Doctrine and Covenants 121–23 contain selected portions of a letter from the Prophet Joseph Smith to the Church, dated March 20, 1839. Joseph Smith dictated the letter while he and a few companions were imprisoned in Liberty Jail. In the letter, Joseph included some of his prayers for the Saints who were suffering because of the actions of their enemies. He also included answers he had received to those prayers. (See History of the Church, 3:289–305.) You will be studying Doctrine and Covenants 121–23 in the four daily lessons this week.
Imagine that a friend is going through a difficult experience. The friend tells you that she does not understand why she is experiencing such afflictions and that she feels as though God has abandoned her. What would you tell your friend?
What would you do if you were the one experiencing the afflictions?
As you study the Prophet Joseph Smith’s prayers in Liberty Jail and the Lord’s counsel to Him, look for doctrines and principles that can help you faithfully endure trials and afflictions.
On October 31, 1838, George Hinkle, a member of the Church and a colonel in Missouri’s state militia, betrayed Joseph Smith. Hinkle told Joseph that the people who had attacked the Saints in Far West, Missouri, wanted to meet for a peaceful interview to settle disagreements. When Joseph and other Church leaders arrived for the interview, the militia took them forcefully as prisoners of war. For the next month, Joseph Smith and his associates were abused and insulted as their enemies held them in several jails throughout the region and brought them before numerous judges.
While the Prophet Joseph Smith, Elder Parley P. Pratt, and other Church leaders were unjustly held in a jail in Richmond, Missouri, they heard the prison guards describe, in filthy language, horrid deeds of robbery, rape, and murder against Latter-day Saints. In his description of the experience, Elder Pratt wrote:
“In one of those tedious nights we had lain as if in sleep till the hour of midnight had passed, and our ears and hearts had been pained, while we had listened for hours to the obscene jests, the horrid oaths, the dreadful blasphemies and filthy language of our guards. …
“I had listened till I became so disgusted, shocked, horrified, and so filled with the spirit of indignant justice that I could scarcely refrain from rising upon my feet and rebuking the guards; but had said nothing to Joseph, … although I lay next to him and knew he was awake. On a sudden he arose to his feet, and spoke in a voice of thunder, or as the roaring lion, uttering, as near as I can recollect, the following words:
“‘SILENCE, ye fiends of the infernal pit. In the name of Jesus Christ I rebuke you, and command you to be still; I will not live another minute and hear such language. Cease such talk, or you or I die THIS INSTANT!’
“He ceased to speak. He stood erect in terrible majesty. Chained, and without a weapon; calm, unruffled and dignified as an angel, he looked upon the quailing guards, whose knees smote together, and who, shrinking into a corner, or crouching at his feet, begged his pardon, and remained quiet till a change of guards.
“I have seen the ministers of justice, clothed in magisterial robes, … while life was suspended on a breath, in the Courts of England; I have witnessed a Congress in solemn session to give laws to nations; I have tried to conceive of kings, of royal courts, of thrones and crowns; and of emperors assembled to decide the fate of kingdoms; but dignity and majesty have I seen but once, as it stood in chains, at midnight, in a dungeon in an obscure village of Missouri” (Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt, ed. Parley P. Pratt Jr. , 210–11).
While still awaiting trial based on false accusations, and without due process, Joseph Smith and other Church leaders were taken to a jail in Liberty, Missouri, on November 30. (See History of the Church, 3:188–89, 215.)
During the next four months, the Prophet, his brother Hyrum, Alexander McRae, Lyman Wight, and Caleb Baldwin were held in the lower dungeon of Liberty Jail during a bitterly cold winter. Sidney Rigdon was also with them for a time, but he was set free in early February. The floor of the dungeon was about 14 feet by 14 feet (4.3 meters by 4.3 meters). The ceiling was between 6 and 6.5 feet high (between 1.8 and 2 meters). Two small, barred windows offered very little light, and from outside these windows, people mocked and insulted the prisoners. The prisoners slept on dirty straw on the floor, and for some time Joseph did not have a blanket. The food was occasionally poisoned, and at other times it was so disgusting that they could only eat it out of desperate hunger. They were rarely allowed visitors and were deeply pained at hearing of the suffering of the Saints who were driven from Missouri in the middle of the winter.
The letter from which Doctrine and Covenants 121–23 was taken included some of Joseph Smith’s prayers to the Lord. If you were in the Prophet’s situation, what would you pray for?
Read Doctrine and Covenants 121:1–6, and notice what the Prophet prayed for, including the questions he asked. You may want to mark phrases that are meaningful to you. (As you read verses 1 and 4, it may be helpful to know that a pavilion is a building or another structure that provides covering.)
The Lord’s answer to Joseph Smith’s prayer is found in Doctrine and Covenants 121:7–46 and 122:1–9. Read Doctrine and Covenants 121:7–9, looking for truths that would have helped Joseph and his companions during their time in Liberty Jail.
