The Prophet Joseph Smith » Apostasy and Revelation in Ohio

[this teaching has not yet been illustrated]


The Church's unpopular public image was made worse in late 1831 by bitter apostates who cited many reasons for leaving the faith. Feeling responsible for having convinced others to join the Church with him earlier in the year when he witnessed the the prophet's healing of a woman's arm, Ezra Booth now criticized the Church leadership and published his objections in widely circulated newspaper articles.


Negative feelings toward the Church erupted into violence in Ohio in March of 1832 when a drunken mob attacked the homes of the prophet and Sidney Rigdon. Smith was dragged out of his bed as his wife screamed. He was ridiculed and choked, then stripped, and had a vial of acid shoved in his mouth, chipping one of his teeth, and causing him to talk with a slight whistle from that day forth.


One assailant scratched Smith with his nails like a mad cat, saying, "Goddamn ye, that's the way the Holy Ghost falls on folks!" He was then tarred and feathered and left to suffer. Meanwhile Sidney Rigdon had been dragged from his house and had his head severely lacerated on the icy ground, and was delirious for days afterward.


Soon after this incident, Jesus instructed the prophet to travel to Missouri and advise the Saints there because Satan was attempting to turn their hearts away. During his brief stay, Jesus told Smith to combine the economic orders of Kirtland and Independence into a United Firm that would regulate the business of the church, and he authorized bishop Newel Whitney to secure a $15,000 loan for the firm.


While traveling through Indiana on their return trip, something spooked the horses of their carriage, causing bishop Whitney to jump from carriage. In doing so, his foot got caught in the wagon wheel and his leg was broken in multiple places. The prophet stayed with the injured bishop for a month as he recovered. One night after dinner, however, Smith became ill and he vomited with such force that he dislocated his jaw.


Bishop Whitney ministered to Smith and he was immediately healed—though he did suffer some hair loss from the poison in his system. Smith and Whitney would travel on to Albany, New York City, and Boston to conduct Church business. They arrived back in Kirtland, Ohio, on November 6, 1832, just as Emma had given birth for a fourth time. This was their first child to survive, and was given the name Joseph Smith III.


That fall a new convert named Brigham Young arrived in Kirtland from upstate New York, excited to meet the prophet. During prayer at a gathering that evening, Young began speaking in tongues. In the course of answering questions about this spiritual gift, Smith prophesied that one day Brigham Young would preside over the Church.


By this point Joseph Smith had received more than 60 recorded revelations from Jesus. Although the prophet sometimes gave copies of these to friends or missionaries, most of the Saints had not seen them. At a Church conference, it was resolved that 10,000 copies of the collected revelations would be printed on a press recently acquired in Missouri. Jesus signaled his approval of this plan by supplying the book's preface.


The preface introduces the message of the book—a warning to the nations that God will not be mocked, and a list of the judgements to be poured out on the wicked in the wrath of God. "The anger of the Lord is kindled, and his sword is bathed in heaven, and it shall fall upon the inhabitants of the earth," it warns. "The hour is not yet, but is nigh at hand, when peace shall be taken from the earth."


When some members of the Church criticized the language and style of the revelations, Jesus responded by giving Smith a new revelation in which he challenged any of these critics to choose the least of the commandments, and to have the wisest among them attempt to write a better one. A recent convert and schoolteacher named William McLellin took up the challenge. He tried to write a commandment better than the least of Jesus's commandments, but failed.


In 1832, the prophet organized what became known as the First Presidency of the Church—its highest governing body—comprised of himself as President, and two other men in the roles of First and Second Counselors. Smith selected Jesse Gause and Sidney Rigdon as his counselors. Gause left the Church later that year, however.


Kirtland served as the hub of non-stop missionary travel activity to the Northeast, the Mid-Atlantic, and the South. Although some went door-to-door, the most success was found preaching in public meeting spaces. After speaking about prophecy, the Book of Mormon, and spiritual gifts, missionaries would then invite anyone to come forward and respond to their message. This way, if no one did, their silence would be interpreted as consent.


But the missionaries faced much rejection and hostility, which was hardest when it came from a church member's own family. Elder Orson Hyde recounted separating from his relatives in New Hampshire and New York with "hearts full of grief" after they rejected the gospel. "We took our things and left them, and tears from all eyes freely ran," he recalled, "It was like piercing my heart; and all I can say is ‘The Will of the Lord Be Done.'"


In Kirtland, the prophet often instructed church leaders in an upstairs meeting room, but found it unpleasant to do so amid a constant cloud of tobacco smoke. Likewise, his wife Emma complained of having to always clean up the spit from chewed tobacco. Seeking guidance from Jesus, Smith received a revelation now known as the Words of Wisdom which forbade the use of—not just tobacco—but also alcohol, coffee, or tea.


One of the most important revelations the prophet received in Kirtland concerned the need for holy temples, and Jesus commanded that work begin on a temple in Kirtland. Despite there being many members of the Church still lacking food, employment, or housing, the Saints nonetheless responded with enthusiasm to Jesus's command, and work on the Kirtland Temple commenced in 1833.



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