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In Section 97:26 of the Doctrine and Covenants the Lord spoke to Zion saying, “If she observe not to do whatsoever I have commanded her, I will visit her according to all her works, with sore affliction, with pestilence, with plague, with sword, with vengeance, with devouring fire.” To some this warning seems to have found fulfillment in the events during the Winter of 1833 in Jackson County, Missouri.
Jackson County-Late Fall and Early Winter 1833.
During Joseph’s missionary travels, harrowing events had taken place in Missouri. Mob assaults upon the houses and properties of the Saints were continual. Members of the mobs began to threaten the people of Independence and “to declare that all of the people–men, women and children–should be whipped out of the county.”(1) Some of the Saints attempted to settle in surrounding counties and began to labor diligently for their support, but mobs rose in arms, threatening to drive the Saints farther into exile.
George Q. Cannon wrote, “On the 28th day of September, 1833, a petition was addressed to His Excellency Daniel Dunklin, Governor of the State of Missouri, by the persecuted people in Jackson County; and it was carried to the executive office in Jefferson City by Elders Orson Hyde and William W. Phelps. In this eloquent document a recital was made of the woes to which the people had been subjected, of the patience with which they had borne these outrages, of the utter subversion of the principles of law and humanity, and of the participation in these outrages by leading men in the state, civil and military officers, politicians and preachers. The final appeal in this petition was as follows:
Knowing, as we do, that the threats of this mob, in most cases, have been put into execution, and knowing also that every officer, civil and military, with a very few exceptions, has pledged his life and honor to force us from the county, dead or alive; and believing that civil process cannot be served without the aid of the Executive; and not wishing to have the blood of our defenseless women and children to stain the land which has once been stained by the blood of our fathers to purchase our liberty; we appeal to the Governor for aid, asking him, by express proclamation or otherwise, to raise a sufficient number of troops, who, with us, may be empowered to defend our rights, that we may sue for damages in the loss of property–for abuse–for defamation, as to ourselves; and if advisable, try for treason against the government, that the law of the land may not be defied, nor nullified, but peace be restored to our country:–And we will ever pray.(2)
Having clearly stated their need, the Saints expected prompt action and help. The Elders from Missouri returned with empty hands, and waited for succor amidst the tide of persecution.
Around the 26th of October, 1833, Governor Dunklin’s reply was received. It read:
No citizen, nor number of citizens, have a right to take the redress of their grievances whether real or imaginary, into their own hands. Such conduct strikes at the very existence of society and subverts the foundation on which it is based. Not being willing to persuade myself that any portion of the citizens of the state of Missouri are so lost to a sense of these truths as to require the exercise of force, in order to ensure respect for them, after advising with the attorney-general, and exercising my best judgment, I would advise you to make a trial of the efficacy of the laws; the judge of your circuit is a conservator of the peace. If an affidavit is made before him by any of you, that your lives are threatened and you believe them in danger, it would be his duty to have the offenders apprehended, and bind them to keep the peace.
Though Governor Dunklin’s letter left much to be desired, it did contain a promise that, if he failed to properly execute the law in Jackson County, he would take further steps to insure its observance. With this governmental assurance, the Saints began to repair their houses and labor in their fields.
George Q. Cannon describes the events of the next few days:
“On the night of October 31 an armed mob attacked a settlement of the Saints west of Big Blue, tore the roofs from many of the dwelling houses, whipped the men and drove the women and children screaming into the wilderness. The next day was the first of bleak November; and when the cold morning dawned, the Saints crept out of their hiding places whither they had fled for safety, and came back to their despoiled homes to find their habitations and their gardens in ruins. The women wept for their scourged and bleeding husbands. Children sobbed with hunger, cold and fear. How were these plundered people to find means for journeying to a land of safety? And whither were they to go? Adequate protection had been practically denied to them by the civil power of the state; and they had no hope that any section of Missouri would harbor them.
“Such scenes of horror were repeated night after night at Independence, and every dwelling place of the Saints in that county. On the 5th day of November, 1833, Lieutenant-Governor Boggs permitted the mob to organize as a militia. Boggs clothed the mob with military power, that resistance to them might be charged against the Saints as insurrection against the legal authorities of the state of Missouri.
“The Saints were commanded to give up their arms; that certain men who had been engaged in the fight west of Big Blue should be delivered into his hands to be tried for murder; and that the people should leave the county forthwith. It was clear that the alternative was death to the men and outrage to the women and children. And so the Saints yielded under solemn promise of protection. As soon as the demand was complied with, the mob rushed like demons in various directions, bursting violently into houses and threatening the women and children with massacre. Men, women and children fled to the prairie and to the river banks, seeking in the wilderness, amidst all its terrors, a peace denied them by civilized men.”(3)
Were these trials the result of not hearkening to the message in section 97?
It certainly seems possible when we review how the Lord begins Section 101, “verily I say unto you, concerning your brethren who have been afflicted, and persecuted, and cast out from the land of their inheritance–I, the Lord have suffered the affliction to come upon them, wherewith they have been afflicted, in consequence of their transgressions.”
In this case then, the suffering of the Saints seems to have had a punitive affect. The Lord allowed the Saints to suffer as a result of their sins. According to this section those sins included, “jarrings, and contentions, and envyings, and strifes, and lustful and covetous desires among them; therefore by these things they polluted their inheritance.” Nevertheless, at this time the Prophet Joseph Smith wrote, “There are two things of which I am ignorant; and they are these: Why God has suffered so great a calamity to come upon Zion, and what the great moving cause of this great affliction is.”(4) Joseph continued, “When I contemplate upon all things that have been manifested, I am aware that I ought not to murmur, and do not murmur, only in this, that those who are innocent are compelled to suffer for the iniquities of the guilty.”(5) Thus, while it is clear from this section that many who suffered did so as a result of their sins, others faced tribulation through no fault of their own.
