The more carefully you study the translation and the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, the more you are amazed at the gift and power of God that was given to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery as they translated the record. These are two very young men: Joseph is 23 and Oliver is 22 years old!
The more carefully you study the translation and the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, the more you are amazed at the gift and power of God that was given to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery as they translated the record. These are two very young men: Joseph is 23 and Oliver is 22 years old!
Remember the Lord said:
19 The weak things of the world shall come forth and break down the mighty and strong ones…That the fulness of my gospel might be proclaimed by the weak and the simple unto the ends of the world, and before kings are rulers.” (D&C 1:18,19, 23). These are certainly the weak and the simple! But that’s who the Lord uses to do His great work.
Welcome to Meridian Magazine’s Come Follow Me Podcast. We are Scot and Maurine Proctor and this week we are studying Doctrine and Covenants Sections 12 and 13 and Joseph Smith History 1:66-75 with the lesson entitled, “Upon You my Fellow Servants.” In this week’s materials we see the beginnings of the “the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began. (Acts 3:21)
I love the natural unfolding of the restoration. Much of what happens is a result of questions that come to the minds of Joseph and Oliver in the course of the translation of the record.
Now, you have to understand that when Oliver became the scribe for the Prophet Joseph, they did not begin in 1st Nephi—they began with Mosiah, Chapter 1 right as we are introduced to King Benjamin’s seminal sermon on becoming sons and daughters of Christ. These would be the first words Oliver Cowdery would hear from the ancient record.
By thirty-eight days into the translation, Joseph and Oliver had come to the record on the Savior’s visit to the Nephites in 3 Nephi.
That’s right, and one of the first teachings the Savior plainly gave to the Nephites is an explanation of the mode and manner of baptism. Now, you have to picture that natural process of thinking as Joseph and Oliver are translating these words and what went through their young minds.
21 And the Lord said unto [Nephi]: I give unto you power that ye shall baptize this people when I am again ascended into heaven.
22 And again the Lord called others, and said unto them likewise; and he gave unto them power to baptize. And he said unto them: On this wise shall ye baptize; and there shall be no disputations among you.
23 Verily I say unto you, that whoso repenteth of his sins through your words, and desireth to be baptized in my name, on this wise shall ye baptize them…
25 Having authority given me of Jesus Christ, I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
26 And then shall ye immerse them in the water, and come forth again out of the water…
27 And there shall be no disputations among you, as there have hitherto been; neither shall there be disputations among you concerning the points of my doctrine, as there have hitherto been.
This translation took place on Friday, May 15, 1829. Joseph and Oliver stopped their work and discussed these doctrines. Joseph likely said to Oliver, “I have not been baptized by one who has authority.” Oliver likely responded, “Nor have I.” A discussion ensued. Who has the authority on the earth to baptize at this time? Where can we receive this authority? What shall we do? To whom shall we turn? “I certainly want to be baptized by one who has authority and receive a remission for my sins,” said Joseph and Oliver to each other. They wanted to know what to do.
“Shall we not retire to the woods to pray and ask the Lord what we should do to obtain the blessings of baptism and the authority to baptize?
Don’t you love the natural, sincere approach to the questions that would lead to this great revelation that was about to come?
Here are two young men just trying to figure out what is right and how to proceed. It reminds me of when Joseph first went into the woods to pray at age 14 and he sincerely wanted to obtain a forgiveness for his sins. This is a similar pattern.
Now, Joseph and Emma owned 13 ½ acres of land in Harmony with a snug little cabin. Part of the land was fields for cultivation and part of it was forested with many maple trees—they called it the sugar bush. Their land was a long, narrow strip, rectangular in shape, that went clear down to the banks of the Susquehanna River. Joseph and Oliver went into the sugar bush and knelt down to pray and ask further light and knowledge concerning the questions of baptism and the authority to baptize.
