Joseph does not shy away from humbly including Section 3 in the Doctrine and Covenants, where he is severely chastened by the Lord for a failing. He could have hid it or polished it up to preserve his image, but because he is so honest, we not only get to see firsthand, the spiritual development of a prophet, but he also gives us all a deep teaching.
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Joseph does not shy away from humbly including Section 3 in the Doctrine and Covenants, where he is severely chastened by the Lord for a failing. He could have hid it or polished it up to preserve his image, but because he is so honest, we not only get to see firsthand, the spiritual development of a prophet, but he also gives us all a deep teaching: “You should not have feared man more than God” (Doctrine and Covenants 3:7).
Welcome to Meridian Magazine’s Come Follow Me podcast. This is Scot and Maurine Proctor, and today we will look at Doctrine and Covenants Sections 3-5 called “My Work Shall Go Forth”. Please tell your friends about this podcast or post it on Facebook so they can come and study with us. The transcripts and show are available at latterdaysaintmag.com/podcast, plus you can find the podcast on most platforms—like Spotify and Apple Podcasts. So, let’s get started and study together.
Section 3 has an intriguing back story, made even more interesting when you drill down to the context and details, which we will do today. We have mentioned that once Joseph said he had seen a light, persecution became his life. After Sept. 22, 1827, when he got the plates, he was hounded by those hoping to steal them, in the form of passionate, emotional mobs.
One night, Joseph learned that a mob was coming, and they took up a portion of the hearth to hide the plates there. Lucy Mack Smith said “the hearth was scarcely relaid when a large company of armed men came rushing up to the house. Joseph threw the door open and…hallooed as if had a legion at hand, giving the word of command with great importance. At the same time, the males that belonged to the house, from the father down to little Carlos, ran out with such vehemence upon the mob that it struck them with terror and dismay, and they fled before our little Spartan band away into the woods, where they dispersed themselves to their several homes.” (Smith, Lucy Mack; edited by Scot Facer Proctor and Maurine Jensen Proctor, Revised and Enhanced History of Joseph Smith by His Mother).
Only a few days later, according to Lucy, “Joseph received another intimation of the approach of a mob and the necessity of removing the record and breastplate again from their hiding place. Consequently, Joseph took them out of the box in which they had been placed, wrapped them in clothes, carried them across the road to a cooper’s shop, and laid them in a quantity of flax which was stowed in the shop loft. He then nailed up the box as before and tore up the floor and put the box under it.
“As soon as it was dark, the mob came and ransacked the place, but did not come into the house. After making a satisfactory search, they went away.
“The next morning we found the floor of the cooper’s shop taken up and the wooden box which was put under it split to pieces.”
So, in a world with so much hostility, you can imagine how important it was to have a friend, and this, an important man in the town. This was Martin Harris, a respected and reasonably well-off farmer, who had hired the Smiths to work on his land and held them in high regard. Unfortunately he had a very great liability—his wife, Lucy Harris, who was also his first cousin. Lucy Mack Smith said Lucy Harris was hard of hearing, and consequently a bit paranoid, often believing that people were talking about her behind her back. She also apparently had a very great need to be important, because as soon as she learned about the plates and their need for translation, she wanted to be a part of it financially, but she had her condition. She insisted that she should see the plates.
Of course, Joseph told her that he could show them to no one, except those whom the Lord should appoint to testify of them, and she went away fuming with an ire that never wavered.
Not long after, with all these pressures upon them, Joseph and Emma decided to move down by her family in Harmony, Pennsylvania.
Let’s put their situation in context. This is 1827, and Joseph and Emma had just gotten married earlier that year on January 18. They are young and have all the stress and poverty upon them of young marrieds. Unless her baby came prematurely the following June, she was probably suffering the discomfort and exhaustion of the very first trimester of pregnancy.