Section 101 continues in verse 4 possibly referring to those who seemed to suffer unjustly, “Therefore, they must needs be chastened and tried, even as Abraham, who was commanded to offer up his only son.” The analogy to Abraham is an interesting one to me since we know that Abraham’s trial was in no way a result of personal sin. Genesis 22 records the story of a test, not the results of sin. Indeed we know of no sin of Abraham’s that had as a punishment the sacrifice of his son Isaac. Rather, this was the great patriarch who had been delivered by an angel as a youth from certain death because of his faith when calling upon the Lord. This was the man to whom the Lord had promised land, posterity and Priesthood.
It seems certain that the Lord’s command for Abraham to sacrifice Isaac did not come as the just or natural consequence of a broken law. Space does not permit a thorough exploration of the possible answers to why Abraham was asked to do this grievous act. What concerns us here is the fact that Abraham was asked to give that which he loved most to the Lord. There is no explanation given in scripture, all we have is God’s command and Abraham’s response.
The analogy isn’t a perfect one since in the Abraham story no one seems to be at fault, while in Missouri it seems that there were some who were guilty of various transgressions There is nevertheless a parallel. The leaders of the Church wanted nothing more than to establish Zion. They were to build a temple there, and believed that they would be prospered and blessed there. During this period Zion was synonymous with Jackson County, Missouri in the revelations received. Members of the Church had gathered in Missouri, bought property, built homes and cultivated farms understanding that Jackson County was a land that was to be given them of the Lord. It was revealed in Doctrine and Covenants 97:19 that Zion was in fact the city of their God.
What a paradox then to be driven by persecution and violent mobs from the county and eventually the entire state. The parallel to Abraham then is found in the requirement to give up that which is most precious. It seems especially poignant that in both cases that which was to be sacrificed had already been promised by God to the sacrificer. At times it seems almost impossible to understand such spiritual paradox and yet the spiritually mature must not only understand, but embrace it.
The Lord explained in section 136:31, “My people must be tried in all things, that they may be prepared to receive the glory that I have for them, even the glory of Zion; and he that will not bear chastisement is not worthy of my kingdom.” “for all those who will not endure chastening, but deny me, cannot be sanctified.” Why is it true that those who will not endure chastening cannot be sanctified?
While the 1828 Webster’s Dictionary does define “chasten” as “to correct by punishment; or to punish,” other definitions also include, “to afflict by other means, or to purify from errors or faults.” These other definitions help to round out and explain what may have been mean in these verses. What is it that chastening does for the chastened? The Doctrine and Covenants teaches us that chastening can cleanse us from sin (D&C 90:36), lead to forgiveness (D&C 95:1), and teach us obedience (D&C 105:6). Job assured us that chastening can even refine us as gold (Job 23:10)
Five months after section 101 was given, two hundred people assembled in Kirtland for a one thousand mile march to carry provisions to the persecuted members of the Church in Missouri. Led by Joseph Smith, members of Zion’s Camp left their homes and families to heed the call to go to Jackson County and reclaim the homes and land of the Saints. After long and weary travel, storms, floods and an outbreak of cholera which took the lives of about twenty in the group. While encamped at Fishing River the Lord told the Prophet Joseph speaking of Zion’s Camp, “I do not require at their hands to fight the battles of Zion; for, as I said in a former commandment, even so will I fulfill–I will fight your battles.”(6)
As wonderful as this promise that the Lord will fight our battles is, I wonder if they wondered why they had come so far and suffered so much only to be told when they arrived to turn around and go home. The Lord had something to teach the participants of Zion’s Camp that they could learn in no other way. It is no coincidence that the leaders of the Church in the next years would come largely from those who marched with Zion’s Camp. Brigham Young said: “Let any people enjoy peace and quietness, unmolested, undisturbed,–never be persecuted for their religion, and they are very likely to neglect their duty, to become cold and indifferent, and lose their faith”(7)
Howard W. Hunter said, “Today the Church stands at the summit of a century and a half of progress. The terrain over which we have traveled is a grim reminder that struggle, persecution, and sorrow have been the lot of our forebears. Kirtland, Jackson County, Clay County, Haun’s Mill, and Nauvoo seem synonymous with suffering–a part of the tribulation the Lord promised that his people would have to endure. As we look back in retrospect, we see that it was because of the opposition encountered in our early history that our progress today has been made possible.
Out of that cauldron of persecution and heartache, the Lord answered the soul-cry of the Prophet Joseph Smith in these words: “Thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment; “And then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high” (D&C 121:7-8). By the tribulation well endured by numerous of our progenitors, a desert blossomed as a rose (see Isa. 35:1), a tried and persecuted people provided a heritage of faith, and Zion put on her beautiful garments for all to see (see D&C 82:14). One hundred fifty years of Church history provide us with a lesson that when resistance and opposition are greatest, our faith, commitment, and growth have the greatest opportunity for advancement.(8)
While the Lord may chasten his people as punishment or even as purification, we can have peace in knowing that not only will our chastening be for our spiritual development, but that the Lord’s promises are sure. In our own extremities when we lose what seems most precious to us, we can find strength in what the Lord told the Missouri Saints, “be still and know I am God.”(9)
1. Cannon, George Q. Life of Joseph Smith the Prophet, 1888. Salt Lake: Deseret Book Company, 1964. pg. 164.
3. Ibid, pgs. 166-170.
4. Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith. Compiled by Joseph Fielding Smith. Salt Lake: Deseret Book, 1976. pg. 34.
6. Doctrine and Covenants 105:14
7. Journal of Discourses 7:42
8. Conference Report, May 1980.
9. Doctrine and Covenants 101:16