Those years during which the activities of the Church were largely centered in Ohio and Missouri were among the most important and the most tragic in its history. During this time, the basic organization of Church government was established; many fundamental and distinguishing doctrines were pronounced by Joseph Smith; the work spread abroad for the first time; and, concurrent with this development, the Church was subjected to intense persecution, which cost the lives of many and from which all of the Saints suffered seriously.
While events of historical importance were going on in both locations contemporaneously, communication between the two groups was limited because of difficulties of transportation, although officers of the Church traveled from one location to the other as necessity required. For the sake of clarity, this chapter will deal with events in Ohio from 1831 to 1838, and the chapter following will treat the Missouri story for the same period.
The Holy Bible
One of the projects undertaken by Joseph Smith before his removal to Ohio was a revision of the English Bible. He did not discredit the King James translation, but he knew, as has since been more generally recognized, that certain errors and omissions in that record had led to numerous difficulties among the sects of Christendom. He had received his first understanding of this from Moroni, who, on his initial visit in 1823, had quoted to Joseph Smith from the scripture a text altered somewhat from the language of our Bible.
Upon his arrival in Ohio, Joseph continued with this labor, working as time permitted. The changes he made indicate some interesting interpretations of parts of the scripture.
Inevitably, as the Church grew, various questions and problems arose. Joseph sought the Lord for guidance—and received it. Most of the revelations which have since regulated the Church were received during this Ohio-Missouri period.
These revelations deal with a great variety of subjects—the age for baptism, the organization and machinery of ecclesiastical government, the call of missionaries to special labors, counsel on diet and rules for healthful living, a prophecy on the wars that would afflict the nations, the glories of the kingdoms in the life to come, and a variety of other matters. They reflect the breadth of the gospel, and the breadth of the Prophet’s thinking. Only a few can be mentioned in this brief writing.
The question as to when an individual should be baptized has been a source of endless discussion among Christian peoples. In the second or third century, the practice of baptizing infants was inaugurated and has since continued, although without scriptural warrant. In fact, one of the fundamental purposes of baptism—the remission of sins—indicates that the recipient must be capable of repentance and of leading a better life. The Book of Mormon clearly teaches against the baptism of infants as a denial of the mercy of Christ, and in November 1831, Joseph received a revelation establishing eight years as the age at which children should be baptized.
On February 16, 1832, Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon beheld a vision of the eternal glories. In the record of this experience they bear testimony of the reality and personal-ity of the Savior: “And now, after the many testimonies which have been given of him, this is the testimony, last of all, which we give of him: That he lives!
“For we saw him, even on the right hand of God; and we heard the voice bearing record that he is the Only Begotten of the Father—
“That by him, and through him, and of him, the worlds are and were created, and the inhabitants thereof are begotten sons and daughters unto God.” 1
They then describe something of the kingdom of eternity which they saw. Men in the hereafter will not be assigned arbitrarily to heaven or hell. The Savior had said, “In my Father’s house are many mansions,” 2 and Paul had written of a “glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars.” 3 In the hereafter, according to the Prophet’s teaching, there are various kingdoms and degrees of glory; there are various gradations of exaltation. All men will be resurrected through the atonement of Christ, but they will be graded in the life to come according to their obedience to the commandments of God.
Such teachings, flying in the face of traditional Christianity, were bound to stir the indignation of the intolerant. On the night of March 24, 1832, a mob broke into Joseph Smith’s home, seized him while he slept, dragged him from the house, beat him severely, choked him into unconsciousness, and then tarred and feathered him, leaving him to die. But he regained consciousness and painfully made his way back to the house. The next day being Sunday, he preached a sermon, and among his congregation were some of the mobsters of the night before. At the conclusion of the meeting he baptized eleven people.
On the same night, Sidney Rigdon was also mobbed. He was dragged by the heels for some distance with his head bumping over the frozen ground. For days he lay in a delir-ium, and for a time it appeared that he would lose his life, but he eventually recovered.
A Prophecy on War
On Christmas Day of this same year, 1832, Joseph Smith made a remarkable prophecy, opening with the words, “Thus saith the Lord.” He prophesied that war would come upon the earth, “beginning at the rebellion of South Carolina … ; And the time will come that war will be poured out upon all nations.” He indicated that the southern states would be divided against the northern states, and that the southern states would call upon Great Britain. The time would come when Great Britain would “call upon other nations, in order to defend themselves against [yet] other nations; and then war shall be poured out upon all nations. … And thus, with the sword and by bloodshed the inhabitants of the earth shall mourn.” 4
Twenty-eight years later, in December 1860, South Carolina seceded from the Union. On April 12, 1861, Fort Sumter in Charleston Bay was fired on, and the tragic Civil War began. The forces of the southern states were marshaled against those of the northern states, and the southern states in turn called upon Great Britain. Of the wars since that time, in which Britain has called upon other nations, and of the mourning and bloodshed of the inhabitants of the earth, nothing need be said in this writing. It is a matter of history known to all.