Add to that having the very heavy responsibility of translating the record, and you can imagine how much this next moment would have meant to Joseph just before he left for Harmony. Lucy Mack Smith said that one day, Joseph was “at a public house doing some business with the landlord, when Mr. Harris entered the room. Many strangers were present. When he came in, he walked up to my son, gave him his hand, and said, ‘How do you do, Mr. Smith?’ Then, taking a bag of silver from his pocket, he said, ‘Here, Mr. Smith, is fifty dollars. I give it to you to do the Lord’s work with. No,’ said he, ‘I give it to the Lord for his own work.’ Martin also discharged Joseph’s debts. An equivalent amount of money in our day would be between $1500 and $2500!
In the winter of 1828, Martin and Lucy Harris traveled to Harmony, Pennsylvania to visit Joseph and Emma. Unfortunately, Lucy Harris was still dogged about seeing the plates.
Lucy Mack Smith said, “As soon as she arrived there, she said she had come to see the plates and would never leave until she had accomplished it. Without delay she began ransacking every nook and corner of the house-chest, cupboard, trunk, etc.; consequently, Joseph was compelled to take both the breastplate and the record out of the house and secrete them elsewhere. Not finding them in the house, she concluded that Joseph had buried them, and the next day she went out and hunted the ground over, adjacent to the house. She kept up the search till two o’clock in the afternoon, when she came in very ill-natured and, after warming herself a little, enquired of Emma if they had snakes there in the wintertime. ‘I was walking around in the woods,’ said she, ‘to look at the situation of your place, and as I turned round to come home, a tremendous, great black snake stuck up its head before me and commenced hissing at me.’
Of course, this is unusual because in the winter, black snakes are hibernating. Lucy Mack Smith continues, “The woman was so disappointed and perplexed in everything she undertook that she left the house and took lodgings at the house of a near neighbor…
“While this woman remained in the neighborhood, she did all that her ingenuity could contrive to injure Joseph in the estimation of his neighbors. She told them that he was a grand imposter, that he had deceived her husband with his specious pretensions and was exerting all his deceptive powers in order to induce Mr. Harris to give his property into Joseph’s hands, that he might, by robbing her husband, make himself rich. When she returned home, which was about two weeks from the time she arrived in Harmony, she endeavored to dissuade Mr. Harris from having anything further to do with the writing or translating of the record.”
Also in early 1828, Martin Harris took a copy that Joseph had made of some of the characters from the plates and made the trip to New York that Joseph interpreted to fulfill the scripture in Isaiah 29:11 of “a book that is sealed which men deliver to one that is learned, saying, Read this, I pray thee, and he saith, I cannot, for it is sealed.”
Martin visited both Samuel L. Mitchell, a linguist and a scholar on ancient American culture and Charles Anthon, a professor of linguistics at Columbia College to show them the characters, and according to Martin’s own account, when Anthon saw the manuscript he wrote a note certifying that the characters were true.
But Martin reported that when told the plates came from an angel, the professor promptly tore up the certificate, denied the possibility of such a manifestation, and said Martin should bring the record to him. Martin said part of the plates were sealed, and Anthon replied, “I cannot read a sealed book.”
Anthon, however, though he was accomplished in the classic languages of Greek and Latin, likely knew little about Egyptian, Hebrew, or any other Middle Eastern language, One scholar observed, “By force of his own brusque personality, he claimed to know more in this area than he really did.”
At any rate, after Martin’s New York trip he came back to Harmony, convinced and ready to help with the translation. Their work started April 12, 1828 and ended June 14. During that period they translated what we call the 116 pages of the Book of Lehi.
With the background we’ve given you on Lucy Harris, you can understand the extraordinary pressure Martin is under to bring proof to his wife that what he was spending time and resources on was legitimate. He started pleading with Joseph Smith to allow him to take that translation up to Palmyra to show his wife. Joseph took it to the Lord, and was turned down twice, but the third time, the Lord granted permission for Martin to take the translation under the covenant that he would show it to his wife, his sister-in-law, his brother and two others—and no one else.
You might wonder why Joseph would have not listened to the Lord’s answer after the first prayer, let alone the second, but again, remember who Martin was to him. He was 22 years Joseph’s senior. He had liquidated his debts. He had put his considerable reputation on the line for this project. In fact, if you read the Palmyra newspapers of the time, they go from referring to Martin with respect to calling him the equivalent of foolish or zealous or delusional.