As you study Doctrine and Covenants 121:7–9, complete the following in your scripture study journal:
Write at least two truths you find in these verses. Explain how these principles or doctrines might have helped Joseph and his companions.
Answer the following questions: What do you think is the difference between enduring a trial and enduring a trial well? The Lord said that Joseph Smith’s adversity and afflictions would “be but a small moment” (D&C 121:7). What do you think this means? How can this perspective help us endure our trials well?
In two or three sentences, write about someone you know who is an example of enduring a trial well.
Think back to the situation described at the beginning of this lesson—a friend who is suffering and thinks that God has abandoned her. Write a letter of comfort to this friend, using the truths you identified in Doctrine and Covenants 121:7–9. Explain how these truths can help her. You might want to quote some or all of verse 9 in the letter.
Ponder the strength you receive from your knowledge that when we call upon the Lord during times of adversity and affliction, we can receive His peace, and that if we endure trials well in mortality, God will bless us now and in the eternities.
In Doctrine and Covenants 122, we read additional counsel and comfort that the Lord gave to Joseph Smith. Read Doctrine and Covenants 122:1–4, looking for blessings the Lord promised to Joseph. How do you think these promises would have helped the Prophet during this difficult time?
Read Doctrine and Covenants 122:5–7, looking for a principle the Lord taught Joseph Smith about why we experience afflictions. You may want to mark words and phrases that are important to you.
What can we learn from these verses about one purpose of afflictions? Complete the following sentence: Afflictions can give us and be for our .
Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explained how afflictions can give us experience and be for our good.
“You may feel singled out when adversity enters your life. You shake your head and wonder, ‘Why me?’
“But the dial on the wheel of sorrow eventually points to each of us. At one time or another, everyone must experience sorrow. No one is exempt. …
“Learning to endure times of disappointment, suffering, and sorrow is part of our on-the-job training. These experiences while often difficult to bear at the time, are precisely the kinds of experiences that stretch our understanding, build our character, and increase our compassion for others” (“Come What May, and Love It,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2008, 27).
Elder Orson F. Whitney of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles also taught that afflictions can be for our good: “No pain that we suffer, no trial that we experience is wasted. It ministers to our education, to the development of such qualities as patience, faith, fortitude and humility. All that we suffer and all that we endure, especially when we endure it patiently, builds up our characters, purifies our hearts, expands our souls, and makes us more tender and charitable, more worthy to be called the children of God … and it is through sorrow and suffering, toil and tribulation, that we gain the education that we come here to acquire” (in Spencer W. Kimball, Faith Precedes the Miracle , 98).
The Prophet Joseph Smith experienced many more afflictions after he suffered in Liberty Jail. President Brigham Young said: “Joseph could not have been perfected, though he had lived a thousand years, if he had received no persecution. If he had lived a thousand years, and led this people, and preached the Gospel without persecution, he would not have been perfected as well as he was at the age of [thirty-eight] years” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young , 264).
In your scripture study journal, write about a difficult experience that has been for your good.
Have you ever heard people say that no one understands the trials they are experiencing? Read Doctrine and Covenants 122:8, looking for what the Lord might say in response to this comment. To increase your understanding of the phrase “descended below them all,” read 2 Nephi 9:20–21; Alma 7:11; and Doctrine and Covenants 88:5–6. You might consider writing the following doctrine next to Doctrine and Covenants 122:8: The Savior suffered the pains and afflictions of all people.
Answer the following questions in your scripture study journal:
How do you think this doctrine might have helped the Prophet Joseph Smith and his companions in Liberty Jail?
How might this doctrine help you as you experience trials?
Elder Wirthlin taught:
“Because Jesus Christ suffered greatly, He understands our suffering. He understands our grief. We experience hard things so that we too may have increased compassion and understanding for others.
“Remember the sublime words of the Savior to the Prophet Joseph Smith when he suffered with his companions in the smothering darkness of Liberty Jail:
“‘My son, peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment;
“‘And then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high; thou shalt triumph over all thy foes.’ (D&C 121:7–8.)
“With that eternal perspective, Joseph took comfort from these words, and so can we” (“Come What May, and Love It,” 27).
Read Doctrine and Covenants 122:9, and think about how this verse relates to the life and ministry of the Prophet Joseph Smith.
Answer the following question in your scripture study journal: How can the Lord’s words in Doctrine and Covenants 122:9 strengthen you during difficult experiences?
Soon after this letter was written, the Lord opened a way for Joseph Smith and his companions to reunite with the Saints in Illinois. God was with His servant Joseph Smith throughout Joseph’s life. Later, a year and a half before he was martyred, Joseph Smith declared: “God Almighty is my shield; and what can man do if God is my friend?” (in History of the Church, 5:259). If we remain faithful in our afflictions, God will also be with us to strengthen and support us forever.