For the past thirty-five or more years I have read Section 76 of the Doctrine and Covenants on February 16, the date of its reception. There is something very special about that revelation and an added bonus comes from studying it on the very day it was received.
Joseph Smith gave us a wonderful reflection on this revelation. He recorded: “Nothing could be more pleasing to the Saints upon the order of the kingdom of the Lord, than the light which burst upon the world through the foregoing vision. Every law, every commandment, every promise, every truth, and every point touching the destiny of man, from Genesis to Revelation, where the purity of the scriptures remains unsullied by the folly of men, go to show the perfection of the theory [of different degrees of glory in the future life] and witnesses the fact that that document is a transcript from the records of the eternal world. The sublimity of the ideas; the purity of the language; the scope for action; the continued duration for completion, in order that the heirs of salvation may confess the Lord and bow the knee; the rewards for faithfulness, and the punishments for sins, are so much beyond the narrow-mindedness of men, that every honest man is constrained to exclaim: ‘It came from God.’”[i]
Philo Dibble’s Witness
I love reading those words along with the revelation itself each February 16. I also love to read Philo Dibble’s account of that Thursday in 1832. We have interesting details of the event from Brother Dibble that we have from no other source. He recorded:
“The vision of the three degrees of glory which is recorded in the Doctrine and Covenants was given at the house of ‘Father Johnson,’ in Hiram, Ohio, and during the time that Joseph and Sidney were in the Spirit and saw the heavens open there were other men in the room, perhaps twelve, among whom I was one during a part of the time—probably two-thirds of the time. I saw the glory and felt the power, but did not see the vision.
“Joseph wore black clothes, but at this time seemed to be dressed in an element of glorious white, and his face shone as if it were transparent, but I did not see the same glory attending Sidney.
“The events and conversation, while they were seeing what is written (and many things were seen and related that are not written) I will relate as minutely as is necessary.
“Joseph would, at intervals, say: ‘What do I see?’ as one might say while looking out the window and beholding what all in the room could not see. Then he would relate what he had seen or what he was looking at.
“Then Sidney replied, ‘I see the same.’
“Presently Sidney would say, ‘What do I see?’ and would repeat what he had seen or was seeing.
“And Joseph would reply, ‘I see the same.’
“This manner of conversation was repeated at short intervals to the end of the vision, and during the whole time not a word was spoken by any other person. Not a sound or motion was made by anyone but Joseph and Sidney, and it seemed to me that they never moved a joint or limb during the time I was there, which I think was over an hour, and to the end of the vision.
“Joseph sat firmly and calmly all the time in the midst of a magnificent glory, but Sidney sat limp and pale, apparently as limber as a rag, observing which, Joseph remarked, smilingly. ‘Sidney is not used to it as I am.’”[ii]
Early Reactions and Sharing the Vision Carefully
Many reacted with mixed feelings to the vision. William W. Phelps, Church printer in Missouri, published “The Vision” in the Church-owned The Evening and The Morning Star in July 1832 calling it “the greatest news ever published to man.”[iii]
Wilford Woodruff wrote, “When I read the vision…it enlightened my mind and gave me great joy. It appeared to me that the God who revealed that principle unto man was wise, just, and true—possessed both the best of attributes, and good sense, and knowledge. I felt He was consistent with both love, mercy, justice, and judgment; and I felt to love the Lord more than ever before in my life.”[iv]
Joseph Smith counseled the Twelve Apostles as they headed to England in 1839 to stick with the first principles and ordinances of the gospel and he gave them specific counsel not to teach “the vision” to new converts. Heber C. Kimball also encouraged his fellow missionaries in England to keep to the introductory principles of the gospel in their labors. Heber had helped convert a minister, Timothy Matthews, in Bedford, England, and established an appointment for his baptism. But another elder, John Goodson, “contrary to my counsel and positive instructions, and without advising with any one, read to Mr. Matthews, the vision … which caused him to stumble.” Matthews failed to keep his appointment and never joined the Church.[v]
Joseph saved from Extradition to Missouri
In January 1843 great effort was made to extradite Joseph Smith from Illinois to Missouri, to get him back into the hands of the mobs there that hated him. He was abused and oppressed and it appeared he would be forcibly taken to Missouri. At that point, Governor Thomas Ford of Illinois issued an executive order dated January 6, 1843, proclaiming that the judgments of the court were inoperative and void. Joseph was set free!