“The Lord, who is rich in mercy, and ever willing to answer the consistent prayer of the humble, after we had called upon Him in a fervent manner, aside from the abodes of men, condescended to manifest to us His will. On a sudden, as from the midst of eternity, the voice of the Redeemer spake peace to us, while the veil was parted and the angel of God came down clothed with glory, and delivered the anxiously looked for message, and the keys of the Gospel of repentance. What joy! what wonder! what amazement! While the world was racked and distracted—while millions were groping as the blind for the wall, and while all men were resting upon uncertainty, as a general mass, our eyes beheld, our ears heard, as in the ‘blaze of day’; yes, more—above the glitter of the May sunbeam, which then shed its brilliancy over the face of nature! Then his voice, though mild, pierced to the center, and his words, ‘I am thy fellow-servant,’ dispelled every fear. We listened, we gazed, we admired! ’Twas the voice of an angel from glory, ’twas a message from the Most High! And as we heard we rejoiced, while His love enkindled upon our souls, and we were wrapped in the vision of the Almighty! Where was room for doubt? Nowhere; uncertainty had fled, doubt had sunk no more to rise, while fiction and deception had fled forever!” (Joseph Smith History, endnote of Oliver Cowdery)
And this angel of light, this being of glory was none other than John the Baptist from ancient times, the same John who had baptized the Savior of the world.
In ancient times, John was crying with a loud voice, “Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” John, who was filled with the Holy Ghost from his mother’s womb, was ordained by an angel at eight days old “to overthrow the kingdom of the Jews, and to make straight the way of the Lord before the face of his people, to prepare them for the coming of the Lord.”
Now, at the time of Jesus, that day of days had arrived—a day when heaven and earth would meet. By eternal plan the Son of the Highest would now come to John to be baptized of him. John was the only legal administrator in the affairs of the kingdom then on the earth, holding the keys of the Aaronic Priesthood. He was baptizing at Bethabara, “the house of the ford,” the place where tradition says the children of Israel bearing the Ark of the Covenant crossed the river on dry ground to enter the promised land.
The ordinance of baptism was common to the Jews. They saw it like this: as a newly baptized person “stepped out of these waters he was considered as ‘born anew’—in the language of the Rabbis, as if he were ‘a little child just born.’ . . . The past, with all that belonged to it, was past, and he was a new man—the old, with its defilements, was buried in the waters of baptism.”
Still, baptism was more ancient even than Israel. It had been established at the beginning of time, for Adam “was caught away by the Spirit of the Lord, and was carried down into the water, and was laid under the water, and was brought forth out of the water. And thus he was baptized.”
Now, seventy-six generations from Adam, came the one who had instituted the ordinance. What a moment in all eternity to see, standing at the water’s edge, this Elias and the sinless Messiah, who had no need of being cleansed. John, in reverential awe, said, “I have need to be baptized of thee, and why comest thou to me?” Then Jesus spoke: “Suffer me to be baptized of thee, for thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness.” The ancient prophet Nephi expounded on this moment: “If the Lamb of God, he being holy, should have need to be baptized by water, to fulfill all righteousness, O then, how much more need have we, being unholy, to be baptized, yea, even by water!”
So, John went with Jesus into the water and baptized Him by immersion. “And Jesus . . . went straightway out of the water; and John saw, and lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting upon Jesus. And lo, he heard a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear ye him.”
So, here was that very same John the Baptist, come to ordain these two men to the holy Aaronic Priesthood. And you know what I love, Maurine, about this scene? I love that John the Baptist is the perfect witness of the power of the resurrection. Remember, John the Baptist was beheaded in the prison at Machaerus (Mack-eer-us) and here he comes to Joseph and Oliver in perfect form. That always makes me so happy. The resurrection works!
While we were thus employed, praying and calling upon the Lord, a messenger from heaven descended in a cloud of light, and having laid his hands upon us, he ordained us, saying:
69 Upon you my fellow servants, in the name of Messiah, I confer the Priesthood of Aaron, which holds the keys of the ministering of angels, and of the gospel of repentance, and of baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; and this shall never be taken again from the earth until the sons of Levi do offer again an offering unto the Lord in righteousness.
70 He said this Aaronic Priesthood had not the power of laying on hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost, but that this should be conferred on us hereafter; and he commanded us to go and be baptized, and gave us directions that I should baptize Oliver Cowdery, and that afterwards he should baptize me.
