“The Rise of the Church of Christ,” chapter 8 of Saints: The Story of the Church of Jesus Christ in the Latter Days, Volume 1, The Standard of Truth, 1815–1846 (2018)
Chapter 8: “The Rise of the Church of Christ”
In early July 1829, with manuscript in hand, Joseph knew the Lord wanted him to publish the Book of Mormon and spread its message far and wide. But the publishing business was unfamiliar to him and his family. He had to keep the manuscript safe, find a printer, and somehow get the book in the hands of people willing to consider the possibility of new scripture.
Publishing a book as long as the Book of Mormon would also not be cheap. Joseph’s finances had not improved since he started the translation, and all the money he made went toward providing for his family. The same was true for his parents, who were still poor farmers working land they did not own. Joseph’s only friend who could finance the project was Martin Harris.
Joseph set to work quickly. Before he completed the translation, he had filed for the book’s copyright to protect the text from anyone who might steal or plagiarize it.1 With Martin’s assistance, Joseph also started looking for a printer who would agree to publish the book.
They went first to Egbert Grandin, a printer in Palmyra who was the same age as Joseph. Grandin declined the proposal at once, believing the book was a fraud. Undeterred, Joseph and Martin kept searching and found a willing printer in a nearby city. But before accepting his offer, they returned to Palmyra and asked Grandin once more if he wanted to publish the book.2
This time, Grandin seemed more willing to take the project, but he wanted to be paid $3,000 to print and bind five thousand copies before he even started work. Martin had already promised to help pay for the printing, but to come up with that kind of money, he realized he might need to mortgage his farm. It was an enormous burden for Martin, but he knew none of Joseph’s other friends could help him with the money.
Troubled, Martin began to question the wisdom of financing the Book of Mormon. He had one of the best farms in the area. If he mortgaged his land, he risked losing it. Wealth he had spent a lifetime accruing could be gone in an instant if the Book of Mormon did not sell well.
Martin told Joseph his concerns and asked him to seek a revelation for him. In response, the Savior spoke of His sacrifice to do His Father’s will, regardless of the cost. He described His ultimate suffering while paying the price for sin so that all might repent and be forgiven. He then commanded Martin to sacrifice his own interests to bring about God’s plan.
“Thou shalt not covet thine own property,” the Lord said, “but impart it freely to the printing of the Book of Mormon.” The book contained the true word of God, the Lord assured Martin, and it would help others believe the gospel.3
Although his neighbors would not understand his decision, Martin obeyed the Lord and mortgaged his farm to guarantee payment.4
Grandin signed a contract and began to organize the massive project.5 Joseph had translated the text of the Book of Mormon in three months, assisted by one scribe at a time. It would take Grandin and a dozen men seven months to print and bind the first copies of the 590-page work.6
With a publisher hired, Joseph returned to Harmony in October 1829 to work his farm and be with Emma. Oliver, Martin, and Hyrum, meanwhile, would oversee the printing and send Joseph regular updates on Grandin’s progress.7
Remembering the despair he had felt after losing the first pages he translated, Joseph asked Oliver to copy the Book of Mormon manuscript page by page, making a duplicate to take to the printer so punctuation could be added and the type set.8
Oliver enjoyed copying the book, and letters he wrote at the time were saturated with its language. Echoing Nephi, Jacob, and Amulek from the Book of Mormon, Oliver wrote to Joseph about his gratitude for Christ’s infinite Atonement.
“When I begin to write on the mercies of God,” he told Joseph, “I know not when to stop, but time and paper fail.”9
That same spirit drew others to the Book of Mormon as it was being printed. Thomas Marsh, a former printer’s apprentice, had tried to find his place in other churches, but none of them seemed to preach the gospel he found in the Bible. He believed that a new church would soon arise that would teach restored truth.
That summer, Thomas felt led by the Spirit to travel hundreds of miles from his home in Boston to western New York. He stayed in the area three months before turning toward home, uncertain why he had traveled so far. At a stop along the way back, however, his host asked if he had heard about Joseph Smith’s “golden book.” Thomas told the woman he had not and felt compelled to learn more.