When Joseph got back to Nauvoo there was great celebrating upon his arrival. Wilson Law and Willard Richards composed a jubilee song that was sung the evening of January 7. Other celebrations took place around the city for the next few days.
A Poem from W.W. Phelps to Joseph
Less than two weeks later (this is all tied to Section 76, you will see), W.W. Phelps composed a poem for Joseph entitled Vade Mecum (Go With Me). Here is the short poem:
From W.W. Phelps to Joseph Smith, the Prophet.
Go with me, will you go to the Saints that have died,
To the next better world, where the righteous reside,
Where the angels and spirits in harmony be,
In the joys of a vast paradise? Go with me.
Go with me, where the truth and the virtues prevail,
Where the union is one, and the years never fail:
Not a heart can conceive—not a natural eye see
What the Lord had prepared for the just. Go with me.
Go with me, where there is no destruction nor war,
Neither tyrants nor mobbers, nor nations ajar,—
Where the system is perfect, and happiness free,
And the life is eternal, with God. Go with me.
Go with me, will you go to the mansions above,
Where the bliss and the knowledge, the light and the love,
And the glory of God do eternally be?
Death, the wages of sin, is not there. Go with me.[vi]
Joseph Smith Answers W.W. Phelps
Joseph Smith was very moved by this poem, and, in response, composed a poem back to W.W. Phelps that gives us a number of insights from Joseph’s own mind into his understanding of the vision of the three degrees of glory. In your celebration (today) of Section 76, this will add a great deal of joy. Begin by reading Section 76 of the Doctrine and Covenants, then come right back and read Joseph’s poem. Don’t be daunted by its length. You may count the readings of “the vision” and “the answer” as your scripture study today. Enjoy the celebration!
To W.W. Phelps, Esq.
- I will go, I will go, to the home of the Saints,
Where the virtue’s the value, and life the reward;
But before I return to my former estate
I must fulfil the mission I had from the Lord.
2. Wherefore, hear, O ye heavens, and give ear O ye earth;
And rejoice ye inhabitants truly again;
For the Lord he is God, and his life never ends,
And besides him there ne’er was a Saviour of men.
3. His ways are a wonder; his wisdom is great;
The extent of his doings, there’s none can unveil;
His purposes fail not; from age unto age
He still is the same, and his years never fail.
4. His throne is the heavens, his life time is all
Of eternity now, and eternity then;
His union is power, and none stays his hand,—
The Alpha, Omega, for ever: Amen.
- For thus saith the Lord, in the spirit of truth,
I am merciful, gracious, and good unto those
That fear me, and live for the life that’s to come;
My delight is to honor the saints with repose;
6. That serve me in righteousness true to the end;
Eternal’s their glory, and great their reward;
I’ll surely reveal all my myst’ries to them,—
The great hidden myst’ries in my kingdom stor’d—
7. From the council in Kolob, to time on the earth.
And for ages to come unto them I will show
My pleasure & will, what my kingdom will do:
Eternity’s wonders they truly shall know.
8. Great things of the future I’ll show unto them,
Yea, things of the vast generations to rise;
For their wisdom and glory shall be very great,
And their pure understanding extend to the skies:
- And before them the wisdom of wise men shall cease,
And the nice understanding of prudent ones fail!
For the light of my spirit shall light mine elect,
And the truth is so mighty ‘t will ever prevail.
10. And the secrets and plans of my will I’ll reveal;
The sanctified pleasures when earth is renew’d,
What the eye hath not seen, nor the ear hath yet heard;
Nor the heart of the natural man ever hath view’d.
11. I, Joseph, the prophet, in spirit beheld,
And the eyes of the inner man truly did see
Eternity sketch’d in a vision from God.
Of what was, and now is, and yet is to be.
12. Those things which the Father ordained of old,
Before the world was, or a system had run,—
Through Jesus the Maker and Savior of all;
The only begotten, (Messiah) his son.
13. Of whom I bear record, as all prophets have,
And the record I bear is the fulness,—yea even
The truth of the gospel of Jesus—the Christ,
With whom I convers’d, in the vision of heav’n.