71 Accordingly we went and were baptized. I baptized him first, and afterwards he baptized me—after which I laid my hands upon his head and ordained him to the Aaronic Priesthood, and afterwards he laid his hands on me and ordained me to the same Priesthood—for so we were commanded.
I love what happened as Joseph and Oliver were baptized:
73 Immediately on our coming up out of the water after we had been baptized, we experienced great and glorious blessings from our Heavenly Father. No sooner had I baptized Oliver Cowdery, than the Holy Ghost fell upon him, and he stood up and prophesied many things which should shortly come to pass. And again, so soon as I had been baptized by him, I also had the spirit of prophecy, when, standing up, I prophesied concerning the rise of this Church, and many other things connected with the Church, and this generation of the children of men. We were filled with the Holy Ghost, and rejoiced in the God of our salvation.
Wouldn’t you like to know all that was said on that occasion? What great prophecies were given by the Spirit of the Lord? They were clearly filled with the Spirit of Prophecy and much was given in the way of rejoicing in that which was about to happen in this kingdom.
You know, Maurine, you and I have walked down to the banks of the Susquehanna River dozens of times to where these baptisms took place. I love the actual logistics of the baptisms. Joseph and Oliver are in their street clothes, not their whites. They took their boots off as they entered the waters of the Susquehanna River. It was May and the rains had been heavy. The river was running high on the banks. The brethren were going into the river with specific instructions from John the Baptist as to how to perform the first authorized baptisms in this Dispensation. I’m sure they were told very specifically how to proceed.
“Joseph, take your right arm and bring it to the square. Now, call Oliver by his full name and I’ll give you the words to say. “Oliver Cowdery. Having been commissioned of Jesus Christ, I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the son and of the Holy Ghost, Amen.” “Now, Joseph, immerse Oliver all the way under the water.” Joseph did so and they were filled with the Spirit of the Lord.
Then the same instructions were given to Oliver by the angel. “Oliver, raise your right hand to the square. Now, call Joseph by his full name:
“Joseph Smith, Jr., having been commissioned of Jesus Christ, I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, Amen.” “Now, Oliver, immerse him in the river.” He did so. They were both filled with the Spirit of Prophecy! What a joyous, amazing, glorious occasion!
Clearly, the gift of the Holy Ghost was extended to both Joseph and Oliver on this occasion. And how do we know this? It’s clear from the record:
74 Our minds being now enlightened, we began to have the scriptures laid open to our understandings, and the true meaning and intention of their more mysterious passages revealed unto us in a manner which we never could attain to previously, nor ever before had thought of.
Oh Maurine, I love those insights into how the Spirit opens our minds to the true meaning and intention of the more mysterious passages of scripture. That’s what I want more than anything—revelation as I am studying the scriptures. Insights that I would not otherwise have. That is how the Spirit works and opens our minds to things we just would not have seen without His help.
Now, there is one more thing that is so tender about this scene at the Susquehanna River that comes from Lucy Mack Smith’s account. It’s one of my favorite moments from this time period.
You can imagine the elation of joy that both Oliver and Joseph had been experiencing—having been ordained to the Aaronic Priesthood by John the Baptist and having performed the first authorized baptisms in this dispensation. They were beyond joy.
Now, as they were finished with these things, Lucy Mack Smith records:
“As they were on their return to the house, they overheard Samuel, in a secluded spot, engaged in secret prayer. They had now received the authority to baptize, and Joseph said that he considered it a sufficient testimony of Samuel’s honesty of heart and zeal for religion that they had found him privately bowing before the Lord in prayer, and that he thought it was an evidence of readiness for baptism. Oliver was of the same opinion, and they spoke to Samuel, who went with them straightway to the water and was baptized.” (Smith, Lucy Mack, Revised and Enhanced History of Joseph Smith by His Mother, Edited by Scot Facer Proctor and Maurine Jensen Proctor, Bookcraft, Salt Lake City, Utah, 1996, pp 185-86).
That is such a scene of love and brotherhood and comradery.