Martin was pressured. Joseph was pressured. They made an error in judgement.
Martin left on June 14 and within hours, Emma went into labor and gave birth to their first son whom they named Alvin after Joseph’s older brother, who had died about five years before. That baby only lived for a short time and then passed away. Emma was at death’s door for two or three weeks. It may be that it was a hard delivery and she had continued hemorrhaging, but it might be that she was dealing with something more.
Reports suggest that there was a cholera epidemic in that area of Susquehanna County, and it may be that she had contracted this dreaded disease. Joseph felt to stay with her until he was assured that she could recover completely.
Emma was worried about the manuscript and begged Joseph to travel to Palmyra to check on its safety. About three weeks had passed, and now Joseph would have another three-day journey to Palmyra. At least twenty-four days: That’s a long time to be separated from this very sacred series of papers.
Lucy Mack Smith describes her son’s journey: “Only one other passenger was in the stage besides himself, and since this individual did not seem inclined to urge conversation, Joseph was left to the solitude of his own imagination. But the sensations which he experienced when he found himself well seated in the stagecoach cannot be imagined by anyone who reads this, for they have not been in like circumstances, and, of course, they cannot be correctly described…
“In the first place was the consideration of the calling which he had received at the hand of God, many years previous, to do a thing unlooked for by the generation in which he lived. He cast his eyes abroad upon the age now present upon the earth, and reflected that he stood alone, an unlearned youth, opposed to all the casuistry and learning and ingenuity of the combined world. He considered that he had been called to extend his search up to the throne of God and bring down the precious things of heaven above into the midst of the sons of men, despite all their preconceived opinions and prejudices. These were so great that in order to gratify a pride of popularity and sustain a fashionable religion, they would and did strive, and even before this had used all their ingenuity, to take away his life to prevent the truth from coming forth-that their own opinions would not receive injury.
“…Should the manuscript be endangered, the consequence which must ensue was inevitable, which was that he would not be permitted to retain the plates until he should be able to translate them-and perhaps that he might never have the privilege of touching a finger to the work, which until now he had been the blessed instrument in the hands of God to bring to the knowledge of mankind.
“Consequently, Joseph neither ate nor slept while on the route.
“This was observed by his fellow traveler, insomuch that when Joseph remarked, as he descended from the stage, that he had still twenty miles to travel on foot, the stranger objected, saying, “I have watched you since you first entered the stage, and I know that you have not slept nor eaten since you commenced your journey…for I fear that your constitution, which is evidently not strong, will be insufficient to support you. You will be in danger of falling asleep in the forest, and some accident befall you.”
“Joseph thanked him for his kindness, and they proceeded together. When they arrived at our house, it was nearly daylight. The last four miles of the distance, the stranger was under the necessity of leading Joseph by his arm, for nature was too much exhausted to support him any longer, and he would fall asleep as he stood upon his feet every few minutes.
“Joseph requested us to send with all possible speed for Martin Harris. We did so, and after the stranger left (whose name we never knew), we prepared breakfast for the family, as soon as we conveniently could-for Martin Harris always came in such haste, when sent for, that we supposed he would be there and ready to take breakfast with us before we were ready.
“It was now nearly six o’clock, and he lived three miles distant. At eight o’clock, we set the victuals on the table, looking for him every moment. We waited till nine, and he came not; till ten, and he was not there; till eleven, still he did not make his appearance. At half past twelve we saw him walking with a slow and measured tread toward the house, his eyes fixed thoughtfully upon the ground. When he came to the gate, he did not open it but got upon the fence and sat some time with his hat drawn over his eyes. At last he entered the house. After we sat down and were ready to commence eating, Martin took up his knife and fork as if to use them but dropped them from his hands. Hyrum said, ‘Martin, why do you not eat? Are you sick?’ Martin pressed his hands upon his temples and cried out in a tone of anguish, ‘Oh! I have lost my soul. I have lost my soul.’