14. For while in the act of translating his word,
Which the Lord in his grace had appointed to me,
I came to the gospel recorded by John,
Chapter fifth and the twenty ninth verse, which you’ll see.
Which was given as follows:
“Speaking of the resurrection of the dead,—
“Concerning those who shall hear the voice of the son of man—
“And shall come forth:—
“They who have done good in the resurrection of the just.
“And they who have done evil in the resurrection of the unjust.
15. I marvel’d at these resurrections, indeed!
For it came unto me by the spirit direct:—
And while I did meditate what it all meant,
The Lord touch’d the eyes of my own intellect:—
- Hosanna forever! they open’d anon,
And the glory of God shone around where I was;
And there was the Son, at the Father’s right hand,
In a fulness of glory, and holy applause.
17. I beheld round the throne, holy angels and hosts,
And sanctified beings from worlds that have been,
In holiness worshipping God and the Lamb,
Forever and ever, amen and amen!
18. And now after all of the proofs made of him,
By witnesses truly, by whom he was known,
This is mine, last of all, that he lives; yea he lives!
And sits at the right hand of God, on his throne.
19. And I heard a great voice, bearing record from heav’n,
He’s the Saviour, and only begotten of God—
By him, of him, and through him, the worlds were all made,
Even all that career in the heavens so broad,
20. Whose inhabitants, too, from the first to the last,
Are sav’d by the very same Saviour of ours;
And, of course, are begotten God’s daughters and sons,
By the very same truths, and the very same pow’rs.
21. And I saw and bear record of warfare in heav’n;
For an angel of light, in authority great,
Rebell’d against Jesus, and sought for his pow’r,
But was thrust down to woe from his Godified state.
22. And the heavens all wept, and the tears drop’d like dew,
That Lucifer, son of the morning had fell!
Yea, is fallen! is fall’n, and become, Oh, alas!
The son of Perdition; the devil of hell!
23. And while I was yet in the spirit of truth,
The commandment was: write ye the vision all out;
For Satan, old serpent, the devil’s for war,—
And yet will encompass the saints round about.
24. And I saw, too, the sufficing and mis’ry of those,
(Overcome by the devil, in warfare and fight,)
In hell fire, and vengeance, the doom of the damn’d;
For the Lord said, the vision is further: so write.
- For thus saith the Lord, now concerning all those
Who know of my power and partake of the same;
And suffer themselves, that they be overcome
By the power of Satan; despising my name:—
26. Defying my power, and denying the truth;—
They are they—of the world, or of men, most forlorn,
The Sons of Perdition, of whom, ah! I say,
‘T were better for them had they never been born!
27. They’re vessels of wrath, and dishonor to God,
Doom’d to suffer his wrath, in the regions of woe,
Through the terrific night of eternity’s round,
With the devil and all of his angels below:
28. Of whom it is said, no forgiveness is giv’n,
In this world, alas! nor the world that’s to come;
For they have denied the spirit of God.
After having receiv’d it: and mistry’s their doom.
29. And denying the only begotten of God,—
And crucify him to themselves, as they do,
And openly put him to shame in their flesh,
By gospel they cannot repentance renew.
30. They are they, who must go to the great lake of fire,
Which burneth with brimstone, yet never consumes,
And dwell with the devil, and angels of his,
While eternity goes and eternity comes.
31. They are they, who must groan through the great second death,
And are not redeemed in the time of the Lord;
While all the rest are, through the triumph of Christ,
Made partakers of grace, by the power of his word.
32. The myst’ry of Godliness truly is great;—
The past, and the present, and what is to be;
And this is the gospel—glad tidings to all,
Which the voice from the heavens bore record to me:
33. That he came to the world in the middle of time,
To lay down his life for his friends and his foes,
And bear away sin as a mission of love;
And sanctify earth for a blessed repose.
- ‘Tis decreed, that he’ll save all the work of his hands,
And sanctify them by his own precious blood;
And purify earth for the Sabbath of rest,
By the agent of fire, as it was by the flood.
35. The Savior will save all his Father did give,
Even all that he gave in the regions abroad.
Save the Sons of Perdition: They’re lost; ever lost.
And can never return to the presence of God.
36. They are they, who must reign with the devil in hell,
In eternity now, and eternity then,
Where the worm dieth not, and the fire is not quench’d;—
And the punishment still, is eternal. Amen.
