Joseph Smith’s letters at Liberty Jail, written to the Church and Edward Partridge, March 20, 1839 – Text used to create the Doctrine and Covenants, section 121.
Much of the writings of Joseph’s two letters were edited out before the final inclusion in the D&C, but I have added portions in this blog that I feel are of great worth. The text for this blog came directly from the original letters in the Joseph Smith Papers Project, so there may be a few different words and grammatical changes from the published version.
Section 121, as it was edited for inclusion in the Doctrine and Covenants 1876 Edition. Portions selected by Orson Pratt under the direction of Brigham Young.
O God where art thou and where is the pavilion [veil that separates mortals from the Heavenly Realm] that covereth thy hiding place? How long shall thy hand be stayed and thine eye, yea thy pure eye, behold from the eternal heavens the wrongs of thy people, and of thy servants, [those in prison and elsewhere] and thine ear be penetrated with their cries? Yea o Lord, how long shall they suffer these wrongs and unlawful oppressions before thine hart shall be softened towards them, and thy bowels be moved with compassion towards them? O Lord God almighty, maker of heaven earth, and seas, and of all things that in them is, and who controlleth and subjecteth the devil and the dark and beknighted dominion of Sheol [the place of Hell for Satan’s dominion]. Stretch forth thy hand; let thine eye pierce; let thy pavilion be taken up; let thy hiding place no longer be covered; let thine ear be inclined; let thine heart be softened and thy bowels moved with compassion toward us; let thine anger be kindle against our enemies; and in the fury of thine heart with thy sword avenge us of our wrongs. Remember thy suffering saints, oh our God, and thy servants will rejoice in thy name for ever. [121:1-6]
[When seeking a blessing from the Lord it is appropriate to make our case in prayer, to reason before Him why we believe it is worthy to request something, always affirming that it is according to His will.]
Until finally all enmity, malice, and hatred, and past differences, misunderstandings, and mismanagements lie slain, victims at the feet of hope, and when the heart is sufficiently contrite, then the voice of inspiration [revelation] steals along and whispers – [I included this short prelude to where the scripture picks up again. Joseph explains that when he felt completely broken and dependent upon the Lord, he heard the following:] my son, peace be unto thy soul. Thine adversity and thy afflictions shall be but a small moment, and then if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high. [This applies to all of us who suffer in this world. But how do you endure it well?] Thou shalt triumph over all thy foes. Thy friends do stand by thee and they shall hail thee again with warm hearts and friendly hands. [You shall return to them.] Thou art not yet as Job. [But it will happen in the future.] Thy friends do not contend against thee, neither charge thee with transgression as they did Job, and they who do charge thee with transgression, their hope shall be blasted, and their prospects shall melt away as the hoary frost melteth before the burning rays of the rising sun, and also that God hath set to his hand and seal to change the times and seasons [to change the earth at His coming], and to blind their minds that they may not understand his marvelous workings, that he may prove them also and take them in their own craftiness, also because their hearts are corrupt and the thing which they are willing to bring upon others and love to have others suffer may come upon themselves to the very utmost that they may be disappointed also, and their hopes may be cut off, and not many years hence that they and their posterity shall be swept from under heaven saith God, that not one of them is left to stand by the wall [none seeking entrance to the Kingdom]. cursed are all those that shall lift up the heal against mine anointed, saith the Lord, and cry they [the Lord’s anointed] have sinned when they have not sinned before me saith the Lord, but have done that which was meat in mine eyes and which I commanded them, but those who cry transgression do it because they are the servants of sin and are the children of disobedience themselves, and those who swear false against my servants that they might bring them unto bondage and death. Wo unto them because they have offended my little ones [those whose faith is young]. They shall be severed from the ordinances of mine house. [The blessings of the Gospel shall not be theirs.] Their basket shall not be full [cursed temporally], their houses and their barns shall famish, and they themselves shall be despised by those that flattered them. They shall not have right to the priesthood nor their posterity after them from generation to generation. [This prophecy is fulfilled.] It had been better for them that a millstone had been hanged about their necks and they drowned in the depth of the see. Wo unto all those that discomfort my people and drive and murder and testify against them, saith the Lord of Host. A generation of vipers shall not escape the damnation of hell. Behold mine eye
s seeth and knoweth all their works and I have in reserve a swift judgement in the season thereof for them all, for there is a time appointed to every man according as their work shall be. [121:7-25]
[At this point Joseph reviews some church business and then gives counsel:]
We would say be aware of pride also, for well and truly hath the wise man said that pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty [aristocratic and superior attitude] spirit before a fall. Again, outward appearance is not always a criterion for us to judge our fellow man, but the lips betray the haughty and overbearing imaginations of the heart [imposing superior belief in oneself], by his words and his deeds let him be scanned. [Joseph tells the leaders not to trust the appearances of people. Look upon the fruit of their works, their words and deeds should be carefully considered.]
