“‘Wrought Upon’ to Seek a Revelation,” Revelations in Context (2016)
“‘Wrought Upon’ to Seek a Revelation,” Revelations in Context
“At home all this day and enjoyed myself with my family it being Christmas day the only time I have had this privelige so satisfactorily for a long time,” Joseph Smith’s journal records for December 25, 1835.1 The next day, a Saturday, Joseph sat down with a few companions and “commenced studeing the Hebrew Language” when a knock came at his door. Standing there was his friend Lyman Sherman. “I have been wrought upon to make known to you my feelings and desires,” Sherman told Joseph, “and was promised that I should have a revelation which should make known my duty.”2 The result of this request was the revelation now known as Doctrine and Covenants 108—a brief but powerful statement of personal spiritual assurance that also places Lyman Sherman at the center of larger events.
On that winter day in 1835, Lyman Sherman was 31 years old, and the fourth anniversary of his baptism was approaching. Early in the fall of 1831, two brothers of his wife, Delcena, who had left home to work, wrote back to the family that they had been baptized into the new “Mormonite” church. “This news came upon us almost as a horror and a disgrace,” Delcena’s brother Benjamin recalled. Shortly after the first letter arrived, the absent Johnson brothers had sent a package containing the Book of Mormon and “a lengthy explanation” of their new beliefs. After receiving these materials, Benjamin wrote, “My mother, brother Seth, sister Nancy, and Lyman R. Sherman, with some of the neighbors, all devoted to religion, would meet together secretly to read the Book of Mormon and accompanying letter, or perhaps to deplore the delusion into which my brothers had fallen.”
This initial skepticism gave way as “their reading soon led to marveling at the simplicity and purity of what they read, and at the spirit which accompanied it, bearing witness to its truth.”3 Lyman and Delcena Sherman and several members of the Johnson family were baptized in January 1832. Members of the Sherman family were also converted.4 The Shermans moved to Kirtland by mid-1833, where they became acquainted with Joseph Smith and many of the Saints. Their son Albey was about the same age as Joseph Smith III, and the boys were friends.5
But though Sherman loved the Saints and had an unwavering faith in the restored gospel, he apparently had doubts about the quality of his own discipleship. The revelation gives us a glimpse of the process Sherman called having been “wrought upon” to seek out the Prophet. The Lord said that Sherman had “obeyed my voice in coming up hither,” confirming that he had received promptings from the Spirit to seek out this opportunity. The Lord’s counsel to “resist no more my voice” suggests that Sherman had received those impressions on multiple occasions but had hesitated to act on them as he experienced a deep and poignant spiritual search to know of his standing before God. In response to that quest, the revelation assured him that his sins were forgiven and kindly told him, “Let your soul be at rest concerning your spiritual standing.”6
The revelation also answered Sherman’s request that the Lord would “make known [his] duty.” He was already a leader in the emerging priesthood organization of the Church. Earlier in 1835, he had participated in a meeting “of those who journeyed to Zion” with Zion’s Camp the previous summer. At this meeting, Joseph Smith announced that “it was the Will of God” that those who had gone to Zion “should be ordained to the ministry and go forth to prune the vineyard for the last time,” and the first twelve Apostles of this dispensation were called.7 Two weeks later, the first quorum of Seventies was organized “to go into all the earth, whither-soever the twelve Apostles should call them.”8 Lyman Sherman was ordained as one of the seven presidents of the Seventy.9 In his ordination blessing, Sherman was promised, “Your faith shall be unshaken and you shall be delivered from great afflictions. … You are a chosen vessel of the Lord.”10
But before they went out “into all the earth,” the Seventies, including Lyman Sherman, were to be central participants in the events surrounding the dedication of the temple in the spring of 1836. The revelation to Lyman Sherman counseled him, “Wait patiently until the solemn assembly shall be called of my servants, then you shall be remembered with the first of mine elders and receive right by ordination with the rest of mine elders whom I have chosen.”11 These promises were fulfilled as Sherman took part in the various meetings and ordinances leading up to the solemn assembly at the dedication of the Kirtland Temple and the spiritual outpouring and “endowment of power” bestowed upon the Saints at that time.
Lyman Sherman’s service to the Saints in Kirtland shows that he took the revelation’s counsel to “strengthen [his] brethren” to heart. Wilford Woodruff, then a young Seventy who had missed the Kirtland Temple dedication and the accompanying spiritual outpouring, noted Sherman’s spiritual leadership. At one notable sacrament meeting in the temple, Woodruff wrote, “Elder Sherman sung in the gift of tongues & proclaimed great & marvelous things while clothed upon by the power & spirit of God.”12 During the winter of 1836–37, the Seventies met every Tuesday evening in the west room of the attic story of the temple;13 on one of these occasions, Sherman ordained a dozen men to the third quorum of Seventies.14 A highlight of this season was a second solemn assembly held during the first week of April to commemorate the dedication of the temple and to bestow ordinances on those who had not been present the year before.
As internal dissension and external opposition joined forces against the Church, Lyman Sherman and his family remained loyal to Joseph Smith, helping to strengthen the Saints through the trying times. Sherman was appointed to the Kirtland high council in October 1837.15 He moved to Far West, Missouri, where he was appointed in the fall of 1838 to the Far West High Council.16 By this time, Joseph Smith and other Church leaders were in jail, and the Saints were in the midst of a desperate flight from the mobs in Missouri. According to Benjamin Johnson, Sherman traveled to visit the Prophet in jail, and it was as a result of this trip that he “took cold” and became very ill.17 Meanwhile, on January 16, 1839, the First Presidency wrote to Brigham Young and Heber C. Kimball, the senior Apostles, designating Lyman Sherman to fill one of the vacancies in the Quorum of the Twelve.18 Kimball wrote that he and Young visited Joseph Smith in Liberty Jail on February 8, 1839. He said that when they departed from Far West, “Lyman Sherman was somewhat unwell. In a few days after our return he died. We did not notify him of his appointment.”19
It was a quiet and sudden end to the mortal ministry of a faithful man. Sherman’s death meant hardship for his wife, Delcena, and their six small children, who made their way virtually destitute to Illinois and later to Utah.20 Like so many early Saints, Lyman Sherman dedicated his life to the cause of establishing Zion and willingly followed the Prophet Joseph Smith in spite of poverty, opposition, and uncertainty. “He was a man of great integrity, a powerful preacher,” recalled his brother-in-law Benjamin Johnson.21 He lived and died fully engaged in fulfilling the Lord’s command to “strengthen your brethren in all your conversation, in all your prayers, in all your exhortations, and in all your doings.”22