In February 1833, another interesting revelation was received and proclaimed to the people. It is found in section 89 of the Doctrine and Covenants and is known in the Church as the Word of Wisdom. It is essentially a code of health. In it the Saints are warned against the use of tobacco, alcoholic beverages, “hot drinks,” and the intemperate eating of meat. The abundant use of grains, fruits, and vegetables is advocated. A promise of “wisdom and great treasures of knowledge,” together with blessings of health, is given those who obey these principles. It is an unusual document whose principles have been confirmed by modern nutritionists and medical scientists. The application of its teachings has had a salutary effect upon the physical welfare of those who have followed them.
In this same period, Joseph Smith organized the “School of the Prophets.” Through revelation he had been instructed that those who were to go forth to teach the glad tidings of the restoration of the gospel should first prepare themselves “by study and also by faith.” 5 This did not mean that those engaged in the ministry of the Church should be trained in seminaries for this purpose, choosing the vocation as one might choose the profession of doctor or lawyer. Each man holding the priesthood had the responsibility of learning enough of the work to enable him to expound and defend the doctrine.
It had been made clear by the Prophet that education was a concern of religion. Among his teachings was the principle that “the glory of God is intelligence.” 6 Further, “whatever principle of intelligence we attain unto in this life, it will rise with us in the resurrection.” 7 The broad development of the mind was a rightful concern of the Church, and for this purpose a “School of the Prophets” was established. Not only were classes in theology taught, but a renowned linguist was retained to teach Hebrew. This was a remarkable innovation in adult education on the Ohio frontier, and it was the forerunner of the Church’s extensive education system.
Church Organization Completed
At the time the Church was established, its affairs were under the direction of a presiding elder. But through revelation, other offices were added as the membership increased. Three distinct offices were established in the Aaronic Priesthood—teacher, deacon, and priest. On February 4, 1831, Edward Partridge was named “bishop unto the church,” and on January 25, 1832, Joseph Smith was sustained as President of the High Priesthood. Two counselors were later appointed to serve with him, and these three constituted what has since been known as the First Presidency of the Church.
In February 1835, a Council of Twelve Apostles was chosen, and “seventy” were called to assist the Twelve. In 1833 the father of the Prophet was ordained Patriarch to the Church, which office, the Prophet explained, corresponded to the ancient office of evangelist.
With all of these offices in the priesthood set up and filled, there was again to be found on earth the same basic organization which had existed in the primitive Church, with Apostles, seventy, elders, high priests, teachers, deacons, evangelists, and bishops.
In November 1833, Brigham Young and Heber C. Kimball, two men who were later to play an important part in the Church, left their homes in Mendon, New York, and traveled to Kirtland to meet Joseph Smith for the first time. They found the Prophet in the woods chopping and hauling wood. There began a long and devoted friendship between Joseph Smith and the man who was to succeed him as President of the Church. When that succession took place, Heber C. Kimball was to stand beside Brigham Young as his counselor in the First Presidency.
The First Temple
One of the outstanding achievements during the Kirtland period of Church history was the construction of a temple of God.
On May 4, 1833, a committee was appointed to take up a subscription for the building of the temple. It should be noted that these people had little in the way of financial resources. The leaders among them had been devoting their time and energies to missionary labors. Moreover, they had recently moved from New York to Ohio, and their means had largely been exhausted in the purchase of lands. Nevertheless, they had received what they regarded as a commandment to build a sacred house, and they set upon their task.
The question arose as to the plan and the type of materials to be used. Some thought that the building should be of frame construction or even of logs, as was generally the custom on the frontier. But Joseph told them that they were not building a house for a man, but for the Lord. “Shall we,” he asked, “build a house for our God, of logs? No, I have a better plan than that. I have a plan of the house of the Lord, given by himself; and you will soon see by this, the difference between our calculations and his idea of things.” 8 He then gave them the plan. This was a Saturday night, and on the following Monday work was begun.