A fanciful, flowery and heated imagination be aware of, because the things of God are of deep import, and time, experience, and careful and ponderous and solemn thoughts can only find them out. [This is a beautiful clue that Joseph gives to the means by which the mysteries are given to us. There are those who will jump into a belief after having an imaginative vision and immediately assume that God has revealed to them a great truth. We must be cautious of such things. Will an angel suddenly appear to a person and declare to them something that is not scriptural? Joseph said it takes time and experience before such things of God are given to an individual. We must have an experience with God, which comes over time, requiring careful pondering, and searching. Then we are given that which we seek according to the Lord’s will. Those who preach with heated passion to have received hidden revelation must be listened to with great caution.]
[Joseph gives the formula by which we seek the mysteries of God:]
Thy mind O Man, if thou wilt lead a soul unto salvation [that leads to Christ] must stretch as high as the utmost Heavens [without limit to the Throne of Heaven], and search into and contemplate the lowest considerations of the darkest abyss, [and the deepest place in Hell] and expand upon the broad considerations of Eternal Expanse [God’s creation], he must commune with God. [To “commune” is to be in His presence.] This more: how much more dignified and noble are the thoughts of God, than the vain imagination of the human heart [the desires of the carnal man]? None but fools will trifle [to act frivolously] with the souls of men. How vain and trifling, have been our spirits, our conferences, our councils, our meetings in private as well as public. Conversations are too low, too mean, too vulgar, too condescending, for the dignified characters of the Called and Chosen of God, according to the purposes of his word will from before the foundation of the world, to hold the keys, of the mysteries of those things that have been kept hid from the foundation until now, of which some have tasted a little and which many of them are to be poured down from heaven upon the heads of babes, yea the weak, obscure and despisable ones of this earth. [You don’t know what the Lord has prepared for you!]
Therefore, we beseech of you brethren, that you bear [be patient] with those who do not feel themselves more worthy than yourselves, while we exort one another, to a reaffirmation with one an all, both old and young, teachers and taught, both high and low, rich and poor, bond and free, male and female. Let honesty and sobriety, and candor, and solemnity, and virtue, and pureness, and meekness, and simplicity, crown our heads in every place, and in fine, become as little children, without malice, guile, or hypocrisy.
[Here the Section 121 picks up again at verse 26:]
And now brethren, after your tribulations if you do these things, and exercise fervent prayer, and have faith in the sight of God always, he shall give unto you knowledge [spiritual understanding of the mysteries, which only comes through God] by his Holy Spirit; yea by the unspeakable gift of the Holy Ghost that has not been revealed since the world was [created] until now, which our fathers [the Patriarchs and Prophets] have waited with anxious expectation to be revealed in the last times, which their minds were pointed to by the Angels [angelic visitations] as held in reserve for the fullness of their glory a time to come in the which nothing shall be withheld [in the near coming future], whether there be one god or many gods, they shall be manifest, all thrones, and dominions, principalities, and powers shall be revealed and set forth upon all who have endured valiantly for the Gospel of Jesus Christ [The vast scope of that portion of this sentence is incomprehensible to the carnal mind.], and also if there be bounds set to the heavens, or to the seas, or to the dry land, or to the sun, moon, or stars, all the times of their revolutions all their appointed days, month, and years, and all the days of their days, months, and years, and all their glories, laws, and set times [This alludes to the science and laws of God that control all creation.] shall be revealed in the days of the dispensation of the fullness of times73 [from Joseph until now] according to that which was ordained in the midst of the council of the eternal God of all other Gods [Interesting is it not?] before this world was that should be reserved unto the finishing and the end thereof when every man shall enter into his eternal presence and into his immortal rest [the Final Judgment of God], but I beg leave [change topic] to say unto you Brethren that ignorance, superstition, and bigotry, placing itself where it ought not is often times in the way of the prosperity of this church. Like the torrent of rain from the mountains that floods the most pure and crystal stream with mire, and dirt, and filthiness, and obscures everything that was clear before, and all hurls along in one general deluge, but time weathers the tide, and notwithstanding we are rolled in for the time being by the mire of the flood, the next surge, peradventure as time roles on, may bring us to the fountain as clear as crystal, and as pure as snow, while all the filthiness floodwood and rubbish is left and purged out by the way. How long can rolling waters remain impure? What power shall stay the heavens as well might man stretch forth his puny arm to stop the Missouri River in its decread course or to turn it up stream as to hinder the Almighty from pouring down knowledge from heaven upon the heads of the Latter Day Saints? [vs 26-33]
[This is a beautiful analogy Joseph offers to express how the foolishness of men will be washed away as the Lord reveals all truth to those who come unto Him.]
