for the Prophet Joseph Smith. … They were as united and as affectionate and as loving as mortal men could be. … There was no place for jealousy in the heart of Hyrum Smith. No mortal man could have been more loyal, more true, more faithful in life or in death than was Hyrum Smith to the Prophet of the living God” (“Hyrum Smith and His Distinguished Posterity,” Improvement Era, Aug. 1918, 854–55).
Since at least 1844, Church leaders had been actively planning for a possible move west. The Prophet Joseph Smith and other Church leaders sensed the growing hostility toward the Church in Illinois and recognized that they might have to leave the state. Under Joseph’s direction, the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, in February 1844, began secretly planning for an expedition to western North America to look for possible gathering places. Shortly thereafter, the Prophet formed a new organization, known as the Council of Fifty, and charged it with finding a new home for the Saints in the West. (See The Joseph Smith Papers, Journals, Volume 3: May 1843–June 1844, ed. Andrew H. Hedges and others , 179–80; The Joseph Smith Papers, Administrative Records, Council of Fifty, Minutes, March 1844–January 1846, ed. Matthew J. Grow and others , 40, 464-65, 471–72.)
Near the end of his life, the Prophet Joseph Smith committed the priesthood keys of this dispensation to the members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (see Teachings: Joseph Smith, 534). After the Prophet’s martyrdom, during a meeting held on August 8, 1844, many Church members received a spiritual manifestation confirming to them that Brigham Young, who was President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, was to lead the Church (see Church History in the Fulness of Times Student Manual, 2nd ed. [Church Educational System manual, 2003], 291–93).
Many enemies of the Church thought that once the Prophet Joseph Smith was killed, the Church would collapse. However, when the Church and the city of Nauvoo continued to grow and prosper, enemies of the Church increased their efforts to drive Church members from Illinois. In September 1845, Colonel Levi Williams, one of those indicted for the murders of Joseph and Hyrum Smith but later acquitted, led a mob of 300 men and “systematically burned outlying Mormon farms and homes. They … torched many unprotected homes, farm buildings, mills, and grain stacks” (Church History in the Fulness of Times, 301; see also History of the Church, 7:439–44). Many Illinois residents were afraid that the presence of the Latter-day Saints in their state would lead to a civil war and asked Church members to leave the state. On September 24, 1845, the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles published a letter promising that the Church would leave the following spring (see Church History in the Fulness of Times, 301–2).
Under threats of violence from local mobs and the state militia, Church members began leaving Nauvoo in February 1846, journeying west across the state of Iowa. Because of excessive rain and insufficient supplies, Church members who left Nauvoo in February 1846 spent over three and a half months making the 300-mile journey across Iowa. During this time more than 500 Latter-day Saint men—who became known as the Mormon Battalion—heeded the call of President Brigham Young to enlist in the United States Army to serve during the Mexican War, which had begun in May 1846. Some of the men were joined by their wives and children. Their service would earn money to help poor Church members make the journey west, but many families were left without husbands and fathers for part of their westward journey. For these reasons, Church leaders determined not to continue west to the Rocky Mountains until the spring of 1847 and counseled Church members to stay in temporary settlements for the winter. (See Richard E. Bennett, We’ll Find the Place: The Mormon Exodus, 1846–1848 , 31–34, 40–47; Our Heritage: A Brief History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints , 69–74.)
“A number of settlements of Saints stretched along both sides of the Missouri River. The largest settlement, Winter Quarters, was on the west side, in Nebraska. It quickly became home to approximately 3,500 Church members, who lived in houses of logs and in dugouts of willows and dirt” (Our Heritage, 71). Many people were inadequately sheltered from the cold weather. Diseases such as malaria, pneumonia, tuberculosis, cholera, and scurvy resulted in widespread suffering and death. More than 700 Church members died that first winter. (See Church History in the Fulness of Times, 319–20.) In January 1847, Brigham Young prayed for the Lord’s direction regarding the emigration to the West and then dictated the inspired counsel that is recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 136.
The exiled Latter-day Saints were referred to as “the Camp of Israel,” the name used anciently for the children of Israel who were led by Moses out of Egypt (see D&C 136:1; see also Exodus 14:19–20; Joshua 6:23). The deliberate use of this name suggested that modern Israel could be blessed during its journey through the wilderness and eventually be led to a permanent home just as ancient Israel had been. To the Church members in Winter Quarters, Nebraska, the Lord declared Himself to be “the Lord your God, even the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham and of Isaac and of Jacob,” the same God “who led the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt,” and He promised that “[His] arm [would be] stretched out in the last days, to save [His] people Israel” (D&C 136:21–22). The inspired pattern by which the Saints were to organize themselves for the migration was similar to the organization and leadership implemented by ancient Israel (see Exodus 18:21–27; Deuteronomy 1:15).
