Some months ago I was in Kirtland, Ohio, with President Ezra Taft Benson to dedicate the Newell K. Whitney Store which has been restored by the Church. As nearly as the architects and historians can determine, the Church has restored it to the condition it was in when Joseph Smith first entered it as he stepped from the sleigh in which he had traveled from New York to Kirtland. That was on or about 1 February 1831. He opened the front door, stepped to one of the proprietors at the counter, and said, “Newell K. Whitney. Thou art the man.”
Newell Whitney was surprised until the Prophet introduced himself and said that Newell had prayed him there. Thus commenced a long and trusted association which changed the life and career of Newell K. Whitney and which set in motion events that shaped the history of the Church.
The Whitney store was presumably a regular commercial establishment in the village of Kirtland. Calico and ribbons, hardware and cooking utensils, and a host of other items were sold as a part of doing a thriving business in a rather vigorous community. So what? Every rural community of any consequence had such a general store.
The reason the Church has gone to great effort to restore the building is that Joseph and Emma lived there for some time. That is significant, but more significant is the fact that the School of the Prophets (sometimes called the School of the Elders) was held there. It was a gathering place of the leading Brethren of the day. It was designed and conducted as a place of training, principally for missionary service. This was a time of outpouring of knowledge from the heavens, when many revelations were received as the foundations of this great work were being laid.
I commented when I was there that if New York represented the birthplace of the Church, then Ohio represented the period of schooling for the young prophet and his associates. It was a time when the Church was operating in two spheres—Ohio and Missouri—eight hundred miles apart. Transportation was most tedious and difficult. There was, of course, no telegraph or other means of easy communication. It was a time when there was much bitterness and persecution. It was a time when there was much apostasy and many vile accusations.
But it was also a marvelous and miraculous season, a time of pentecostal outpouring. Sixty-two of the revelations found in the Doctrine and Covenants were received during that Ohio period and in that environment. During that time, the Kirtland Temple was constructed and there occurred all of the miraculous events incident to its dedication. Moses, Elias, and Elijah came, bestowing eternal priesthood keys. The Son of God appeared to his servants, and they bore testimony of him. The work was strengthened and integrated in a most remarkable manner.
Of that season Orson Pratt wrote:
“God was there, his angels were there, the Holy Ghost was in the midst of the people, the visions of the Almighty were opened to the minds of the servants of the living God; the veil was taken from the minds of many; they saw the heavens opened; they beheld the angels of God; they heard the voice of the Lord; and they were filled from the crown of their heads to the soles of their feet with the power and inspiration of the Holy Ghost.” (In Journal of Discourses, 18:132.)
This was also the season—those seven years between 1831 and 1838—of harsh and unrelenting persecution. Enemies threatened to knock down the walls of the temple. Philastus Hurlburt was excommunicated and in bitterness set in motion the Spaulding manuscript story of the origin of the Book of Mormon with all of the mischief that for years followed that concoction; the Kirtland bank failed; the Prophet and Sidney Rigdon were taken from their homes, dragged through the cold of a March night, tarred and feathered, and left for dead. In addition to all of this, troubles equally as serious were being experienced in Missouri, the other center of the Church.
I have frequently reflected on how the Prophet Joseph Smith must have felt at those times. He was directly or indirectly responsible for all of the misery and suffering that occurred. Did doubt occasionally assail his mind? I find the exact opposite in the revelations that came through him during that period.
While sitting in the John Johnson home in Hiram, Ohio, I reflected on some of the words of section 1 of the Doctrine and Covenants, the very section President Benson so powerfully discussed in last month’s First Presidency Message. Section 1 was given as a revelation at Hiram on 1 November 1831 as a preface to the forthcoming publication of “the doctrines, covenants, and commandments given in this dispensation”—what has now become our Doctrine and Covenants.
We need to get a picture in our minds of the setting. Here was the leader of a little group of people in Ohio, numbering at the time perhaps three hundred, scattered through frontier communities where there was much bitterness and hatred. But with vision both prophetic and bold he declared in the name of the Lord:
“Verily the voice of the Lord is unto all men, and there is none to escape; and there is no eye that shall not see, neither ear that shall not hear, neither heart that shall not be penetrated.
