“Orson Pratt’s Call to Serve,” Revelations in Context (2016)
“Orson Pratt’s Call to Serve,” Revelations in Context
Orson Pratt was an inquisitive, seeking child. He recalled that at an early age he “had many serious impressions in regard to God and a future state.”1 Though they did not affiliate with any particular church, his parents, Jared and Charity Pratt, encouraged their son to read the Bible for answers to his many questions. His reading only spurred more questions.
The family was, as Pratt would later put it, “numbered among the poor of this world.” He recalled, “A succession of misfortunes kept them down in the low vales of poverty.”2 Due to their meager circumstances, Pratt’s parents sent him at age 11 to work the fields of other farmers in exchange for room and board. For nearly nine years, Pratt worked as a hired hand for a succession of farmers stretching from Ohio to Long Island. Though he felt “tossed about without any permanent abiding-place,” he noted that the “early impressions of morality and religion instilled into [his] mind by [his] parents, always remained with [him]”3 and served as an anchor.
He continued to feel “a great anxiety to be prepared for a future state,” but it wasn’t until the fall of 1829 that Pratt began to earnestly pray for spiritual direction in his life. He later wrote, “In the silent shades of night, while others were slumbering upon their pillows, I often retired to some secret place in the lonely fields or solitary wilderness, and bowed before the Lord, and prayed for hours.” He summarized his feelings at that time: “The greatest desire of my heart was for the Lord to manifest His will concerning me.”4
He persisted in his prayers while working on farms for room and board near his family’s home in Canaan, New York, until September 1830. That month he received a visit from his older brother Parley.
Just a few weeks earlier, Parley P. Pratt had encountered the Book of Mormon and become converted to the Church restored by Joseph Smith. Newly baptized and ordained to preach, Parley traveled east to Canaan, intent on sharing his enthusiasm for his new faith with his family. While his parents believed “in part,” Parley later noted, “My brother Orson, a youth of nineteen years, received it with all his heart.”5
What Orson Pratt heard in his brother’s message satisfied his spiritual longings, and he was baptized on September 19, his 19th birthday. Within a few weeks of his baptism, he started for Fayette, New York, eager to meet Joseph Smith.
After a journey of more than 200 miles, Orson Pratt arrived at the home of Peter Whitmer Sr., where Joseph Smith then resided. He there met Joseph and learned that his brother Parley had been called by revelation to “go forth unto the Lamanites, to proclaim glad tidings of great joy unto them.”6 Orson, still anxious to know the Lord’s will for him, asked Joseph “whether he could not ascertain what his mission was.”7 Was there a revelation for him as there had been for his brother?
Joseph Smith invited Orson Pratt and John Whitmer upstairs into the chamber where Joseph had recently completed the translation of the Book of Mormon.8 In this more private space, Joseph asked Orson if he would be willing to write the revelation down as he spoke it. “Being then young and timid and feeling his unworthiness,” Orson asked if John Whitmer might act as scribe in his place. Joseph Smith agreed and “produced a small stone called a seer stone, and putting it into a Hat soon commenced speaking.”9
In the revelation, the Lord commended Orson for his faith and called him to the ministry: “Blessed are ye because ye have believed & more blessed are ye because ye are called of me to Preach my Gospel.”10 Orson Pratt later described his feelings upon hearing the Lord speak to him through Joseph: “I thought that was a very great and important calling, and I felt altogether incompetent unless the Lord qualified me by his Spirit.”11
On December 1, Joseph Smith ordained him an elder, and Orson immediately made preparations to embark. Though the revelation had not specified where he should go, it was decided he should preach in Colesville, New York.12 Orson was relying on this promise in the revelation: “Lift up thy voice & spare not for the Lord God hath spoken therefore Prophecy & it shall be given by the power of the Holy Ghost.”13 He later reflected, “I thought to myself, that unless the Lord shall pour out his Spirit upon me more fully than anything I ever yet have experienced, I never can perform these duties acceptably in his sight.”14
Carrying a letter of introduction signed by Joseph Smith,15 Orson arrived in Colesville, where he obediently “commenced to open [his] mouth in public meetings, and teach the things of God as the Holy Ghost gave [him] utterance.” The small branch of the Church in Colesville received him warmly,16 and he returned to Fayette later that month.
Pratt confessed that he “felt oftentimes to tremble and shrink, for fear [he] never should be able to fulfill and accomplish so great a work.”17 However, the revelation made the Lord’s will clear to him, and he went on to serve as a missionary and Apostle for more than 60 years in response to that call.