She told him he should talk to Martin Harris and directed him to Palmyra. Thomas went there immediately and found Martin at Grandin’s printshop. The printer gave him sixteen pages of the Book of Mormon, and Thomas took them back to Boston, eager to share the first taste of this new faith with his wife, Elizabeth.
Elizabeth read the pages, and she too believed they were the work of God.10
That fall, while the printers made steady progress on the Book of Mormon, a former judge named Abner Cole began publishing a newspaper on Grandin’s press. Working at night in the shop, after Grandin’s staff went home, Abner had access to printed pages from the Book of Mormon, which was not yet bound or ready for sale.
Abner soon began poking fun at the “Gold Bible” in his newspaper, and during the winter he printed excerpts from the book alongside sarcastic commentary.11
When Hyrum and Oliver learned what Abner was doing, they confronted him. “What right have you to print the Book of Mormon in this way?” Hyrum demanded. “Do you not know that we have received a copyright?”
“It is none of your business,” Abner said. “I have hired the press and I will print what I please.”
“I forbid you to print any more of that book in your paper,” Hyrum said.
“I don’t care,” Abner said.
Unsure what to do, Hyrum and Oliver sent word to Joseph in Harmony, who returned to Palmyra at once. He found Abner at the printing office, casually reading his own newspaper.
“You seem hard at work,” Joseph said.
“How do you do, Mr. Smith,” Abner replied dryly.
“Mr. Cole,” Joseph said, “the Book of Mormon and the right of publishing it belong to me, and I forbid you meddling with it.”
Abner threw off his coat and pushed up his sleeves. “Do you want to fight, sir?” he barked, pounding his fists together. “If you want to fight, just come on.”
Joseph smiled. “You had better keep your coat on,” he said. “It’s cold, and I am not going to fight you.” He calmly continued, “But you have got to stop printing my book.”
“If you think you are the best man,” Abner said, “just pull off your coat and try it.”
“There is law,” Joseph responded, “and you will find that out if you did not know it before. But I shall not fight you, for that will do no good.”
Abner knew he was on the wrong side of the law. He calmed down and stopped printing excerpts from the Book of Mormon in his newspaper.12
Solomon Chamberlin, a preacher on his way to Canada, first heard about the “Gold Bible” from a family he lodged with near Palmyra. Like Thomas Marsh, he had moved from church to church throughout his life but felt dissatisfied with what he saw. Some churches preached gospel principles and believed in spiritual gifts, but they did not have God’s prophets or His priesthood. Solomon felt the time was coming when the Lord would bring forth His church.
As Solomon listened to the family talk about Joseph Smith and the gold plates, he felt electrified from head to toe, and he determined to find the Smiths and learn more about the book.
He set out for the Smith house and met Hyrum at the door. “Peace be to this house,” Solomon said.
“I hope it will be peace,” Hyrum replied.
“Is there anyone here,” asked Solomon, “that believes in visions or revelations?”
“Yes,” Hyrum said, “we are a visionary house.”
Solomon told Hyrum about a vision he had seen years before. In it, an angel had said that God had no church on the earth but would soon raise one up that had power like the apostles’ church of old. Hyrum and the others in the house understood what Solomon said and told him they shared his belief.
“I wish you would make known some of your discoveries,” Solomon said. “I think I can bear them.”