“And the rebellious shall be pierced with much sorrow. …
“And the voice of warning shall be unto all people, by the mouths of my disciples, whom I have chosen in these last days.
“And they shall go forth and none shall stay them, for I the Lord have commanded them.” (D&C 1:2–5.)
Later in that same revelation, received in the humble Johnson home in the village of Hiram, there were set forth the grand objectives of this great latter-day work—
“That every man might speak in the name of God the Lord, even the Savior of the world.”
“That faith also might increase in the earth.”
“That mine everlasting covenant might be established.”
“That the fulness of my gospel might be proclaimed by the weak and the simple unto the ends of the world, and before kings and rulers … that they might come to understanding.” (See D&C 1:20–24.)
These are truly remarkable objectives. It was not a country pastor who spoke these words. It was a prophet of the living God setting forth the depth and breadth and length of this great restored kingdom that was to go over the earth. In that remarkable revelation, the truth of the Book of Mormon was declared and the validity of the revelations was affirmed. Bold as were these declarations, there was no apology. Said the Lord, without equivocation:
“What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken, and I excuse not myself; and though the heavens and the earth pass away, my word shall not pass away, but shall all be fulfilled, whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same.” (D&C 1:38.)
Some time ago I noted that a new book, put together by unbelievers as a “history” of the Church, was off the press. I have not read the book, but the conclusion, reported one reviewer, is that the future of the Church is dim. Without wishing to seem impertinent, I should like to ask what the authors know about that future. They know nothing of the prophetic mission of the Church! The future must have looked extremely dim in the 1830s. It must have looked impossible back in those Ohio-Missouri days. But notwithstanding poverty, notwithstanding robbing, notwithstanding murders, notwithstanding confiscation and drivings and disfranchisement forced upon the Saints in the ensuing years, the work moved steadily on. It has continued to go forward. Never before has it been so strong. Never before has it been so widespread. Never before have there been so many in whose hearts has burned an unquenchable knowledge of the truth.
It is the work of the Almighty. It is the work of his Beloved Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. It is the gospel of salvation. Men and women may oppose now, just as others opposed in those days. But the work goes on because it is true and it is divine.
These are the best of times in the history of this work. What a wonderful privilege and great responsibility are ours to be an important part of this latter-day work of God. Do not become sidetracked by the wiles of Satan that seem so rampant in our era. Then as now we have critics. We even have those inside the Church who seem to delight in looking for every element of weakness in the past or the present.
Rather, let us go forward with faith and with the vision of the great and marvelous future that lies ahead as this work grows in strength and gains in momentum. Build faith in the hearts of all those around you.
In Kirtland there was established a school of the prophets to teach those young in the faith. In our homes and Church activities, we now teach in the schools of the future prophets. In all these settings, teach with power and conviction and faith. Let there always be an affirmation of testimony in the great work of which we are a part.
Forget not these words of revelation, also given at Hiram, Ohio:
“The keys of the kingdom of God are committed unto man on the earth, and from thence shall the gospel roll forth unto the ends of the earth, as the stone which is cut out of the mountain without hands shall roll forth, until it has filled the whole earth.” (D&C 65:2.)
May the Lord bless us as builders of faith. May our testimonies strengthen and become as anchors to which others may secure their faith in hours of doubt and concern. May the candle of learning ever burn in our minds. Above all, may testimony grow in our hearts that this is in reality the church of the living God and that it will continue to move forward to fulfill its divine destiny. May we each do our part faithfully and with thanksgiving to the Lord for all the blessings he so wondrously bestows upon us as we follow his teachings and draw near to him.
Some Points of Emphasis. You may wish to make these points in your home teaching discussion:
The work of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the work of the Almighty and of his Son, Jesus Christ.
The work goes on now and will go on in the future—despite opposition—because the Church is true and divinely sponsored.
This is a wonderful time in the history of this work. It is a time of privilege and responsibility for each of us.
Let us move forward with faith and testimony in the vision of the great future that lies ahead.
1. Relate your personal feelings about the mission of the Church to carry the gospel to mankind. Ask family members to share their feelings.
Are there some scriptures or quotations in this article that the family might read aloud and discuss?
Would this discussion be better after a pre-visit chat with the head of the house? Is there a message from the quorum leader or bishop?