Since not all Church members were able to begin the journey west at the same time, those who went on ahead were to “go to with their might, to prepare for those who [were] to tarry,” or who would come later, by “putting in spring crops” and “prepar[ing] houses, and fields for raising grain” (see D&C 136:6–7, 9). The Lord called these Saints “pioneers” (D&C 136:7), meaning that they were to help others by going before them and preparing the way for them to follow.
After a few Church leaders left on April 5, 1847, the first company of pioneers left Winter Quarters on April 15. They traveled more than 1,000 miles and arrived in the Salt Lake Valley in late July 1847. On July 24, 1847, President Brigham Young entered the valley and received confirmation that the Saints had found their new home (see Church History in the Fulness of Times, 331–33). More than 60,000 people eventually walked the same trail to gather with the Saints in the Utah area before the transcontinental railroad was completed in 1869 (see Bennett, We’ll Find the Place, 359).
President Thomas S. Monson explained how Church members today can be pioneers:
“To be a Latter-day Saint is to be a pioneer, for the definition of a pioneer is ‘one who goes before to prepare or open up the way for others to follow’ [The Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary (1971), ‘pioneer’]. And to be a pioneer is to become acquainted with sacrifice. Although members of the Church are no longer asked to leave their homes to make the journey to Zion, they often must leave behind old habits, longtime customs, and cherished friends. Some make the agonizing decision to leave behind family members who oppose their Church membership. Latter-day Saints move forward, however, praying that precious ones will yet understand and accept.
“The path of a pioneer is not easy, but we follow in the footsteps of the ultimate Pioneer—even the Savior—who went before, showing us the way to follow” (“True to the Faith of Our Forefathers,” Ensign, July 2016, 4–5).
The dissenters in Nauvoo, who contributed to events leading to the murder of the Prophet Joseph Smith, proclaimed him to be a fallen prophet. However, in the revelation recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 136, the Lord testified of the Prophet Joseph Smith’s divine calling and stated that he “was faithful; and I took him to myself” (see D&C 136:37–38). President Joseph F. Smith gave his witness that the Prophet Joseph Smith was faithful to the divine mission and calling he received from God:
“The greatest event that has ever occurred in the world since the resurrection of the Son of God from the tomb, and his ascension on high, was the coming of the Father and of the Son to that boy Joseph Smith, to prepare the way for the laying of the foundation of [God’s] kingdom—not the kingdom of man—never more to cease nor to be overturned.
“Having accepted this truth, I find it easy to accept of every other truth that he enunciated and declared during his mission … in the world. He never taught a doctrine that was not true. He never practiced a doctrine that he was not commanded to practice. He never advocated error. He was not deceived. He saw; he heard; he did as he was commanded to do; and, therefore, God is responsible for the work accomplished by Joseph Smith—not Joseph Smith. The Lord is responsible for it, and not man” (in Teachings: Joseph Smith, 545).
Following the death of the Prophet Joseph Smith, many Church members “marveled because of his death” (D&C 136:39), meaning that they were confused as to why God permitted him to be killed. In the revelation recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 136, the Lord explained that the Prophet Joseph Smith died because “it was needful that he should seal his testimony with his blood, that he might be honored and the wicked might be condemned” (D&C 136:39). While expressing his feelings about the Prophet’s martyrdom, President Wilford Woodruff (1807–1898) stated: “I used to have peculiar feelings about [the Prophet Joseph Smith’s] death and the way in which his life was taken. I felt that if … Joseph could have had his desire, he would have pioneered the way to the Rocky Mountains. But since then I have been fully reconciled to the fact that it was according to the programme, that it was required of him, as the head of this dispensation, that he should seal his testimony with his blood, and go hence to the spirit world, holding the keys of this dispensation, to open up the mission that is now being performed by way of preaching the Gospel to the ‘spirits in prison’” (in Teachings: Joseph Smith, 537).
President Joseph F. Smith also spoke of the necessity of the deaths of the Prophet Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum and what we can learn from them:
“What does the martyrdom [of Joseph and Hyrum Smith] teach us? The great lesson that ‘where a testament is, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator’ (Heb. 9:16) to make it of force. … The Lord permitted the sacrifice that the testimony of those virtuous and righteous men should stand as a witness against a perverse and unrighteous world. Then, again, they were examples of the wonderful love of which the Redeemer speaks: ‘Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.’ (John 15:13.) This wonderful love they manifested to the Saints and to the world; for both realized and expressed their conviction, before starting on the journey to Carthage, that they were going to their death. …
“This martyrdom has always been an inspiration to the people of the Lord. It has helped them in their individual trials; has given them courage to pursue a course in righteousness and to know and to live the truth, and must ever be held in sacred memory by the Latter-day Saints who have learned the great truths that God revealed through His servant, Joseph Smith” (in Teachings: Joseph Smith, 537–38).