37. And which is the torment apostates receive,
But the end, or the place where the torment began,
Save to them who are made to partake of the same,
Was never, nor will be, revealed unto man.
38. Yet God shows by vision a glimpse of their fate,
And straightway he closes the scene that was shown:
So the width, or the depth, or the misery thereof,
Save to those that partake, is forever unknown.
39. And while I was pondering, the vision was closed;
And the voice said to me, write the vision: for lo!
‘Tis the end of the scene of the sufferings of those,
Who remain filthy still in their anguish and woe.
40. And again I bear record of heavenly things,
Where virtue’s the value, above all that’s pric’d—
Of the truth of the gospel concerning the just,
That rise in the first resurrection of Christ.
41. Who receiv’d and believ’d, and repented likewise,
And then were baptis’d, as a man always was,
Who ask’d and receiv’d a remission of sin,
And honored the kingdom by keeping its laws.
42. Being buried in water, as Jesus had been,
And keeping the whole of his holy commands,
They received the gift of the spirit of truth,
By the ordinance truly of laying on hands.
- For these overcome, by their faith and their works,
Being tried in their life-time, as purified gold,
And seal’d by the spirit of promise, to life,
By men called of God, as was Aaron of old.
44. They are they, of the church of the first born of God,—
And unto whose hands he committeth all things;
For they hold the keys of the kingdom of heav’n,
And reign with the Savior, as priests, and as kings.
45. They’re priests of the order of Melchisedek,
Like Jesus, (from whom is this highest reward,)
Receiving a fulness of glory and light; As written:
They’re Gods; even sons of the Lord.
46. So all things are theirs; yea, of life, or of death;
Yea, whether things now, or to come, all are theirs,
And they are the Savior’s, and he is the Lord’s,
Having overcome all, as eternity’s heirs.
47. ‘Tis wisdom that man never glory in man,
But give God the glory for all that he hath;
For the righteous will walk in the presence of God,
While the wicked are trod under foot in his wrath.
48. Yea, the righteous shall dwell in the presence of God,
And of Jesus, forever, from earth’s second birth—
For when he comes down in the splendor of heav’n,
All these he’ll bring with him, to reign on the earth.
49. These are they that arise in their bodies of flesh,
When the trump of the first resurrection shall sound;
These are they that come up to Mount Zion, in life,
Where the blessings and gifts of the spirit abound.
50. These are they that have come to the heavenly place;
To the numberless courses of angels above:
To the city of God; e’en the holiest of all,
And to the home of the blessed, the fountain of love:
51. To the church of old Enoch, and of the first born:
And gen’ral assembly of ancient renown’d.
Whose names are all kept in the archives of heav’n,
As chosen and faithful, and fit to be crown’d.
- These are they that are perfect through Jesus’ own blood,
Whose bodies celestial are mention’d by Paul,
Where the sun is the typical glory thereof,
And God, and his Christ, are the true judge of all.
53. Again I beheld the terrestrial world,
In the order and glory of Jesus, go on;
‘Twas not as the church of the first born of God,
But shone in its place, as the moon to the sun.
54. Behold, these are they that have died without law;
The heathen of ages that never had hope,
And those of the region and shadow of death,
The spirits in prison, that light has brought up.
55. To spirits in prison the Savior once preach’d,
And taught them the gospel, with powers afresh;
And then were the living baptiz’d for their dead,
That they might be judg’d as if men in the flesh.
56. These are they that are hontrable men of the earth;
Who were blinded and dup’d by the cunning of men:
They receiv’d not the truth of the Savior at first;
But did, when they heard it in prison, again.
57. Not valiant for truth, they obtain’d not the crown,
But are of that glory that’s typ’d by the moon:
They are they, that come into the presence of Christ,
But not to the fulness of God, on his throne.
58. Again I beheld the telestial, as third,
The lesser, or starry world, next in its place,
For the leaven must leaven three measures of meal,
And every knee bow that is subject to grace.
59. These are they that receiv’d not the gospel of Christ,
Or evidence, either, that he ever was;
As the stars are all diff’rent in glory and light,
So differs the glory of these by the laws.
60. These are they that deny not the spirit of God,
But are thrust down to hell, with the devil, for sins,
As hypocrites, liars, whoremongers, and thieves,
And stay ’till the last resurrection begins.
