Thursday, July 16, 2009

Tthe Rise, Progress, Persecution, and Faith of the Latter-day Saints: The Wentworth Letter

I'm teaching a lesson this coming Sunday about the "Wentworth Letter". John Wentworth was the editor of the Chicago Democrat, and had asked the Prophet Joseph Smith to write about the church. A friend of Mr. Wentworth, George Barstow, was writing a history of New Hampshire, and Mr. Wentworth thought he might be interested in including some information about our church in his history. In the end, Mr. Barstow did not use the information, but it has been very valuable to us as members. The lesson mentions "It is an original account by Joseph Smith testifying of his sacred call from God, his visions, and his ministry and teachings. It recounts the rise and growth of the Church and the persecutions of the Saints. It contains a prophetic declaration of the Church’s future success in the earth under the protective hand of the Great Jehovah. It also contains several important details not found elsewhere in the Prophet’s teachings, including a description of the gold plates and a sketch of the contents of the Book of Mormon. Significantly, it is the first time that Joseph Smith himself published an account of his First Vision.

Concluding with the 13 declarations of Church doctrine now called the Articles of Faith, it stands as a powerful witness of the divine calling of the Prophet Joseph Smith." “Chapter 38: The Wentworth Letter,” Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, (2007),435–47

You can read the letter in it's entirety by clicking here, but I wanted to make a few points about it on my blog.

The letter basically outlines several events in church history:
1. The event of God the Father and Jesus Christ appearing to Joseph Smith in answer to his prayer.
2. The coming forth of the Book of Mormon which was written anciently upon gold plates and delivered to Joseph Smith by a divinely sent messenger.
3. The persecution suffered by the early church members, but also the fact that, "Although persecution may rage against the Church, nothing can stop the progress of truth."
4. 13 Articles of our faith that describe some of our basic beliefs.

As I read the letter, I couldn't help but reflect on the persecution suffered by the saints. Joseph Smith wrote,
" “On the 6th of April, 1830, the ‘Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ was first organized in the town of Fayette, Seneca county, state of New York. Some few were called and ordained by the Spirit of revelation and prophecy, and began to preach as the Spirit gave them utterance, and though weak, yet were they strengthened by the power of God, and many were brought to repentance, were immersed in the water, and were filled with the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands. They saw visions and prophesied, devils were cast out, and the sick healed by the laying on of hands. From that time the work rolled forth with astonishing rapidity, and churches were soon formed in the states of New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Missouri; in the last named state a considerable settlement was formed in Jackson county: numbers joined the Church and we were increasing rapidly; we made large purchases of land, our farms teemed with plenty, and peace and happiness were enjoyed in our domestic circle, and throughout our neighborhood; but as we could not associate with our neighbors (who were, many of them, of the basest of men, and had fled from the face of civilized society, to the frontier country to escape the hand of justice,) in their midnight revels, their Sabbath breaking, horse racing and gambling; they commenced at first to ridicule, then to persecute, and finally an organized mob assembled and burned our houses, tarred and feathered and whipped many of our brethren, and finally, contrary to law, justice and humanity, drove them from their habitations; who, houseless and homeless, had to wander on the bleak prairies till the children left the tracks of their blood on the prairie. This took place in the month of November, and they had no other covering but the canopy of heaven, in this inclement season of the year; this proceeding was winked at by the government, and although we had warranty deeds for our land, and had violated no law, we could obtain no redress.

“There were many sick, who were thus inhumanly driven from their houses, and had to endure all this abuse and to seek homes where they could be found. The result was, that a great many of them being deprived of the comforts of life, and the necessary attendances, died; many children were left orphans, wives [were left] widows, and husbands, widowers; our farms were taken possession of by the mob, many thousands of cattle, sheep, horses and hogs were taken, and our household goods, store goods, and printing press and type were broken, taken, or otherwise destroyed.

“Many of our brethren removed to Clay county, where they continued until 1836, three years; there was no violence offered, but there were threatenings of violence. But in the summer of 1836 these threatenings began to assume a more serious form, from threats, public meetings were called, resolutions were passed, vengeance and destruction were threatened, and affairs again assumed a fearful attitude; Jackson county was a sufficient precedent, and as the authorities in that county did not interfere, they [the Clay county authorities] boasted that they would not in this; which on application to the authorities we found to be too true, and after much privation and loss of property, we were again driven from our homes.