“Joseph, who had smothered his fears till now, sprang from the table, exclaiming, ‘Oh! Martin, have you lost that manuscript? Have you broken your oath and brought down condemnation upon my head as well as your own?
“’Yes,’ replied Martin, ‘it is gone and I know not where.’
“’Oh, my God, my God,’ said Joseph, clinching his hands together. ‘All is lost, is lost! What shall I do? I have sinned. It is I who tempted the wrath of God by asking him for that which I had no right to ask, as I was differently instructed by the angel.’ And he wept and groaned, walking the floor continually.
“At last he told Martin to go back to his house and search again. ‘No,’ said Mr. Harris, ‘it is all in vain, for I have looked in every place in the house. I have even ripped open beds and pillows, and I know it is not there.’
Martin had covenanted to show the manuscript only to five, but he broke his covenant and showed it to others. Lucy Mack Smith was convinced that Lucy Harris had taken it, and to this day, of course, we have never recovered it.
This story, told in more detail than we usually hear it, lays the context for Doctrine and Covenants, Section 3.
1 The works, and the designs, and the purposes of God cannot be frustrated, neither can they come to naught.
2 For God doth not walk in crooked paths, neither doth he turn to the right hand nor to the left, neither doth he vary from that which he hath said, therefore his paths are straight, and his course is one eternal round.
3 Remember, remember that it is not the work of God that is frustrated, but the work of men.
The Lord was not surprised at the loss of this manuscript. He knew millennia before that it would happen and had already prepared for it. We will talk about those details in a future podcast. It can give us security to know that God’s purposes will absolutely roll forth, and He is not surprised, nor thrown off course by any turn of events here on this earth. No person, no movement, however devious, can thwart his purposes from rolling forth according to their prescribed course.
This doesn’t mean that everything that happens on this earth is God’s will or that He is the author of the terrible events or disappointments or tragedies of our lives. We live in a world where people have their agency. We ourselves have bodies that are frail and characters that are flawed. He knows how to allow people their agency and still accomplish His purposes. He knows how to use the hardest things to prepare His children for exaltation.
Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf, speaking of the current pandemic, said, “There are still a lot of unknowns about this virus. But if there is one thing I do know, it is that this virus did not catch Heavenly Father by surprise. He did not have to muster additional battalions of angels, call emergency meetings, or divert resources from the world-creation division to handle an unexpected need.
“My message today is that even though this pandemic is not what we wanted or expected, God has prepared His children and His Church for this time…
“God has something unimaginable in mind for you personally and the Church collectively—a marvelous work and a wonder.” (Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “God Will Do Something Unimaginable.” https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/2020/10/28uchtdorf?lang=eng)
God had prepared a book to take the place of the lost Book of Lehi. It was the small plates of Nephi. How arrogant it is for us to believe we can in any way stop God from fulfilling His purposes.
Isn’t that a comfort for us personally? It means in our personal lives that the Lord will fulfill His promises to us. If we keep our covenants, we will be blessed in ways that we have no capacity here to comprehend. We have something to count on. We know His word is absolutely good and true. He knows what will happen, and if evil designing men or women sought to discredit the prophet by stealing the manuscript, the Lord had prepared long in advance for it.
God says, “Remember, remember that it is not the awork of God that is frustrated, but the work of men.” When you see a word repeated twice, it is for added emphasis. This is something to remember.
We are to remember also that His timing is perfect. Our idea of the perfect timing for a blessing and His may not be the same. It is a big step toward spiritual maturity to be able to trust His timing. We take verse 8 in Section 3 as a guideline. “You should have been faithful; and he would have extended his arm and supported you against all the fiery darts of the cadversary; and he would have been with you in every time of dtrouble.”
We saw this so clearly when we moved our family from Virginia to Utah. We needed to move within a certain time frame both because we had a child getting married in Utah and because the house we purchased in Utah closed sooner than we anticipated. How long can you carry two house payments. We felt we needed to have sold our house by the end of May, and prayed for help to find the right buyer by that deadline.