Oh, I do love that so much. Now, Scot, we often talk about the restoration of the Aaronic Priesthood but we seldom have many details on the restoration of the Melchizedek Priesthood—and that story is fascinating. And you and I have done a ton of research on that, haven’t we?
We certainly have. In fact, we were just doing onsite research this past fall in October. Every time we go to these areas around Harmony, Pennsylvania and Colesville, New York, we learn new things and come closer and closer to the story of the restoration of the Melchizedek Priesthood. As we know, we don’t have the exact date of the restoration of the Melchizedek Priesthood, nor of the details surrounding it.
But, we do learn some details from a conversation between Addison Everett and Oliver Huntingdon that throws light upon this sacred and little known event.
“I heard the following conversation between Joseph and Hyrum a few days before they were martyred. … Oliver Cowdery was spoken of and Joseph went on to state that ‘at Colesville [New York] he and Oliver were under arrest on charge of Deceiving the people and in court he stated that the first miracle done was to create this earth.
“About that time his attorney told the court that he wanted to see Mr. Smith alone a few moments. When alone Mr. Reid said that there was a mob in front of the house and [hoisting] the window, Joseph and Oliver went to the woods in a few rods, it being night, and they traveled [running from the mob who was chasing them] until Oliver was exhausted and Joseph almost carried him through mud and water. They traveled all night and just at the break of day Oliver gave out entirely and exclaimed ‘O Lord, How long Brother Joseph have we got to endure this thing?’”
Now, as we take the account from the 128th section of the Doctrine and Covenants, at this moment, Lucifer came to them disguised as an angel of light. He came to deceive them and perhaps to destroy them. “And again, what do we hear?…The voice of Michael on the banks of the Susquehanna , detecting the devil when he appeared as an angel of light!” ((D&C 128:20) Then Joseph goes right into this:
“The voice of Peter, James, and John in the wilderness between Harmony, Susquehanna county, and Colesville, Broome county, on the Susquehanna river, declaring themselves as possessing the keys of the kingdom, and of the dispensation of the fulness of times!” (ibid).
“Brother Joseph said that at that very time [when they had been completely exhausted and were spent and Satan appeared to deceive them], Peter, James and John came to them and ORDAINED THEM to the APOSTLESHIP.
“They had 16 or 17 miles to travel to get back to Mr. Hale’s, his father-in-law, and Oliver did not complain any more of fatigue.”
Elder Erastus Snow of the Quorum of the Twelve confirmed this story in a Logan, Utah conference in 1882:
“In the due course of time, as we read in the history which he [Joseph] has left, Peter, James and John appeared to him—it was at a period when they were being pursued by their enemies and they had to travel all night, and in the dawn of the coming day when they were weary and worn, who should appear to them but Peter, James and John, for the purpose of conferring upon them the Apostleship, the keys of which they themselves had held while upon the earth, which had been bestowed upon them by the Savior. This Priesthood conferred upon them by those three messengers embraces within it all offices of the Priesthood from the highest to the lowest.” (Journal of Discourses, 23:183.)
Oliver wrote in 1849:
“While darkness covered the earth and gross darkness the people; long after the authority to administer in holy things had been taken away, the Lord opened the heavens and sent forth his word for the salvation of Israel. In fulfillment of the sacred Scripture the everlasting Gospel was proclaimed by the mighty angel, (Moroni) who, clothed with the authority of his mission, gave glory to God in the highest. This Gospel is the ‘stone taken from the mountain without hands.’ John the Baptist, holding the keys of the Aaronic Priesthood; Peter, James and John, holding the keys of the Melchizedek Priesthood, have also ministered for those who shall be heirs of salvation, and with these ministrations ordained men to the same Priesthoods. These Priesthoods, with their authority, are now, and must continue to be, in the body of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Blessed is the Elder who has received the same, and thrice blessed and holy is he who shall endure to the end. Accept assurances, dear Brother, of the unfeigned prayer of him, who, in connection with Joseph the Seer, was blessed with the above ministrations, and who earnestly and devoutly hopes to meet you in the celestial glory.”