Hyrum invited him to stay at the Smith farm as a guest and showed him the Book of Mormon manuscript. Solomon studied it for two days and went with Hyrum to Grandin’s printing office, where a printer gave him sixty-four printed pages. With the unbound pages in hand, Solomon continued on to Canada, preaching everything he knew about the new faith along the way.13
By March 26, 1830, the first copies of the Book of Mormon had been bound and were available for sale on the ground floor of Grandin’s printing office. They were tightly bound in brown calfskin and smelled of leather and glue, paper and ink. The words Book of Mormon appeared on the spines in gold letters.14
Lucy Smith treasured the new scripture and saw it as a sign that God would soon gather His children and restore His ancient covenant. The title page declared that the book’s purpose was to show the great things God had done for His people in the past, extend the same blessings to His people today, and convince all the world that Jesus Christ was the Savior of the world.15
In the back of the book were the testimonies of the Three Witnesses and the Eight Witnesses, telling the world that they had seen the plates and knew the translation was true.16
Despite these testimonies, Lucy knew some people thought the book was fiction. Many of her neighbors believed the Bible was enough scripture for them, not realizing that God had blessed more nations than one with His word. She also knew some people rejected its message because they believed God had spoken once to the world and would not speak again.
For these reasons and others, most people in Palmyra did not buy the book.17 But some studied its pages, felt the power of its teachings, and went to their knees to ask the Lord if it was true. Lucy herself knew the Book of Mormon was the word of God and wanted to share it with others.18
Almost immediately after the Book of Mormon was published, Joseph and Oliver prepared to organize the church of Jesus Christ. Several months earlier, the Lord’s ancient apostles Peter, James, and John had appeared to them and conferred on them the Melchizedek Priesthood, as John the Baptist had promised. This additional authority allowed Joseph and Oliver to confer the gift of the Holy Ghost on those they baptized. Peter, James, and John had also ordained them to be apostles of Jesus Christ.19
Around that time, while staying in the Whitmer home, Joseph and Oliver had prayed for more knowledge about this authority. In reply, the voice of the Lord commanded them to ordain each other elders of the church, but not until believers consented to follow them as leaders in the Savior’s church. They were also told to ordain other church officers and confer the gift of the Holy Ghost on those who had been baptized.20
On April 6, 1830, Joseph and Oliver met in the Whitmer home to follow the Lord’s commandment and organize His church. To fulfill the requirements of the law, they chose six people to become the first members of the new church. Around forty women and men also crowded into and around the small home to witness the occasion.21
In obedience to the Lord’s earlier instructions, Joseph and Oliver asked the congregation to sustain them as leaders in the kingdom of God and indicate if they believed it was right for them to organize as a church. Every member of the congregation consented, and Joseph laid his hands on Oliver’s head and ordained him an elder of the church. Then they traded places, and Oliver ordained Joseph.
Afterward, they administered the bread and wine of the sacrament in remembrance of Christ’s Atonement. They then laid hands on those they had baptized, confirming them members of the church and giving them the gift of the Holy Ghost.22 The Lord’s Spirit was poured out on those in the meeting, and some in the congregation began to prophesy. Others praised the Lord, and all rejoiced together.
Joseph also received the first revelation addressed to the whole body of the new church. “Behold, there shall be a record kept among you,” the Lord commanded, reminding His people that they were to write their sacred history, preserving an account of their actions and witnessing to Joseph’s role as prophet, seer, and revelator.
“Him have I inspired to move the cause of Zion in mighty power for good,” the Lord declared. “His word ye shall receive, as if from mine own mouth, in all patience in faith. For by doing these things the gates of hell shall not prevail against you.”23
Later, Joseph stood beside a stream and witnessed the baptisms of his mother and father into the church. After years of taking different paths in their search for truth, they were finally united in faith. As his father came out of the water, Joseph took him by the hand, helped him onto the bank, and embraced him.
“My God,” he cried, burying his face in his father’s chest, “I have lived to see my father baptized into the true church of Jesus Christ!”24
That evening, Joseph slipped away into some nearby woods, his heart bursting with emotion. He wanted to be alone, out of sight of friends and family. In the ten years since his First Vision, he had seen the heavens open, felt the Spirit of God, and been tutored by angels. He had also sinned and lost his gift, only to repent, receive God’s mercy, and translate the Book of Mormon by His power and grace.
Now Jesus Christ had restored His church and authorized Joseph with the same priesthood that apostles had held anciently when they carried the gospel to the world.25 The happiness he felt was too much for him to hold in, and when Joseph Knight and Oliver found him later that night, he was weeping.
His joy was full. The work had begun.26