What is Boggs or his murderous party but wimbling willows upon the shore to catch the floodwood, as will might we argue that water is not water because the mountain torrents send down mire and riles the crystal stream, although afterwards renders it more pure than before? Or that fire is not fire because it is of a quenchable nature by pouring on the flood, as to say that our cause is down because renegades, liars, priests, thieves, and murderers who are all alike, tenacious of their crafts and creeds have poured down from their spiritual wickedness in high places, and from their strong holds of the divine a flood of dirt, and mire, and filthiness, and vomit upon our heads – no God forbid. Hell may poor forth its rage like the burning lava of Mount Vesuvius, or of Etna, or of the most terrible of the burning mountains, and yet shall Mormonism stand. [Joseph is not reluctant to call it “Mormonism.”] Water, fire, truth, and God are all the same truth in Mormonism. God is the author of it. He is our shield. It is by him we received our birth. [the origins of the Restoration] It was by his voice that we were called to a dispensation of his gospel in the beginning of the fullness of times. It was by him we received the Book of Mormon, and it was by him that we remain unto this day, and by him we shall remain if [a condition] it shall be for our glory and in his almighty name we are determined to endure tribulation as good soldiers unto the end. [A beautiful testimony.]
Joseph Smith Letter to Edward Partridge and the Church, circa 22 March 1839
[Here is where section 121 picks up again at verse 34:]
Behold there are many called [invited] but few are chosen [received]. And why are they not chosen? Because their hearts are set so much upon the things of this world and aspire to the honors of men that they do not learn this one lesson that the rights of priesthood [receiving of great spiritual gifts] are inseparably connected with the powers of heaven [through God only] and that the powers of heaven cannot be controlled nor handled only upon the principals of righteousness. [faith unto power in God] That they may be conferred upon us [ordained unto this power] it is true but when we undertake to cover our sins or to gratify our pride or vain ambition or to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men in any degree of unrighteousness, behold the heavens withdraw themselves the Spirit of the Lord is grieved, and when it has withdrawn, amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man. [the source is blocked] Behold ere he is aware, he is left unto himself to kick against the pricks, [no-win-situation] to persecute the saints, and to fight against God. We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men as soon as they get a little authority as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion. Hence many are called but few are chosen. [To be “Chosen” is to receive a priesthood blessing directly from God. Each ascension in the estates is a blessing of Grace and Glory.] No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned, by kindness, by pure knowledge which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy and without guile, reproving be-times with sharpness when moved upon by the Holy Ghost, and then showing forth afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou hast reproved lest he esteem thee to be his enemy, that he may know that thy faithfulness is stronger than the cords of death, [Joseph gives this beautiful description of how a servant of God leads. There is no compulsion in a true servant’s leadership.]
Let thy bowels [desires] also being full of charity [God’s love and purpose] towards all men [the world] and to the household of faith. [believers] And let virtue [holy desires] garnish thy thoughts unceasingly, then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God, [you will see me] and the doctrines of the Priesthood shall distill upon thy soul as the dews from heaven, [the mysteries shall be unfolded] the Holy Ghost shall be thy constant companion, [baptism of fire] and thy scepter an unchanging scepter of righteousness and truth, [knowledge of God] and thy dominion shall be an everlasting dominion, [Exaltation] and without compulsory means [sealing power given] it shall flow unto thee forever and ever. [Crowned a King]
There could be a book written about that last paragraph that makes up D&C 121:45-46. In it is the clue to receiving your Second Comforter experience and all that the Lord desires to bestow upon you!