“Joseph Smith’s Support at Home,” Revelations in Context (2016)
“Joseph Smith’s Support at Home,” Revelations in Context
The year 1829 dawned full of uncertainty for Joseph Smith but proved to be a remarkable period of personal growth and preparation for future events. In the aftermath of Martin Harris’s loss of the first 116 pages of the Book of Mormon translation manuscript in June 1828, Joseph had not worked on the translation of the Book of Mormon for six months. He spent the winter months in Harmony, Pennsylvania, “laboring with my hands upon a small farm which I had purchased of my wife’s father, in order to provide for my family.”1 In February 1829, he and his wife, Emma, received a welcome visit from his father and brother.2
Familial support was crucial to Joseph; for years he had shared his experiences with his parents and siblings. The day after Joseph was visited by the angel Moroni in 1823, he recounted the event to his father.3 His mother later wrote that after that visitation, “Joseph continued to receive instructions from time to time and every evening we gathered our children together. I think that we presented the most peculiar aspect of any family that ever lived upon the Earth all seated in a circle father Mother sons and Daughters listening in breathless anxiety to the religious teachings of a boy 19 years of age who had never read the Bible through by course in his life.”4
After Joseph received the golden plates, family members helped him protect them from persons whose interests ranged from the curious to the criminal.5
During his visit to his son in Harmony, Joseph Smith Sr. asked for a revelation concerning his own role in the Restoration; the young prophet thus received one of his earliest revelations for another individual. When the revelation was later copied in preparation for publication, the following heading was added: “A Revelation to Joseph the Father of the Seer he desired to know what the Lord had for him to do & this is what he Received as follows.”6 The short revelation, now Doctrine and Covenants 4, is full of rich scriptural language from the Bible and Book of Mormon, anticipating a “marvelous work” and listing the attributes of those who choose to “embark in the service of God.”7
Soon after returning to Manchester, Joseph Sr. agreed to welcome as a boarder at his home a schoolteacher named Oliver Cowdery. Joseph Sr. hesitated when Cowdery, who had heard rumors about Joseph Jr.’s visions and the plates, began to pepper him with questions. Father Smith may have been reluctant due to the harassment his family had received from neighbors and local clergy. Whatever the reason for his initial hesitation, he yielded to the revelation’s mandate and served as a faithful witness to Joseph Smith’s early visions.
About this same time, Joseph Smith resumed his work on the translation, assisted by Emma, his brother Samuel, and Martin Harris, each acting briefly as scribes. In early April 1829, Oliver Cowdery, his interest now piqued by his conversations with Joseph Sr., traveled to Harmony. Samuel Smith accompanied him on the journey and introduced him to Joseph.8 Oliver felt in his “very bones” that “it is the will of the Lord that I should go and that there is a work for me to do in this thing.”9 He quickly became a full-time scribe for Joseph. With this much-needed help, work on the translation moved forward at a significantly accelerated pace.
The following month, in May 1829, Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery received the authority to baptize from an angelic messenger, John the Baptist, and performed the ordinance for each other. Shortly after this event, Joseph was visited first by Samuel and then by another brother, Hyrum. During Samuel’s visit, Joseph labored to convert his brother. He wrote in his history:
“About this time my brother Samuel H Smith visited us We informed him of what the Lord was about to do for the children of Men and reasoned with him, laboring to convince him of the truth of the Gospel now about to be revealed in its fulness appealing to [the] Holy Bible for the truth of the doctrines we advanced. Not being very easily convinced of these things he retired to the woods that by secret and fervent prayer he might obtain [wisdom] of a benevolent God that he might judge for himself The result was that he became convinced, by revelation, of the truth of the doctrines we presented to him In accordance with the commands of the Gospel he was babtized by O Cowdry and returned home greatly blessed praising God and being filled with the Holy Ghost.”10
Samuel Smith would go on to serve as one of the earliest proselytizing missionaries in the Church, when in the summer of 1830 he traveled briefly to nearby Mendon, New York, to preach and sell copies of the Book of Mormon.
Hyrum visited Joseph shortly after Samuel. Joseph recalled, “At his earnest request I enquired of the Lord for him through the Urim and Thummin and reciev[d] for him the following Revelation.”11 This revelation is now Doctrine and Covenants 11. Although the beginning sentences reflect similar wording in other revelations given in 1829, the text continues with personal counsel, promises, and cautions that hint at Hyrum’s role in the unfolding of the Lord’s work.
Among other things, the Lord admonishes Hyrum, “Behold I command you, that you need not suppose that you are called to preach until you are called: wait a little longer, until you shall have my word … seek not to declare my word, but first seek to obtain my word, and then shall your tongues be loosed.”12
Shortly thereafter, in June 1829, Joseph Smith Sr., Samuel Smith, and Hyrum Smith were among the Eight Witnesses to the Book of Mormon, testifying to the world that they saw and held the plates and that they knew “of a surety” that Joseph translated them, “God bearing witness of it.”13 Once again, the loyalty and support of members of his family proved critical to Joseph in his continued labors.
The Book of Mormon, now translated and prepared for press, was published in March 1830. On April 6, 1830, at Fayette, New York, Joseph Smith formally organized what was then called the Church of Christ. Shortly afterward, he was approached by Oliver Cowdery, Hyrum Smith, Samuel H. Smith, Joseph Smith Sr., and Joseph Knight Sr., each “being anxious to know of the Lord what might be their respective duties, in relation to this work.”14 Joseph provided each of them with a brief, personal revelation. Similar in content, length, and wording, the revelations appear to have been dictated one after the other. Acting as scribe, John Whitmer recorded each as a separate revelation, but when the revelations were published in the 1835 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants, they were combined into one section, which is now known as Doctrine and Covenants 23.15
Though similar, each revelation mentions the recipient by name and contains specific counsel about duties, roles, and expectations. One notable difference is that each of the first four revelations states that the recipient is “under no condemnation,” as Oliver, Hyrum, Samuel, and Joseph Sr. had been baptized. The final recipient, Joseph Knight Sr., had not yet been baptized and was instead counseled that it was his “duty to unite with the true Church.”16
The words of revelation to Hyrum hint that in the time since the earlier revelation, he had obtained the word of the Lord and that now his “tongue [was] loosed” (see D&C 23:3), and he was called to exhort. Hyrum is known to have preached the restored gospel and the Book of Mormon as early as October 1830 at his father’s home in Manchester, New York. His Sabbath sermon on that occasion pricked the heart of Ezra Thayer, leading to his conversion. Thayer later recalled, “Every word touched me to the inmost soul. I thought every word was pointed to me. … The tears rolled down my cheeks.”17
In the ensuing years, Joseph’s family continued to demonstrate their support by serving as missionaries, by shouldering priesthood leadership roles, and through their personal sacrifice. Their paths and successes—and even hardships and failures—would unfold over time, but in 1830, as the new Church was organized, they were anxious to serve, armed with the Lord’s will for them as revealed by the Prophet Joseph Smith.