The glorious truths are these:
John the Baptist came from the heavens under the direction of Peter James and John, and restored the Aaronic Priesthood to the earth with the attendant keys of baptism by immersion for the remission of sins and the keys of the ministering of angels.
Peter, James and John, the ancient apostles who were with the Savior in His earthly ministry, came and restored the Melchizedek Priesthood with all the attendant keys of the apostleship and the gospel of salvation and the setting up the kingdom of God upon the earth once more.
This is the most glorious news to the whole earth and should cause all of us to be filled with joy and rejoicing.
And all this is taking place in the most obscure wilderness in Northern Pennsylvania and Southern New York. I love how the Lord brings things that are so significant out of such obscurity. That’s just the way He works.
All of this was done in accordance with the design of the Lord in order that he might, according to Elder Erastus Snow in 1882, “raise up a peculiar people to himself, a holy nation, a royal Priesthood—a kingdom of Priests, that shall be saviors upon Mount Zion, not only to preach the Gospel to the scattered remnants of Israel, but to save to the uttermost the nations of the Gentiles, inasmuch as they will listen and can be saved by the plan which God has provided.” (Journal of Discourses, 23:183.)
And Maurine, we know that the Aaronic Priesthood was restored on Friday, May 15, 1829. We’ve celebrated that date with fathers and son’s outings and Aaronic Priesthood commemorations for many, many years. But what about the date of the restoration of the Melchizedek Priesthood? We have not been given the exact date but we can certainly narrow it down to three particular days, with one more likely than the others. The most likely dates are May 26, 27 or 28, but the date that fits all the story we have presented is Wednesday, May 27, 1829 just at the rising of the sun. And, of course, the most important fact is that the Melchizedek Priesthood was restored by heavenly messengers and we have the keys of the priesthood among us today.
And we don’t know but possibly when Joseph and Oliver got to the translation of 3 Nephi, chapters 18 and 19, which talks about the Nephite disciples being given the power of giving the Holy Ghost, that Joseph and Oliver did not have that same desire to be given this authority and that naturally led to the question of when? John the Baptist had told them the authority would soon be given, but they did not know when. All this was in process of time and that was a process of perfect timing.
So, Joseph and Oliver had been working steadily on the translation for nearly 50 days. Persecutions had began to be intense in Harmony against Joseph and Oliver. Joseph’s brother, Samuel Harrison, was still with them to help with the cultivation and farming but this wasn’t enough protection against the mounting opposition. Most of this opposition was coming from Emma’s extended family who were extremely angry that Joseph would not show them the supposed gold plates. Isaac Hale, Emma’s father, was at first also very opposed to Joseph working in the area because he would not show him the plates. But when his own brother, Nathaniel, would not relent in his opposition to Joseph and he began to gather others with him, this turned Isaac’s heart.
Joseph recorded in his history:
“We had been threatened with being mobbed, from time to time, and this, too, by professors of religion. And their intentions of mobbing us were only counteracted by the influence of my wife’s father’s family (under Divine providence), who had become very friendly to me, and who were opposed to mobs, and were willing that I should be allowed to continue the work of translation without interruption; and therefore offered and promised us protection from all unlawful proceedings, as far as in them lay.” (Joseph Smith History 1: 75)
But this would not be enough. Joseph and Oliver needed to work in a safer environment and be protected. It was at this point that the Lord commanded Joseph to have Oliver write David Whitmer a letter asking if they could come north to Fayette, New York and be under that protection and care of the Whitmer family, David’s parents, as they finished the translation of the ancient record.
Oliver had stayed in touch with David through these months and this was a natural thing for him to write and make this request. Now consider the logistics: Peter Whitmer and his wife, Mary Musselman Whitmer, had a busy household with seven children, Christian, Jacob, John, David, Catherine, Peter Whitmer, Jr., and Elizabeth Ann. They had lost one daughter, Nancy. Another woman was living in their small 20 x 30 foot cabin—and now Joseph and Oliver and Samuel and Emma were asking to move in with them.
Peter Whitmer, Sr. felt like he needed a witness from God that this was His work and that they were to be involved in it.