For three years the Saints labored with all their strength and means to complete the building. The men worked on the walls while the women spun wool and wove it into cloth for clothing. Of these trying days, Joseph’s mother writes: “How often I have parted every bed in the house for the accommodation of the brethren, and then laid a single blanket on the floor for my husband and myself, while Joseph and Emma slept upon the same floor, with nothing but their cloaks for both bed and bedding.” 9
In dimension the temple was 59 by 79 feet, 50 feet to the square, and 110 feet to the top of the tower. The walls were built of quarried stone, and the interior was finished with native woods, beautifully worked. No effort was spared to create a house worthy of Deity.
After surveying the building as it stood in 1936, a writer said: “The workmanship, moldings, carvings, etc., show unusual skill in execution. Many motives are used in the various parts, varying in outline, contour and design, but blended harmoniously. … It is not probable that all of the workmen engaged on the building were skilled artisans and yet the result is so harmonious as to raise the question if they may not have been inspired as were the builders of the cathedrals of old.” 10
A Modern Pentecost
The building was completed and ready for dedication March 27, 1836. This was an important day—the climax of three years of toil and sacrifice—and the Saints gathered from far and near. About a thousand of them were able to crowd into the building, and an overflow meeting was held in the schoolhouse.
The services lasted most of the day, from nine in the morning until four in the afternoon, with only a brief recess. The Prophet offered the prayer of dedication, which of itself is an impressive piece of literature. The sacrament of the Lord’s Supper was then administered.
Since all who desired to participate could not be accommodated at the dedicatory exercises, the services were repeated, and for several days various types of meetings were held in the building, and many spiritual manifestations were experienced. The Prophet compared it with the Day of Pentecost.
The most significant of these experiences occurred on Sunday, April 3. Joseph and Oliver Cowdery were engaged in prayer at the pulpit of the temple, which had been separated from the remainder of the hall by means of curtains. When they had risen from prayer, they beheld a vision, recorded in the Doctrine and Covenants as follows:
“The veil was taken from our minds, and the eyes of our understanding were opened.
“We saw the Lord standing upon the breastwork of the pulpit, before us; and under his feet was a paved work of pure gold, in color like amber.
“His eyes were as a flame of fire; the hair of his head was white like the pure snow; his countenance shone above the brightness of the sun; and his voice was as the sound of the rushing of great waters, even the voice of Jehovah, saying:
“I am the first and the last; I am he who liveth, I am he who was slain; I am your advocate with the Father.” 11
Exodus from Ohio
As the Church grew in numbers and spiritual strength, the forces working against it became more vigorous. Early in the year 1837, a bank was formed in Kirtland, among whose officers were the authorities of the Church. It was only a short time after this that a wave of depression spread over the nation. During the months of March and April, business failures in New York alone passed one hundred million dollars. The Kirtland institution failed along with others, and some of the members of the Church who lost their money in the disaster also lost their faith. It was a dark period in the history of the Church.
In the midst of this trouble, elders were called to go to Great Britain to open missionary work there. Heber C. Kimball was appointed to head this mission, and Orson Hyde, Dr. Willard Richards, and Joseph Fielding were called to accompany him. They were to meet John Goodson, Isaac Russell, and John Snyder in New York City, and then proceed to their field of labor.
On June 13, 1837, the Kirtland men left their homes. They had little money and experienced considerable difficulty in reaching Liverpool, where they landed on July 20, 1837. From Liverpool they traveled to Preston, a manufacturing town some thirty miles north, where Joseph Fielding’s brother was pastor of Vauxhall Chapel. The missionaries were extended an opportunity to speak in the chapel on the following Sunday. Thus began the work of the Church in the British Isles, which in the years immediately following resulted in the baptism of thousands, many of whom immigrated to the United States and became leaders in the cause.
Meanwhile, in Kirtland, mobbings and the destruction of property by bands of bigoted religionists increased. The Prophet could find no peace, and on January 12, 1838, accompanied by Sidney Rigdon, he left for Missouri, never again to return to Kirtland, where so large and important a part of his work had been done.
1. D&C 76:22–24.
2. John 14:2.
4. D&C 87:1–3, 6.
5. D&C 88:118.
6. D&C 93:36.
7. D&C 130:18–19.
8. In Lucy Mack Smith, History of Joseph Smith, ed. Preston Nibley, reprint (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1954), p. 230.
9. History of Joseph Smith, pp. 231–32.
10. “Kirtland Temple (Mormon),” Architectural Forum 64 (Mar. 1936): 179.
11. D&C 110:1–4.