Sure enough, a buyer came along from California, and put a satisfactory offer on our home, and with gratitude we noted that it was to close on the very day we had hoped we could sell by. Unfortunately, within 48 hours that offer fell through and we were left looking for a buyer. One did not materialize for the next two months, and we could see we weren’t going to have sold by that date we thought was so necessary.
At the same time, we had been asked to be a Ma and Pa for our stake trek for the youth. It happened to be that very same week, we were hoping to move, and so we said we couldn’t. We imagined that we’d be in a moving truck heading back to Utah at that time. But as the weeks passed, it was clear that this particular prayer we had been asking to move by that date the last of May was not going to be answered the way we hoped. We thought our timing on the sale was so perfect, but apparently the Lord’s timing was different. We called up our stake leaders and told them we could be a Ma and Pa for trek after all, and they still kindly accepted us.
I’ll never forget the morning we arrived at the cultural hall and they handed us the list of kids who would be in our family. One of the names was Megan Cathro, and it said she was in the Fairfax Ward. I had been in the bishopric there for many years, and knew all the youth, and I can tell you that I had never heard of Megan Cathro. It had to be a typo or some kind of mistake or it listed the wrong ward. I was wrong. She was the daughter of a less active single mother whose last name was different so I didn’t recognize it.
When she came in the door that morning, we threw our arms around her and said “Welcome, Megan! We’re so glad to have you in our family!” Little did we know that we would change each other’s lives so deeply. The trek was hard. The women’s pull was grueling up a very rocky hill. We taught at night, and Scot, I remember you taught a lesson on the importance of making a commitment with the Lord that we read the scriptures every day the rest of our lives. You mentioned that you started that when you were 15 years old and it had completely changed your life.
We had thought the sale of our home by a certain date was really, really important, but the Lord knew that someone else was more important. He had a better idea about what mattered. Megan was a sponge for spiritual things. She loved trek and it wasn’t long before she made her own commitment to read the scriptures every day.
There’s more to the story. As we were moving soon, I was released from the bishopric and the bishop felt really strongly to call me to teach the gospel essentials class for a couple of months. Megan’s mother started coming to that class and brought her then boyfriend, Larry Cox to that class. He was the powerful, influential head of a large corporation. This was his first interaction with the church, and I think, at first, he was just coming to please Lynda. But before long, the message of the gospel penetrated his heart and Lynda was reactivated and Larry was baptized. We were there at a tender and Spirit-filled occasion when they were sealed in the temple for time and all eternity. Every time we saw Megan in the next years, she would say things like, “Hey Pa,” for she continued to call us both Ma and Pa, “it has been two years, tens months and five days and never missed.” We knew what that meant. That it had been that long since she had been consecutively reading the scriptures.
We watched her go on her mission. We watched her fall in love and be sealed in the temple. These people are family to us. We rejoice together and mourn together the events of our lives.
If our prayer had been answered with the timing we hoped for the sale of our home, this blessing would have never come to us. I love the knowledge that we learn in this verse, “You should have been faithful; and he would have extended his arm and supported you against all the fiery darts of the cadversary; and he would have been with you in every time of dtrouble.” What’s more, his timing is perfect.
I love what the Lord told Joseph, who deeply learned this lesson: “You should not have afeared man more than God. Although men set at naught the counsels of God, and bdespise his words—Yet you should have been faithful.”
These may be some of the most important words in scripture to remember as we move forward through these tumultuous times. Certainly Joseph learned not to fear man more than God, and you can see how deeply that lesson permeated his being. Joseph lived with calumny, hatred, persecution, arrest and finally martyrdom, standing always for the truth.
