Viewpoint: Remember the “Gems for the Sanctified”

Contributed By the Church News

  • 21 June 2015

As we approach the end of June, our thoughts turn to one of the seminal events in the history of the Restoration: the martyrdom of Joseph Smith the Prophet and his brother Hyrum on June 27, 1844.

Article Highlights

  • Joseph and Hyrum Smith were martyred on June 27, 1844.
  • We do not reflect on this day to be negative but to see how much good has happened since then.
  • It was necessary that he should seal his testimony with his blood so he would be honored and the wicked might be condemned.

“We remember their martyrdom not because we wish to dwell on the sorrow and grief of that dark day. … Rather, we commemorate the martyrdom because to do so is to rejoice in what has happened since.” 

As we approach the end of June, our thoughts turn to one of the seminal events in the history of the Restoration: the martyrdom of Joseph Smith the Prophet and his brother Hyrum on June 27, 1844.

Students of Church history are more or less acquainted with the narrative: Joseph, 38, and Hyrum, 44, were shot by assassins as a mob stormed the jail at Carthage, Illinois, where the brothers were awaiting a hearing on a dubious charge of treason for having declared martial law in the Church’s headquarters city of Nauvoo in the wake of mob threats and violence.

Hyrum died first from gunshots fired from outside the door of an upstairs bedroom in the jail where the prisoners were confined. While trying to fend off the ruffians by means of a wholly inadequate and unreliable “pepperbox” pistol, and then trying to leap from a window, Joseph was shot, twice from the open doorway and twice more from outside the window, where others of the mob had gathered below. He fell to his death from the window.

The mob soon dispersed in fear of a rumored report that the Mormons were coming.

Joseph’s heroic action in resisting the mobbers inside and then deflecting their attention likely saved the lives of two companions in the room: John Taylor, who was severely wounded in the attack, and Willard Richards, who, in fulfillment of a miraculous prophecy Joseph had made, was unharmed.

Both would provide eyewitness accounts that have preserved our understanding of the events of that horrible day. Their accounts likely formed the basis of the narrative in what is now part of the scriptural canon: section 135 of the Doctrine and Covenants.

“Henceforward, their names will be classed among the martyrs of religion,” the section reads, “and the reader in every nation will be reminded that the Book of Mormon, and [the] book of Doctrine and Covenants of the church, cost the best blood of the nineteenth century to bring them forth for the salvation of a ruined world. … They lived for glory; they died for glory; and glory is their eternal reward. From age to age shall their names go down to posterity as gems for the sanctified” (D&C 135:6).

“Gems for the sanctified” is an apt characterization of the Prophet and his devoted brother.

We remember their martyrdom not because we wish to dwell on the sorrow and grief of that dark day. We do it not out of a sense of anger or vindictiveness. Rather, we commemorate the martyrdom because to do so is to rejoice in what has happened since.

The glory and grandeur of the Resurrection and Atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ are all the more meaningful when contrasted with the darkness and torment of His crucifixion and the grievous events in the hours leading up to it.

Similarly, with solemnity, we view the events of the martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum knowing with clear hindsight that it was merely a dark contrast preceding the victory and triumph over evil that we see in the solid establishment of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the ongoing fulfillment of its mission to carry the restored gospel to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people.

“For where a testament is, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator,” the Apostle Paul wrote to the Hebrews. “For a testament is of force after men are dead” (Hebrews 9:16–17).

And so it was with Joseph Smith.

“Many have marveled because of his death,” the Lord said through President Brigham Young when the Latter-day Saints were encamped at Winter Quarters, near Council Bluffs, Iowa, en route to their Rocky Mountain refuge, “but 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).

Enemies of the Church thought the deaths of Joseph and Hyrum would mean the end of the Latter-day Saints as a body; in this, they were wrong. Though it looked for a time as though the Church might dissolve into schisms and factions, the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, holding the keys of the presidency of the Church, delivered to them by the Prophet himself just three months before his martyrdom, led the Church forward.

As President Wilford Woodruff, his voice preserved on wax cylinders, testified in March 1897, “The Prophet Joseph Smith called the Twelve Apostles together and he delivered unto them the ordinances of the Church and kingdom of God; and all the keys and powers that God had bestowed upon him, he sealed upon our heads, and he told us that we must round up our shoulders and bear off this kingdom, or we would be damned. I am the only man now living in the flesh who heard that testimony from his mouth, and I know that it was true by the power of God manifest to him.”

Under the leadership of the Twelve, the Saints made their epic journey west and fulfilled the prophecy of Joseph himself that they would become a mighty people in the Rocky Mountains.

Before leaving, they would obey the Lord’s commandment to finish the temple in Nauvoo, there to receive their endowment, strengthening them for the trials to come. They would then abandon the temple to the desecration and eventual destruction by enemies of the Church.

True to the prophecy, the Church prospered and became a global organization as envisioned by the Prophet. In its strength the Church would return and rebuild the temple on the same spot. On June 27, 2002, President Gordon B. Hinckley dedicated the temple, timing the ceremony to coincide with the very day of the year and hour of the day when the Prophet and his brother were martyred, a magnificent tribute to the latter-day work begun by these “gems for the sanctified.”