- ‘Till the Lamb shall have finish’d the work he begun;
Shall have trodden the wine press, in fury alone,
And overcome all by the pow’r of his might:
He conquers to conquer, and save all his own.
62. These are they that receive not a fulness of light,
From Christ, in eternity’s world, where they are,
The terrestrial sends them the Comforter, though;
And minist’ring angels, to happify there.
63. And so the telestial is minister’d to,
By ministers from the terrestrial one,
As terrestrial is, from the celestial throne;
And the great, greater, greatest, seem’s stars, moon, and sun.
64. And thus I beheld, in the vision of heav’n,
The telestial glory, dominion and bliss,
Surpassing the great understanding of men,—
Unknown, save reveal’d, in a world vain as this.
65. And lo, I beheld the terrestrial, too,
Which excels the telestial in glory and light,
In splendor, and knowledge, and wisdom, and joy,
In blessings, and graces, dominion and might.
66. I beheld the celestial, in glory sublime;
Which is the most excellent kingdom that is,—
Where God, e’en the Father, in harmony reigns;
Almighty, supreme, and eternal, in bliss.
67. Where the church of the first born in union reside,
And they see as they’re seen, and they know as they’re known;
Being equal in power, dominion and might,
With a fulness of glory and grace, round his throne.
68. The glory celestial is one like the sun;
The glory terrestrial is one like the moon;
The glory telestial is one like the stars,
And all harmonize like the parts of a tune.
69. As the stars are all different in lustre and size,
So the telestial region, is mingled in bliss;
From least unto greatest, and greatest to least,
The reward is exactly as promis’d in this.
- These are they that came out for Apollos and Paul;
For Cephas and Jesus, in all kinds of hope;
For Enoch and Moses, and Peter, and John;
For Luther and Calvin, and even the Pope.
71. For they never received the gospel of Christ,
Nor the prophetic spirit that came from the Lord;
Nor the covenant neither, which Jacob once had;
They went their own way, and they have their reward.
72. By the order of God, last of all, these are they,
That will not be gather’d with saints here below,
To be caught up to Jesus, and meet in the cloud:—
In darkness they worshipp’d; to darkness they go.
73. These are they that are sinful, the wicked at large,
That glutted their passion by meanness or worth;
All liars, adulterers, sorc’rers, and proud;
And suffer, as promis’d, God’s wrath on the earth.
74. These are they that must suffer the vengeance of hell,
‘Till Christ shall have trodden all enemies down,
And perfected his work, in the fulness of times:
And is crown’d on his throne with his glorious crown.
75. The vast multitude of the telestial world—
As the stars of the skies, or the sands of the sea;—
The voice of Jehovah echo’d far and wide,
Ev’ry tongue shall confess, and they all bow the knee.
76. Ev’ry man shall be judg’d by the works of his life,
And receive a reward in the mansion prepar’d;
For his judgments are just, and his works never end,
As his prophets and servants have always declar’d.
77. But the great things of God, which he show’d unto me,
Unlawful to utter, I dare not declare;
They surpass all the wisdom and greatness of men,
And only are seen, as has Paul, where they are.
78. I will go, I will go, while the secret of life,
Is blooming in heaven, and blasting in hell;
Is leaving on earth, and a budding in space:—
I will go, I will go, with you, brother, farewell.
Nauvoo, Feb. 1843.[vii]
Stories like these are included in the new app: Witness of the Light. See a sample of the app and learn how to purchase it for your iPad here: www.josephsmithwitness.com
[i] History of the Church, Volume 1:252-53.
[ii] Andrus, Hyrum and Helen Mae. They Knew the Prophet. Deseret Book Company, Salt Lake City, 1974, p. 68
[iii] “Items for the Public,” The Evening and the Morning Star 1, No. 2 (July 1832): 25. The “Vision” itself is published on pages 27-30.
[iv] Wilford Woodruff, April 9, 1857, in Journal of Discourses (London: Latter-Day Saints’ Book Depot, 1854-1886), 5:84.
[v] Orson F. Whitney, Life of Heber C. Kimball (Salt Lake City: Juvenile Instructor, 1888), 162.
[vi] History of the Church, 5:253.
[vii] In Times and Seasons, 4 (1 February 1843): 82-85.