President Russell M. Nelson has told us we may face our own times when we will be tested whether we fear man more than God. He said, “Why do we need such resilient faith? Because difficult days are ahead. Rarely in the future will it be easy or popular to be a faithful Latter-day Saint. Each of us will be tested. The Apostle Paul warned that in the latter days, those who diligently follow the Lord “shall suffer persecution” (2 Timothy 3:12). That very persecution can either crush you into silent weakness or motivate you to be more exemplary and courageous in your daily lives.” (“The Future of the Church: Preparing the World for the Savior’s Second Coming” https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/ensign/2020/04/the-future-of-the-church-preparing-the-world-for-the-saviors-second-coming?lang=eng
We don’t know specifically what lies ahead, but we can see that our freedoms are atrophying to say and believe what we want. Not fearing man will certainly be one of our big tests. Our jobs may be on the line, our friendships, our reputations. It may seem like the expedient thing to do to deny the things that God has taught us and we will have to say to ourselves, “You should not fear man more than God.”
When our daughter, Mariah, was very little, she was playing at a friend’s house and several of the children in the neighborhood saw an old trailer parked in the grass. Somebody thought it would be a fun idea to throw rocks at the trailer, and they continued to do it until the glass in the windows was broken. Our daughter Mariah did not throw rocks, but stood all alone while others did. She didn’t tell us about it when she came home from her friend’s. A neighborhood mother told us about it later, but it has always been an image that stood out to us.
We look around in the world and we are told by the shouting crowd and the constant barrage of messaging, what to believe, what is cool and acceptable to believe. The gospel probably will not fall into that category. It might seem more acceptable to throw rocks at the trailer—and by that, I mean, of course, the gospel– than to stand alone. The Lord tells us in words that are good to put in our hearts that we should not fear man more than God.
We often refer to Section 4 of the Doctrine and Covenants as the missionary scripture. Missionaries use it; they memorize it. It helps give them vision for their work. I remember tenderly when our oldest daughter, Melissa, was called on her mission, she was studying at the Jerusalem Center. When she went to open her call, she phoned long distance and many of the students at the center were surrounding her. They had this section memorized and they said it together before she opened her call. That’s a moment I will not forget.
It’s good to get some context for this. It is now February 1829. Joseph Smith’s parents, Lucy and Joseph, are concerned for his welfare. Though it has been several months since Martin lost the manuscript, he has not been given a new scribe. In that visit to Harmony to see Joseph, his father wants to know what more he can do to help in the work, and this revelation follows. This means it is not just a missionary scripture, but a message for all of us who want to serve the Lord.
“Therefore, if ye have desires to serve God ye are acalled to the work.” That means we all are called. We don’t have to have a specific church calling to thrust in our sickle.
The Lord says: “For behold the afield is white already to bharvest; and lo, he that thrusteth in his sickle with his might, the same layeth up in cstore that he perisheth not, but bringeth salvation to his soul (Section 4: 3,4).
That image of white reminds us of a field, filled with plants whose heads are heavy with grain. The Lord is saying that even though missionary work is hard, many souls, whom you may not suspect, are ready for his gospel. The work and reward is bounteous.
We are qualified for the work if we develop faith, hope, charity, love and an eye single to the glory of God. “Remember faith, avirtue, knowledge, btemperance, cpatience, dbrotherly ekindness, fgodliness, charity, ghumility, hdiligence. The beauty is that these qualities qualify us for the work, but they also are developed doing the work. We want to know how to be this kind of person. We do the work and these qualities follow.
In Section 5, we learn something that is both critical for the work, and will be tested again and again, as the church is restored. Joseph is told, “This generation shall have my word through you.” The Lord works through a prophet no matter how many have what they think are better ideas or claim their own contrary inspiration. We will talk about this often in the weeks to come as this idea is challenged again and again in the early development of the church. The Lord says, “I have reserved those things which I have entrusted unto you, my servant Joseph, for a wise purpose in me, and it shall be made known unto future generations” (Doctrine and Covenants 5:9).
So much to study. So much ahead. Thanks for being with us today. This is Scot and Maurine Proctor with Meridian Magazine’s Come Follow Me podcast. Please tell a friend about this podcast and subscribe to the daily emails that come from Meridian Magazine at latterdaysaintmag.com/signup. Thanks to Paul Cardall for the music and to Michaela Proctor Hutchins who produces this show. Next week we’ll discuss Doctrine and Covenants 6-9 “This is the Spirit of Revelation”. See you then.