Lucy Mack Smith gives us the account of what happened:
“The letter was written and delivered, and Mr. Whitmer showed it to his father, mother, sisters, and brothers, asking their advice as to what it would be best for him to do.”
And by the way, Maurine, I always like to remind our listeners that za Whitmers were Pennsylvania Dutch and they spoke with a heavy German accent. Sometimes we sink dat all dese early Saints just spoke plain English and all sounded like us. Such was note za case.
“His father said, ‘Why, David, you know you have sowed as much wheat as you can harrow in tomorrow and the next day, and then you have a quantity of plaster of paris to spread that is much needed on your land. You cannot go unless you get an evidence from God that it is very necessary.’
“This suggestion pleased David, and he asked the Lord for a testimony that it was his will that he should go. He was told by the voice of the Spirit to harrow in his wheat, and then go straightway to Pennsylvania. The next morning David went to the field and found that he had two heavy days’ work before him. He then asked the Lord to enable him to do this work sooner than the same work had ever been done on the farm before-and he would receive it as an evidence that it was God’s will that he should do all in his power to assist Joseph Smith in the work in which he was engaged. He then fastened his horses to the harrow, and instead of dividing the field into what is, by farmers, usually termed bands, he drove round the whole of it, continuing thus till noon, when, on stopping for dinner, he looked around, and discovered to his surprise that he had harrowed in full half the wheat. After dinner he again went on as before, and by evening he finished the whole two days’ work.
“When he informed his father of the fact, his father could not believe it till he examined for himself and ascertained that it was actually true. ‘Well,’ said his father, ‘there must be some overruling power in this thing, and I think you had better go as soon as you get your plaster of paris sown and bring up the man with his scribe.’
“To this also David agreed. The next morning, as soon as breakfast was over, he took the half-bushel measure under his arm and went out to the place where he supposed the plaster to be, as he knew exactly where he had left it twenty-four hours earlier. But when he came to look for it, behold, it had entirely disappeared! Every vestige of it was gone from the spot where he left it. He ran to his sister [Catherine’s] house a few yards distant and inquired if she knew what had become of it.
“Why?” she said, in surprise. “Was it not all spread yesterday?”
“Not to my knowledge,” answered David.
“I am astonished at that,” replied his sister, “for the children came to me in the forenoon and begged of me to go out and see the men sow plaster in the field, saying that they never saw anybody sow plaster so fast in their lives. I accordingly went and saw three men at work in the field, as the children said, but, supposing that you had hired some help on account of your hurry, I went immediately into the house and gave the subject no further attention.”
“David made considerable inquiry in regard to the matter, both among his relatives and neighbors, but was not able to learn who had done it. However, the family were convinced that there was an exertion of supernatural power connected with this strange occurrence.
“David immediately set out for Pennsylvania and arrived there in two days, without injuring his horses in the least, though the distance was one hundred and thirty-five miles. When he arrived, he was under the necessity of introducing himself to Joseph, as this was the first time that they had ever met.” (Smith, Lucy Mack, Revised and Enhanced History of Joseph Smith by His Mother, Edited by Scot Facer Proctor and Maurine Jensen Proctor, Bookcraft, Salt Lake City, 1996, pp. 192-94).
This sister was Catherine Whitmer who was married to Hiram Page—and they would also play a great role in the translation and the restoration.
The Lord calls the weak and the simple to bring forth his work—and now He called an entire family, the Peter and Mary Whitmer family, to thrust themselves into this great work. They were prepared by the Spirit. They were called by the Spirit and they heeded the call and did their part.
That’s all for today. We hope you’ve learned a few things and that you’ve come to understand the restoration of the Priesthoods more than every before. Thank you for your prayers and notes of support throughout our bouts with COVID. You’ve been so kind and patient with us in this most difficult of times.
Next week we will be studying Doctrine and Covenants, Sections 14-17 with the lesson entitled: “Stand as a Witness.” Thanks to Paul Cardall for our music and to Michaela Proctor Hutchins for producing this podcast. We’ve loved being with you. Have a great week and see you next time.