“We next settled in Caldwell and Daviess counties, where we made large and extensive settlements, thinking to free ourselves from the power of oppression, by settling in new counties, with very few inhabitants in them; but here we were not allowed to live in peace, but in 1838 we were again attacked by mobs, an exterminating order was issued by Governor Boggs, and under the sanction of law, an organized banditti ranged through the country, robbed us of our cattle, sheep, hogs, etc., many of our people were murdered in cold blood, the chastity of our women was violated, and we were forced to sign away our property at the point of the sword; and after enduring every indignity that could be heaped upon us by an inhuman, ungodly band of marauders, from twelve to fifteen thousand souls, men, women, and children, were driven from their own firesides, and from lands to which they had warranty deeds, houseless, friendless, and homeless (in the depths of winter) to wander as exiles on the earth, or to seek an asylum in a more genial clime, and among a less barbarous people. Many sickened and died in consequence of the cold and hardships they had to endure; many wives were left widows, and children [were left] orphans, and destitute. It would take more time than is allotted me here to describe the injustice, the wrongs, the murders, the bloodshed, the theft, misery and woe that have been caused by the barbarous, inhuman, and lawless proceedings of the state of Missouri.

“In the situation before alluded to, we arrived in the state of Illinois in 1839, where we found a hospitable people and a friendly home: a people who were willing to be governed by the principles of law and humanity. We have commenced to build a city called ‘Nauvoo,’ in Hancock county. We number from six to eight thousand here, besides vast numbers in the county around, and in almost every county of the state. We have a city charter granted us, and charter for a Legion, the troops of which now number 1,500. We have also a charter for a University, for an Agricultural and Manufacturing Society, have our own laws and administrators, and possess all the privileges that other free and enlightened citizens enjoy.

“Persecution has not stopped the progress of truth, but has only added fuel to the flame, it has spread with increasing rapidity. Proud of the cause which they have espoused, and conscious of our innocence, and of the truth of their system, amidst calumny and reproach, have the Elders of this Church gone forth, and planted the Gospel in almost every state in the Union; it has penetrated our cities, it has spread over our villages, and has caused thousands of our intelligent, noble, and patriotic citizens to obey its divine mandates, and be governed by its sacred truths. It has also spread into England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, where, in the year 1840, a few of our missionaries were sent, and over five thousand joined the Standard of Truth; there are numbers now joining in every land.

“Our missionaries are going forth to different nations, and in Germany, Palestine, New Holland [Australia], the East Indies, and other places, the Standard of Truth has been erected; no unhallowed hand can stop the work from progressing; persecutions may rage, mobs may combine, armies may assemble, calumny may defame, but the truth of God will go forth boldly, nobly, and independent, till it has penetrated every continent, visited every clime, swept every country, and sounded in every ear, till the purposes of God shall be accomplished, and the Great Jehovah shall say the work is done." History of the Church, 4:535–36 I particularly love this last passage, and know it to be true.

The last thing the prophet wrote about was our articles of faith. What I love about the way they were written, is that they start with the most fundamental of our beliefs, then with each successive article, they build upon that simple teaching. I do believe they give a good overview of our beliefs. I have written about the articles of faith before, but as a reminder, here they are again.
1. “We believe in God the eternal Father, and in His Son Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost.
2. “We believe that men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam’s transgression.
3. “We believe that through the atonement of Christ all mankind may be saved by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel.
4. “We believe that the first principle and ordinances of the Gospel are: (1) Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; (2) Repentance; (3) Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; (4) Laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.
5. “We believe that a man must be called of God by prophecy and by the laying on of hands, by those who are in authority, to preach the Gospel and administer in the ordinances thereof.
6. “We believe in the same organization that existed in the primitive Church, viz.: apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers, evangelists, etc.
7. “We believe in the gift of tongues, prophecy, revelation, visions, healing, interpretation of tongues, etc.
8. “We believe the Bible to be the word of God, as far as it is translated correctly; we also believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God.
9. “We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the kingdom of God.
10. “We believe in the literal gathering of Israel and in the restoration of the Ten Tribes; that Zion will be built upon this [the American] continent; that Christ will reign personally upon the earth; and that the earth will be renewed and receive its paradisiacal glory.
11. “We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.
12. “We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.
13. “We believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men; indeed we may say that we follow the admonition of Paul, We believe all things, we hope all things, we have endured many things, and hope to be able to endure all things. If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report, or praiseworthy, we seek after these things. [See Articles of Faith 1:1–13.]

I have enjoyed studying this letter because it really shows how far the church has come from it's inception. Now the church has missions and temples all over the world. We have more members outside of the United States than we do in it. We do receive some persecution today, but the church continues to move forward as Joseph Smith said, "boldly and nobly". We believe in the importance of taking the gospel of Jesus Christ to all the earth. I have faith that God will help us to do this, even in countries that are currently not open to missionary work. I'm thankful to be part of this great work!

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